News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Commentary (3)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Commentary (3)

In previous posts, I have dealt with the objective and spiritual sides of what I have been calling the loss of spiritual primitivity. There's a political side to this, as one might expect. In the western world, political evolution has gone through major changes since the 1500s, with the rise of the modern nation state and capitalism. Along with the fall of monarchical government in all its forms, political and religious, came the rise of representaitive government. This included the notion that everyone should has rights and that everyone should have a say in the way that political decisions are made. This push towards representational govt. has as one of its source Calvinistic theology.

This push towards political representation of the people's voice has its religious source in the notion that "before God we are all equal." This principle started out as a religious proposition, but in time, with the rise of the Enlightenment, it became detached from its religious context and became an ideal that was supposed to be self-evident merely on rationalistic grounds. Thereby, we find political philsophers of the Enlightenment espousing the view that humans are inherently equal by nature--without the spiritual context involved.

In the past, those people ruled who were gifted by nature with the talent and destiny to rule. They were the "favorites" of fate and were seen to be the ones who could manage humans their environment with the most efficacy and whose efforts seemed blessed by fate. If there was power struggle and envy it occurred on an individual level--the great man was envied his good luck at being morally, practically, and intellectually virtuous (to use Aristotle's ethical categories). One envied and resented the good favor that nature and fate bestowed on this person.

With the rise of representative govt., however, wherein all expect to share in the power and benefits of that power, envy and resentment take on a more insidious character. Mixed in with the capitalistic drive to sccumulate capital, the citizen of a representative democracy expects no one to be favored and all to gain from what nature and time can bestow. This, however, simply denies reality--there are those who have more beauty, athleticism, intelligence, practical abilities, and so on than humans in general. In a representaitive society, however, these differences are simply denied or neutralized through social measures that guarantee that the differences make no difference. On the personal level, people feel that no one is better than them and that those who are indeed different are not really different but simply the same as everyone else. Where the social and political mechanisms cannot completely neutralize difference, envy turns into resentment; this resentment begins to poison the communal life because all actions are suspect and must conform to the reigning notion that no one is better than anyone else.

Henceforth, a person's worth and identity come not from any natural gifts or spiritual sense of being unique and individual before God but rather through the associations that one has with a group. One's power and efficacy come from belonging to some group that assures them that they do indeed have the requisite entitlements guaranteed by the notion that all are equal. One acts not because one believes something to be true but simply because the group says it is the right thing to do. Individual conscience gives way to group think and the conscience of the mob. (Think Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, Taliban, the modern US culture of public opinion)

To guarantee the illusion of this equality, there arises the phantom of something called a "Public." This public does not have any existence, it is simply the empty concept of a resentful mass wishing to see its own reflection in some type of "universally valid and objectively verifiable" common essence that all members of a society are supposed to share. It is universal because everyone accepts the idea that all are equal and entitled to equal rights; it is "objective" because it can be surveyed and quantified in the form of public opinion polls and statistics.

The notion of the public is further bolstered by the popular media, which stokes the fires of envy and resentment (think of movie star worship, etc.) as well as purveys the illusion of mass values that are acknowledged as true simply because they are "public opinion."

But there simply is no such thing as a public. It is an illusion created by and sustained by envy and resentment, as well as the desire to acknowledge no authority but taht of the mass--what everyone else believes, thinks or feels. Any basis for authority is thereby short-circuited. For if no one is better than anyone else, then no one has a right to say what is right, wrong, or indifferent. There simply is no way to verify that anything is true unless it accords with public opinion, but this is a phantom and ultimately relates in no way to a real world. The "real" world is simply an illusion created by and for the masses, whose expectations revolve around some basic bodily needs and some soporific form of spiritual assurances that they, the group," are indeed guaranteed the right to exist simply because they are born.

Indeed, a human born into this socio-cultural matrix, naturally endowed with an innate sense of individual responsibility and obligation towards others, is socialized to believe that they are not anyone unless they associate with and belong to some group. They do not belong as individuals but simply as a cipher along with other ciphers in a faceless mass of equals. It is this natural sense of individual uniqueness that is stamped out and exterminated by the machinery of the modern state. The modern state does not want individuals to fill its ranks but wants lock-step conformists who assume and build on the emptiness of a party line that supposedly promotes the ideal of all being equally loved and cherished simply because they belong to the state.

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