the good fight
I have a friend who works for a major advertising agency. Sheâ€™s what youâ€™d call the classic example of middle management, neither so high nor so low up as to be exceptional nor mundane. When I met first met her, one thing that made me know weâ€™d immediately be friends was the fact that she did not own a TV. Actually, she did, but it sat atop her cat tree, awaiting a rush of energy when she felt like dragging it down the stairs and to the trash receptacle outside her co-op (sheâ€™s a small person). I knew then that weâ€™d be fast friends. I was right.
I share this story because I was watching a popular TV program on DVD recently, one that Iâ€™d never seen but has been sweeping the nation. I donâ€™t really watch TV, although occasionally, Iâ€™ll enjoy a DVD provided by my housemates, knowing that I can for the most part skip over ad-like previews and completely avoid ads themselves. In the last few years, Iâ€™ve become acutely aware of how freakish my lack of TV viewing makes me with respect to the greater American public. I have no doubt that Iâ€™m in a tiny minority, and that my lack of understanding and appreciation of the cultural referents makes me an oddball at best. Itâ€™s not uncommon for me to completely fail to understand a post or comment, not knowing of the entertainer, show or movie it makes reference to.
There are a lot of smart people in the world, certainly a bunch who are smarter than me, maybe you, and probably a large percentage of Americans. Some of these smart folks are in fact Americans, and some of them work in what Iâ€™ll call here â€œthe production of information industry.â€ They find employment in fields like advertising, education, public policy, legal and judicial fields, the military and intelligence. Sometimes, thereâ€™s overlap: a person will work in more than one of the above categories, specializing in one field or discipline and applying that knowledge wherever it suits them best.
We live in whatâ€™s commonly termed, â€œthe Information Age.â€ Itâ€™s a good term, for a lot of reasons. Why? Because, like no other period in the history of human civilization, Information is power: itâ€™s often free, itâ€™s certainly diverse and widespread, and it has the ability to posit â€œother realitiesâ€ in a way past civilizations, dictators, authors and dreamers have only...well, dreamed about. Technology, and the force of recent history, makes this equation powerful in a way like no other historic moment that I know of. Itâ€™s a global phenomenon, and reaches into the future and the past with equally firm grips. Potentially, anyone could be the next Bill Gates, Mahatma Gandhi, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Clinton, or Mao Zedong. Anyone (including women, despite my gender slanted list of examples). The â€œfree flowâ€ of information is what makes this possible.
But itâ€™s not really a free flow, like a rushing stream that picks up leaves from any tree equally. Itâ€™s a flow directed by people who control the levees, the dams and the source pools. Itâ€™s a flow that only contains certain ingredients, like the way oil is pumped out the ground with water, or how only certain fish swim in certain streams. We donâ€™t live in a syndicalist-anarchist utopia any more than we live in a hyper totalitarian Orwellian state. Weâ€™re somewhere in between. Someplace where some of us have certain unique and self organizing opinions and express them, and some of us only repeat and reflect upon what weâ€™re told.
A lot of us spend time worrying over â€œwhat to believe.â€ We donâ€™t trust our government- we can easily prove they lie. We donâ€™t trust â€œourâ€ party leaders- they vote contrary to our express instructions, and then dissemble about when this happens. We donâ€™t trust our media, which we know to be rife with influences that predispose it to treat us as all-consuming goats, to be fed a diet of anything while being led about like animals fattened before a slaughter. We donâ€™t trust our religious leaders, who preach on the value of one set of behaviors, while exemplifying a wholly different and hypocritical set. And yet we search through it all for something to believe in. What we donâ€™t do very often is ask: why is â€œbeliefâ€ so important? The short answer has to do with what Iâ€™ll call â€œour programming.â€ Weâ€™re taught from a very young age that life, the reality we discern with our senses daily, and even our own minds, is somehow less valuable than our 'beliefs.'
So Iâ€™m back to a beginning of sorts. I ask you, gentle reader: what do you believe, and why? Do you believe that after death, caring creatures of some immortal form await you? Do you believe that only by goodness, charity and morality happiness can be achieved? Do you believe that all government and industry is a cover for a cabal of self-concerned, wealthy, self-segregated elites, who hate and despise you even as they force you to exist only for their pleasure and profit? Most importantly: do you believe that your own beliefs define you? How did you come by them, anyway? Do you know, have you asked yourself recently? Without your beliefs, do you think youâ€™re less of a person, less likely to be happy, or more likely to suffer, be oppressed, and die?
Here is my bottom line: there is reason, and there is sentiment. Reason is something that relates to the world around you, perceived by your own five/six senses, a world which changes every day, and which is almost too much for the human mind to encompass. Despite this cacophony, the ability to reason provides a solid foundation for all as we struggle to order and relate to our shared world of existence.
Sentiment, on the other hand, is something thatâ€™s far to fleeting, too personal, too mercurial, to use as a basis for understanding ourselves, let alone our world. Your gut, balls, heart, and as the ancient Sumerians believed, liver all tell you to set aside what you see, smell, taste and hear in favor of something that feels good. They donâ€™t tell you why it feels good, only that this feeling can be more powerful than hunger, pain or loneliness. Which can be good, when youâ€™re starving, dying or isolated to the point when living is actually a challenge. Barring such extreme circumstances, belief in something that you canâ€™t see or touch or hear is the heart of whatâ€™s causing so many of our problems.
Sentimental emotion for something unreal you believe in becomes the foundation for a great many ills. It allows you to deny truths like holocausts and pogroms and genocide. The ability to overcome sentiment and emotion, on the other hand, and employ reason however difficult or painful, is the way that human beings can employ the equation information + action = power. When I can get 33% of Americaâ€™s population to agree with me on this, itâ€™s a New World Order for real. Until then, weâ€™ll all be chasing each otherâ€™s tails while a select few necromancers and thaumaturgists laugh and dance while they suck us dry.
Short version: Have you seen an episode of BattleStar Galactica? Specifically, the first one? I just watched it. What struck me- that both left and right in America could take comfort in it, that â€œboth sidesâ€ could easily imagine themselves as the embattled underdogs, apocalyptic survivors, and saviors of humanity. The right gets off on the hyper militarism and Armageddon-like social conditions; the left on the persecution and martyrdom of the â€˜heathenâ€™ survivor set that is visually representative of politically correct values. Both are conditioned to think about conflict in apocalyptic terms, in â€œall or nothingâ€ battles with an ultimate enemy, and valiant survivors of a civilization-destroying conflict. Powerful sentiment is brought about by watching such a show, sentiment which clouds reasoned thought and reflection in favor of self-identification with heroic archetypes. A viewer is primed to accept uncritically other information that would lead them to act like the valiant examples on the screen, willing to sacrifice anything in the ultimate struggle.
I wonder who would want people in this country to think like that, and why.