Saturday, January 22, 2011

Empires come, and empires go, the theme of my last entry. What sustains empire is that the rulers are able to continue to rule, and those who are ruled continue to submit to being ruled. It is as simple as that. It is much like the monetary system. We are told that money has value. We use money to purchase things, and those to whom we give money, give us things in exchange. Paper currency (money) has value, only because we believe it does. Intrinsically it has little value except for perhaps its ability to start fires, and a 100$ bill is no better at lighting a smoke than a 10$ bill.

So the ruled continue to submit to the rulers, but why do they do so? Well, there is an intricate interplay of forces at work that enforces social order, and prevents people from stepping out of line.

In a 'democratic' system, the use of propaganda and myth is more important than violent repression, because there has to be the appearance of choice. People are more likely to revolt if they are brutally repressed, as in a dictatorship. In a democracy, it is important to give people the impression that they have the opportunity to improve their lives, even if that is not the case. The apathy associated with self blame makes people less likely to do anything that might upset the apple cart of the social order, and the promotion of individual activities and time wasting pursuits makes it less likely that people will unite to oppose those in power.

Horatio Alger stories promote the American dream, which is in fact a mythological construct helping to maintain the social order. They promote the idea that if you are determined to succeed, then you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and you will get what you desire. The implication, of course, is that if you don't succeed it is because of your own flaws. It has nothing to do with 'the system'. This myth is important to promulgate, because if people understood that it was in fact the system that was preventing them from getting ahead, they might actually attempt to change the system. And those in power are not too fond of that idea.
I was chuffed to see that Colbert actually believes you can pull yourself up your boot straps. He saw a guy do it in Cirque De Soleil once...

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