Civilizations go mad just as men do.
A man goes mad not when his thoughts are false. Everyone has at least some false-to-facts belief. A man goes mad when he loses the faculty that corrects for errors. The faculty he uses to keep his mind trotting on the narrow bridle path of reality is broken: his thoughts no longer answer to the bridle and bit of reason, but run wildly, spitting foam, and carry him not where he wants to go.
A man goes mad when he no longer has the ability to compare the picture in his mind with the world around him, and correct the picture to conform it to the world. Instead he develops a faculty to explain away inconvenient facts. This is what paranoid delusions are: elaborate structures of excuses justifying his contempt for facts and hatred of them.
A madman has no power to correct his falsehoods. They rule him, he does not rule them.
Every civilization is based on a certain number of shared ideas and ideals, what can rightly be called the spirit of the civilization. These ideas and ideals are rarely debated and decided explicitly: they are more like the terms of an unspoken social contract. They are a consensus of the expectations and mutual obligations binding the social order together.
A civilization goes mad not when the ideas and ideals forming its spirit are false. Every society tells itself at least some myths to justify the pains of shouldering the burden of civilized behavior. A civilization goes mad when the faculty which would otherwise bring the ideas back to reality is broken.
A civilization is composed of countless individuals, and so its madness cannot be due to a medical defect of the brain. A civilization is composed of the agreement to abide by civilized standards; hence, it can go mad when and only when the agreement agrees not to permit correction.
So society is mad if the consensus voluntarily adopts a belief that paralyzes its critical thinking. When reason is ruled to be a hate crime, when logic is decreed to be a thought-crime, when society regards the basic truths necessary for society to exist as out-of-bound, unacceptable, and beyond the pale, then the society is mad.
In the case of our modern society, we are at the tipping point where about half of our civilization has gone completely and utterly foam-at-the-mouth mad, and the sane half is slowly losing its ability to restrain them, as the reins restraining the beast slides through terror-pale, weakening and sweaty fingers.
In the case of our modern society, the paralytic belief voluntarily adopted by half of us â€” and I trust my readers know which half I mean â€” is what I call the Unreality Principle.
The Unreality Principle in a word is the principle that, in thought and speech and debate, falsehood is preferred to truth not despite its falsehood but because of its falsehood.
The Unreality Principle is a moral principle that states one ought to be loyal to untruth because it is untrue, and the more untrue it is, the less related to reality, the moral ferocious the loyalty should be.
The agitation of an unreal issue is inversely proportional to how real it is.
The concrete application of the Unreality Principle is to ignore real dangers or diminish them, while magnifying minor dangers or inventing entirely nonexistent ones.
If you recall the degree of agitation produced by the debate over whether logging forests threatened the spotted owl, you will see what I mean. No environmentalist himself was affected in any way by the existence versus the extinction of one variant of one breed of carrion-eating bird. No environmentalist could have even noticed the difference, so far removed was the concern from his daily life.
Likewise for the presence or absence of one degree of difference in global temperatures over the next hundred years; likewise for a thick versus a depleted ozone layer over Antarctica. How many environmentalists even know the name of a single person stationed in Antarctica?
Likewise for hydraulic fracturing, for irradiated foods, electromagnetic fields, dioxin, DDT, chromium, chlorine, heterosexual AIDS, cellphones causing cancer, mad cow disease, bird flu, acid rain, arsenic in the water, ALAR, and on and on. More people worldwide die of diarrhea than of all these threats to health and safety combined, even if the threats were as advertised, which is doubtful.
The point is that real pollution which can really be cleaned up does not agitate the environmentalists, because a problem that organized efforts can solve offers them no excuse for hysteria and self-congratulation, no justification for shutting down businesses, outlawing hairsprays, bankrupting logging companies, passing Draconian and irrational laws strangling the coal industry.
Again, a single felon shot while beating a police officer or beating a neighborhood watch volunteer (whom the press magically turned white) becomes a matter of national turmoil, riot, screaming headlines, and endless nights of violence, if the single felon is black; whereas a score of blacks shot, if shot by other blacks, pass without notice or concern. A gay man killed during a drug deal gone wrong becomes a national issue; a little boy kidnapped, sexually abused, and murdered by a pair of gay men is ejected from the public awareness.
As before, the purpose is not to end racism or bigotry in the United States. The purpose is to aggravate the problem.
Again, consider the epidemic of Islamophobia in the United States, and all the Christian-on-Muslim hate crimes, lynching, and Episcopalian-led riots this has produced.
The problem does not exist.
But the moment Palestinian terrorists launch rockets into Israel against civilian targets, without warning or declaration of war, from launch sites hidden in schools, hospitals and mosques, the Left leap to their collective feet to defend the terrorists. Let another beheading of a captured innocent bystander, a journalist or philanthropist, escape into You Tube, the immediate reaction of the Left is to fret about protecting Muslims from the reprisals of the bloody, violent, gin-soaked, brutish louts of the Anglican Church death squads.
Again, consider the War on Women. This is what the Leftist label the horrifying epidemic of Leftist sluts demanding the Pope to pay for their birth control and abortions, and Conservatives asking why the Pope should foot the bill? Meanwhile women, real women, are suffering genital mutilation, being beaten, and even killed at the hands of Muslims, and forced to wear garbage bags to cover every inch of skin, and the Left, instead of calling this a War on Women, calls those who tell the truth about this Islamophobes.
Again, consider the agitation produced by the allegedly racist name ‘Redskins’ for a sports team, which few real American Indians, or none, actually find offensive, and even if it were offensive, few Indians are girlish and weakminded enough to shame themselves by complaining. This is the very definition of a non-issue, and yet it is repeatedly in the headlines. Meanwhile, real racists, Blacks calling for the murder of Whites, and Muslims calling for and performing the murder of Jews, are ignored, or excused, or applauded by the Left.
Again, consider the agitation that the union between sodomites be considered as equal to marriage, or even be considered marriage at all. This is a preeminent example of unreality in action: A non-mating behavior is demanding the name and dignity of a mating ritual and of a religious sacrament, even though sodomy is not a mating act. Two organisms of the same sex cannot mate. They have no need for a mating ritual.
Here the unreality is ultimate: the definitions and differences between male and female, chaste and perverted, sex and non-sex, copulation and sodomy, are all done away with, ignored, dismissed. Any honest talk about the distinction between them is ruled as out of bounds: distinction is discrimination.
The examples are infinite. My difficulty is in selecting few enough to fit in the space of a column.
That eminent and honest historian, Lemuel Gulliver, reports the following concerning his observations of the habits of mind of the Laputans, that most intellectual and enlightened of people living on a levitating island that floats halfway between earth and heaven, and crushes any town not protected by a Church steeple:
These people are under continual disquietudes, never enjoying a minutes peace of mind; and their disturbances proceed from causes which very little affect the rest of mortals.
Their apprehensions arise from several changes they dread in the celestial bodies: for instance, that the earth, by the continual approaches of the sun towards it, must, in course of time, be absorbed, or swallowed up; that the face of the sun, will, by degrees, be encrusted with its own effluvia, and give no more light to the world; that the earth very narrowly escaped a brush from the tail of the last comet, which would have infallibly reduced it to ashes; and that the next, which they have calculated for one-and-thirty years hence, will probably destroy us.
They are so perpetually alarmed with the apprehensions of these, and the like impending dangers, that they can neither sleep quietly in their beds, nor have any relish for the common pleasures and amusements of life. When they meet an acquaintance in the morning, the first question is about the sun’s health, how he looked at his setting and rising, and what hopes they have to avoid the stroke of the approaching comet.
This conversation they are apt to run into with the same temper that boys discover in delighting to hear terrible stories of spirits and hobgoblins, which they greedily listen to, and dare not go to bed for fear.
The reason why our society is continually agitated about dangers no more real than the danger of comet-stroke is that the news and entertainment industries, the main influences governing all public discourse are utterly loyal to the Unreality Principle.
They are not only willing to believe false things because they are false, they are proud of the falsehood; and the more obviously and absurdly false the belief is, the more proud they are of believing it.
Once the consensus of society adopts the Unreality Principle as its basic philosophical imperative, then its ability to correct falsehoods in the spirit of the age is broken. No rational discussion can return the general mainstream of opinion away from the brink of madness and back to solid ground because rationality has been outlawed.
Once the consensus of society adopts the Unreality Principle, the civilization is mad.
Don’t miss last week’s column: Political Correctness Rots the Soul.
John C. Wright is a retired attorney and newspaperman who was only once hunted by the police. He is a graduate of St. John College (home of Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books Program“). In 2004 he foreswore his lifelong atheism and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He has published over 10 SF novels, including one nominated for a Nebula award, and was described by Publisherâ€™s Weekly as “this fledgling centuryâ€™s most important new SF talent.” He currently lives in fairytale-like happiness with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their four children.