The human mind in action: For today, we're going to throw to Andrew Sullivan with respect to revolution.
In the passage shown below, Sullivan is describing a standard form of human mental functioning in times of revolution. Below, we'll make a further connection:
SULLIVAN (6/26/20): The impulse for wiping the slate clean is universal. Injustices mount; moderation seems inappropriate; radicalism wins and then tries to destroy the legacy of the past as a whole. The Taliban’s notorious destruction of the great Buddhas of Bamian in Afghanistan was a similar attempt to establish unquestioned Islamic rule. “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to Allah that we have destroyed them,” Mullah Mohammed Omar explained. This was the spirit of Paris in 1789 as well. “If we love truth more than the fine arts,” the Enlightenment figure Denis Diderot remarked, “let us pray to God for some iconoclasts.” (He was also the lovely chap who insisted that “humankind will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” And in the French Revolution, of course, he almost got his way.) The Romans, for their part, eventually decided that the only way to govern Jews was to physically destroy their Temple in Jerusalem.This is the way our tiny minds tend to work when we decide it's time for a change. Nuance simply isn't our thing. We become convinced that our tribe is completely and totally right, and that everything else must fall. Everyone else should be in prison, or in reeducation camp.
Iconoclasm is not just vandalism and violence. It is a very specific variety that usually signifies profound regime change. That’s why the toppling of old Soviet monoliths in the 1989 liberation of Eastern Europe was so salient. They were important symbols of that sclerotic Soviet empire’s power. And for true revolutionary potential, it’s helpful if these monuments are torn down by popular uprisings. That adds to the symbolism of a new era, even if it also adds to the chaos. That was the case in Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when the younger generation, egged on by the regime, went to work on any public symbols or statues they deemed problematically counterrevolutionary, creating a reign of terror that even surpassed France’s.
And Mao’s model is instructive in another way. It shows you what happens when a mob is actually quietly supported by elites, who use it to advance their own goals. The Red Guards did what they did—to their friends, and parents, and teachers—in the spirit of the Communist regime itself. They murdered and tortured, and subjected opponents to public humiliations—accompanied by the gleeful ransacking of religious and cultural sites. In their attack on the Temple of Confucius, almost 7,000 priceless artifacts were destroyed. By the end of the revolution, almost two-thirds of Beijing’s historical sites had been destroyed in a frenzy of destruction against “the four olds: old customs, old habits, old culture, and old ideas.” Mao first blessed, then reined in these vandals.
We remain amazed, on a nightly basis, by the way Rachel Maddow is drawn to Locking Them Up. Consider the current circumstance:
In the current circumstance, our liberal elite can't conceive of the possibility that William Barr, rightly or wrongly, actually believes that the prosecutions of Cohen, Flynn and Stone were a type of politicized sham. For ourselves, we can't imagine why any liberal or progressive would have any faith, at this point, in prosecutions which were closely connected to Comey.
That said, the call of the tribe is loud. Plainly, our tribe can't even conceive of the possibility that someone else—in this case, Barr—could actually believe, rightly or wrongly, that he is doing something right by challenging or examining these particular prosecutions.
Sullivan is describing the mental impulses which arise during times of revolution. As Sullivan notes, these dimwitted impulses may even emerge in pursuit of revolutionary values which are long overdue and good.
In fairness, some people may believe that this type of upheaval is the only way you can actually get something done. Almost surely, that isn't true. But, as David Letterman and Gallagher proved, we humans do like to smash things!
Our human brains just aren't real sharp. Meanwhile, as a group, we're unable to notice this fact. Our mobs start to rampage through the streets. Those who aren't inclined to mouth their new sacred phrases will be frogmarched away.
How poorly do our human minds actually work? Consider the later Wittgenstein! According to Professor Horwich, this is what he did:
HORWICH (3/3/13): Wittgenstein claims that there are no realms of phenomena whose study is the special business of a philosopher, and about which he or she should devise profound a priori theories and sophisticated supporting arguments. There are no startling discoveries to be made of facts, not open to the methods of science, yet accessible “from the armchair” through some blend of intuition, pure reason and conceptual analysis. Indeed the whole idea of a subject that could yield such results is based on confusion and wishful thinking.Say what? Our allegedly greatest thinkers have been tangled up in "the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking?"
This attitude is in stark opposition to the traditional view, which continues to prevail. Philosophy is respected, even exalted, for its promise to provide fundamental insights into the human condition and the ultimate character of the universe, leading to vital conclusions about how we are to arrange our lives. It’s taken for granted that there is deep understanding to be obtained of the nature of consciousness, of how knowledge of the external world is possible, of whether our decisions can be truly free, of the structure of any just society, and so on—and that philosophy’s job is to provide such understanding. Isn’t that why we are so fascinated by it?
If so, then we are duped and bound to be disappointed, says Wittgenstein. For these are mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking...He asks, “[w]here does [our] investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were all the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble)”—and answers that “(w)hat we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand.”
Plainly, any such notion is counterintuitive. But a steady application of Wittgenstein's analytical method can show that much of our allegedly highest thinking actually has, in point of fact, been "nothing but houses of cards"—was based on "grammatical confusion."
Trust us, though—no one in the press corps or the academy is going to perform any such deliberation. No one but Horwich, that is.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Our analytical skills are very limited.
Optically, our human capabilities can't overcome certain optical illusions. Physiologically, we can't command our leg to hold still if someone taps our knee the right way.
Intellectually, our allegedly greatest minds cant help fallin' in love with those "linguistic illusions." Given all these obvious flaws, why should we expect revolutionary cadres to show something resembling good sense?
At present, our revolutionaries are worrying about statues and Halloween costumes. No one is going to discusses the lives of children in our low-income schools or all the missing money getting looted from our health care "system."
We're too busy getting the heretics fired. At some point, the virus dies out.
Revolutionary lingo: According to Sullivan, "Revolutionaries also create new forms of language to dismantle the existing order." He describes the way "the woke shift their language all the time, so that words that were one day fine are now utterly reprehensible."
He doesn't discuss another way the saints will rearrange language. They will routinely invent new forms of speech which help the elect identify others who are elect.
Current example—police are no longer brutal to black people. Police are now brutal to black bodies. These stilted new locutions create a form of tribal signalling. The saints can tell that someone can be trusted if they use the stilted new phrases and terms. Oldspeak is a signal of danger.
This is the way our tiny minds work. Our human minds are very tiny, and we're very strongly inclined to march ourselves off to tribal war.
We're wired to create the other. Or so anthropologists say.