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Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Political Zeeman Effect and the Silicon Curtain

Why humans create political ideology—and how the Silicon Curtain shows where we're headed

I deology is a disease of societies, and a potentially deadly one: in the past century, more than 150 million lives were lost due to collectivist ideologies. Ideology can destroy culture and send entire civilizations hurtling toward oblivion. It numbs the mind and can turn normally intelligent people into gibbering fanatics.

Even today, ideology is leading Europe and the entire West into cultural aridity. It threatens to undermine the credibility of science, academia, and corporate industry—the very foundations of our civilization.

Ideology simplifies the world by applying value judgments that may or may not appear moralistic, but are in reality concealed ways of defining and obtaining power. Without antibodies such as religion, tradition, and social structure to provide countervailing pressure, the disease of politics can consume an entire society, leaving a burned-out landscape of cultural and intellectual sterility.

Letterboard showing nonsense
Politics corrupts information even more than excessive consumption of beer

Granted, some ideologies are worse than others. Ryszard Legutko, a philosopher who lived much of his life in Poland under communism, singles out egalitarianism as the most harmful one. What he means is what Americans would call radical egalitarianism, which is a principle that goes well beyond our time-honored principle of equality under the law and intrudes on our daily lives. In The Demon in Democracy (reviewed here), he says that egalitarianism weakens communities and deprives us of an identity-giving habitat, and creates a vacuum that is filled by ideology. Progressivist and communist ideologies rewrite history and repress religion, leading to “the total subordination of thinking to the ideological precepts of political action,” leaving little room for disinterested cultivation of the intellect.

In communist societies, everything eventually becomes political. Legutko makes a compelling argument that the same is happening in the West. But why do humans create ideologies in the first place? Why, if ideology is so harmful, do our societies continually fall victim to it?

Lord Acton

Lord Acton famously wrote that all power corrupts. It was almost an offhand remark, possibly derived from others, so he wasn't suggesting it as a scientific truth and didn't propose a mechanism.

One way that power corrupts is its effect on how information is handled. A person engulfed in ideology always runs the risk of making truth subordinate to the cause. When that happens, whatever furthers the cause becomes the truth and whatever impedes the cause becomes a lie. Truth is not just corrupted by ideology; truth is the opposite of ideology. But why? Maybe a phenomenon called the Zeeman effect gives us a clue.

The Zeeman effect

Zeeman effect
Zeeman effect (Source: NASA). Astronomers measured visible light spectra from the region on the sunspot shown by the black line. The right panel shows the spectrum in the region where iron ions emit or absorbs light, with wavelength plotted across the x-axis. The three absorption lines are split by the magnetic field, which is stronger in the sunspot than elsewhere on the Sun.

When atoms are heated, they emit light at specific wavelengths. When there's a strong magnetic field, the original true wavelength disappears*, and instead we get two wavelengths: one at a lower frequency, when the atom's energy is “opposed” to the magnetic field, and the other at a higher one when the energy “approves” of it. This is called the Zeeman effect, and it was one of the earliest demonstrations that quantum mechanics is real. The stronger the magnetic field, the further apart the two lines become.

Astronomers find the Zeeman effect useful in measuring the strength of the magnetic field of a star. But if we “censored” or filtered out one of the lines, we would never know the true wavelength, and we would not even notice that a magnetic field was present.

In the world of opinions, government acts as the magnetic field. Through the political Zeeman effect, whenever power exists, our response to power becomes bifurcated.

Power creates value

Censorship is the expression of the intrusion of ideology into truth. The Soviet Union showed us the result. In the USSR everything was political, and nothing was true unless it was consistent with communist ideology.

The conflict of the 21st century will not be between armies using missiles and bombs, but in the mind. It will be a battle of truth vs politics. The battlefront is on college campuses and on the Internet. In this war, only truth or ideology, not both, can survive.

The three stages of politics are:

  1. Limiting perception of truth (groupthink)
  2. Denying access to the truth (censorship)
  3. Suppressing those who try to find the truth (repression).

Each step causes the next. If the perception of the truth is impaired by groupthink, its victims come to believe that denying access to opposing views is a virtue, and so they censor information. If the censorship succeeds, eventually people come to believe that eliminating the opposition is justifiable.

Europeans deny it, but many parts of their continent are well into the third stage, where it's illegal to express certain opinions, which are labeled as hate speech or some similar term. People expressing such an opinion are blasted in the press and can find themselves in jail (example: politician arrested in the UK in 2014 for quoting Churchill).

Power creates value. Every exercise of power, no matter what kind, produces the same bifurcating effect as political power. Is there such a thing, for example, as objective physical beauty? No, beauty is caused by the motivating power of sexual attraction and mating. It creates both beauty and ugliness. Both terms are meaningless unless expressed in this context.

So does this mean we should abandon politics and speak only in contextualized facts? That would be impossible, because the human mind is genetically programmed to create value. Whenever we are exposed to any form of power, whether it is our desire for a sunny day so we can go water-skiing or the power of government exercised against us, we automatically align ourselves with or against its magnetic field. Although we can strive for truth, we are forced to respond to external influences because we're not omnipotent. In our attempts to gain power and control, we impose our values on the world.

This is what makes ideology so harmful: first it limits our perception, then it limits our access to those facts we need to make decisions. It was the poverty of information and truth, as much as the flawed economic system, that drove communist systems off the cliff.

The Silicon Curtain

America is not far behind Europe. Our news and entertainment media and our universities have gradually become more authoritarian and intolerant of dissent. A recent survey showed that nearly half of college students (49% of females and 38% of males) think the First Amendment doesn't protect whatever it considers to be hate speech.

John Villasenor, who did the survey, was surprised to discover that, as he put it, “freedom of expression is clearly not, in practice, available on many campuses.” Now we have crossed into the second stage of politics as big Internet monopolies use their power over information to censor to squash dissent.

A Silicon Curtain is descending across America. If Legutko is right, we are following in the Soviet Union's footsteps. With our antibodies of religion and tradition weakened, we're discovering just how rapidly the disease of ideology, and its baleful effects—fascism and fanaticism—can sweep across an entire body politic.

* Technically it doesn't disappear entirely. The original wavelength is still present, but is reduced in intensity and polarized.

sep 21, 2017; last edited oct 08, 2017, 3:44 pm

See also

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Conspiracy theories and the implosion of the Democrat-media-snowflake complex
The snowflakey histrionics would be scary if it weren't so gosh-darned amusing.

Conservation of inequality
A new law of economics is discovered.

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise
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