The Two Worst Ideas of the 20th Century 

I’ve been thinking about it. The 20th century was not nearly as great a century as I had somehow assumed.

It had its positives. There were some very significant achievements in terms of science and technology. And people generally got richer. And work got easier. And there were more conveniences. But it was also the most murderous century in the history of humankind. And the general level of happiness went down – especially in “advanced” countries.

Prior to the 20th century, I’d say that the worst ideas (in terms of life and happiness) were religious ideas – e.g., “My religion is better than your religion,” or “My authority, as your ruler, comes from God.” In the 20th century, this sort of thinking lost its power to destroy and decimate. But it was more than amply replaced by two ideas that have the same evil little seed.

I’m talking, of course, about communism and psychoanalysis, two hugely influential schools of thought based on a very similar (and very appealing) untruth: that the troubles in our lives have causes, and those causes are something or someone other than ourselves, and that the way to deal with these issues is to understand, first of all, that we are not responsible for them. In the case of communism, they are caused by systemic oppression on a class level. In the case of psychoanalysis, they are caused by early childhood trauma, usually imposed on us by our parents.

The obvious problem with this idea, besides its patent absurdity, is that it liberates the individual from personal responsibility and excuses him for his bad behavior.

The idea of communism is responsible for more than 100 million deaths in the 20th century. The core idea of psychoanalysis is probably responsible for a billion miserable lives.

More on this as I chew it over.