In his usual blustery and cocksure manner, Tucker Carlson asserts that a make-’em-miserable strategy is in play in the United States. The idea is that when people are made miserable, they conclude that the country is “on the wrong track,” turn against the current leadership, and support a regime change.
The dynamic is instinctual, and so it might operate even though the misery, while pinned on the leadership by adversaries, was not in fact caused by that leadership.
We have an instinct that the current leadership is responsible for what happens on its watch. One can imagine how such an instinct would have been selected for by eons of human existence in the small, simple primeval band.
In the small, simple primeval band it was part of a process of deposing bad leadership. Evolution would have implanted this instinct in all of us.
Our genes have not changed very much since 10,000 BCE. An implication of the instinct is that if we create enough chaos and misery, then we might bring down that leadership, especially if we are not punished for creating chaos and misery.
I regard the make-’em-miserable idea in the context of the United States today, not the primeval band, as an hypothesis requiring careful formulation and, once carefully formulated, meriting consideration.
Carefully formulated, the hypothesis might be somewhat sound, and, if so, the phenomenon would not depend on conspiracy. It would not depend on a mastermind cabal directing things. There are ways such a strategy could be pursued spontaneously, tacitly, even subconsciously. The word “strategy” becomes paradoxical: A subconscious strategy?
Even the most careful researchers have difficulty putting into words their explanations of social phenomena that no one directed—the term “spontaneous order” itself is paradoxical.
But the difficulty is heightened for such phenomena that arise from deep levels of people’s moral and political psychology. Sociologists and political psychologists of all political persuasions would agree. The sociology of judgment, suggestion, and signal is complex, and in large part subconscious.
The renowned social psychologist Jonathan Haidt speaks of the elephant in the mind. He says that we are not aware of 99 percent of what is going on in our mind. Iain McGilchrist says similarly: “Very little brain activity is in fact conscious (current estimates are certainly less than 5 per cent, and probably less than 1 per cent)” (p. 187 of The Master and His Emissary).
Formulated as a simplistic conspiracy, the make-’em-miserable hypothesis would be something to dismiss. But formulated more carefully, it is not something to dismiss.
If a careful formulation of the make-’em-miserable hypothesis contains an element of truth, the implications would be very upsetting and quite terrifying. That Americans would be in denial about it would not be surprising. That taboos surround it would not be surprising.
I suggest with great somberness that Americans of all persuasions should face the possibility. Denial of unpleasant truths often calls for facing up to those truths.
If a careful formulation of the make-’em-miserable hypothesis contains an element of truth, correction must come from those whose conduct manifests the phenomenon. They must look carefully, they must look bravely, into what Ronald Coase called “the total effect” of their conduct and beliefs.
Being moral requires thinking carefully about the consequences of your conduct and beliefs, especially when the conduct and beliefs tend toward contraventions of liberal principles.