Crowds and Mathematics III
The great mystery, in the ashes of any civilization, is how it fell, since we can see its works and their might. How could a race of such strong beings succumb, and how did it happen? -- our minds relive every betrayal, every night of burning cities, every lonely suicide by one of the few who saw the collapse imminent. To understand the process of a civilization dying, we must understand how people move from an inward strength to an outer one, and how it thus shapes them to lack the direction needed to put great strength in the right place, and therefore, lays before them the poison of their doom.
When there is consensus, one can point to an idea or deed and say, "It does fulfill that which we together value, thus it is great," and have others agree. All are unified toward a goal. This goal may not be a tangible thing, nor an immediate one, but in every mind there is an image of it, like a golden idol or holy scripture. When this goal disappears, like the sword of Damocles hovering above open ocean, with it goes the ability to esteem any deed as beneficial to the whole culture, and the focus of people in that culture turns to themselves, and ways they can use a public image of self to "prove" the worthiness of self; deeds become secondary to a construct of the individual. In this way crowds are formed, which seems a paradox in that crowds have one will while the individual has one, but it becomes clear that a crowd exists when there is no agreement except a common confusion, and what arises of it is the simplest thing upon which all can agree. Since all are individuals, this agreement is shallow at best.
In place of a universal collective good, the crowd seeks universal absolutes, and thus begins to construct an ideal in its image, whether a God or a set of laws and customs which respect an idealized, average individual, and erect rigid boundaries across which none other may cross, protecting each individual from criticism or assessment of failure, using that ideal defined by boundaries and not desires for achievement. It is a subtle sleight of hand, but an important one, as now the individual defines himself or herself not by what is possible, but by what is possessed, and not by what is internal, but by what can be recognized by all others in the crowd. It is a humbling position, through which one receives a sense of self, by showing the group an image and with their approval, claiming it as one's own. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and thus the humility undertaken internally is reversed in an external persona that is assertive, combative and most of all, selfish.
Why would one do anything for the collective, after all, when the collective is so disorganized and demanding that it must be shown something pleasing to approve the individual? Those who speak too much truth are dismissed; they have violated one part of the Absolute rule which states the importance of never making another appear to be diminished, unless of course they have violated the rule, and thus preserves the crowd as individuals. This trap is brilliant in its simplicity, in that where working together the crowd could have everything they desire, instead they work against each other and claim the balance established as a form of collaboration, meaning that simple tasks which could be done with quickly, leaving the day for the individual to develop, instead take far longer because of the complexities of interlocking webs of absolute demands and the conflicts they progenerate. In this realization, the individual sees the crowd as necessary but not an ally, and thus it is every man for himself: the individual combats the world as whole in order to make a pile of money and haul it off to an untouchable lair, promoting a paranoia and distrust of all others, who are trying to do the same thing regardless of who or what it destroys.
In such a society, rules are more important than reality, because rules represent collective consent where reality is visible in varying degrees to those who can see it. For this reason, if one points to reality and says, "Isn't it obvious?" there will be some in the crowd who do not see it, and will be alienated and will take their business elsewhere, fracturing the crowd's single will, and this is the one thing a crowd fears. For this reason, rules are absolute, and breaking them equates to exile from the crowd. Those who are exiles are, of course, likely to act outside the will of the crowd, and thus are commonly crushed - either by the sword, as Christians do, or by public ridicule and the corresponding inability to get decent-paying work, relegating them to the permanent underclass that feeds the machines with its bodies. A person from this society, when asked what is real, does not observe, but consults a reference work; if something is known to have been against the rules in the past, it is categorized apart from all things considered possible. Further, anything which ends an individual world is a tragedy, thus except under extreme and heavily-justified, usually with mountains of paperwork and public proceeding, circumstances, any life lost is a tragedy that threatens the crowd by illustrating to each individual how fragile they are, and how anything better than them could easily destroy them.
This realization spurs crowds toward revenge, proactive revenge and neutralization, of anything which could possibly rise above the mass. It is well and good to succeed in ways permitted by rule, because everyone knows it is a matter of following rules and persistence and thus means nothing of the inner spirit, and therefore cannot place one person above another. However, to rise in strength or character outside of that approved by the crowd is to reveal the impotence of crowds, and thus is a hanging offense in crowds throughout the universe. There is no sense of cooperation or reverence; the individual is king, and through the abstract concept of the individual as boundaries none may criticize, the crowd is composed of individuals, who wield its passive and subtle revenge through civility, through commerce, and through endless labyrinthine bureaucratic government designed to confound anyone who values his time and experience more than his money and standing with the paper-pushers. In the ways prescribed by rule, all compete against all others; none work together, except as means of getting ahead for themselves, and the community as a whole is viewed as a substrate from which the individual may take so that it can recede to safe haven with profit removed from the ongoing cycle of social growth.
To keep this system maintaing itself, crowds institute a form of Ponzi scheme, by which those who pay now support those who bought in years ago, and those who are now making money are doing it by bringing more people into the crowd and forcing them also to bear the yoke of industrial labor. Each works for his or her own gain, and thinks not of the whole, thus even when facing a situation that will end bad, says glibly, "Not in my lifetime!" and runs off with whatever wealth has accrued, thankful to be out of a system that pits each against all. Since this goal is shared among all, it is used as a means of assessing other people, which is the only such assessment permitted by rule. What is being measured is not internal to a person, but something they possess, and thus to keep up the illusion of respecting the individual, the crowd invents self-image. It is an external construct designed to represent the individual, and it is composed of both things one owns and things one does or claims to value, a social avatar composed of static achievement. As individuals see themselves in terms of this external self, inside they are not very secure, and thus they work harder to affirm the external as a means of compensation, even though this only increases their insecurity.
Low self-esteem of this widespread and pervasive sort motivates people to do what they can to enhance their external image. They do this through highly visible but not necessarily effective acts, especially those which show humility and thus make them appealing to each member of the crowd; they love to help the less fortunate, to show how much wealthy they possess and therefore, how much humility they can afford. They play games with this external ego, taking pride in having said a witty thing that showed another to be in the wrong, according to the Absolute rules of the social game, or in owning something that few others have, or in being able to claim membership in elites or a position of power in the social hierarchy: all of this has nothing to do with the person within, and screams "I am important, because the crowd approves of what I do!" - forgetting of course that the memory of the crowd is shorter than that of a hungry dog.
In life, only one person ever faces mortality, and that is the individual; the crowd does not, and no degree of external approbation will stop the unstoppable descent of death. To compensate, a form of cognitive dissonance of existential self-justification, the individual works harder to glorify the self in image; image is safe, as it can be "objectively" shared with the crowd, where qualitative measurements such as inner strength and degree to which a job is done well are only known to those with the brains and attention span to see it (imagine Arthur Schopenhauer trying to explain the importance of philosophy to a moron). The building up of external self is an addiction that never ends, as each time it is built the internal doubt increases proportionately, until the individual faces death with open eyes for a mere moment, and in a howl of terror rushes back to the tangible: those things the entire crowd can see and agree exist, and even place a value on which they swear is above that of death. Through this collective denial of mortality, ease of heart is achieved, since somewhere in even the dumber people is the awareness that their lives are being spent for others, on tasks that require less time to complete, in lieu of developing the self and fulfilling some kind of destiny.
Disorganization such as this has no route but collapse, as all the great civilizations have done, leaving behind both ruins and people with some of the abilities of the old, but none of the inner wisdom. In our current civilization, we have tried to unify the world, figuring that if we are all in it together, it won't collapse, and if it does, none will escape to be victors over our graves. But who is to say this hasn't happened before? If even 50,000 years ago a civilization as advanced in technology as ours existed, and then passed into a time when there was noone to keep the power plants working, maintain the computers and read the books in the library, its artifacts would not exist at this time: the ages would reduce them to dust and the mingling of tongues obliterate their memory. Maybe that civilization found out, as ours is about to, that all external resources are finite; there is only so much land, so much oil, so many fish in the sea, and as we grow, we reduce those amounts daily.
We are killing all of the things with inward strength, things that self-renew like forests and wild species. To kill them, we do not need to kill all of the individuals, but only to destroy enough of them that those remaining have few breeding options and thus the pretty girls get carried off by ugly rich men and the geniuses die alone. When they collapse, and our civilization falls apart in chaos or into third world disorder, it will be unable to sustain itself if a climactic shift, such as an ice age, comes. This will lay the groundwork for the mystery of its collapse, as those who maintain the great works from earlier times will probably not leave notes to that effect, but will steal anything they can eat and then die as well after the easy ways of survival are covered under ice and ruins. Much like humans, civilizations dying of old age do so slowly, with the end being as anticlimactic as the realization that death, also, is mundane.
My advice to those who have read this far, and have enough clear sight in their souls to resolve in their inner being the will to live on even if they will not personally reap the results, is to head to the north. In the lands of ice it is not easy to live, but it is easy to hide from the rampaging southerners who, seeing death written upon the wall, will attempt to gain temporary immortality by revenge on those who have done better. Among the icy caves of the north, shelter can be found, and survival had by those who are both crafty and of inner strength enough to see the long-term plan without cares for personal gratification at the expense of it. It is like a filter, this arctic time, which admits only those who have faith in life and have overcome their external self-image enough to see reality for what it is: an ongoing process, in which we are but actors. Memorize Beethoven, and memorize the Eddas and Rig Veda, so that in the future we may have some of a past that is otherwise destined to be lost in the passage of failed civilizations.
January 29, 2005