(Originally published in 2015)
Not too many years back, warnings of Peak Oil circulated widely, and they made me consider something a good deal more dangerous: Peak Obedience.
If that concept strikes you as odd, I understand, we’ve all been living inside an obedience cult.
In our typical “scary cult” stories, we find people who have given up their own functions of choice and do crazy things because they are told to by some authority. While inside their cult, however, it all makes sense; it’s all self-reinforcing.
So, inside a cult of obedience, obedience would seem righteous; more than anything else, it would seem normal. And I think that very well describes the Western status quo.
Obedience, however, should not seem normal to us. Obedience holds our minds in a child state, and that is not fitting for any healthy person past their first years of life. It also presupposes that the people we obey have complete and final knowledge; and in fact, they do not: politicians, central bankers, and the other lords of the age have been wrong – obviously and publicly wrong – over and over.
So, obedience is not a logical position to take. But the mass of humanity believes that something horrible will happen if they don’t. After that, they merely need to be supplied with a defensible reason to comply.
But all of that, even though true, isn’t what I’d like you to take away from this discussion. My primary point is this:
When we obey, we make ourselves less conscious; we make ourselves less alive.
Why Obedience Is Peaking
Over the past two centuries, authority has benefited from a perfect storm of influences. There was never such a time previously, and there probably will never be another. Briefly, here’s what happened:
Morality was broken
For better or worse, Western civilization had a consistent set of moral standards from about the 10th century through the 17th or 18th century. Then, through the 20th century, those standards were broken.
Note that I did not say morality was changed. The cultural morality of the West was not replaced, but broken. The West has endured a moral void ever since.
Previously, people routinely compared authority’s decrees to a separate standard (most often the Bible), to see if they held up. But with Western morals broken, authority was freed from examination, and thus from restraint.
Economies of scale
Factories made it much cheaper to produce large numbers of goods than the old way, in individual workshops. Economists call this an economy of scale. Thus a cult of size began, making “obedience to the large” seem normal.
Fiat currency has allowed governments to spend money without consequences. It allowed politicians to wage war and to provide free food, free education, and free medicine… all without overtly raising taxes. Fiat currency made it seem that politics was magical.
Built on the factory model, massive government institutions undertook the education of the populace. And more important than their overt curriculum (math, reading, etc.) was their invisible curriculum of obedience to authority. Here, to illustrate, is a quote from the esteemed Bertrand Russell, who is himself quoting Johann Gottlieb Fichte, a founding father of public schooling:
Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.
Mass media turbocharged authority and obedience in the 20th century, followed by the “free account” vultures of Facebook, Google and others. All of this went beyond authority’s grandest dreams.
These things created an unnatural peak for authority. But now, this perfect storm is thinning.
Peak Obedience Is Brittle
Through the 20th century, the people of the West built up a very high compliance inertia. They complied with the demands of authority and taught their children to do the same, until it became automatic. People obeyed simply because they had obeyed in the past.
Authority quickly became addicted to this situation, basing their plans on receiving every benefit of the doubt.
Automatic obedience, however, is a brittle thing. Economies of scale are failing, the money cartel has been exposed, government schools have lost respect, mass media is fading away and everyone knows that Facebook is an addiction. The game continues because the populace is distracted and afraid, but that won’t last forever.
It has long been understood that complex systems breed more complexity, and eventually break themselves. As central authorities try to solve each problem they face, they inevitably create others. Eventually the system becomes so complex, and its costs become so great, that new challenges cannot be solved. Then the system and its authority fail, as they did recently in the Soviet Union.
But again, that’s not my primary point. Obedience turns off the best parts of you. It degrades and kills your creativity; it undercuts your effectiveness and especially your sense of satisfaction.
Don’t sign away your life, no matter how many others do. Live consciously.