Friday, March 1, 2013

The Loud Shall Inherit the Earth

Since the financial crisis, collapse has been on everyone’s lips. The players in this general talk of implosion: doomsday preppers, gold bugs, and gun nuts, and people who are fashionably hysterical about doomsday preppers, gold bugs, and gun nuts.
So let’s say society took that silly walk over the precipice: who would rise under such a scenario? My guess is that it would be the great pandering orators; feel good folks like Bill Clinton and Sarah Palin. Substance barely matters here in the pre-apocalypse, but at least it matters somewhat. Right now people do take notice if you're Dr. Prodigy Patel, the world's greatest neurosurgeon. They may not care as much about your frontal lobe tinkering as they do about born again benchwarmer Tim Tebow, but at least neurosurgeons still get some respect.

But if society broke down and existence became more like The Road, substance would not matter at all. No one would follow a mousy brain doctor.

The people who would rise would be the great superficial talkers, the ones who could fill the threatening silence with verbal comfort food. Anyone who spoke with precision or unassuming expertise would get nowhere. The untrained ear (which comprises the vast majority of ears), barely understands subtle oration now, and would make even less of an effort to fathom it while scrounging for another unappetizing post-apocalypse meal.

Ironically, one of the people most heralded by those worried about collapse is a prime example of someone who wouldn’t rise under such circumstances: Ron Paul. Consider just some of his talents: medical training, military experience, and an esteemed track record as a high school athlete.
 The man has about as much substance as you're likely to find in a person. But despite all these qualities--qualities that are uncommon by themselves, let alone combined in one person--no one would follow him post-apocalypse. Why not? Because Ron Paul isn't a rousing speaker. He would either bore the survivors or go over their heads. They might even trample him in their rush to hear Oprah Winfrey's next speech.

Being a verbose dolt is always a surer path than being a learned square. It is an even surer path these days; just look at the 40 year boom in the self-help racket. Self-help exists because once people leave the nest to become adults, they still look for people to be their parents. In the pre-self-help days, when people didn't get divorced every three years and switch religions each time there was a heat wave, their spouses and clergymen acted as de facto parents. Whether they actually loved their spouses or believed their clergymen was irrelevant. They still had a stabilizing force to pat them on the head and say that everything was going to be okay. As those stabilizing forces shriveled, they turned for direction to sophistry factories likes Dr. Phil.

Post-apocalypse, we would all feel like children again, and the people who would capitalize on this would be the folks best able to recite "reality" back to us in bumper sticker form. Even without electricity the soundbyte would be king (perhaps especially, as there would be no Wikipedia to fact-check people with).

So for those who think a societal breakdown would cause a Great Purging of the Morons, I couldn't agree less. You optimists would probably be horrified by the folks who would rise in the wake of such a collapse. We would probably see a lot of pro-wrestlers become leaders; not because of their biceps, but because of their tongues. It wouldn't be a reflective Buddha-type who would take the reins. It would be Ric Flair.

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