The Almighty NSA?

While we’re on the subject of brain research (I am anyway), here’s a new thought. It isn’t new under the sun, nothing is, but it’s new to me in the last ten minutes.

Of course it would be wrong to think about religion as simply a utilitarian evolutionary brain adaptation to facilitate social cohesion, and we should feel guilty for thinking about it that, as religion would tell us to be, and so we WILL feel guilty, but we’ll do it anyway, because the truth wants to be free, even if religion sometimes has other ideas about that. But anyway the historic emergence of the idea of an all-seeing, punishment God seems to have coincided with societies larger than small family-based groups. And the scientists who study this stuff, being as they are of a cause-and-effect orientation of mind, got to thinking maybe this was evolution’s way of helping large groups cohere and function and keep everybody relatively honest amidst the greater degree of anonymity and opportunities for cheating that larger groups allowed. God is watching! He’ll get you for this! If you are unfamiliar with this line of speculation, I’ll give you a minute here to mull it, or Google it. Take your time. The Washington Post paywall doesn’t have a taxi-style meter on it.

Okay, presuming for the rest of the time you’re here that there is something to this, here’s my thought. To what degree could an all-seeing national surveillance state actually serve this EXACT same purpose? To PROMOTE social cohesion, good behavior and national success? Of course this is an evil, bad thought in nearly every way, but brain science demands it be asked. Such a plan surely didn’t work out too well for the Soviet Union. (See! The question isn’t new after all!) But maybe the USSR’s version was just too crude, like their cast iron shoes, or whatever clunky consumer products they cranked out of those pounding inefficient factories of theirs. China is giving it a more sophisticated go. Stay tuned!  

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog. See all of his cartoons here.

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