The Psychology of the Thucydides Trap

When you are the establishment—the mainstream, the ruling class, the dominant opinion or belief system, the official consensus, the standard, the default, “the Man”—you are mainly focused on maintaining your dominance. This usually takes the form of strict ideological policing and intolerance of dissent. You spend most of your time hunting down and rooting out dissidents, big and small, and punishing them.

You demand respect, reverence and deference from everyone. You become humorless and joyless. All you care about is preserving your “empire” and fending off any and all would be challengers. Not only fending them off but crushing them before they can even pose a threat to you.

“Show some respect!” 

“That’s not funny!”

“You can’t say that!”

“That’s offensive!”

“Do you know who you’re talking to!?” 

“How DARE you?!”

The closer you are to collapse, the more intolerant and tyrannical you’ll get. Preservation of power is all that matters. 

Meanwhile, when you are the rising challenger, you enjoy making fun of the establishment. Your greatest weapon is ridicule and parody, given that the rulers are joyless, intolerant scolds who take themselves too seriously. You promise to never be that way once you are the dominant power, or belief system, or ideology. But you will be.

As the challenger, you welcome robust intellectual debate, because you know your ideas are better. You know the dominant power can’t beat you in an intellectual debate, because their ideas and their way of thinking are old, stale and obsolete, while yours are fresh, bold and progressive. 

But the dominant power doesn’t care to debate. Debating a challenger only lends credence to the idea that there even is an alternative way of thinking or doing things.

This is where book burning and censorship and deplatforming come into play.

Once you are aware of this pattern, you will see it play out all over the place. In politics especially, as the dominant progressive neoliberal globalist establishment is in the process of crumbling and giving way to popular nationalism all around the world. 

America itself is a crumbling empire giving way to rising Asian powers (BRICS).

It plays out in the animal kingdom. It plays out in the corporate world. 

It even plays out in things like sports debates, like the Jordan vs LeBron goat debate. In the past, Jordan was the unchallenged GOAT. Now it’s not so clear. 

The bottom line, though, is that, from the perspective of the challenger, the worse it seems to get for you, the closer you actually are to winning. The dominant power will get more and more desperate, tyrannical, aggressive, dishonest and brazen the closer they are to defeat.

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