August 16, 2004
"True sanity entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that false self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality...and through this death a rebirth, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer."
(Swans - August 16, 2004) The pathology of American culture is as ubiquitous as its strip-mall ugliness. It is abundantly evident, in almost every aspect of contemporary life: From the predatory (to the point of psychopathic) practices of its captains of the corporate boardroom, down to the pandemic enervation and proliferate anomie of its morally scurvy, gallery slaves languishing in their soulless cubicles -- from the genitalia-devoid mascots at DisneyWorld, to the genitalia-obsessed torturers of Abu Ghraib prison -- the soul-sickness spreads before us like George W. Bush's taunting, executioner's smirk.
Ronnie Laing's profound dictum leaves us with many poignant questions regarding the true nature of the psychic lives of so-called ordinary Americans and our ability to function in this corrupt and crumbling empire. In short, is it sane to be able to adapt to an insane culture?
And: If conforming to group, cultural, and national pathology is rewarded (therefore encouraging the formation of the "false self") -- how might an individual, stranded within the dysfunctional dynamic, resist it all, and begin to work towards a more meaningful awareness of their own essential nature -- and then come to a similar reckoning regarding how to live in the mists of the life-defying demands of the present era -- and, despite it all -- retain some measure of meaning, inner depth, and human resonance?
Laing apprehended: When we were children, authority (in the form of parents, teachers, clergy) loomed before us... Alternatively menacing and comforting, these powerful figures could just as easily have crushed us as comforted us. (Tragically, all too often, they perpetrated the primary.)
Hence, we learned how to curry favor from these baffling, seemly implacable, forces by the creation of a cipher persona, "a false self," a tricky, tap-dancing, little suck-up -- who garnered approval and acceptance -- and thereby avoided punishment and scorn by the reflexive subjugation of his true nature, all the while, showing an agreeable face towards mindless authority which masked a mind seething with misplaced resentments and shallow subterfuge -- the perfect corporate citizen/consumer.
In childhood, the presence of these huge, confounding forces created irreconcilable anxieties within us: the actions and activities of authority figures seemed as overwhelming and unpredictable as nature, itself; they were perceived as implacable forces that we could not fight nor resist... They always confounded us: to our young, fragile psyches, these all-powerful creatures might nurture us -- but -- they could just as easily -- have devoured us.
-- Is it any wonder that children are obsessed with monsters? And childish adults see God as a wrathful father?
At Multiplexes, day and night, across the United States, cinematic imagery, with stories containing the thematic complexities rarely rising above leveling of understanding of a dim nine-year-old, flicker over the passive faces of moviegoers.... (The same can be said of the psychotic story lines of the EndTime sermons raved in fundamentalist churches.)
In these dramas (whether promulgated by mountebanks from Hollywood or home-grown, fundie jihadist) -- monsters rise and then are vanquished by bland heroes. On a metaphoric level, we are replaying the trauma of having our essential humanness devoured by the monsters of corporate hegemony.
Corporate Capitalism has left Americans psychically stuck in a pathetic simulacrum of childhood and its inchoate fears of being preyed upon by their (alleged) protectors (who they internally and accurately recognize as monsters)... of having their individual uniqueness stolen by enslavement to an mindless system that lives for no other reason than it lives -- a system that eats its young (giving new mean to the term "'consumer' economy") -- that exists only to perpetuate itself -- a system that has become a soul-devouring monster.
-- Is it any wonder we grow to accept monstrous acts committed in our names?
We endlessly replay the trauma of the devouring of own true selves to the insatiable appetite of the corporate/consumer empire: from mirroring it in our ceaseless cravings for the empty spectacles offered up by Hollywood movies and the lurid B-movie imagery of the Book of Revelations, to our addiction to junk food, to the relentless banalities of our political discourse, to the ugliness of our ad-hoc architecture -- it has become the mask and mantle of our existence. Worse, the exterior falseness of the American landscape has become internalized -- the lines of demarcation have disappeared -- the outer phoniness has merged with the inner phony (and vice versa) -- becoming a hall of mirrors where distorted images mirror distorted images -- where any semblance of an non-distorted image is taken for freakish and must be scorned, ignored, or shattered to shards.
This is how the American people can dismiss the torture committed at Abu Ghraib prison as simply "having some fun."
Those sorts of pathological distortions start in childhood.
Is it any wonder America has become a nation inhabited by emotionally-stunted, infantilized consumers? How passive and apathetic so many Americans have become...with mass media spoon-fed mouths agape, sitting in our own polluted poop, ignorant of the world (but mollified by the dazzle of its petty lights) as chubby fingers point at consumer goods, screaming -- "MINE!"
It is what the corporate/consumer empire has demanded we become: for it does not take long for children (most of us anyway) to learn what actions on our part are accepted and rewarded -- and, conversely, which are punished; what aspects of our "character" are acceptable, and which are scorned; and what roles we are expected to play in exchange for being loved, fed, clothed, sheltered, and educated.
This exchange insured that we're given a "safe" place within the community -- not cast out into the wilderness and fed to the wolves. (This fear is not such an outrageous fantasy: it is, in fact, a primal memory, because various forms of infanticide were once common practices nearly all cultures, including the act of abandoning outcast children to die in the wilderness. And the knowledge still lingers within our psyches, where the memories of such terrors still howl just beyond the tree-line of our awareness, instilling within us the terror of ridicule, of failure, of being ostracized... Far too many people succumb to these fears and begin playing the roles circumscribed by their families, communities, and cultures: Tragically, their true selves, for all practical purposes, were smothered in their cribs.)
So what becomes of those who are "thrown to the wolves?"
America's prisons bristle with them.
As for those of us who are less criminally inclined: our "cast out" selves find provisional relief in places like Las Vegas, where "What happens here, stays here," in the words of that city's latest advertising campaign.)
Las Vegas and prisons are the fastest growing population centers in the United States...a landscape now comprised of jails and clip-joints... a land of suckers and criminals... It is a natural progression: for capitalism has always depended on a predatory class of sociopaths...has always relied upon thievery and murder...and needs an endless supply of suckers and victims.
(It would seem: Most of those who languish in the American penal system lacked the forethought and initiative to have first been born into the privileged class -- thereby ensuring they could have committed their crimes with impunity.)
But there is another way, for those who have been cast out into the wildness: There are some (non-conformists, creative thinkers, artists) who welcome (rather than fear) the metaphorical wolves (who are recognized, each to each, as fellow outcasts). Instead of being eaten by them -- they are suckled by the wolves...
Nourished by their outsider status, the creative spirit thrives when freed from the constraints of a mindless adherence to groupthink... The wilderness becomes their natural habitat: ...they howl at the moon; they reject the daylight world of bland consensus... they learn to see in the dark... The wilderness being their home: they don't clean-up nicely for polite company... they don't let themselves be bred down (as a few domesticated wolves did) to yapping Chihuahua, in exchange for a few food scraps...
Yes, when your looking at a Chihuahua -- you're looking at a former wolf.
One day, you're loping through the woods, snout held high, smelling the scent of fresh game on the wind...and the next thing you know, you're being led around on a leash and collar, encrusted with tacky rhinestones, and you're salivating at the sound of an electric can-opener... One moment, you're a child and you're entranced in play, hard-wired to eternity -- the next thing you know, you're sitting at work and your passions, hopes, and yearnings have been shrunk down to Chihuahua-sized cravings... You're truckling for your boss's approval... You're counting the minutes until your breaktime when you can devour some junk food... Like a domesticated pet, or an unfortunate animal incarcerated in a zoo, you are no longer a noble animal -- you are a thing that waits for lunch.
To resist, we must cast off the fear of being an outcast.
Though we may never achieve the independence and nobility of wolves, there is no call for us to spend our lives being habitually obedient to our corporatist masters whose treatment of us rarely rises above the level of neglect and contempt.
I remain hopeful: There is yet a molecule or two of the wild wolf left within us cringing Chihuahuas. Because within us lies an indomitable self, encoded with the grace and fury of the natural world, and, if acknowledged and respected, it will awaken and rise -- imbrued with perennial vitality and natural appetites -- and it, at the very least, will make a quick meal of the paltry flesh of our false selves.
Then the fight begins: The fur will fly -- as we fight tooth and nail to retake our own essential natures, and, by extension, begin the struggle to restore the health, imagination, and dignity, that is inherent, in those who struggle to achieve individual freedom to a nation of cage-accepting, sick puppies.
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US Elections & Democracy on Swans
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Phil Rockstroh on Swans (with bio).
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