Commentary

Aggressively anti-reality politicians and the degeneration of politics

Aggressive denial of reality and explicitly acting in contradiction with it is an advanced stage of a long and gradual process. It usually starts with the peace treaty that ended the last war – that was caused by the previous bout of mindless, irresponsible, anti-reality politics – and concludes in the next round of destruction.

page7-363px-Allais_-_Deux_et_deux_font_cinq_(2+2=5).djvu

An 1895 collection of short stories by French writer Alphonse Allais was published under the title 2 + 2 = 5

2+2=5

The infamous equation has been shorthand for self-evident falsehood so often, it earned itself its own Wikipedia article.

“The equation 2 + 2 = 4 has been proverbial as the type of an obvious truth since the 16th century, and appears as such in Johann Wigand’s 1562 De Neutralibus et Mediis Libellus: “That twice two are four, a man may not lawfully make a doubt of it, because that manner of knowledge is grauen [graven] into mannes [man’s] nature.”

In his play Dom Juan (1682), Molière’s title character is asked what he believes. He answers that he believes that two plus two equals four.

That 2 + 2 = 5 is the archetypical untruth is attested at least as early as 1728. Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopædia … follows its definition of the word absurd with this illustrative example: “Thus, a proposition would be absurd, that should affirm, that two and two make five; or that should deny ’em to make four.”

Similarly Samuel Johnson said in 1779 that “You may have a reason why two and two should make five, but they will still make but four.”

The first known sympathetic reference to the equation 2 + 2 = 5 appears in an 1813 letter by Lord Byron … “I know that two and two make four—& should be glad to prove it too if I could—though I must say if by any sort of process I could convert 2 & 2 into five it would give me much greater pleasure.”

2+2=5 represents the kind of anti-reality thinking that so often begets entire groups of humans who should know better. And the way it happens has captivated storytellers and audiences since the beginning of times.

How individuals and societies turn away from reality and stomp together into an aggressive denial of it is always a scary story and a cautionary tale. It always starts with silliness in minor political issues and gradually escalates into a society-level hypnosis and mass hysteria where even just holding rational views becomes dangerous and uncomfortable, let alone voicing them. (And silence is not an option either, as being accused of thinking 2+2=4 will be a mortal threat.)

It will eventually culminate in mass destruction, war, bloodshed, genocide, and the wholesale destruction of values – until the indignant believers finally become scared enough of reality to cower and to quietly start living according to it (even if they still don’t admit failure).

It happened after WW2 when the incoming class of politicians were so humbled and frightened by the destruction of propaganda and the resulting war that they worked long and hard to avoid another bout of collective delusion. They put down the pillars of lasting peace in Europe, for the first time in human history, because reality bullied them into sense and it beat some sense into hysterical societies as well.

After just a few years of mindless stomping and violent destruction, no one wanted the wars anymore. No one wanted the bloodshed and bombing they so hungrily craved just a few years earlier. No one wanted to “defend” themselves from those evil foreign countries any longer – even though those evil foreign countries still existed. No one wanted any more genocide against the Jews – even though they were allegedly still behind everything that was bad in the world.*

Authors depicting emerging autocracy are always keen to express how the denial of reality creeps on as the dictatorship approaches. Every. Single. Time.

“Now, get seven million five hundred thousand votes to declare that two and two make five, that the straight line is the longest road, that the whole is less than its part; get it declared by eight millions, by ten millions, by a hundred millions of votes, you will not have advanced a step.”

–Victor Hugo’s 1852 pamphlet, Napoléon le Petit, on how the vast majority of French voters backed Napoleon III, denying liberal values in Napoleon III’s coup.

“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”

–George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

For lesser minds, who need commonly accepted labels of evil (such as “Nazi”) to know that something was indeed evil, even the Nazis thought that reality doesn’t exist. Or at the very least it is a social construct, to be created in minds of humans by the tools of state communication:

“Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as “the truth” exists. … The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, “It never happened” – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs.”

— George Orwell “Looking Back on the Spanish War” (1943)

But these are only the nationalist-socialists (long version of “Nazi”). Non-nationalist socialists were not the opposite, but the exact same anti-reality bullies. Soviet economic plans were notorious for their irrationalism and impossibility, you truly needed a miracle (sans God) to accomplish them – or some creative statistics, which then misled and misinformed the leadership as well as the people and the abroad. Naturally, you don’t have to look far to find the Soviet’s own 2+2=5

Yakov_Guminer_-_Arithmetic_of_a_counter-plan_poster_(1931)

“Arithmetic of an alternative plan: 2+2 plus the enthusiasm of the workers=5”. Soviet propaganda poster by Iakov Guminer, 1931 Source: Wikipedia

Just take Stalin’s first 5-year plan issued in 1928. Since the punishment for underdelivering on The Plan was so severe, no one dared to report the truth. Statistics of the first two years of the plan were so marvellous (and fake) that Stalin decided to make it in under four years.

Hungarians had their own jokes about this particular kind of central planning disaster:

Members of the central planning committee visited Jozsi in his village, wearing their nice, long, brown leather coats.
“How many piglets will be born, Józsi?”
“Well… You know, no one can tell.”
“Shut up, you dirty peasant! Tell us the number! How many piglets will be born?”
“Well, I don’t kn…”
Bang, they slapped Józsi on the face.
“Oh my, my… How many does it have to be?” cried Józsi. “How many is the Plan, comrades?”
“14.”
“Then that’s how many will be born. But… did you tell the pig?”

The joke of Hofi, the famously tolerated Hungarian comedian under communism, ended on a less than amusing note – even though people laughed at it out of helpless desperation.

As time passed, the piglets were born. But the pig birthed only 10 piglets. The Party secretary was frightened:
“Dear Holy Mary, what shall we do now? Only 10 piglets were born, but the Plan was 14. It may even be called a sabotage, what will happen to us?”
“I can’t make piglets” said Józsi. “But I can make statistics – Hungarian style! I’ll report 11 piglets. It’s not ten, after all. And it’s almost 14!”
The paper with the statistics moved up to the commune level.
“It’s outrageous, comrades! We can’t do this to the workers of the commune! So we will report 12 piglets.”
12 piglets it is, the Plan is going according to plan, the report arrives to the district.
“12?” they said. “Comrades, that’s not enough. We will report 13.”
Report keeps moving up.
“13, comrades? It makes me sad. Wasn’t there one more?”
So they report 14. The Plan is complete. Long live Comrade Rákosi!
Comrade Rákosi, the Party Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party addresses the workers:
“I am pleased to welcome the world class quality results of socialist production, the 14 piglets. So we have decided to export 10 out of the 14 piglets – and we eat the rest!”

Observing the irrationalism of the Soviet system, Ayn Rand quickly called them mystics – just as she called outright religious fanatics and anyone who denied reality and claimed that reality is what the powerful says it is. And since the act of thinking the truth becomes a thought crime itself under authoritarianisms of all kinds, she also observed that

“the noblest act you have ever performed is the act of your mind in the process of grasping that two and two make four”.

–In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Naturally, religionism always neatly linked into irrationalism and thus aggressive anti-reality sentiment. Just think of the mind-boggingly anti-reality stubbornness displayed in orders such as go lick religious artifacts during the pandemic (Iran). Or to hold ideological rallies (displays of secular religionism) to support the denial of the virus (Brazil).

“Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: Great God, grant that twice two be not four.”

–Ivan Turgenev in Prayer (1881)

It is also worth mentioning Leo Tolstoy’s alleged last words when urged to convert back to the Russian Orthodox Church: “Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six.”

In 2017, Italian Catholic priest Antonio Spadaro tweeted “Theology is not #Mathematics. 2 + 2 in #Theology can make 5.”

Among the anti-religious irrationalists Dostoevsky’s character from Notes from Underground (1864) overthinks himself and spends several paragraphs considering the implications of rejecting 2+2=4. He proposes that it is the free will to choose or reject the logical as well as the illogical that makes mankind human, so 2+2=5 must be very human indeed.

“I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.”

 Naturally, one wonders what makes people periodically lose their minds and engage in perfectly avoidable, irrationalist mass destruction. Maybe it is as simple as the perpetual change of generations, always forgetting what happened before and why, always falling for the self-centered fallacy that this time will be different, and always assuming that past generations weren’t so much different than us after all.

In the end, it all comes down to one’s willingness to insist on reality and to act accordingly. And the courage to do so.

“the noblest act you have ever performed is the act of your mind in the process of grasping that two and two make four”.

–In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957)

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

George Orwell, 1984

To make my point I will refrain from distant, historic analogies. I will use a very contemporary and quintessentially Millennial example of anti-reality approach: the infamous Fyre Festival. Fyre (and the process that led to it) is the perfect analogy for today’s aggressive anti-reality politics because they are the manifestation of the same process.

 

Featured image: Radiohead – 2+2=5

* Behind all that was, of course, the economy. Wars are a Keynesian destruction of wealth for which no one is responsible – legally speaking – and are thus perfect to write off equally Keynesian debts that were accumulated and led to the war itself in the first place.

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