Lobaczewski was exiled to America in the late 70s by the Polish Communist authorities after being denounced by a correspondent for Radio Free Europe. Based on his observations of American culture in New York, he thought the U.S. reached a peak of hysteria in the 80s. Maybe he was right about that, but if he were still alive I would be curious to know his thoughts on American society in the past few years. It seems the hysteria has only gotten worse. Here's what he had to say about the U.S. in 1984:
America is stifling progress in all areas of life, from culture to technology and economics, not excluding political incompetence. When linked to other deficiencies, an egotist's incapability of understanding other people and nations leads to political error and the scapegoating of outsiders. Slamming the brakes on the evolution of political structures and social institutions increases both administrative inertia and discontent on the part of its victims. (Political Ponerology, p. 64)Sounds like he could've been writing about today.
He also wrote that the U.S. seems to lag around 80 years behind the European cycle. The last European crisis was a bloody nightmare that saw one world war and the emergence of two major totalitarian pathocracies: the Soviets in 1922, and the Nazis in 1933 - then another world war. If Lobaczewski is right, that suggests that it can take at least two full 80-year cycles before a country risks falling into totalitarian barbarism that consumes its own people, which means Europe might get off relatively easy this time around. But maybe not.
Even in the 80s, Lobaczewski saw the potential of mass communications to "synchronize" distant countries' cycles. The Internet has exploded since then, helping to tie many nations' cycles even closer together. Mass communications give humans the chance to break the cycle, if enough truth can be shared widely enough, but they're a double-edged sword. Propaganda can travel just as far and just as quickly. Just look at the scope of anti-Russian hysteria today in North America and Europe. At the time he wrote, Lobaczewski was optimistic about Western Europe's future. But Europe's post-War ties with the U.S. have linked their cycles to a large degree. And according to Howe, Europe and America follow the same generational cycle, which means they've both entered the crisis phase. Things don't look good for the Western world.
In order to test Lobaczewski's ideas so far, let's take a look at American/Western society today in light of the symptoms of the cycle of hysteria at its peak. In the past twenty years we've seen a veritable obsession with trivialities, from celebrity culture and reality TV to the narcissism of selfies and Instagram, the most recent outbreak being Pokemon Go. Our selfishness and materialism is on display for the entire world's ridicule every Black Friday. I've known people who base their entire lives around eating good food, having good sex, or buying the latest gadgets. We're slaves to entertainment, video games, and porn, and the rich and debauched among us attend orgiastic sex parties. The more Facebook friends we have, the less we actually form meaningful bonds. We're constantly on our cell phones. We'd rather text than talk.
We don't plan for the future. Instead we let our infrastructure decay while members of the "establishment elite" make themselves rich off taxpayer money. They sell themselves to the highest bidder, with no sense of public responsibility. We don't like acknowledging our faults; we refuse to even admit we have any, or downplay the ones we do. Corruption is all but accepted as standard operating procedure for corporations, banks, and politics. We've made a philosophy of self-importance by embracing "American exceptionalism".
We have little knowledge of other cultures, and aren't even interested in learning about them. Instead, we destroy other countries because we "need" their resources. We refuse to acknowledge the millions who have died as a result, but cry for the refugees we have created. We export democracy to countries we determine need it - never mind if we have to kill a few hundred thousand in the process. We threaten and blackmail other nations to do what we tell them to. We spy on our allies. We interfere in elections all over the world and scream bloody murder over baseless accusations of "Russian interference" in our own. We ally with criminals and terrorists when it suits our self-interest. We are "great" and "good", therefore all our foreign interference must be right and proper. It's not aggression - it's "humanitarian intervention".
This video probably wouldn't make any sense in a healthy society:
Especially on the 'Left', some of us get offended to the point of moral outrage whenever someone unintentionally hurts our feelings or disagrees with us. Gender pronouns. Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. We demand respect when we haven't earned it. Some of us are sure every word out of a stranger's mouth is a con - "What's their angle? What are they trying to get from me?" Many are convinced that Trump is lying about pretty much everything, but never seem to realize that their own 'team' is just as deceitful.
We have little capacity for introspection or critical thought, yet we're convinced we're right. We criticize the "hate and violence" or our ideological enemies, but engage in the same hate and violence. We ignore uncomfortable truths. "I'd rather not think about that. It makes me depressed." "Not knowing those things makes me sleep better at night." "Thinking about that makes my brain hurt." We live in a narcissistic bubble.
I say "we", but obviously all the above examples don't apply to everyone. As Lobaczewski points out, this social hysteria is most noticeable in society's elite class, the affluent, educated "establishment": media, professionals, academics, politicians, bankers, bureaucrats. The working class is actually the most resistant, because they're forced to think about everyday realities:
Whether couched in economic, ideological, or political terms, the criticism and demands of these [lower] social groups always contain a component of psychological, moral, and anti-hysterical motivation. For this reason, it is most appropriate to consider these demands with deliberation and take these classes' feelings into account. On the other hand, tragic results can derive from thoughtless action paving the way for spellbinders to make themselves heard. (PP, p. 121)That's why Trump represents such a hope for many, and danger for others. He built his campaign on a largely "anti-hysterical" platform - common sense, law and order, jobs, infrastructure, peace through strength (not war or regime change) - but with a streak of American egocentrism (America first) and not entirely free of hysteria (e.g. the exaggerated emotions surrounding illegal immigrants and Islamic terrorists - real though the problems may be). These are obvious problems that shouldn't be so overwhelming, but there hasn't been any political will to do anything about them prior to Trump.
"#FakeNews" is a direct response to the hysterical, self-censoring, lie-infected, echo-chamber, establishment media. "Drain the swamp" acknowledges the fact that Washington is infested with corrupt, self-serving, short-sighted, incompetent egotists who have made careers prostituting themselves to corporations, (group-)think tanks, special interests, and foreign governments. Hillary Clinton represented everything that is wrong with an establishment that has rotted from within and which has nothing but contempt for the people they claim to represent. The "deplorables" see it, they're fed up with it, and they voted for the only person speaking for them.
So far, Lobaczewski's description adds up. I was hard-pressed to find a single "symptom" in his book that didn't apply in a very obvious way. I'd say Western society has a bad case of hysteria.
Cognitive Dissonance and Hallucination
In a hysterical society, cognitive dissonance gets so bad it approaches the level of mental illness - psychosis. At the most basic level, people tend to ignore, deny, or repress facts that contradict what they already believe, especially if those facts are about themselves. For example, just try telling someone you know they're a bad parent. Chances are it's not going to go over very well. Especially if they are a bad parent. Admitting it to themselves or to others is too damaging to the image they have of themselves, and the stories they tell themselves. In their minds, they're doing the best they can, and they're probably doing a better job than most other parents. It hurts to admit you're not that great.
It's the same with political parties. People don't like being told their heroes aren't all they'd like to think they are. It's like telling someone their father is an axe murderer. Even if it's true, and there's evidence to back it up, people have a hard time admitting realities that threaten to tear down the stories and beliefs they've formed over the years. We usually just call it denial.
But it gets worse when we start unconsciously swapping out facts with lies in order to come to the "right" conclusions. Maybe we "rewrite" our memories in order to censor the past from our present awareness; maybe we even distort what we see with our own eyes so that we see what we expect or want to see. So we conveniently "don't remember" saying or doing something that could now be used against us in some way - and we actually don't remember. Or we interpret some ambiguous statement or action in a way that isn't really appropriate - as evidence that confirms what we already believe. Or we see something that really isn't there, just because we expect it or desire it in some way. And that's not too different from hallucinating.
With enough practice, this leads to a chronic inability to comprehend what's really going on in our lives and in the world - to consistently miss the point. When our illusions butt up against reality, it causes cognitive dissonance. It hurts our brains. And our minds go through all sorts of mental gymnastics in order to avoid or stop the discomfort, to the point of selecting which facts make themselves available to our conscious awareness, and even creating new "facts".
Lobaczewski breaks down this kind of pseudo-thinking into three types:
- Blocking out uncomfortable conclusions (denial)
- Blocking out the uncomfortable data that leads to uncomfortable conclusions, selecting comfortable data and conclusions (confirmation bias)
- Swapping out the uncomfortable data with comfortable data, leading to comfortable conclusions (hallucination)
Blocking out the data leads to a nice conclusion. The media did this a lot with the leaked DNC emails. Ignoring what was actually contained in the leaked DNC emails left them and their audience safe in their conviction that Hillary was worth voting for. On top of that, the media brought it all home by swapping out the data and blaming Russia. It wasn't the Democrats who were the problem; it was those evil Russians the whole time! But to actually believe that narrative required hallucinating that the relevant intelligence reports said something they didn't actually say: that there was any actual evidence that Russia was responsible for leaking the emails, and that there was unanimous consent among the intelligence agencies that they did so. Neither of which were true.
Denial of uncomfortable conclusions in the media is fairly easy to spot. Denial of uncomfortable facts is only a bit trickier. One of the biggest giveaways is "forgetfulness". The media consistently "forgets" whatever doesn't support their positions, whether it's a history of CIA intervention in other countries' elections (not to mention coups, assassinations, and blackmail), or inconvenient positions their chosen candidates used to have in the past, which don't match their current positions. Another giveaway is "confirmation bias", the tendency to "search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities."
Substituting data is the trickiest, both to spot and to carry out. It's difficult to spot because without knowledge of the facts, it can sound totally plausible. "Russia is evil. Russia has hackers. The DNC was hacked. The intel agencies say Russia hacked the DNC and leaked the emails. Therefore, Russia did it." Makes sense - if you don't care about seeing the actual evidence for yourself. (It also requires a bit of selective "forgetfulness" - that is, forgetting all the times the intel agencies have proven themselves untrustworthy.)
Another sign of data substitution is psychological projection. Self-critical thoughts tend to get projected onto others. And that can lead people to blame someone for what they themselves are guilty. It's pretty stunning to observe on the national level, especially if you're even vaguely aware of history. Which is why seeing people like John Kirby, Samantha Power, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, et al. blame Russia for interfering in foreign elections, destabilizing foreign countries, engaging in cyberattacks, refusing to fight ISIS, etc. was so entertaining, yet so disturbing at the same time. Now that those freaks are gone, the media is making sure to continue the effort.
Data substitution is trickier to carry out than blocking conclusions and data, because as Lobaczewski points out, it's not entirely unconscious. It requires telling yourself a whole lot of really big lies, and on some level most people are aware that that's what they're doing - however dimly. What makes it a bit easier is having an echo chamber of people all telling each other the same thing, reinforcing the delusion and making it a group effort. Group conformity to the rescue! From the outside looking in, it really looks like these people are just hypocritical liars - and they are, to some degree - but for the most part what we're looking at is just a very pathological "thought virus" that turns people into halfwits and has them believing their own propaganda. And they don't even realize it.
This kind of "thinking" is highly contagious and can spread throughout an entire society. Mass media just makes it worse, and provides a willing outlet for political operators to inject disinformation through the media stream and into the public mind. Actually, one of the best ways to observe it in action is just to watch and read the mainstream media. They consistently miss the point, ignore the big story, lie, or hallucinate things that aren't there. Government censors aren't necessary when people have their own tiny censors in their brain that prevent them from acknowledging any uncomfortable truths:
When the habits of subconscious selection and substitution of thought-data spread to the macrosocial level, a society tends to develop contempt for factual criticism and to humiliate anyone sounding an alarm. Contempt is also shown for other nations which have maintained normal thought-patterns and for their opinions. Egotistic thought-terrorization is accomplished by the society itself and its processes of conversive [i.e. 'hysterical'] thinking. This obviates the need for censorship of the press, theater, or broadcasting, as a pathologically hypersensitive censor lives within the citizens themselves. (PP, p. 121)Here's a recent example: at Trump's latest press conference he said that the leaks from the White House published by the media were real, but the news is fake. His meaning should have been obvious, if you listened to what he actually said: "The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake, because so much of the news is fake." And he even gave examples. The leaks were about Trump's calls with the Mexican and Australian leaders, and about the transcripts of Flynn's conversations that led to his resignation. The fake news was the hysteria about Russia and the idea that Flynn broke the law or did something wrong, among others.
The mainstream media does lie (intentionally or not). They also publish leaks of real information. The two are not mutually exclusive. I can make up stories about someone being a closet shoe hoarder and also publish illicitly obtained copies of their tax returns (if I were a mainstream journalist). But the reaction of liberal critics has been absurd and demonstrates that they have lost all ability to think. That's why you get reactions like this (the second and third work for NBC, Vanity Fair, and Newsweek):
The sad thing is, these people actually think they're clever. They don't realize they've become half-wits. Dunning-Kruger strikes again. Scott Adams put it well when he asked who's hallucinating, the people who saw the press conference as a "total meltdown", or the people who just saw Trump just being Trump:
So how can we know who is hallucinating in this case? The best way to tell is by looking for the trigger for cognitive dissonance. In this case, the trigger is clear. Trump's unexpected win forced the Huffington Post to rewrite their mental movies from one in which they were extra-clever writers to one in which they were the dumbest political observers in the entire solar system.When things get that bad - and they are that bad - it's hard to disagree with Trump when he calls fake news the enemy of the people. It's a threat to their sanity.
You might recall that the Huffington Post made a big deal of refusing to cover Trump on their political pages when he first announced his candidacy. They only carried him on their entertainment pages because they were so smart they knew he could not win.
Then he won.
When reality violates your ego that rudely, you either have to rewrite the movie in your head to recast yourself as an idiot, or you rewrite the movie to make yourself the hero who could see what others missed. Apparently the Huffington Post chose to rewrite their movie so Trump is a deranged monster, just like they warned us. That's what they see. This isn't an example of so-called "fake" news as we generally understand it. This is literally imaginary news. I believe the Huffington Post's description of the press conference is literally what they saw. If you gave them lie detector tests, they would swear they saw a meltdown, and the lie detector would say they were telling the truth.
Lessons to Learn
As the quote at the beginning of this article says, egotism causes nations to scapegoat others. Currently, the scapegoats of choice are Muslims and Russians. Strangely, Russia tops even Islamic terrorism as the American establishment's scapegoat par excellence. (In my experience, blanket condemnation of Muslims tends to show up more on the grassroots level. I think it's largely an effect of 15 years of "War on Terror" propaganda.) On the anti-Russian hysteria, I highly recommend these articles. Print them out and read them, because they say a lot:
- Russophobia in the West reaches psychotic phase by Finian Cunningham
- How the corporate media continues to use Russia as a scapegoat to distract from systemic status quo failure by Michael Krieger
- Chaos in the imperial city: US elite vs. Donald Trump - does it all come down to Russia? by Alexander Mercouris
- (Added Mar. 3rd): The NewYorker's cover story reveals uncomfortable truths about U.S. and Russia by Glenn Greenwald
"The culture was constantly telling us one thing, and the realities of society were consistently failing to deliver it—the culture was lying. This was a deep and serious legitimation crisis— a culture that is lying to its members simply cannot move forward for long. And if a culture has "no truth," it has no idea when it's lying—and thus it naturally lies as many times as it accidentally tells the truth, and hence faster than you can say 'deconstruction', it's in the midst of a legitimation crisis."And as Cunningham points out, anti-Russian propaganda has reached the level of collective psychosis.
Americans, and Westerners in general, have a lot to learn, and we don't have much time to learn it. Ironically, the people we could learn the most from are the Russians. Remember what I wrote in Part 2:
"A close encounter with evil forces us to gather the physical and mental strength to fight not only for our lives, but also for our sanity. Even though our first response is usually to turn to violence and military might (revolution, counter-revolution, civil war), that hotheadedness falls by the wayside with time and experience. In the cauldron of suffering and chaos, frivolous emotions eventually make way for sober reflection, and we're forced to regain lost powers of thought and discernment. Society eventually regains a healthier worldview: knowledge of self and others, old virtues and values, understanding the meaning of history. All of which eventually gives us the power to actually conquer evil by creating a new order out of the chaos."Our war-footing with Russia is probably the stupidest thing we could be doing. Not only are they our natural allies in the fight against terrorism, they've learned a lot during their own "encounter with evil". (The Muslim world is experiencing its own at the moment, but they too will come out stronger and wiser because of it.)
It's understandable that the establishment hates Russia. They were our sworn enemies during the Cold War, and old grudges die hard. It was also easy to feel superior to the Soviet Union and the Communist Republics in Eastern Europe, given the obvious evils of communism and the impression that some inherent weakness or inferiority brought them about. But the Commies are gone now, they have been for a while, and that sense of superiority is misplaced and self-defeating. It may be incomprehensible to Westerners, but many Russians, having lived through pathocracy and changed from within, gained important practical knowledge of political evil in the process. We should be listening to what they might have to say.
In 1991, the Soviet pathocracy's institutions were weakened. But the 90s were a catastrophe: the wholesale looting of the nation by an organized crime network of "liberal" oligarchs. But despite the 90s, despite the corruption held over from 70 years of pathocracy and 10 years of "free-market" plunder, and despite the concerted efforts of Western intelligence, think tanks, and NGOs to destabilize and control them in the years since, Russia has brought itself out of the crisis. Demographic indicators are positive, the economy is relatively strong (considering the sanctions), and there's strong collective support for the direction Putin is taking the country. If Russia is currently in a "high" turning, she will soon enter an awakening, just as we emerge from a crisis (assuming we don't tear the world down with us). We should keep that in mind. If you want advice on how to defend yourself on the streets, you don't ask a yoga teacher - you find a battle-hardened teacher with experience and know-how - like Solzhenitsyn, or (gasp!) Vladimir Putin.
In fact, this moment in history is probably one of the greatest opportunities to learn the things that really matter. In Russia we have a country that has survived the societal disease of pathocracy and "maintained normal thought-patterns", as Lobaczewski put it. In 'ISIS' we have probably the most overt specimen of pathocracy in recent history, and in the USA and the entire 'Western world' we have a nation and its network of allies that are on the crossroads of history, navigating a crisis that could go in either direction. As a species, we can learn something from all of them, if only we will stop the hysteria and conversive thinking and start to see and hear. The alternative is not pretty:
"Pathocracy will always find a positive response if some independent country is infected with an advanced state of hysterization, or if a small privileged caste oppresses and exploits other citizens, keeping them backward and in the dark; anyone willing to treat the world can then be hounded, and his moral right to act be questioned. Evil in the world, in fact, constitutes a continuum: one kind opens the door to another, irrespective of its qualitative essence or the ideological slogans cloaking it." (PP, p. 189)The biggest threat to the West doesn't come from Islamic terrorism, and certainly not from Russia; it comes from within. I realize I haven't adequately defined "pathocracy" in these articles. That would take another series of articles, so for now, let me just say that as bad as things are in the West, pathocracy is worse.
Liberals in the West are right to fear "another Hitler". They're just not looking in the right place. The "Trump is Hitler" meme is a product of mass hysteria in the establishment: media, politics, academia. The fact is, the next Hitler could just as easily come from the Right or the Left, but he or she isn't here yet. When that person and their movement come, there will be some markers to look for. Certain forms of speech will be harshly criminalized, the rule of law will cease to exist as we know it, the executive will rule completely arbitrarily, and anyone who so much as criticizes the government will risk arrest, torture, and/or execution. There are already hints here or there that the groundwork has been laid for moves in this direction. With the right "spark", they will take on a life of their own.
People will not be protesting in the streets or joking about the president on Twitter; they will be too terrified. They won't even share their true feelings with family members at first. Those who do may come to regret it. The media will stop their self-censorship. Instead, they will be forcibly censored, and those who do not comply will risk arrest, torture, and/or execution. Society and all its institutions will be radically restructured. No matter where you are, you will be terrified of the person above you in the social hierarchy, or will come to fear them soon enough. Prisons will probably be largely emptied, releasing many of the worst criminals. Their cells will be taken by ordinary citizens who got caught saying the wrong thing, or were suspected of thinking about perhaps saying the wrong thing. And many of those "ex"-criminals will be given places of honor in the new social hierarchy.
All will be justified in the name of some high-sounding ideology that has the answer for everything. Ideas like the fourth turning may even be deformed to such an extent that they end up resembling the Marxists' use and abuse of history - its implacable logic necessitating the embrace of a reign of terror to destroy the old order and usher in the new one. Will that be what happens? We'll just have to wait and see.