We sooth ourselves with the notion that the arc of history bends towards justice, but what if that’s just a useful construct to keep us from despair? What if power always wins—and always has?
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, September 16, 2020
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”Charles Baudelaire
Our deep and unsubstantiated belief that good always triumphs eventually is perhaps humanity’s most enduring conspiracy theory and the most exploited flaw in social psychology. We are constantly manipulated by a system designed to keep the wealthy in power and everyone else compliant or angry with an unknowable, mysterious outside force.
It’s a conspiracy theory of our own making, in which we are all complicit, and it never ends.
The idea of the arc of history bending towards a better outcome is the epitome of the long view of things. In most religious teachings, your just reward will not be found in your present circumstances, but in being patient, righteous, obedient and faithful that the eventual dispensing of justice will come at some later date.
Even our understanding of the past is ripe with mythology, revisionist history, romanticism and fabricated memories designed to make us feel better about where we stand today. The human brain does an astoundingly good job at keeping us fat and happy in the Matrix of life, so for the most part, we go along with it.
In the 1999 movie The Matrix, we are teased with the concept that reality itself is not what it seems. That we are not living our best lives after all, but are merely part of a computer-generated, artificial reality meant to keep us compliant. But even in this cinematic fantasy, those who are woke can not be described as quantifiably better off than those who are not. The enlightened live like rats in a sewer, fighting for their lives, while the grateful sleeping masses live in a fantastical America of our own collective imagination.
Put your childish understanding of theology off to the side for a moment. Even if you believe in God, and specifically your particular tribe’s take on it, chances are your understanding of the complexities of your own faith are patently juvenile, a product of early indoctrination, and not of in-depth scholarly study or deep reflection. You believe what you were told to believe, along with all the Sunday school stories where your people, are somehow, of all the people on earth, conveniently also God’s people.
But what if there is no such thing as good and evil, not in any empirical sense? What it history doesn’t bend at all, but steamrolls over everything in its path, without conscience or reason? What if power is the only thing that has ever mattered, and those in power have written the histories that we rely on to tell us how well we’re doing? What if the man who screws people over his entire life, who operates only to make himself comfortable and to satisfy his basest desires, who dies rich and powerful—what if he wins? What if Ayn Rand is right and there is no right or wrong, just human selfishness, unfulfilled desires and self-absorbed motivations?
A conspiracy theory is said be an explanation for a situation or event that involves the machinations of sinister or powerful groups, often political in nature, even though other explanations are more probable. But reality isn’t a conspiracy theory, any more than perception is an absolute. There are no conspiracies in a world where everything is done out in the open.
One could argue that the only real conspiracy is believing in a deeper meaning we cannot see, while refusing to believe what’s happening in front of our very eyes. That is the conspiracy theory that controls all other conspiracy theories. The one to rule them all, if you will.
The French poet Charles Baudelaire is credited with the line, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” There are those who would argue that while he did say something similar others around the same time said pretty much the same thing and that in reality, it is Christopher McQuarrie who wrote the screenplay of the 1995 movie “The Usual Suspects” who deserves as much credit as anyone.
Either way, it is the ultimate conspiracy theory to convince people that a thing you cannot prove, does in fact exist and the reason for your faith is that you cannot prove or disprove its existence.
Fitch’s paradox of knowability provides a challenge to the knowability thesis, which states that every truth is, in principle, knowable. The paradox is that this assumption implies the omniscience principle, which asserts that every truth is known. Essentially, Fitch’s paradox asserts that the existence of an unknown truth is unknowable. So if all truths are knowable, it would follow that all truths are in fact known, but if there is an unknown truth, it would be by its very nature unknowable.
The existence of the devil, or God for that matter, is unknowable as the existence of an all-powerful being is not epistemically possible. You do not know, for instance, that the sun will rise tomorrow because of any real knowledge you have, but you trust that it will because it has every other day in your experience, and you have been told that the earth is a planet that revolves around a star and this causes the passing of what we refer to as time. This is information you both trust and believe to be true. But you have not seen the earth spinning in space and revolving around the sun. You have only tangentially experienced the effects of what one might assume are the results of such an action. Even your knowledge of what makes up a day comes down to trust in information that someone else has gathered and that you have agreed is most likely true.
Our understanding of the basics of life on earth themselves, are an act of faith. So, why if so much of human existence is all so unknowable, do we believe that good must always triumphs over evil, let alone that we will find ourselves on the side of good?
American exceptionalism has been uniquely helpful in the cause of our expansion in light of history. We were bestowed this gift of nearly limitless resources outside of the grip of any entity that could muster the strength to withstand our desires, and so we took it on faith that it must come from God. We were chosen, like Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings, to receive this gift. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
Nothing speaks to the white European conqueror like delusions of grandeur and divine providence to ease the guilt of genocide, slavery and oppression. This must be what God wants for us, otherwise why would he let us do it?
The downside of continuing along a path of evil no one is disallowing you of, is that you begin to believe that only an all-powerful God could grant you this level of authority. Either you are yourself a god, or are at the very least, working in close concert with the Divine himself.
This explains the number of preachers and politicians who get caught doing something socially unacceptable only to discover that they are on the wrong side of the good and evil debate after all. What is one day holy and divine is only later deemed, due to a preponderance of video evidence and eye-witness testimony, to be found to be against the laws of the state of Kentucky and punishable by 25 to life.
What is good, then? What is evil? What is right and what is wrong? Who decides morality and who determines what is criminal? Fallible men put forth as all-powerful gods and capricious deities created in the image of man? Do the laws of man descend from the laws of God? Is morality inherent or a social construct? Are we born good or bad?
We can’t know what we don’t know, as we apparently only barely know that which we claim to know, and possibly as many as half of us don’t even believe that.
The red pill or the blue pill. Those are the choices given us but it’s not clear that either offer truth, let alone anything resembling relief from reality, and may in fact lead to a slavery to ideology.
We are only free to believe what we want to believe based on the artificial reality we’ve constructed for ourselves. Freedom itself is a platonic ideal that is only as true as we believe it to be. Millions of Americans profess to love freedom even as they daily give up personal liberties and engage in social slavery to an ideology they cannot explain.
Morality is nothing more than a social contract of agreed upon ideals. The social contract is a theory or model that originated during the Age of Enlightenment and usually concerns the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. The argument being that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority (of the ruler, or to the decision of a majority) in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order.
The social contract is the computer program if you will, the set of rules we’ve all agreed to play by. It’s no more inherent, natural or artificial than the rules of Monopoly or Parcheesi. It’s as abstract, arbitrary, whimsical and mercurial as if our lives were ruled by the fancies of a goldfish.
The 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that individuals’ actions were bound only by their personal power and conscience., and that rational individuals would voluntarily consent to give up their natural freedom to obtain the benefits of political order. Hobbes famously said that in a “state of nature”, human life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In the absence of political order and law, everyone would have unlimited natural freedoms, including the “right to all things” and thus the freedom to plunder, rape and murder; there would be an endless “war of all against all.”
To avoid this anarchy, free men contract with each other to establish a civil society through a social contract in which they gain security in return for subjecting themselves to an absolute sovereign, one man or an assembly of men. Though the sovereign’s edicts may well be arbitrary and tyrannical, Hobbes saw absolute government as the only alternative to the terrifying anarchy of a state of nature. Hobbes asserted that humans consent to abdicate their rights in favor of the absolute authority of government (whether monarchical or parliamentary).
The social contract and the political order it creates are simply the means towards an end—the benefit of the individuals involved—and legitimate only to the extent that they fulfill their part of the agreement. Hobbes argued that government is not a party to the original contract and citizens are not obligated to submit to the government when it is too weak to act effectively to suppress factionalism and civil unrest. According to other social contract theorists, when the government fails to secure their natural rights or satisfy the best interests of society, citizens can withdraw their obligation to obey, or change the leadership through elections or other means including, when necessary, violence. Alternatively, those such as John Locke believed that natural rights were inalienable, and therefore the rule of God superseded government authority and was invoked in the United States Declaration of Independence. Either way, the central assertion is that social contract theory approaches the law and political order as not natural, but human creations.
The more we learn about the reality of our own cultural and national history, the more we understand how little we actually knew, how much of our present is based on a past that does not exist. The more we learn about how our minds work, how fallible things like memory and perception are, the more we recognize that our reality is entirely subjective.
If we no longer know our distant past, and are unsure about even our own recent history, how sure can we be so sure about what we think we know? When even our knowable, definable facts are taken as an act of faith based on what other people know, how much empirical knowledge do any of us even have?
If I hand you a $20 bill, most people assume it’s a real $20 bill. We know in theory that there are such things as counterfeit $20 bills, but we generally speaking “default to trust” meaning we assume most people are telling the truth. This is how we get through life, because the alternative would be impossible.
What we don’t do is question the idea that this little piece of paper, printed with ink on paper, both of which we are told is special, holds enough value to buy you an egg cooker, a miniature desk humidifier, a cherry pitter, a vat of coconut oil, or a shatterproof wine glass from Amazon and have it shipped to your home. If it has the number 100 on it, it’s worth five times as much. Same piece of paper. It’s absurd.
I am still not over the idea that the solar system is not sitting still in space like I always thought it would be. I had assumed the sun was sitting still in space, right where God had placed it with his ancient hand. The planets spun around it at dizzying speeds, in nice perfect circles, exactly as they did on the mobile hanging in my third- grade classroom.
To learn that the entire operation is hurtling through space like a corkscrew is disconcerting at best and utterly terrifying when you consider that men and women have chosen to leave the planet for any length of time. It’s like a fly cruising around inside your car as you do 80mph down the freeway. Everything is fine, until you open the window. What does the fly know and when does it know it? We don’t know, for it is unknowable. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
As the great 21st century philosopher and film director Joel Coen once said, “It’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”