Many years ago a Jewish acquaintance informed me the reason Moses and his people wandered in the desert for 40 years was so that all the former slaves would die off. He didn’t explain further, because he didn’t have to. I knew what he meant.
There are two conflicting desires in people: the desire to be free, and the desire to be a slave. Some think the desire to be a slave is not actually that desire, but instead the desire for security, or the desire to submit to authority. No matter how you define it, it is still, to me, ultimately, the desire to be a slave. Would that we not be like this!
Dostoevsky, in his The Brothers Karamazov, wrote the most famous chapter in all of literary history – “The Grand Inquisitor” – about people’s desire to give up their freedom as fast as possible, in order to turn themselves into slaves.
He noted people want to form communities and then find a leader to worship.
“So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship,” says the Inquisitor. “This craving for the community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and for all of humanity since the beginning of time.”
If you want to see a frightening and almost perfect example of this “community of worship,” watch “The Triumph of the Will,” in which a crowd of people, blissfully smiling, salute Hitler as he drives by. Thousands of them, nearly all with looks of worship on their faces. And then there is Hitler, with a look of smugness and satisfaction on his, knowing these people “love” him.
I have seen no better example of a group worshipping its leader than this film.
Dostoevsky also wrote the way to manipulate people was through his famous trio of “miracle, mystery and authority.” He also wrote of the “base raptures of the slave…worship[ping]…deeds of witchcraft and sorcery….[who] will cast down temples and drench the earth with blood.” You can see all of this in “Triumph.”
In fact, whenever you see thousands of people smiling and worshipping their leader, seeing him as their Messiah, you can be sure the earth will be drenched with blood, because these people always have to find a scapegoat to blame their problems on, and their leader will tell them who it is.
Hitler was the authority that people worshipped (or: the sorcerer that the willing slaves were in thrall to); the flags and swastikas and the torches and bonfires created feelings of an almost religious awe (miracle and mystery), and the rest was catastrophic history.
When I imaginatively put myself in the minds of the people in that crowd, I understand what they felt. The awe, the worship of the leader, the Dionysian frenzy, the giving up of self-consciousness and self-responsibility, and of anxiety and fear and envy, and being told what good and evil is, and who is the cause of all your troubles, that warm herd feeling...how seductive!
“Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil?” asks the Inquisitor. Ultimately, many people want someone else to tell them who is good and who is evil. And the person they want to tell them what is good and what is evil, are their leaders.
Jacques Ellul, in his The Technological Society, wrote, “The suppression of the critical facility – man’s growing incapacity to distinguish truth from falsehood, the individual from the collectivity, action from talk, reality from statistics, and so on -- is one of the most evident results of the technical power of propaganda.”
Those herd feelings and the desire to worship exists in everyone, including me. And I know it would be wonderful – for a very short time. Then it leads to horrors – drenching the earth in blood. While individuals, in their daily lives, can often tell good from bad, the herd, unfortunately, never can, which is why it is so easy for leaders to lead it by its nose.
This worship of leaders – ugh. I’ve met people who referred to former President Bush as “my President.” I’ve pointed out to them that in 1938 they would have been saying “mein Fuhrer,” which they didn’t believe and outraged them, even though it’s true.
Look at the many supposedly rational people who voted for Barak Obama, and how at first they idealized, cheered and worshipped him, ignoring the fact he’s just another not very smart, corrupt Chicago/Cook County politician.
Among “libertarians,” notice how many have fallen for the delusions of Ayn Rand, some of them going so far as to worshipping Atlas Shrugged as a Bible to be consulted for the answers to nearly every problem in life.
I’m sure people were like this in 5000 B.C. and I’m sure they’re going to be like this in 5000 A.D. They certainly exist today, because I see them.
Some of them, the nationalists, tend to not be particularly thoughtful or reflective, although they think they are. They consider themselves patriotic and pro-military. They think God supports their country and no one else’s. Any country that opposes their country is evil. The opposite side of that coin is, of course, is that their country alone is good, indeed sacred.
One of the problems with the above line of thought is that some people in other countries are exactly the same, and think about us as some people here think about them. If this was not true, then “the Fatherland” in WWII would not have been fighting “the Motherland,” which, in the Battle of Stalingrad, culminated in over one million casualties, which is more than the U.S. has lost in all of its wars combined.
The people on both sides were of course “patriots” who thought God was on their side. Both sides were wrong. People in groups – herds -- can’t tell the difference between God and Satan, between good and evil.
As Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote, “’I’ is from God and ‘We’ is from the Devil.” Or, to use a more famous quote about some past lunatics, “My name is Legion, for there are many of us.”
Perhaps “Mass Man” is a better term than “groups.” Individuals can think: groups, Mass Man, cannot. Because Mass Man cannot think, he seeks a leader to worship and tell him what to do, to be his brains. Says Jules Monnerot, “There is no such thing as a collective critical facility.” .
I am reminded of the Borg, in which the individual members do not think, have no free will, no anxiety or fear or envy, are taken care of womb-to-tomb, and have abdicated everything in their lives to the Borg Queen -- whose most famous puzzled comment is, “Why do you resist us? We only wish to improve the quality of your lives.”
To hold the herd together, a scapegoat must always be found, so the herd can project all evil onto it. This is done through the propaganda of which I wrote, which in its simplest form tells people, “We are good, they are evil; because they are evil they are going to attack and destroy us, so we must destroy them first.”
And is not modern-day propaganda as close to witchcraft and sorcery as we have today? After all, has not “casting a spell” always meant the use of words?
Philosopher and theologian Rene Girard, author of Violence and the Sacred, and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, wrote that scapegoating and human sacrifice were endemic and casually accepted in the pagan world (which makes the “modern” world just as pagan).
Girard believed there were two functions to the scapegoat: social cohesion (holding the herd together), and the attempt to renew society by doing violence to the scapegoat. The theologian Walter Wink, author of The Powers That Be, called the second function "the Myth of Redemptive Violence." Both authors thought people, indeed entire societies, believed they could be made whole (a word with the same root as "healthy" and "hale") by projecting their own imperfections onto the scapegoat and eradicating it by violence
Mass Man, brainless sheeple that he always is, always falls for propaganda, and so marches off to war and then over a cliff. Or maybe a ditch, as in the Biblical story about the blind leading the blind. And all in the belief he will taken care of by those he worships, that his “enemies” will be eradicated, and that he and his society will be renewed by violence and war. And in their topsy-turvy world, they believe this slavery is really freedom.
After all, look how many Americans still think the State can renew Iraq and Afghanistan and impose “democracy” and “freedom” on them by killing hundreds of thousands of people.
To sum up: people in herds seek to give up their freedom to a leader they worship, because they don’t want to think and instead want to be taken care of and entertained – bread and circuses. They want to be relieved of the responsibility of thinking about good and evil and instead want to be told what it is. They can be easily manipulated through propaganda (“We are good and they are evil”) into thinking their leader can destroy their “enemies” and so save and renew their society.
It’s modern-day sorcery and witchcraft, and it works every time to ensorcel and then enslave the susceptible.
None of what I’ve written is new. Power-mad rulers have always known these things, sometimes instinctively. Hitler, half genius, half insane, was a master at it (he wrote, accurately, "To be a leader means to be able to move masses" and "How fortunate for leaders that men do not think").
The problem, always, is that Mass Man doesn’t know any of these things, and when someone tells him, he doesn’t believe any of what he’s told, or worst of all, unable to tell good from evil, he agrees with it.