The kind of helplessness that you internalize in your daily life comes in many shapes. It is involuntarily induced by state measures even at the best of times – but purposely accelerated by unscrupulous strongmen when you are ready to be slowly boiled.
Here are a few examples.
1. Economic helplessness
Imagine that you are playing a video game.
You have no idea of the rules, but you try to figure them out. You are pressing keys, but they don’t seem to behave the way you assumed they would. There are way too many of them. Some of them don’t even work.
Your scores are going up and down (but mostly down) for no discernible reason. If you don’t do anything, you die – but you don’t know what the game is for. Is it a princess you can shag? Is it a diamond you have to collect? How many worlds are there and is there an end?
Maybe you have to jump and bump your head into a rock, and when a mushroom comes out of it, you have to walk through it – that sounds logical. Bumping your head against the clouds, however, does nothing. Some of the green stuff is background. Some of it make shit happen to you. But you don’t know which one is which.
To make things even more frustrating you see other players succeeding. You keep telling yourself that they must be cheating, but you’re not actually sure. Maybe they figured out the rules and you are just a dumb loser. is it just you – or is it really not doable?
Maybe the challenge and confusion makes you try harder. You start keeping a journal of actions and outcomes. But they are not even consistent. Sometimes J makes you jump, sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes when you press buttons, nothing happens. Sometimes even when you don’t press them, your character does things. Sometimes a a dragon comes and you die, or a taxman announces that you are fined – but you don’t know why so as to avoid doing it later. Sometimes your score goes down or you are sent back to square one and you get no explanation.
The worst game ever.
Now imagine that you live in this game and you can’t just throw in the console and walk away. This is your life that I’ve just described.
For many people, life feels like this incredibly complex multi-player game where others are cheating, where they understand the rules better than you do, or the rules don’t apply to them. Either way, you don’t understand it and it frustrates you. You can’t find a link between effort and reward, between action and consequence. Pushing the pedal sometimes brings you nothing, sometimes punishment – and pushing it harder doesn’t make your life better. You feel helpless.
The rules of the economy feel like that for many. Especially for those who grew up in poverty, or in command economies where rationality or logic didn’t play a part and honest effort never paid off. The link between effort and reward has never been established. Even when they tried to evade punishment – it came. Their efforts never yielded anything (like those dogs’ efforts to alleviate the pain of an electric shock) and they had ultimately unlearned trying.
In this painful state of feeling helpless, any sense of control is welcomed, even when it is fake.
Like a conspiracy theory that offers an explanation why nothing works, why you are screwed by circumstances, by background powers, by Jewish conspiracy hidden in every legal text longer than ten words. A conspiracy theory doesn’t actually provide you with a valid world explanation ut it shifts the blame and makes the sense of helplessness go away. The sense of it – not the real thing. It doesn’t actually put you back in charge of your own life, but you feel better.
Or take plain old destruction as a way to “take back control”. It doesn’t put you in control of anything, your life will certainly not be any better, but once in your painfully helpless life you are making an impact. You destroy and it breaks. Your effort has an impact. You don’t feel impact-less anymore.
And the bed is made for a strong state, or an unscrupulous strongman, who will promise to take care of it for you – but it will only make things worse.
It is important to note that learned helplessness has political implications. It may be a private phenomenon – but its has massive political impact. Your political behavior doesn’t come out of thin air – it has been forged in your private life and personal values. You don’t leave it on your front porch when you arrive home, nor are your personal values (or the lack thereof) without political consequences. It would be wrong to equate the two phenomena, but it would be equally wrong not to allow ourselves the intellectual honesty to investigate the similarities.