I am a spiritual person whose belief in God and the good is a result of direct experience (gnosis) not an affirmation of a series of “beliefs” based on a kind of arbitrary set of instructions based on some sacred texts–yet, I am a Christian because I believe the basic tenets of Christianity are a spiritual language not a final description of reality. Through working with Christianity we can arrive at “truth” and similarly if we follow other religious systems we will also arrive at truth as the Dalai Lama recommends.
Having said all that, one of my favorite religions is the parody of religion called the Church of the Sub-Genius and it’s non-philosophy philosophy has some good ideas. First, almost any absurd idea is embraced by that Church but they mainly seem to agree on something called “slack” which we don’t have nearly enough of. Another is that “normals” or “pinks” are deluded by something called “the Conspiracy” or C.O.N.S.P.I.A.C.Y. (Cliques Of Normals Secretly Planning Insidious Rituals Aimed at Controlling You). One of the sayings of their mythical prophet (Bob Dobbs) is “pull the wool over your own eyes” and this is important because it says two things: 1) if you’re going to be fooled fool yourself; and 2) you are being fooled.
There is a Conspiracy and the way they control us is through creating something I call “The Narrative.” Actually it is nothing more than a series of myths, usually, implied but sometimes states plainly that are generally accepted by most people. The Narrative is actually what I call a “mythological framework” which all people in a society tend to accept. You have to have one or cohesion is impossible. Fortunately, they mythological framework we live under allows change and evolution. Unfortunately, this Narrative allows for myths and ideas that directly contradict each other and allow for the practice of denial. We do indeed pull the wool over our own eyes as well as allow others to do the same. One part of our Narrative is that science and reason are at the center of the mainstream Narrative. Yet, when science and reason contradict more important parts of the narrative, then those ideas are ignored as if they weren’t even there. So I will lay out the main parts of our collective Narrative that most Americans seem to agree to.
- American Exceptionalism: This one is adhered to by all segments of the population including academics and others who should know better. It means that history shows that people who seek power have usually acted to indeed seek power and have dominion over others, or if they are in high office that they desire to use the State to dominate and conquer others or seek Empire; however, Americans don’t do that because of the separation of powers and other principles make the U.S.A. an almost perfect governmental system, and that Americans by virtue of citizenship are not only the greatest country ever known in the history of human beings but are themselves superior morally to everyone else. Power and morality are combined to make almost anything the U.S.A. chooses to do morally right. When things prove to be not so good they are either ignored (our treatment of Native peoples and slaves) or waved off as trivial, or a result of mistakes simply human error that in no way de-legitimize the high moral standings of the country. America exists as the “shining city on a hill” and the source of enlightenment, justice, wisdom and morality for the entire world to follow. Thus Americans are easily able to dismiss such horrors as the Vietnam War where around 2.5 million people died as a result of U.S. involvement on all sides including civilians. This is never, ever, ever, ever mentioned in the Narrative. What is mentioned is our “sacrifice” of 50,000 Americans heroes dying to preserve our “freedom.” There is never the slightest mention of the fact that was was lost and resulted neither in a benefit for the American people or anyone but the profits of arms manufacturers and other contractors. If I mention this on FB it is ignored–these brave men (who often, like soldiers anywhere at any times, did not act bravely and were not even remotely heroes) died to “defend” their country and that’s the end of the story. Thus any absurd and cruel, cynical war is always excused as a well-intentioned “mistake” of a naive and idealistic country with leaders who always mean well but sometimes aren’t in command of the facts. No American, according to this myth, who decides to enter “public service” can ever be selfish, evil or anything else–though may people believe that Dick Cheney is/was evil and perfectly looks the part no one in the mainstream media can say so even if he killed and ate babies on TV. Yes, many people think politicians are evil but the official Narrative forbids that anyone mention that so it is often forgotten. Now some people end up being classified as “bad” by those that manage the Narrative who may be in public office but they have to be officially and publicly designated as such, like Richard Nixon (I don’t believe he was bad at all but that is another story for another time).
- Culture of Narcissism: This is the natural and expected sort of culture that results from consumerism that extraordinary belief that, somehow, the “good life” consist of consuming mass quantities of goods and services meant to pursue one primary goal: satisfying our whims and “dreams.” This sort of culture is precisely the opposite of what all religions and the old fairy tales teach–selfishness and hankering after riches and baubles is anti-civilized and anti-morality. Americans pride themselves as being “religious” but we’re not. Even the contemporary Christianity featured in most mega-churches features a philosophy of being “saved” by merely signing up for a set of vague beliefs that feature personal “redemption” that often seems like an escape from problems through finding a simple formula for life. And, worse, many churches (and this shocked me when I heard it from a preacher) once you are “saved” every horror, every murder, every rape, every night of drinking will not send you to Hell. Now Catholicism does the same thing if you go to Confession but something is required of you. In American right-wing Christianity nothing is required except to act, on the surface, in a pious manner. Now many churches do attempt to get people involved in community activity and charitable works but they are secondary to personal redemption and happiness. This is why you see really ardent Christians with loads and loads of money and costly status-symbols who use the networks of their religion to earn money. I’m not blaming the churches because at least they have some good doctrines in the Bible to fall back on and perhaps some of them may actually read and meditate on the central part of Christianity which are the Gospels–but I see little interest in those works. If you live to achieve financial security and buy into the materialistic culture you cannot, I repeat, cannot be a moral person. To have financial security and nice things is not, to me, “bad” in fact it is good–but as a primary motivation it is distinctly a bad thing. A moral life consists of living for others, for your spiritual beliefs. The excuse of giving “everything” to your kids is a way of seducing them into being hedonists not moral people as everyone, if they think about it, knows. Children need to establish character and that ain’t going to happen if they are consumers and passive recipients of money and instruction at school. We are committing cultural suicide by going on this way and there is one primary culprit for that and that is the information systems we tune into particularly the mass media, advertising, schools and so on that promote these anti-values for the profit of the oligarchs in our society who run the big corporations who see us as one thing only and that is “food.” We are food to them, that’s it.
- The Society of the Spectacle: In 1968 Guy Debord wrote an important book Society of the Spectacle in which Debord basically examines not just the commodification of life and the values indicated in the above section but saw us moving into a “virtual” life decades before it actually happened. Our era is the “…historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.” Also, and here I quote from Wikipedia “The spectacle is the inverted image of society in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which ‘passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity.'” This feature degrades and impoverishes human life and destroys critical thought as we’ve seen in the history since he wrote about this matter. We sit back and passively watch the spectacle and are passive accumulators of commodities and information and, now, we can see how impoverished we are in terms of social life and that includes our political life as well. I will put it in very simple terms: the whole system exists to maintain the system–the system and its components do not exist to serve us at all–we have no role to play other than be part of the Spectacle when the camera rolls around. The Spectacle’s main feature is that it is genuinely ‘unreal’ because it represents a highly abstract version of reality Debord calls an image; in fact, this is a representation of the ‘virtual’ world isn’t it? So, we not only are stuck in the cult of the “self” but this cult is actual the Spectacle’s view of life which seeks to turn our own lives into spectacles we observe–that is, we observe a representation of our lives–now this actually common in human culture but reality was closer to us–it was the earth, our ability to make things, food we were close to and story-telling by story-tellers who were always ‘live.’
- Technique/Technology: Technology is not exactly the Spectacle–the Spectacle is a specific entities with attributes that are involved with social relations, the economy, the political scene and so on. It is “the Power” and “the Church.” Technology or ‘technique’ as the French prefer to call it, is the methodology involved in the maintaining the Spectacle. While technology is neutral in ‘intent’ the over-valuation of technology creates a system where, like the previous item, creates the technology to feed technology as a way of thinking. So the manner and means you actually do something is more or as important as what you just did. So when I make a drawing or painting most people seem to be most interested in how I did it, particularly if the technique is unfamiliar. Materials also seemed important to most people looking casually at art work. In fact, most artists seek to use materials and through the alchemy of art create something that plumbs below the surface or ‘above’ the surface. The French philosopher Jacques Ellul in his excellent book, The Technological Society considers technique/technology as representing a part of our brain or consciousness that is focused on solving problems only–not relating, not loving, not engaging with other life-forms, not enjoying but, rather, solving a series of problems even if there are no immediate problems to solve. Thus technique does divorce itself from need and becomes its own entity. The Spectacle is an embodiment of the technological society. In terms of ancient Chinese philosophy contained in the I Ching which describes two types of human being or, more accurately, two types of internal actors–these are the ‘Inferior Man’ and the ‘Superior Man’ now these two terms have a bad sort of taste because our view of ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ has been twisted a lot. Better to see it as two critically important parts of our psyche. The Inferior Man is in charge of doing things and using techniques and skill to do them. The Superior Man decides what to do and connects with the next higher state of being. Meanwhile the Inferior Man points downward to the earth and the things of the earth because his role is to make things out of materials and work within what the earth offers. The Superior man leans towards poetry, the Inferior man leans towards practicality. Both, however are not inferior or superior they are both necessary–one cannot and should not exist without the other. The I Ching is always trying to make sure that the two ‘men’ operate in harmony and in their proper sphere. One should be the one deciding the other should be doing things. One should make sure what is made fits in with the ultimate goal of our lives. By making technology as important as we’ve made it we have made a fetish or idol out of it. We ascribe to it transcendent powers–in I Ching terms we are making the Inferior Man our ruler and we seek to live our lives centered on this guy when he is completely unable to do anything but lead us to misery. In fact, the part of us that is represented by the Superior Man seems, for most of us, to be relegated in some locked basement room subsiding on bread and water.
So the Narrative is that our role in life is to observe the Spectacle, love technology, and to wave the flag and believe because we do it makes it good. We live to please and indulge ourselves while duly and piously genuflecting to the traditional values and then go about and do the opposite. As the Church Lady used to say, ‘how conveeenient.’
The Good News: As I mentioned above we are fortunate because a part of our overall Narrative, in the U.S. at least, is that change can be good and that if there is a better way to live, we ought to pursue it. That is the essence of is uniquely American–we have the capacity in our overall Narrative to change. Problem is that the Spectacle has taken over almost ever area of life so substantial change is very hard if not impossible. All our institutions are bound together in the requirement that they must exist whether or not they are really needed. For example, oil companies are barely needed–we know now how to generate the power we need through conservation and better engineering, continued movement towards the economy of scale where the alternative forms, if we switched to them and the legal restrictions were removed, they would be cheaper to use than carbon-based fuels even at the artificially low price (that does not figure in environmental ‘externalities’ and the high cost of war, and government subsidies). I can show dozens or ways to transform the economy so we could eliminate banks, also not needs as currently constructed, massive police presence and loss of civil liberties (we are losing them not because we need security but because security needs us to survive and will invent, exaggerate and nurture threats to our safety).
Everything we need, more or less to end war, limit pollution and disease, dramatically increase prosperity for the majority and so on except that the system will not and cannot allow any of that to be create. Unless we radically change our system to define our needs and goals and THEN find the technology that will get us there which includes the practical arrangements we make. Key to this is understanding who we are and where we are.