Laboring Under a Delusion

In the 1980's, as economic inequality started to increase rapidly again, a curious delusion of neoconservative thought also started to grow in popularity.

Margaret Thatcher expressed this delusion with extreme clarity in a 1987 interview.

They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.

There is no such thing as society, or community. There are just individuals and families. All those things that are communally constructed; from street systems, to sewage systems, to languages, to laws, to schools, to religion, to government ... apparently none of these things are real?

Individual liberty is all that counts according to this delusion. If I make a billion dollars it is all because of little me and my own individual efforts. Therefore, any attempt to tax my billions, by and for the fictional community, is nothing less than robbery.

We seem, as animals which evolved in a state of nature, to have brains that are quite susceptable to this delusion. Part of us wants to believe that we are brave neanderthals, in our nuclear families, carving out lives for ourselves on the African savanna. My billion dollar hoard is really just like a wildebeest brought down by my own skill, determination and effort. It is mine and my family's! Stay away all of you too shiftless and lazy to hunt down your own ungulate.

Neoconservative thinkers are like magicians. They use quirks in how our brain processes and interprets information to fool us into believing things that clearly can't be true. Part of us knows we are being fooled, but the illusion is so powerful and/or pleasant that we suppress our critical thinking skills.

When we are thinking clearly we know it takes a community to raise a child.

Language, science, math, art, music, history, medicine. These all come from the community -directly or indirectly- and without them a child would be no more than a lone neanderthal scratching out a living on the veldt.

People are able to accumulate great wealth only because they live in communities.

Take the smartest entrepreneur, put her or him naked and alone on a desert island, and they will be lucky to just survive. You know, it would actually be relatively easy to try this experiment. Maybe one of the Koch brothers would volunteer, or perhaps Rush Limbaugh?

We know, from the 20th century's misadventures with fascism and communism, that overemphasizing the community at the expense of the individual is disastrous. This was Ayn Rand's great insight. However, Rand, in her genuine horror at totalitarianism, went too far in the defense of individual liberty.

As in so much in life, the trick is finding the right balance.

Until we remove the delusion that there is no such thing as society -that the community is not central to our being homo sapiens- we will find ourselves increasingly exploited by those all to willing to push this false ideology to maintain and grow their ill-gotten gains.

2 responses
Hey Fred:

Thanks for some food for thought here on a rainy night! Your point that "Part of us knows we are being fooled, but the illusion is so powerful and/or pleasant that we suppress our critical thinking skills" really resonates for me. I come from a long line of very conservative catholic blue-collar folk. They have so much fear about life that they stay very narrowly focused on their world because (I think) it's terrifying to think critically or expansively about the the larger world or the choices they make. Thinking expansively is a luxury issue for them. And the GOP knows this and I believe, exploits it.

thanks for sharing your musings!

PS- what app are you using to make those cool drawings?


Thanks for sharing your moving comment. It is really frustrating how much fear still seems to be a driving force in many of our social relationships. It is always heartening when people master their fears and confront whatever is oppressing them. I think it is incumbent upon all of us to reach out and help when that happens.

This whole scenario is playing out in Egypt right now, and it is so inspiring and heartwarming and scary.

The images are all generated from SketchUp models. Some of the images had a little post processing in Photoshop.