The Gulag of the Mind

August 6, 2019

Befuddled and blind, we wander toward the cliff without even seeing it, focusing on our little screens of entertainment and self-absorption.

There are no physical barriers in the Gulag of the Mind--we imprison ourselves, and love our servitude. Indeed, we fear the world outside our internalized gulag, because we've absorbed the narrative that the gulag is secure and permanent.

We've also absorbed the understanding that escape will be punished. Dissent will quickly be suppressed or vilified, and the dissenter socially and economically marginalized.

In a peculiarly human pathology, we now believe the exact opposite of reality: our abuser is our savior, we're getting wealthier when in fact we're getting poorer, the government will always save us, even though the government is the problem, not the solution, and we're entitled to all sorts of good things even as the entire system clings to a veneer of normalcy that is increasingly difficult to maintain.

We dare not realize the crises we're about to face are novel, and the thinking of the past is worse than useless, as doing more of what's failed is about to bear real consequences that cannot be papered over.

Michael Grant described this clinging to the past in his excellent account The Fall of the Roman Empire:

There was no room at all, in these ways of thinking, for the novel, apocalyptic situation which had now arisen, a situation which needed solutions as radical as itself. (The Status Quo) attitude is a complacent acceptance of things as they are, without a single new idea.

This acceptance was accompanied by greatly excessive optimism about the present and future. Even when the end was only sixty years away, and the Empire was already crumbling fast, Rutilius continued to address the spirit of Rome with the same supreme assurance.

This blind adherence to the ideas of the past ranks high among the principal causes of the downfall of Rome. If you were sufficiently lulled by these traditional fictions, there was no call to take any practical first-aid measures at all.

The Gulag of the Mind is constructed of both traditional fictions--that all the looming crises can be solved by repeating what worked in the past 50 years-- and the new ones of virtual signaling--that publicly signaling our virtuous convictions is magically equivalent to actually solving problems, as if our problems are all nothing but a scarcity of virtuous convictions rather than real-world crises that will require immense fortitude and sacrifice to weather, much less resolve.

The Gulag of the Mind depends on technology--or more precisely, on a magical thinking faith that technology will always effortlessly save us: some new form of magic will manifest at the moment of need and we won't have to change anything in our lifestyle or our corrupt power structure.

In the Gulag of the Mind, a perversion of justice passes for real justice: there are two sets of laws and two levels of enforcement: the wealthy and powerful escape justice while commoners are given life-crushing prison sentences for Drug Gulag offenses, and their vehicles and belongings are confiscated for being too poor to pay the state's onerous penalties and fees.

Befuddled and blind, we wander toward the cliff without even seeing it, focusing on our little screens of entertainment and self-absorption. The bottom of the cliff beckons, and filled with the magical sense of security bestowed by the Gulag of the Mind, we imagine we can walk on air and escape unhurt.

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