The Red Menace

Terrifying Enemies and Opiates of the Masses

To start, consider the link between anxiety and addiction. In short: an addiction is a means of controlling anxiety. The addict reaches for the needle, of whatever sort, in response to awareness of powerlessness relative to some internal or external circumstance. The alteration of awareness holds out the prospect of escape, and thus, control of what is otherwise uncontrollable.

Remember the ending of Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil, where the protagonist – after a series of prophetically erotic dreams – becomes involved in a revolution against a tyrannical state? This lands him locked in the torture chamber, at the mercy of a professional sadist so thoroughly remade by the state that mercy is not even a memory. There’s no way out, except he finds a way out, within his own imagination.

This is what we might call the gnostic escape, insofar as we regard it as a real possibility. More generally, it is the delusion the addict unsuccessfully pursues.

Anyway, point being, addiction beckons in the face of profound feelings of hopelessness; and this addiction doesn’t have to have anything to do with a substance. We make our own drugs, within our own bodies, simply by making sense of the world. What I’m getting at is the idea of worldview as a drug. More specifically, the drug of worldview as an addiction employed in the face of persistent anxiety.

With this in mind, we might consider an obvious means of controlling large groups of people by exploiting their feelings of powerlessness; offering, rather than any real means of effecting control, an addictive escape into the certainty of a particular worldview. The conspiracy aficionados might break it down this way:

Problem: A world terrifyingly beyond control
Reaction: Anxiety, depression and despair
Solution: Some worldview that makes sense of everything and holds out the prospect of control.

Trump and the Mueller investigation demonstrate this pattern perfectly. Trump is the reality tens of millions of people find terrifyingly beyond control. The anxiety, depression and despair his election brought are too well-known to need proof. So, we might just look at the way the Resistors leap to every event as a sign of the approaching Mueller Millennium. The promised time, that is, when Justice rides in like Buff Jesus, to bring the world back under control, rewarding the virtuous and consigning the evil-doers to the Lake of Fire.

Of course this pattern isn’t limited to the Left. It’s the dominant social form in the Age of Addiction, the chaotic boundary between Pisces and Aquarius. But let’s set the astrological metaphor aside…

Point being: we are constantly being sold the prospect of making sense, as a solution to the overwhelming feelings of anxiety brought about by awareness of a world terrifyingly beyond control. As Roger Waters put it some decades ago:

Is it any wonder, that the monkey’s confused?
He says, “Mama, the President’s a fool.
Why do I have to keep reading these technical manuals?”
And the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the brokers on Wall Street say,
“Don’t make us laugh, you’re a smart kid.
Time is linear,
memory’s a stranger,
history’s for fools,
man is a tool,
in the hands of the Great God Almighty.”
And they gave him command of a nuclear submarine,
and sent him back in search of
the Garden of Eden.

That might not make the situation any clearer in the moment. Might even muddy the waters. It’s just so brilliant that I can’t resist.

This addiction to narrative is at the heart of what is called ideological possession, Left or Right. Gun advocate or gun control advocate. Hence, for example, Jordan Peterson’s best-selling book aims to provide a framework for achieving a degree of control over our individual lives, so as to render people less susceptible to the siren song of ideology, less in need of an escape from their own powerlessness, less in need of abolishing reality in order to feel ok.

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