On The Destruction of Illusion

The Players

For trust to exist, doubt must always be maintained at a reasonable distance. Suspicion arises only when doubt makes its existence known, not through a sighting of some sort, but through hushed tones carried by the wind. The breakdown of trust follows when the hushed tones increase to the level of careless whisper and eventual audible clarity. For society to survive, a certain level of trust must be believed to be real. Suspicion, being a result of encroaching doubt, does not by itself chip away at society’s trust. In some respects, suspicion strengthens society and can be considered a byproduct of an informed populace, one in tune with the fallibility of man and his creations. In other respects, however, suspicion plays into man’s fears and speaks to him like the voices that sing to schizophrenics, endlessly warning him about false realities stemming from false outcomes.

The Muckraker and The Lunatic, these are suspicion’s extremes. The Muckraker, being a believer of truth, uncovers and exposes the slime poisoning society. A figure of disruption, the muckraker possesses the technical means of exploiting weaknesses, gaps, and obscurity. This person is an investigative journalist, a leak—lately, a hacker—anyone disenfranchised or at odds with a system they regard in need of reform. Having exhausted legitimate channels installed to encourage change, the muckraker instead resorts to covert means of transformation through the revelation of abuse, neglect, or gross incompetence. Ultimately, the muckraker champions trust, believing always that society would accept truth if only it were presented with the chance to do so. This is the muckraker’s mission: clear society of the sores caused without reason and cure the hidden ailments caused without detection.

The Lunatic, being a figure of doubt, accepts every revelation and grows in his resolve. Society’s lunatics, like society’s muckrakers, are disenfranchised individuals who defer to conspiratorial views for truth. The Lunatic can be convinced of little, except for that which strengthens his doubt. The entrenchment and re-entrenchment of his narrow views dig seeds of doubt deeper in his psyche, seeds that are watered by the muckraker’s revelations. The potency of trust is lost on society’s lunatics—while The Muckraker tries to right the wrongs that act as impediments to a coherent and consistent existence, The Lunatic simply accepts those wrongs as perpetual truths, necessary evils, or unfortunate outcomes.

Sometimes lunatics remain who they are: crazed individuals who embrace powerlessness. But other times, Muckrakers expose so much corruption that they force Lunatics to take action and put an end, not to the corruption, but to its exposure. In pushing back against the exposure of corruption, destructive elements persist as they are driven back to the shadows by weak legislation and toothless penalties. The illusion of justice, now restored, eases the suspicion of both The Muckraker and The Lunatic and each goes back to embrace their default ideologies of trust and doubt. But because problems are never solved, only hidden, it is The Lunatic who is the stronger force of the two because any future revelation confirms and strengthens the reservations of the past. Doubt is a compounding force.

Playing the Same Game

For society to remain intact, enough of its supporting structures must continue to stand. Foundations provide for the construction of pillars, but without the pillars themselves, a foundation is little more than a man-made mound superimposed on a natural one. History shows us that all pillars, no matter how strong their materials, how intelligent their placement, or how impressive their design, have fallen. Even Kingdoms of God are not eternal, from the sacking of King Solomon’s temple to the abolishment of the Qing Dynasty, history shows us the Mandate of Heaven disregarded, left at the foot of crucified messiahs. The people themselves continue to exist, as do their identities, but Jewish and Chinese societies today look nothing like what they did in their respective golden ages. Alexander the Great’s empire, which conquered the entire known world at that time, similarly crumbled despite the openness of its society and the unity provided by Hellenistic culture. Greece, Rome, Persia, Mughal India, the Islamic Caliphate, from Egyptian pharaohs to Aztec kings, no society has been immune to failure—no empire untouchable. The Indispensable Nation, as the United States considers itself, is but another in a long line of attempts to create an everlasting empire and peace to outlast the Pax Romana.

But history, because it continues repeating itself, never remains static. In the last century, we’ve seen the Ottoman Empire defeated. The Kaiser and Czar disappeared soon after; the King of China and the Emperor of Japan similarly are relegated to historical memory; new nations gained independence in Africa, while others arose from obsolescence in Asia. American society today is unrecognizable from its initial advent. The international community made and remade itself.

Soviet Russia imploded.

What’s new? Thematically, nothing. History’s repetition provides for the recycling of the same themes, era after era, under different guises. The same themes, like useful genes, continue to carry on in the lineage of aspiring empires, before mutating into the parasites responsible for their deterioration. This mutation is not spontaneous. Rather, it is triggered. Doubt is that trigger.

Check, Check, Check, Checkmate

The problem with American society is that it has never believed in its foundation. From the beginning of its history in 1776, silence held together the pillars of American society, ignoring the contradictions invisible to those without agency. Far from being the strongest foundation in mankind’s history, American society has simply patched itself up as it has gone along, continually interpreting the intentions of its founding Fathers and foundational documents. The system of checks and balances codifies suspicion, so much so that Americans have never been a trusting people. The American ideal is to suspect and doubt; more importantly, to know there is an element of corruptibility inherent in human nature. For society to survive, a certain level of trust must be believed real.

American society places its trust in the knowledge that nothing can be trusted. As a result, America’s foundation has always been shaky. Disparate members of its society, living with their differences, have simply carried those differences in secret. Differing ideas on what the future should look like, or the present for that matter, separate America’s people and rather than consolidate the views of opposing groups, each deepens its differences and gathers victories wherever it can.

Today, one sector of American society champions the Constitution’s interpretability, while another worships its literal meaning. America’s own citizens suspect one another, each convinced that the other wishes to push it further into the fringes or eliminate it. But each side willingly perpetuates the illusion of cohesiveness and continuity. Each challenge, both sides opine, only results in the strengthening of society, no matter the outcome. But because the American people have never been trusting, suspicion’s prominence as an ideal only encourages the invitation of doubt. Today, suspicion is no longer the status quo: doubt is.

Snowden, Apple and the FBI, the Panama Papers, each has played a role in the further destruction of illusion. As members of a corruptible society, we accept the premise that truth will be manipulated. The less we know how truth is manipulated, however, the better. Keeping such manipulation behind the scenes allows us to continue in our ignorance, real or feigned, and compartmentalize our worries in ways that only include our individual selves. It’s only when we’re all made to realize our complicity and our willing ignorance that we become angry because it’s from our complicity, one that trades stability and comfort for ignorance, that corruption emerges. Rather than accept responsibility, we look for another savior capable of righting our wrongs. So we defer action and instead call upon shiny Jehovas and all-American heroes who’ll claim that redemption follows from their election.

No Longer Fun

Redemption, for American society, means the restoration of illusion. We suspected that the government tapped our phones, but once Snowden leaked the NSA documents, we doubted whether the government would ever stop. We suspected the government was capable of unlocking our phones, no matter what defensive measures we convinced ourselves made the phones harder to crack; once the FBI unlocked the iPhone without Apple’s help, we doubted whether we could do anything to keep government out. We suspected that the rich stashed their money in offshore accounts and avoided paying taxes, but once the Panama Papers came out, we doubted whether anyone in government wasn’t complicit. The preponderance of doubt in American society desperately calls out for a figure, any figure, who can draw the curtains in front of our eyes, again.

American government has for too long been defined more by careless conduct than covert manipulation. Its sloppy attempt to implement the Orwellian dream has made the accomplishment of that dream—and that society—impossible to achieve. As a result, the people have pushed back, wholly disillusioned with a system they were perfectly willing to play along with. The Muckraker, in leaking documents and exposing rot, strengthened the conviction of The Lunatic who trusts nothing, not even his fellow inmate. Though they live in the same ward, the Muckraker tries to escape while The Lunatic convinces himself further of his sanity, with each passing revelation. In doing so, the Lunatic’s reality wins over The Muckraker’s intention and we find ourselves where we are today in American politics: with two frontrunners whom few people trust. Years of disillusionment led us here, and because trust was never a pillar of American society, the American electorate instead looks for the candidate who can soothe its doubt and restore its suspicion. Voters want their illusion restored.

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