I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the chaotic nature of the world recently. I’ve always been aware of these thought paths, but my mind never went down them as deeply until I read Blood Meridian. There’s a quote in there that stuck with me:
“Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you will not lose your way”.
This struck me for a number of reasons.
The biggest, I think, is that I think I’ve been a victim of the type of mindset that Judge Holden was describing above. I’ve always wanted to try and categorize things, or place them into easily digestible boxes so as to understand them better. The recent turmoil of american politics is one example of something that I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around for a while now. I’ve been trying to understand the election of Donald Trump from a variety of angles that would make it easy to digest. Maybe it was racism? Maybe economics? Maybe people just hated Hillary Clinton that much?
The truth is, obviously, that all of those things played a part. I knew that, but I’ve also been trying to root around for a singular answer that could help me better understand. It’s just too difficult to believe that many of my fellow countrymen chose something that I saw as so obviously wrong. So distinctly embarrassing. They put their faith in someone that was clearly an egomaniac and a liar and it doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve picked up a series nihilistic views about the world since then that I think are totally justifiable by the Cormac McCarthy quote above. In an ironic way the above quote gives me the explanation that I’ve been searching for.
I think that Trump voters felt burned by the system. This isn’t a totally alien thought to me; I think I’ve felt similarly in certain situations. I cast my vote for Bernie Sanders in the primaries for just those reasons: the establishment didn’t have anyone’s back but their own. They set the system up to work for themselves and didn’t give half a shit about the little guy. Sanders seemed like an authentic, reasonable voice among the Clintons of the world. Those kinds of smarmy, self-important career politicians who tested every word they’d ever spoken in front of a focus group to be sure they maximized their chances of victory (since then I’ve learned to have more appreciation for career politicians and the political establishment but that’s besides the point).
So here comes a guy that tells everyone what they’ve all been thinking: the establishment is corrupt, they’re phony, they’re fakers, and they’re only interested in screwing you over so they can collect a few extra bucks off your pain. Obviously this played into the feelings of all those that felt the system wasn’t doing them any good. Someone that was willing to say anything no matter how wrong or dumb it would make them look once they’d actually attained victory would obviously do very well with these types of voters. He said what they wanted to hear and that was enough for them.
He also drew from a massive well of online conspiracy theories and fed them to his followers as if they were utter fact. I’ve seen countless, hilarious theories about the Clintons, ranging from their days as hitmen to the completely insane idea that they ran a child sex ring through a D.C. pizza joint. My question has been why do people feel these ways, why are they so susceptible to such clearly ludicrous arguments or obvious ploys for their votes.
The answer I came up with, thanks to the McCarthy quote, is it is their own way of explaining the chaos in the world. Why else would people be living in such misery? Working such long hours for such shit pay? Slaving away in some Pennsylvanian steel mill just to be cut loose in a modern economy that their government hadn’t prepared them to enter? It has to be because the people at the top are conspiring against them, that big money was destroying their upward mobility and costing their families the lives they ought to have.
Now obviously there is some of that with lobbyists and the Citizens United decision and what have you. But the ultimate truth of the matter is that the world is a chaotic place. The government can only do so much to help you and the bureaucracy we’ve established is far too complex to change as the times call for it. The people at the top barely know what they’re doing themselves. They’re all just normal people with extraordinary amounts of responsibility heaped on their shoulders and their attempts to navigate the bureaucracy in the hopes of helping people typically amount to nothing. There are too many competing ideas, too many people, too much to attend to. It’s a miracle that the system works at all.
I think this truth is too much for a lot of people to accept. That we are just a bunch of rats bouncing around a cage barely held together by the fragile structure of society and government. That the world economy and billions of lives are entangled in such an immeasurably complex knot that no single person can possibly decipher it let alone untangle it. It’s a concept that I can’t even begin to describe fully, and I’ve been grappling with it for a while now.
But I think that’s the reason I’ve been so desperately searching for. It is preferable to believe that the guys at the top are knowingly fucking over the rats at the bottom rather than acknowledge that the guys at the top probably have no idea what they’re doing. And when someone like Donald Trump comes along, someone who is a member of that elite club, who has disentangled that knot of the world and become richer than you could ever dream of. When that someone comes along and says you’re right, that they’re all snakes, then you’re inclined to believe him.
Now I don’t believe this fully explains his election. I’m leaving out other major reasons like his not so coded racism and the horrifically flawed candidate that was Hillary Clinton (I think she would have been a terrific president, but she had problems as a candidate), but I think that this explains how a solid majority of his base latched onto him. He told them the order they saw in the world was true and promised to fix it. To make everything better and make things work the way they were supposed to. In a way this also explains the popularity of Bernie Sanders, who ran on a similar message, albeit sans the racism, misogyny etc.
When Trump inevitably fails to deliver on what he promised those people will either believe his bullshit about how he was held back and the GOP establishment and democrats kept him from accomplishing what he intended, or they’ll jump ship. We’ll see what happens eventually.
There are many complicated truths in our lives that are beyond our capacity to accept. These truths are the chaos in our lives that we constantly attempt to rearrange so as to make them understandable or so we can tell ourselves that we’ve mastered that subject. The real truth is that we have to keep learning, that we may never accomplish true mastery but we can continue to understand as much as possible while simultaneously accepting that it will never fully make sense.
Embrace the chaos and you’ll be all the more happier for it.
I’ll probably be writing a lot more about this in the future, but I think for now this is a decent start.