August 1973, Stockholm, Sweden.
Guy takes four people hostage in a bank’s vault. He goes through the customary shindig of demand or doom. He keeps this up for four days—threatening to kill a hostage every day, getting on the line with the Prime minister of Sweden, and while still on call, strangleholding a hostage until she screams. Talk about getting to the point already.
On the fifth day, the cops grow weary, throw in some tear gas and bust his ass. There’s one way to negotiate. Anyway, no one died and shit.
The guy gets a ten-year prison sentence.
What happens next is kinda kinky.
The hostages come to his defence.
Yeah, the people he caged and traumatized wanted him free.
The cop who led the hostage crisis finds all four hostages and shoots them.
Okay. Not really.
Something much less dramatic happens. Academics find out about the incident and write a paper. They call it, “The value of arbitrative empathy in our advocacy of BDSM”. Urm, no, they call it Stockholm syndrome.
Stockholm syndrome is this psychologically pimpy behaviour where the captured become loyal to the captor, even after the captor can do them no harm. Happy married life, y’all.
Stockholm syndrome is one of the foundational ideas of authoritarian models. Religion, workplaces, KFC: “We don’t care if our ideologies make you throw up, because we know you have nowhere else to go.”
Here’s an example you are not going to like.
If you are an adult capable of somewhat coherent thought, and if you still have to check with your dad on every decision of your life, your dad may just be a controlling assole suckling off the plastic nipple of patriarchy, and if you hate me for saying that, you will make a perfect hostage.
It’s befitting to assume the hostages have been traumatized to a point of insanity which explains their defence, but they are only responding to the maddeningly sane human conditioning and its relationship with authority. With unfounded empathy. Like the toxic boss who everyone not-so-secretly hopes dies, but very secretly, single-handedly hopes to rescue from a burning building so they can become the chosen one.
If Hitler came back and told us he’s a changed man now, we’d make him president of the country of his liking. If you find that hard to believe, I’d like to visit your cave.
With extreme authority comes an extreme need for approval. It’s the opioid crisis of sustenance. At least dictators made no bones about cutting off your dick if you didn’t obey them. There’s honesty in that.
But the new form of authority, dictators faking authenticity, can destroy us from the inside. It creates a psychological slavery. I once worked with a guy who did this so well he’d convinced everyone that not getting shit on by him meant they weren’t special. He’s dead now. Well, no, but hope is the thing with feathers.
Mistaking control for compassion is a threat to rational thought. It confuses feeling small with feeling humble. Self-respect with respectability. When you become a hostage to the opinions of idiots, you start believing them even when they do crazy shit, which they often do.
Stockholm syndrome is the beginning of a conscientious bankruptcy, and it usually ends with you doing something bonkers like sending a valentine card to the person who held you in a stranglehold as you screamed for life.
The stranglehold is the success you are after, all so some idiot(s) can nod off in approval.
That’s the paradox of not caring about what people think. It only tightens people’s hold on you. The more you hate someone, the better their approval feels.
What we need instead is a comfort with being disliked. Not the need to be disliked—the woke stranglehold, but the needlessness of being loved in order to love. This is your one true measure of mental health. The hustler alchemy of grinding away until the coal turns to diamond is like covering yourself in dogshit, waiting, one day, to be sniffed. If your hatred for some idiot is what drives everything you do, you are an idiot too.
What’s most unkind about kindness is that it makes you believe you deserve none of it.
What’s most unfreeing about freedom is that it can chain you to freedom.
What’s most unforgiving about forgiveness is that it waits until you turn into a monster beyond all forgiveness.
What’s unidiotic about idiots is that they can be right sometimes, but that’s no reason to believe everything they say. The idiot from Stockholm has been out of prison for a long time and has continued to do criminal shit, the dumbest of which was writing a book about the whole bank bacchanalia. He’s a motivational speaker now, or at least that’s what his trajectory looks like.
There’s someone like that we all know. Psychos walking free, telling people what to do, writing books and shit. And there’ll be people—well-meaning, intelligent people amongst a community of twits—in awe of them. It’ll make you want to scream. You will. And you’ll look like an idiot.
The new authoritarians spin a yarn of respectability through the cycle of attention. And we should deprive them of that.
Go before the abyss gazes back. Go past idiots quietly, not ungratefully, and raise your middle finger to them, only hope they got a glimpse, and move the fuck on.
There’s a world out there of unknown kindness, undetermined freedom, and unmeasured forgiveness. Reserve your scream for that.