Everyone emerges from the womb a tiny savage, remaining thus through a phase Jung likens to “islands of consciousness.” During this time, our skull’s soft spot solidifies, gradually severing our spiritual umbilical to the universal soul that spawned it. Lines cast from shore, our mind’s odyssey down the river of forgetfulness begins. (1) We soon bury what we really are, and existence, for many, becomes a steady evolution away from deeper reality: From what to who we are, from whom to what one is.
Regardless, all of us become subjects as we are civilized by the sovereign powers defining our situation in the world (first “parents”, then “church” and school, finally government and employer -- what Louis Althusser calls soft state ideological apparatuses, which develop an individual’s superego via reward), and this is how the socialization process begins.
As subjects, we are informed of our roles in life by a seemingly benevolent force we believe serves to protect us from savages, or those who can’t be civilized by the sovereign and would do us harm.
If one is rich, one is raised to assume leadership and high social status. If you are middle class, you’re raised to become a good bureaucrat, middle manager or shopkeeper. If, however, we’re socialized into the working class, or poverty, we are trained to be faithful servants and humbly accept our lot in life. We take the dream literally. No one is immune from enculturation.
But once civilized, once we’ve accepted our roles in society, we become selfish, ego-driven souls lost in space, severed from Holy Spirit jouissance. Falsely believing our ego distinguishes us from society, we are motivated by private happiness, pleasure, justice and escape, evolving a separation of the groups into which we've been socialized. The rich build evermore secretive and secure communities; the poor take drugs and use guns -- escaping into powerful, dystopian fantasies; the middle class pursues upper class dreams while fighting lower class nightmares. What we end up with, eventually, is a very precarious situation: the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class annihilating the biosphere and extinguishing itself in the process.
When this happens, and if people become aware of how far their minds have been distracted from their fundamental existence, those of conscience may bond together as citizens and do the best they can to right the wrongs of the past. These folks, aware of how and why the civilized order collapsed, will want to make sure it never crumples again, and the new foundation is, hopefully, stronger than the one preceding it.
The reason for its strength: Greater respect for individual eccentricities lessening the need for people to escape their situations and facts of existence.
Stop. This suggests that progress toward greater development is inevitable. It espouses belief in Hegelian historical dialectic and Marxist revolution, seemingly defunct ideologies in the present political economic situation.
Nothing is inevitable. There may not be a God, but nature certainly implies one. There may be no such thing as human progress in terms of organic bliss, but studies suggest the more our basic needs are met the more likely we are to actualize ourselves. (2) The more people can become themselves by re-establishing the ineffable line tying their private existence to the universal soul, the lesser the stratification among groups of people will occur. We will become what we want to be, invited by the challenge of existing.
The problem, of course, is what we want to be or, better, what we want. This stems from a crisis of self-perception. Narcissus does not see himself, but his reflection. Losing himself in TV, he imagines himself elsewhere. In his car -- a moving bubble separating him from the outside world -- he listens to his favorite radio station, imitating the voices of memorized songs. At work he loses himself on the computer or in the task at hand, becoming the machine that feeds his desire for more things to identify with. Soon, “he” no longer exists, having drowned in his pipe dreams.
Too many Americans accept the label of “consumer” without protest. The evolution from savage to citizen and now consumer has been seamless. Few have noticed, fewer still have any understanding of it.
A momentary digression: consider mass hypnotism. Most of us have, at one time or another, either witnessed or taken part in mass hypnosis as entertainment. We’ve all seen how a hypnotist can mesmerize a group of people into certain idiotic behaviors. They remain aware of what they are doing, but don’t know why they’re doing it. The vast majority of Americans belong to a group of hypnotized consumers, making gluttonous addicts of themselves. They imbibe vicarious brutality while under a nefarious spell on a world stage. They may only be pushing a broom, but they’re still employed by Auschwitz. Unlike the entertaining fools at the high school prom, who induce huge amounts of laughter from their audience, deluded Americans are consuming their audiences via corporate colonialism and patronage. In the end, the only thing left to eat will be Americans themselves.
When a nation is on this course, hard ideological apparatuses -- like police, the military, the justice system and prisons that dole out punishment -- become more necessary. The rich increase their funding, while their employees hire family, friends and neighbors to help them enforce the property and privacy of their leaders. As the rest of the middle class disappears, this group remains in tact. As war becomes the desirable option, militarism and the weapons industry grows -- and everyone else suffers. As a result, we have the money for space weapons but not to protect our children from pedophiles or go to the doctor when we’re sick. Unlike churches and corporations, most consumers can’t avoid taxes or quit their way of life. Their sun really doesn’t rise unless they sing and dance. Stocks are up, and unemployment’s down. There was strong growth in the last quarter that exceeded analysts’ predictions, and the day after Armageddon the DOW will break 11,000 on a strong U.S. dollar. We all become “heroes” on the ash heap of history, ghost traders plying our vacuous trades in bomb shelters, exchanging dust in imaginary currency.
So what’s next in line for us? Once we’re no longer consumers, what will we call ourselves?
The first distinction between before and after is who defines us. They will no longer be delimiting us from the home office; rather we will define ourselves from where we are and how we’re doing. Lone wolves will be forced to find an accepting pack to survive. We’ll emerge from our bubbles and form a new union. In essence, we will be citizens -- not consumers -- once we’re forced from our cars and back onto the sidewalks. If a path needs clearing or a park requires cleaning, citizens will feel invited to do it, experiencing a union of soul not labor.
In that this might seem like progress to some, despite the loss of the existing order we’re working so hard to maintain, suggests that there is hope for the future despite a present dearth of it. Life may actually get better despite global warming, we may even find a way to culturally adapt or even physically evolve.
Is it possible for the human being in America to advance -- in the political economic sense -- beyond the role of citizen? Perhaps, but we must get there first before considering it. From here, it’s impossible to see because extra-constitutional powers -- corporations and the two-party system (Republicans and Democrats) -- are standing in the way. They see us as consumers, and we have a recent history of looking up to their bullshit. Both groups have acquired their political economic prominence through chicanery. To behave according to their standards is to aid and abet their criminal enterprises. Each of us, at some point, must face the dilemma of how to live decently in an indecent world. The responses to these crises are as numerous as the people experiencing them.
The secret, it seems to me, is to hear the melody under the noise and harmonize with it. Emerging from this song of colliding worlds is a singular peace that defies all material friction and makes life worthwhile.
Corporations, politicians and bureaucrats hold no sway in such a world. It is real and necessarily beyond their reach and vision.
Coke can’t teach the world to sing, only something with a voice box can.
Chuck Richardson is the author of Memos from Apartment 5. He’s just finished two books of nonfiction, and looking for a publisher. His next novel, Adopted, will be finished by next spring. Selections of his work can be viewed at: www.bastardpolitics.com.
Other Articles by Chuck Richardson
Letter to the Editor of