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Not Your Imagination - Society Is Going Insane and I Can Prove It
All I need is some Aztecs and a Time Machine.
This article was initially published September 4th 2019 on Medium. After it’s publish date I feel as if the mechanics at work here have become a lot more obvious, particularly during the development of our two Covid-19 tribes, the YOLOs and ZOMGs, as detailed here. Jon Stokes recently went into a very detailed look at the machine learning architecture of this idea here, and was kind enough to give HWFO a shoutout at the bottom. Go say ‘hi’ to Jon. He’s definitely getting HWFO Woke.
Since both Aztecs and Time Machines are in short supply, I think perhaps some hypothetical Aztecs and an imaginary Time Machine will do nicely. Follow along, don’t worry, this is quick. We’re going to have a ten second overview of Aztec civilization, a quick romp through 1960s serial cartoons, and tie it together with a discussion of social media echo chamber mechanics to prove the thesis.
We in the United States are very focused on the impact colonization had on the native Americans, but because of our cultural myopia, we forget that the greatest North American culture to be wiped out by European expansion wasn’t here at all. It was south of the border.
Whereas most of the native Americans within and to the north of our current United States borders were either nomads or lived in small agricultural villages, the Aztecs were a thick, beefy, advanced society, with calendars, civil engineering infrastructure, and large-scale maize agriculture. They had an Emperor and royal families, expanded their borders through trade and violent wars, and had vassal states as far south as modern-day Guatemala. They had rigid social hierarchies, and an extremely uniform system of indoctrinations, which bound them together into a society that could achieve these things. Their Podunk tribal neighbors north of the border paled in comparison, and until the Spaniards showed up, they were growing. Colonizing, even. And the thread that bound this entire system together, was a religion based on human sacrifice.
And boy oh boy did they sacrifice. By my research, this story we tell ourselves that the Aztecs sacrificed virgin girls to ensure the sun comes up is not only true, it barely scratches the surface of what they would do to get favor from the Gods.
Sacrifices for the Aztecs were detailed rituals but perhaps what makes them truly stand out is the scale in which they were conducted. During the reign of their empire, it’s estimated that an average of 200,000 people were sacrificed a year. Many rituals surrounded the theme of mass sacrifice, such as the inauguration of their greatest pyramid, which is said to have claimed the lives of 84,000 over a period of only four days.
The Aztecs would bring large groups of children to Tlaloc’s temple, where they were forced to solemnly and ceremonially parade up the steps. If the children did not weep, they would be forced to do so by any means of psychological and physical torture necessary. To the Aztecs, the tears shed by these children on the way to their untimely deaths was the only way to ensure rain during the oncoming dry seasons.
Another common sacrificial technique included pulling a still beating heart out of a victim’s chest and showing it to them in their last moments of consciousness, an act that took a surprising amount of anatomical knowledge and surgical skill but has since been proven possible by modern scientists.
Other rituals included cannibalism, the live flaying of men, wearing of human skins, and other techniques of drawn-out dismemberment and bloodletting including the mass collection of skulls.
Recap: The Aztecs had a socially constructed indoctrination program that bound themselves together as a group which involved the ritual killing of virgins, children, adults, basically everybody, and this was completely normal to them. Beyond normal, it was essential.
Not doing it would be “crazy.”
So that brings us to step two of our thought experiment. What does “insanity” even mean?
Socially Constructed Insanity and the Wayback Machine
From the Oxford English Dictionary:
· 1 In a state of mind which prevents normal perception, behaviour, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill.
‘he had gone insane’
All of these blood-soaked Aztecs practicing ritual human sacrifice were sane, because sacrificing a quarter million people a year to appease various gods was a normal behavior for them, and their societal interactions demanded that behavior, because of their set of indoctrinated beliefs.
When Mr. Peabody and Sherman hopped in the Wayback Machine in the best cartoon ever, to travel back in time to meet important people and witness fabulous historical events, they never seemed to go to Tenochtitlan. Probably because Mr. Peabody was trying to raise a healthy boy, or because massive human sacrifice wouldn’t have made it past the NBC Standards and Practices department. But if they did visit the ancient Aztec homeland, they would have encountered a culture so foreign that it would be clearly insane. To them.
If they attempted to save a girl from the daily virgin sacrifice, the Aztecah would have found their interference to be evidence of a “state of mind preventing normal behavior,” and “preventing normal social interaction” at the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl. Mr. Peabody and Sherman were clearly the insane ones.
And if Mr. Peabody and Sherman drug one of these priests back through the time portal and into downtown Los Angeles, and that priest decided to take it on his own responsibility to ensure a virgin was sacrificed to appease the gods, that priest would be obviously diagnosed as mentally ill, because who could find a virgin in 1960s LA? (or the other more obvious yet less funny reason)
This is an absurd example, but it’s important to understand, because it highlights an overall mechanic within our social interactions. Humans are apes with white space into which indoctrinations are installed. And while the definition of “insane” may stay the same, its very definition ensures that the body of behaviors within each culture considered to be “insane” must necessarily be different. It’s almost tautological.
Curated Media Feeds
When I pull up Google on my phone, it feeds me a list of articles it thinks I’ll like, based on a history of things I’ve read prior. Of late, this has been a fusillade of gun control spam, accented with stories about Atlanta United, the new Star Wars movie, and Tinder screenshots from Reddit. But if I was a Flat Earther, I guarantee you my feed would be full of Flat Earth stuff. Feminists feeds are full of articles about how gender oppression is at all time highs, while Men’s Rights Activist feeds are full of stories about misandrist bitches behaving badly. Blue Tribe feeds are whatever flavor of “Trump pissed on a hooker” is being run this week, while Red Tribe feeds bemoan the rise of Marxist Communism.
Is any of this stuff real? If you identify with any of those tribes above, did my inclusion of your feed in the list of those “obviously insane” other feeds trigger you emotionally?
The Aztecs were indoctrinated from birth in a particular belief system, so the insane stuff they were doing became obviously sane. The curated media feed is indoctrinating all of us constantly into different belief systems, such that whatever feed we’re reading becomes obviously sane. And wherever it may be incompatible with someone else’s feed, that makes them insane. By definition.
And there’s your proof.
The further down the rabbit holes of curated media echo chambers our cell phones drag us, the more we all become insane, by everyone else’s perspective. Universally held mass insanities become sanities, like the Aztecs. But a system of thousands of divergent bifurcated micro-insanities becomes nothing but a bunch of people who literally can’t communicate with each other meaningfully.
A society that’s all going insane stops being a society at all. It is the destruction of everything that has ever been built.
It makes me question if the clicks are worth it.