March 19, 2009

Reality Responds To The Matrix

matrix passport.JPG

And it says, time's up.

(Part 1: An Action Movie Fairy Tale;  Part 2: What Was The Matrix?)

9-11 should have marked the end of the postmodern era, and of the cultural narcissism we were all a part of. 

This was an external reality vigorously asserting that it was not going to be the setting of anyone's personal movie.

It caused three narcissistic injuries: 

(Recall: a narcissistic injury is when the narcissist learns that his preferred identity is not accepted by others.)

First, it defied the size and time.  Some things never get destroyed.  Remember WTC bombing 1993?  Shrugged off because there was a feeling that the Towers could never really fall; see?  They didn't.  Neither could Reagan really die; neither could we have a real war (Falklands, Beirut, Gulf I.)  There were doomsayers and crackpots, of course.  But the real world plodded along averagely.

Interesting: we accused the media of hyping things because what we understood is that such big events can't really happen, but the media needs a story. 

We were satisfied with our postmodern explanation because for most people's life spans, nothing gigantic happened.  Cold War ended: meh.  It was all hype anyway, government bluster, invented to keep us scared and subservient.  Not real.  Not like global warming.

The narcissist says: if it can't happen to me, it can't really happen.  2500 Americans can't just die in one day.

But 9/11 was different.  It didn't respect the rules.

Second, it violated the most important aspect of postmodern narcissism: story.  Not only was the attack a surprise-- no warning, no buildup, no exposition, no rising action-- but even the characters were a surprise. 

At least if it had been the Russians, or even aliens, it would have followed a previously understood narrative.  Has anyone seen this movie before?

We didn't know they even existed.  Tali what?   Did anyone know the backstory?  Was there a movie with them as the bad guys?  Back To The Future!-- wait, weren't they Libyans?

Turns out we are just bit characters in someone else's movie.

Third: we were revealed to be powerless. No heroes.   No one knew kung fu.  Who was there left to fight, anyway? 

Were they any heroes?  Anybody?  How about... firemen? 

Ultimately, 9/11 contradicted The Matrix.  We weren't more than we appeared, but less. 

We were so psychologically paralyzed that the very first thing we did was change the language to minimize the narcissistic injury, the discovery that other people were able to affect us.  We called Oklahoma City a bombing.  This was just a date.

On one sunny, cloudless Tuesday, postmodernism was obliterated.   Two days short of Neo's  thirtieth birthday.

Narcissistic Injuries Result Always In Rage

If you are under 23, this probably won't have the same significance: the government, the media, and the American public were seriously debating the use of nuclear weapons.

We got Iraq, say whatever else you want. Right or wrong, it would never have been possible pre-9/11.

... Or Denial

But 9/11 didn't take.  I cannot explain this.  Within a year, two years, we were back to the same old narcissism.  "Everything changed after 9-11" turned out to be exactly false.  The stock market went back into familiar bull run mode, and in 2006 Time named "You" it's Person of the year, a laughable move at any time in history, let alone post-9/11 and waist deep in Iraq.    9/11 should have changed everything.  It changed nothing. 

And The Matrix is Good For Another Two Sequels

So we went back to the teachings of The Matrix.  Back to individualism, back to defining yourself based on what you believe rather than what you do.  Self-entitlement, self-fulfillment, and until then the thousand yard stare of hope.  The ideas in The Matrix should have given us ten more years of narcissism, until the "next thing" came along.  And, indeed, it did.

You might say that the Great Recession we're in now should end postmodern narcissism.  Nope.  Amazingly, all I hear and read are calls for punishing those who got us into this mess (Wall Street), "fixing the system," "solving the housing crisis."  People are waiting for things to "get back to normal."  People: this is normal.  The past twenty years-- easy credit, college for everyone that leads to a job at Starbucks, unemployment under 6%-- that was abnormal.  We associate the word "unemployment" with steel workers, but do you think any economy not top heavy with credit can afford to pay 600 extra Starbucks stores worth of baristas $8/hr?  Or computer programmers $50k?  Don't yell at me-- I'm not saying they aren't worth it-- I'm saying this economy cannot, and could never, afford it.

I know, greedy companies are outsourcing to India because they want to maximize profits.  You say that thinking that if they stayed in America, they'd make less profits.  Wrong.  They'd close.

"You don't know what you're talking about.  Why would Toyota build plants in Alabama and hire American workers if it wasn't profitable?"  Because it gets them two senators and a bunch of congressmen, that's why.

Instead of having that discussion, the one we're having is whether we should tax AIG bonuses at 90%. I know I'm alone in this, but someone has to say it: this is idiocy.  Sure they don't deserve those bonuses, but really, is this the best use of Congress's time?  Really?  "But it's about perception."  Isn't it time we focused on something more than perception?  Isn't our obsession with perception exactly what is wrong with us?

So: two huge historical realities have had no impact on our cultural narcissism.

This is further support to my contention that meaningful cultural change can't happen to a society while it still lives.  It requires a change in generation, in biology.

Thankfully, we are setting them up very nicely.


Forceful and daring writing... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 7:10 PM | Posted by DM Cook: | Reply

Forceful and daring writing-- this is a great set of questions to be asking, and it definitely needs to be in more people's faces.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 15 (17 votes cast) this the best use ... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 7:18 PM | Posted by Dyson: | Reply this the best use of Congress's time? Really? "But it's about perception." Isn't it time we focused on something more than perception? Isn't our obsession with perception exactly what is wrong with us?

As I was reading this, in my mind, I was thinking, "So if that's the case, do you think it can be solved by this generation?" And there you are in the very next few sentences, addressing it. Sometimes it's a bit unsettling how much I find myself agreeing with you.

As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure it was here, either posted by you, or one of the commentators that listed a website that went into detail regarding the generational archetypes (prophets, nomads, artists, and heroes) and if anyone happens to know which website I'm talking about, please drop it in the comments as I don't think I bookmarked it.

Either way, whatever happens, happens. Keep writing, I enjoy your discourse.

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is that picture of the pass... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 9:41 PM | Posted by Granger: | Reply

is that picture of the passport real?

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What is normal? Bust? Boom?... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2009 11:41 PM | Posted by doobiedoo: | Reply

What is normal? Bust? Boom? Mass foreclosures and ballooning unemployment aren't normal at all, they're the grotesque fallout from a grotesquely negligent period of government and finance. You're right that "getting back to normal" is more denial, but what's happening now is the necessarily abnormal reversion - it's not normal at all. You're not the only person to call bullshit on bonuses either.

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this post makes me cheer, c... (Below threshold)

March 20, 2009 12:42 AM | Posted by mmgutz: | Reply

this post makes me cheer, cry, and pray... in that order...

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Meh. What a drama queen yo... (Below threshold)

March 20, 2009 1:31 AM | Posted by Dave Johnson: | Reply

Meh. What a drama queen you are. It's a good thing you model what it is to be narcissistic ... that brave, acutely insightful, misunderstood, reviled, lonely cry in the wilderness. That sense of hyper-vigilant over-reaction which spawns so many turgid tracts of the truth very, very, very few others can see. Thank gawd you nailed it. It's just a shame I can't agree with you and thusly count myself among the few, the chosen, the elite, who really "see." Amen.

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The few? Everyone knew the ... (Below threshold)

March 20, 2009 9:59 AM | Posted by MedsVsTherapy: | Reply

The few? Everyone knew the housing bubble was gonna burst. Evreyone knew the game: get your home re-appraised, so you could borrow against its current, speculation-driven value, so that you, too, could speculate - could buy some other home at one price, only to reap a decent gain in a few months, as it was 'appreciating' in this bubble. Repeat.

Everyone knew the bubble could not last. So, what to do? 1 practice decent money management. The old-fashoined non-narcisists did this. 2. ignore the eventual burst. Many of those caught up in the narcissistic culture chose this option. How many foreclosure stories have there been where someone refinanced their home loan, whcih was well over 10 years old, in order to have some money to speculate with? Folks, if your home is not paid off in 10 or 15 years, you are not living by any sort of reasonable plan, or you really have some other pressing priorities.

At 15 years, you should be wiping out remaining home loan, or changing your residence to a place you can afford. You owe $30K and have a $30K car, then refi your home, then end up homeless? Becuase you could not see that your $30K car was equal personally ducking this whole mortgage crisis? Either that is unbridled optimism, or narcissism.

3. ride the wave, until it bursts, and hope you come out ahead. sure, you know you will get burned when the bubble bursts. if you finance a house, 100% finance, for $300K, then you have to sell for $200K, you lose $100k. But if in the run-up you MADE $30k on each of ten house flips, you made $300K. Overall, you are up $200K for your short second-job career flipping houses. Its good work if you can get it. This is a totally reasonable business plan. As long as you can plan for the burn. If you do see the burn coming, and accept it, you have not crossed the line to your own (false) reality. Igf you started believing that you were a real-estate tycoon, you signed up as an amateur narcissist. Join the crowd in foreclosure court, and at the local U-Haul center.

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The best article I've seen ... (Below threshold)

March 20, 2009 6:56 PM | Posted by 8020: | Reply

The best article I've seen on the crisis.

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It's called sarcasm. ... (Below threshold)

March 21, 2009 1:56 PM | Posted, in reply to MedsVsTherapy's comment, by David Johnson: | Reply

It's called sarcasm.

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The website you are thinkin... (Below threshold)

March 21, 2009 3:58 PM | Posted, in reply to Dyson's comment, by Steve: | Reply

The website you are thinking of is The Fourth Turning Website.

Its really a website by the authors of the book "The Fourth Turning" which details the four 20+ year stages of a societal cycle: High, Awakening, Unraveling, Crisis.

The period of "narcissism" that seems to have started in about 1980 or so was the unraveling, which appears to have now morphed into the 4th stage, Crisis....

No biggie, its only supposed to last 20-25 years or so.

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I finally have to ask - why... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2009 2:32 PM | Posted by Joseph Bergevin: | Reply

I finally have to ask - why narcissism? Assuming that everyone is indeed subscribing to it, from whence did it come and why is it so appealing? Why not borderline or antisocial PD? What problems does it solve for the initiate? Why wasn't it a popular schema until recently? What filled its role prior? Is it unnatural?

The chief value I see in narcissism is in self-defense. Jobs are getting more demanding while people aren't getting any more intelligent or dedicated. It's easier to pretend that we're competent, and hope no one actually checks our facts. If they do, we can lean back on the bedrock of narcissism - politics. Don't question me, I have the right friends. I've impressed the right people. I have consensus and scapegoats. Who are you?

Narcissism buys "votes" which insulate us from evaluation. It's wasp markings on a moth. Maybe it can't really sting, but I'm not gonna find out.

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Thanks. I saw it when I goo... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2009 11:21 PM | Posted, in reply to Steve's comment, by Dyson: | Reply

Thanks. I saw it when I googled some of the key phrases, but I glossed over it when I saw and it didn't look familiar. They changed the layout of the site a bit!

Much obliged.

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Dyson 1 alone 0FAC... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2009 3:06 AM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

Dyson 1 alone 0

FACT: it's ironic that a guy writes about narcissism all day, yet he only describes people as images and ideas, almost as if he is physically incapable of emotional inflection applied to other people. The content of this blog can be summarized as follows: "Other people are narcissists. Other people are images and feel unreal."
Or maybe it only seems that way to you because you feel nothing, and thus are hopelessly isolated from humanity, being a narcissists yerself? At the very least this suggests narcissism, if not outright sociopathy.

My favorite thing about this blog is how ironic it is (that a man who is obviously a pathological narcissist rants on about a narcissism epidemic on the daily, almost as if in an expression of narcissistic rage, lashing out against "humanity" or "this narcissistic generation" to explain why he feels so alone )...

My second favorite thing about this blog is everyone who reads it is too stupid to see the irony. NO, it gets better, not only do they fail to see the irony, but they all narcissistically identify themselves with the image of the blogger, and congratulate him for his special perspective and insight.

This is like the fourth demention of narcissistic readers circle jerking to the cultivated narcissistic antihero image of one blogger who writes about how everyone else is a narcissist and TEH END OF DAYZ is near when narcissists will go away, which I"m pretty sure means "soon I will start feeling things for people and I'll stop feeling so isolated and empty".

I basically love this blog, it's kinda like irony has reached critical mass and there is an explosion in yer head not unlike a commercial designed to get kids to buy candy.

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As I see it, narcissism is ... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2009 3:20 AM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

As I see it, narcissism is an unavoidable outcome of thinking. Thinking always leads to narcissism, and the only way to not be a narcissist is to live in the present moment as a feeling creature. When thinking, one is not feeling, or at least one is blocking off his or her feelings, which is the definition of narcissism (living as an image, which is to deny true feelings and real experiences, which requires excessive thought and control, which is the application of thought).

Future orientation breeds narcissism. Modern society is future oriented. Future orientation requires heaps of planning/thought and alienation from feelings. Modern society requires all people to be "narcissists". It is the structure of society that creates narcissists.

When societies are more focused on present, or past, they are increasingly less narcissistic. Image, self, these are useless when there is no future. What you will be, what we will be, requires a focus on self concept. Self dissolves when we live in the present, then we focus on our relationships, the moment, the feeling of being alive and living for real.

Western society has always been narcissistic, the only thing that has changed is our values and technology which puts it on display for everyone. Narcissism is obvious when our values tell us the proper image is to be a gangbanger or a massive coffee cup drinking yuppie who can't pay his minimum credit card payment. Narcissism is less obvious when values make us model a fake image of a pious christian or a "good american worker" or whatever.

The only truly non-narcissistic societies are those who's food supply is controlled by seasons, which require close awareness of past and present as well as future. In other words, all agricultural societies are narcissistic societies, and the only non-narcissists are hunter gatherers.

The agricultural society is unnatural, which is why our style of living feels fake and requires a fake way of living (only focusing on future, because we have controlled seasons and everything that used to be outside of our control when we invented how to make lots of food year round).

In short, the real cause of narcissism is agriculture, everything else is details.

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>>As I see it, narcissism i... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2009 8:18 PM | Posted, in reply to Anon's comment, by Joseph Bergevin: | Reply

>>As I see it, narcissism is an unavoidable outcome of thinking.

It's apparently the path of least resistance. As you've said, we worry more about symbol manipulation now than survival, and we'll take any shortcut to accomplish this. It's the Brave New World. Symbols do change, though.

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We've been craving this con... (Below threshold)

July 4, 2009 9:48 AM | Posted by Karina: | Reply

We've been craving this concept long before "The Matrix". I used to hope it was confined to one or two generations before, as you say, the biology begins subtle changes.

"Once upon a time, (Luke | Kirk | Neo | Harry) was living a miserable life. Feeling disconnected from his friends and family, he dreams about how his life could be different. One day, he is greeted by (Obi Wan | Captain Pike | Trinity | Hagrid) and told that his life is not what it seems, and that due to some circumstances surrounding his (birth | birth | birth | infancy) he was meant for something greater."

Yeah, the problem with Harry Potter isn't the encouragement of devilry and witchcraft among the youth.

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That story is older than Ki... (Below threshold)

July 4, 2009 5:58 PM | Posted by spriteless: | Reply

That story is older than King Arthur, yo. It's a part of what's called the 'monomyth' in literary circles. The problem is that people take this stuff seriously too long.

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The narcissistic injury, an... (Below threshold)

May 27, 2010 2:59 PM | Posted by Andrew T Ator: | Reply

The narcissistic injury, and our cultural reaction that you describe is just proof that we are already living in a Real Life Matrix, and in Real Life, cognitive dissonance is bliss.

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... or torture depending on... (Below threshold)

May 28, 2010 12:22 AM | Posted, in reply to Andrew T Ator's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

... or torture depending on if you're in its way.

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Here's the problem with you... (Below threshold)

June 7, 2010 8:57 AM | Posted by Matt: | Reply

Here's the problem with your theory.

"we were revealed to be powerless. No heroes. No one knew kung fu."

Um...Flight 93.

OK, no kung fu. As far as we know, anyway. Wasn't necessary.

A group of people who left the house that day ordinary men leading the proverbial quiet lives of desperation, figuring on yet another soul-crushing business trip, stopped a gang of terrorists from destroying a national landmark, even despite having no weapons except their own willingness to step up and BE the heroes they'd secretly always thought they could be if the situation called for it.

Of course, in the perfect movie outcome they'd have landed the plane safely and gone on to bed starlets. I'm sure if they'd somehow managed to land, starlets would have made themselves available. But nevertheless, the narrative worked.

Seems a little odd that folks then felt the need to make a movie out of it. But they didn't actually have to change any details from what is known to have actually happened.

Maybe it is some form of narcissism that the thought going through their minds was probably along the lines of "oh no you terrorists are NOT the stars of this movie!". Does it really matter? The heroism gets itself done, either way.

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"So: two huge historical re... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2010 4:11 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"So: two huge historical realities have had no impact on our cultural narcissism."

I'm not sure you fully appreciate your intellectual inflexibility in saying this. You have a theory of cultural narcissism, one which is very dear to you (it seems to be the most important theme of your blog). Evidence, however, cropped up which contradicted your theory. Your players, the American people, didn't react the way they should have. A historical bomb went off without changing their course.

So you dig in deeper, absorb the contradiction rather than understand it. You say they're irrational, and this made them close their eyes still more tightly. You don't know *why*, though, or at least, you didn't explain it here.

The truth is that no creature is irrational, at least not in the way you imply. They can operate from false premises, but if you properly recognize their position, their state of mind, their set of values, you will find that there's a logic to their actions, however perverse. You know this; it's obvious from your blog posts. But here, you forget it for a while.

I think this is because you yourself operate from a false premise. 9/11 *did* change everything. Not in the ways everyone hoped, but quite drastically nonetheless.

The proper coda to this series would have been, not the very specific political points you wished to score, but an examination of either the way 9/11 changed America's psyche without eliminating its narcissism, or the reasons you believe America didn't change despite the massive impetus to do so (and citing narcissism itself to explain this is too circular to really suffice).

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Things are worse that you t... (Below threshold)

July 24, 2010 12:28 PM | Posted by irony: | Reply

Things are worse that you think. I'm a computer programmer and I make $150k/yr. And I believe I am entitled to that much (or more).

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Since sometime in 20... (Below threshold)

December 13, 2010 2:49 AM | Posted by O'Bedlam: | Reply

Since sometime in 2002 I've been so fucking tired of hearing about "9/11" -- of what it meant or didn't mean, of what it did or didn't do, blah blah blah. I personally think it meant that America's "narcissistic" bubble got popped, that two little chickens finally came home to roost, but that's not the point: the point is that it was Sept. 11, 2001.

Remember those Op-Ed articles back in the early '90s about why Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs were being so mean to the poor Bosnian Muslims, that told us the Serbs had a "complex" about losing the Battle of Kosovo on June 15, 1389? For the Serbs, we were told, "6/15" represented When Everything Changed, etc. etc. etc. Assuming what we were told is the case, what's the fucking difference between our "9/11" and the Serb's "Battle of Kosovo"? And at what point will the the Broad Masses of what's now the U.S.A. get the fuck over it? (Or be allowed/encouraged to do so?) Will it take US 600 years to shrug and go "yeah, well, that was a long time ago"?

And don't get me started about all those people who not only weren't survivors of that event but don't even know anybody who's ever been to Manhattan who go on about "9/11" like they themselves got ass-raped without lube by a 747.

(I don't have to be a genius, it's enough to be a barely competent thinker surrounded by idiots.)

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Speaking of movies a... (Below threshold)

December 13, 2010 3:26 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Speaking of movies and such things, I see the future as more like The Road, where people are locked in basements and eaten piece by piece. All because people fail to heed the words of the prophet: "Why can't we all just get along?"

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I doubt that it will come i... (Below threshold)

December 23, 2010 12:04 PM | Posted by Francis: | Reply

I doubt that it will come in my generation. (I'm 15, and I'll probably forget about this in a month.) It's too late for us, we've had a decade+ to be conditioned into the "American way."

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Don't you acknowledge that ... (Below threshold)

September 17, 2011 12:15 PM | Posted by NaomiHogan34: | Reply

Don't you acknowledge that it is the best time to get the loan, which will help you.

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My God you're a bit of a bl... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2012 10:18 AM | Posted by Feegle: | Reply

My God you're a bit of a blow hard. First of all, the internet is what is fueling the delusional narcissism in today's world. Most people born after 1975 think they'll be a reality star and they have a sense of entitlement. As if all they have to do is type into a keyboard what they want and it shall be granted with no sacrifice of time and effort on their part. And secondly, there were people who saw 9/11 coming, especially those who lived in New York and remember the first attempt to blow up the WTC under Clinton's presidency. Not to mention Oklahoma City. Your thoughts are interesting, but jeez, come on.

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Is Neo's passport real? Thi... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2013 5:59 PM | Posted, in reply to Granger's comment, by Wayland: | Reply

Is Neo's passport real? This is the passport of Neo from the Matrix, a fictional character from a film released before 9/11. Of course it's not real but it's a fact that his passport is dated 11th September 2001. If you look into it you will find scores of entertainment references to 9/11 before 11th September 2001. The most chilling is probably The Lone Gunmen episode where a plane is being flown into the twin towers.

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"we were revealed to be pow... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2013 6:08 PM | Posted, in reply to Matt's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"we were revealed to be powerless. No heroes. No one knew kung fu."

Um...Flight 93.

But look how people took to that story, the heroes who crashed the plane killing themselves to save lives!! Utter bollox but people wanted to believe it and they do.

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"we were revealed to be pow... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2013 6:09 PM | Posted by Wayland: | Reply

"we were revealed to be powerless. No heroes. No one knew kung fu."

Um...Flight 93.

But look how people took to that story, the heroes who crashed the plane killing themselves to save lives!! Utter bollox but people wanted to believe it and they do.

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Dudez, both believing and d... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2013 7:16 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Dudez, both believing and doing are necessary for the complete society. India's people believe five thousand crazy things, Chinese people can do anything they can copy. But India's a nation of dirty head cases and China's a nation of ants blindly milling around from one Western idea to the next. Though China definitely has her defenders. America's mainly been about organizing people who believe and do. (And sadly the organizers have mostly crowded or priced out the people who used to believe and do, mostly by importing lots of Indians and Chinese to do it at cheaper prices.)

Tell me, TLP, is a society dysfunctional if it can't kill or drive out people who don't really belong to it? Yes or no will do.

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