Category Archives: Mythology

Socialist Rhetorical and Dialectical Communication: Overcoming Brainwashing, Propaganda, Entertainment

Orientation

How effective is the socialist left at winning over people in public meetings who are not already socialists? I would think that being socialists would make the people practicing socialism very good at being social. How true is this? There are two purposes in this article. One is to identify the similarities and differences between six forms of information control. The second part is to assess how good leftists are in using the two forms of control called “rhetoric” and “dialectic” at making their points. My claim is that the socialist left knows or cares little for these argumentation forms. This is one of many reasons why it is difficult to persuade or convince the public to become socialists or support socialist programs. These attempts could be in public gatherings such as rallies, city council meetings or in the workplace.

Six forms of information control

In my last article, I contrasted seven theories of propaganda, highlighting the work of sociologist Jacques Ellul. But as it turns out, propaganda is one of six forms of information control. Moving from right to left, from most to the least authoritarian we have:

  • Brainwashing
  • Propaganda
  • Mass entertainment
  • Public entertainment
  • Rhetoric
  • Dialectic

Brainwashing is the most conservative form of information control because it uses force to change minds. Propaganda, as we have seen in my last article, can be used by both conservatives and liberals. Both forms of entertainment are really politically apathetic, as they try to distract and provide escape from political and economic realities. Rhetoric is the essence of liberal viewpoints dating all the way back to debate among the classical Greeks. Dialectic was also used among the Greeks. It was used for conservative purposes by Plato and later by Hegel while Marx used dialectic to understand capitalism along with human history.

As in my article on propaganda, this article will cover information control that existed before the world-wide web and the rest of interactive media was created. Interactive media introduces a whole new level of interaction, which I am not experienced to comment on.

Origins of the terms

Of all the forms of information control, “brainwashing” is the most recent on the scene. It was coined by a CIA agent, William Hunter, in the early 1950s to describe the interrogation methods of Chinese Communists on American soldiers during the Korean War. The first use of the term “propaganda” was in early modern Europe by the Catholic Church to characterize the Protestant methods of conversion through print media.  The term “entertainment” was first used in the 17th century to describe activities in Europe that were considered to be amusement. Both rhetoric and dialectic have their beginnings in ancient Greece in the context of either developing an argument through one-on-one exchange (dialectic) or in persuading a public audience (rhetoric). Rhetoric settings were law courts. Aristotle and the Sophists were early theoreticians. Dialectic was originally associated with the dialogues connected to Plato and Socrates.

Overcoming bad reputations

Interestingly enough, all forms of information control except entertainment have bad reputations and are mostly used for political purposes by the Yankee state. For example, the word “brainwashing” was imagined as a product of seedy conspiracies of communist governments and practiced on dissidents. The movie The Manchurian Candidate most obviously depicts the fantasies of what the US state imagined the communists were doing. As can be seen by Robert J. Lifton’s book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, this had little resemblance to what the Chinese were really up to. As I said in my article on propaganda, the stereotype of propaganda, at least in Yankeedom, is the picture painted of it by reactionary conservatives. They say propaganda is solely political and it is engaged in by foreign, usually “authoritarian” governments. This stereotype also implies that there is no propaganda engaged in by the Yankee state. Of course, there are six other schools of propaganda, but the stereotype that is most powerful is the reactionary conservative one.

The last form of information control used by Yankeedom for political purposes is the stereotype of “dialectic”. Here, dialectic is associated with Hegel’s concept of the state being rational and self-justifying. Reactionary ideologists imagine that Hegel was anticipating the authoritarian states of Russia, China or Cuba. In history, the dialectical process was imagined by them to be a rigid description of a spiral of stages of human society being driven by conflict and taking the same of thesis-antithesis and synthesis. There was no room for individual freedom.

The stereotype of the term “rhetoric” usually means “empty words”, which usually are contrasted with taking action. Rhetoric is also contrasted with content, being form with no content, being superficial, or shallow. Rhetoric is usually associated with deception, exaggeration or the use of emotions, prejudices or sex. Plato has had a heavy hand in giving rhetoric a bad name.

Entertainment is the only form of information control that does not have a bad reputation to overcome. Its definition is to hold attention and divert it to something that is pleasing. It could be at a public event such as puppet shows, musical concerts, sporting events, theme parks, amusement parks, casinos, or circuses. In the case of mass media, there is amusement through movies, radio or television. Public and mass entertainment are created for the purpose of making money through delivering an experience or selling a product or a service.

Defining Brainwashing Propaganda, Rhetoric and Dialectical 

Paraphrasing Kathleen Taylor’s book Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control, brainwashing is a physiological attempt to do three things:

  • Erase existing thoughts, memories and cognitive content
  • Replant in the brain new content
  • Control the person’s actions remotely so they will obey without the presence of the persecutor

In a case of the pot calling the kettle black, some of the most extensive attempts at actually brainwashing people did not come from communist countries. It came from a Canadian psychiatrist Ewen Cameron in the 1950’s (see Adam Curtis’ Documentary, Century of Self II) who was eventually on the CIA payroll. The tale of Cameron is also documented in the book Brainwash by Dominic Streatfeild and in Journey into Madness: the True Story of CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse, by Gordon Thomas. The CIA conduced its own experiments in Brainwashing as did the British physiologist, William Sargant in his book Battle for the Mind. Typically, brainwashing in its most severe forms takes place in hospitals, prisons, and the military in the form of torture. It also occurred at the hands of Catholic or Protestant religious institutions in early modern Europe. Its victims were heretics or witches.

The bad news for these terrorist spy organizations and the psychiatrists who worked with them is that they have been unsuccessful. The techniques of brainwashing described in the books have been successful in turning people into vegetables, making them dysfunctional. But they haven’t been successful in erasing, replanting and controlling people remotely.

Paraphrasing the Jowett and O’Donnell book Propaganda and Persuasion, propaganda is the deliberate, systematic and often covert attempt by institutional elites to control:

  • Perceptions
  • Cognitions
  • Emotions
  • Behavior

Who are they controlling?  Masses of people through mass media, while censoring, hiding, restricting, distorting or exaggerating the claims and evidence of their opposition. Propaganda can be white, gray, or black. (See Jowett and O’Donnell’s book for more information, along with my previous article). Propaganda can be easily found during political election campaigns, inaugural speeches, religious recruiting, news reporting, film and, some say, sports.

Rhetoric is the systematic and overt study by an individual speaker of the strategies and techniques for how to convince (change the mind) or persuade (take action) a public audience on a controversial issue.  This is done through the use of Aristotle’s “rhetorical triangle” of argument which consists of logos (the evidence, facts) ethos (having credible sources) and pathos (the appeal to emotions and imagination). It is practiced in courts of law, political debates, scientific conferences and at public community meetings such as city councils.

Dialectic is most clearly present in educational institutions while at their best between teachers and students. Dialectic is the co-creative process by which educators and sometimes debaters:

  • Encourage and bring out the experiences of individual students for public discussion
  • Encourage students’ self-reflection on the relationship between cultural information and their personal experience
  • Face honestly the contradictions which may arise between their personal experience and cultural institutions
  • Feed-forward (plan) and integrate the work experience school has trained them to do into the cultural pool of knowledge and expertise for the next generation

The heart of an active dialectic process is that through constructive creative conflict between teacher, student, a cultural body of knowledge and work experience, a synthetic body of knowledge arises with is more than either educators (as the transmitters of cultural information), students or a public audience had when they first started.

Setting, Intention of the Influencer and Dynamics of Information Flow 

Settings

It is important to understand who is interacting with who; i.e., whether the sender and receiver of information are elites, individuals, the public or a mass. In the case of brainwashing, it is an elite interrogator interacting with an isolated individual. In the case of propaganda and entertainment elites attempt to influence either masses of people or publics. In the case of both rhetoric or dialectic a single speaker appeals to the public or another individual.

Intentions of the Influencer

In brainwashing, the purpose of the psychiatrist or interrogator is to change people by force in the hopes of changing their mind and their actions. In the case of propaganda, the propagandist wants to narrow the focus of the mind or their actions so there are only two choices. Propagandists want to control people by setting up parameters, not to force them to do one thing. The creators of both mass and public entertainment are not interested in changing minds, but they are interested in persuading people to act. In the case of mass entertainment, they hope that the associations between the celebrity and the product they are trying to sell will stick in the minds of the audience. In public entertainment, the hope is to have the audience swept away either by a very competitive ball game or the daring-do of a circus performer. Rhetoric’s emphasis is to open minds and change behavior. Dialectic more than any other source of information control wants to open minds as a way of life.

Dynamics of information flow

In terms of the dynamics of the information flow, the most asymmetrical exchange is in brainwashing where elites have all the power, and the victim is in some kind of forced restraint. In the case of both propaganda and mass entertainment, the relationship between elites and masses is asymmetric but the masses do give some feedback in terms of statistics such as votes received, tickets sold, or products bought. Public entertainment and rhetoric are still asymmetrical but less so because both the performer (music) or public speaker (rhetoric) does receive feedback in terms of audience responses, whether booing, silence, cheering and in the body language of the audience. When teachers are committed to having participatory classroom, dialectic is the least asymmetrical because part of education is to bring out the past experience and current work history of the individual into the public discussion.

Mediums

In terms of mediums used, brainwashing and public entertainment have a lot in common. They both hope to disorient the public. In casinos, clocks are removed, exits are difficult to find, loud music blares, free drinks are offered by sexually provocative wait staff, extra oxygen is pumped into the building to cause lightheadedness, and there are faked sounds of customers winning filling the air.

In brainwashing spatial and temporal disorganization are key. Both propaganda and mass entertainment use movies, radio, television and billboards. Public propaganda is more likely to use billboards. Public entertainment is more likely to use images and various theatrical tricks such as lighting, stage sets in addition to electronic billboards. Both rhetoric and dialectic are critical of the use of mass media because it tends to draw attention away from the relationship between speaker and public and the individual. The medium for rhetoric is the words of a speaker with no more technology used than a microphone. Dialectic uses writing exercises, small group work along with debates.

Quality, timing of Evidence, Alternative Views

Brainwashing is the least likely to provide real evidence. Because of the compromising position they have their victim in, they can engage in character assassination, manufacturing false evidence, distorting or omitting evidence. There is literally no opportunity for the victim to weigh or integrate the information. The torturer is likely to withhold information or time the deliverance of information in a predetermined way. In brainwashing, there is no alternative source of information provided. What alternatives are available are in the memory of the victim before they were captured.

As I discussed in my previous article on propaganda, propaganda can be based on facts or lies (black propaganda). It too can also distort or omit evidence. Like brainwashing, in propaganda evidence does not flow in a spontaneous manner. Information is withheld or released at the most opportune time. For example, declarations of war are rarely timed just before an election. Because propagandists cannot completely control their masses, alternative sources of information are available, but the propagandists will do everything they can to censor, minimize, exaggerate, distort or vilify their opposition. Capitalism’s treatment of socialism and communism are some of the clearest examples.

With mass entertainment, the only evidence presented is what fits with the stereotypes people have of how celebrities are supposed to act. So, in the 3rd Hunger Games episode, Katniss has to have a baby because the producers of the movie have no confidence that the audience can tolerate a female heroine without children. All mass entertainment has to be sensitive to current fads and fashions, in the case of movies, or the existing consumer patterns in the advertisements that are linked to the radio or television programs. Unlike either brainwashing or propaganda, mass entertainment has to compete with other forms of mass entertainment so they cannot transmit a single message to their audience. Public entertainment also must conform to stereotypes of the audience as well, but there is more room for unconventionality because public entertainment is not quite as heavily scripted. In addition, public entertainment has to be more sensitive of the collective emotions of the audience that go with the seasons and the holidays. In public entertainment the information flow to the public is more focused since at a musical concert or a circus, you cannot change the channel.

Both rhetoric and dialectic are far more rigorous in their expectations about evidence. In good rhetoric, it is expected that the evidence follows Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle, and that the presentation of the evidence considers the time, place and circumstance. The idea is to maximize the chances of being convincing and persuasive. Rhetoric at its best will not rest itself on representing one other viewpoint.  It may include other viewpoints before attempting to refute them. Lastly, dialectic will most actively cultivate many viewpoints. For example, in the fields of sociology, psychology and philosophy there are generally 4-6 schools within a field. In an educational setting, the teacher should be able to present all the schools and compare them to each other. The quality of the research in dialectic educational setting should come out of the research in textbooks which are cross-culturally and historically sensitive. Dialectic is less sensitive than rhetoric in consideration of time, place and circumstance because the goal is to change minds, not behaviors, so it wants to cultivate self-reflection, rather than getting the audience to do something.

Appeal to Audience, How the Audience is Treated, Outcome Expected

Psychological hopes for the audience

What does the controller of information hope to do to their audience psychologically? In brainwashing the purpose is to create fear, desperation and ultimately dependency, as in the Stockholm syndrome. The victim has no privacy. The propagandist appeals to the lowest common denominator in people, demagoguery related to racism, nationalism and religious fanaticism. People have some privacy and they have some power to distance if they need to. But usually not for long. If the political propagandist wants to get people to feel a narrow range of emotions deeply, both mass and public entertainment appeals to the surface of emotions: what is insipid, petty, and needy. They both pander to unrealistic desires and vicarious living in the audience, all grounded in immediate gratification. In both mass and public entertainment, the audience can gain privacy by either turning off the radio or TV or to leave the entertainment site. Both rhetoric and dialectic at their best appeal to what is good for people in the long-run and each respects the privacy of the audience’s thoughts.

How is the audience characterized?

In brainwashing, the victim is treated as a pawn in a much larger game. They are demonized and treated as less than human. In propaganda, the audience is treated as a target, as a means to a larger end. In mass and public entertainment, the audience is considered passive, naive, gullible, stupid (Bernays) and lacking in long-term judgement. In rhetoric, the public audience is treated respectfully and capable of participating in decision-making. In dialectics, the audience is treated the best, as ends in themselves.

What is the audience expected to do?

The hopes of CIA brainwashing attempts were to find a drug that could erase the memories of the retired spies to reduce the chances of then turning against their masters and spilling the beans. Generally, the ultimate hope of religious brainwashers is to get the heretic to give up previous beliefs and be converted to new beliefs. Once that happens, they want the converted to stay passive and frightened so they can be controlled, even when there are no authorities around. In political propaganda the expectation is either to vote a certain way, go to war or to support the overthrow of another state. For mass entertainment, if the program is ongoing, the intention is to leave the audience partly satisfied but still wanting more. In the case of public entertainment, the entertainers want the audience to be fully satisfied, and hopefully talk to others about the event in the hopes of expanding the audience for the next public event. In the case of rhetoric at its best, the speaker hopes the audience will seriously consider mentally what was expected and then act accordingly. Lastly, in the case of dialectic, the hope of the teacher is that the student will become more curious, wonderous, critical and creative in their outlook towards the world and themselves.

Brain Routes, Minds and Impact on Thinking

In cognitive psychology there are two brain routes. The central brain route and the peripheral brain route. When people receive new information, they have to decide how seriously to take it. When people are experienced in a subject, they have a great stake in the outcome. They have some training in the subject and the problem may be complex but comprehensible. They are likely to use their full deliberation and critical thinking processes (central brain route). However, when people don’t have experience or training in a subject, they have little personal stake in the outcome and the problem seems convoluted. They are then likely to use what is called the peripheral brain route. This is also called using mental shortcuts.

Suppose I take my friend’s car to a mechanic. The engine light is on and I ask the mechanic to take a look at it. I know next to nothing about cars and neither does my friend. Two hours later the mechanic calls me back with a very technical description of what is wrong, along with the cost of fixing the problem. The problem seems convoluted to me and I don’t have a much of a personal stake in it. What I will likely do is use the peripheral brain route. What this means is I will move from using my own mind, to go to another source. I will contact other car mechanics, get a second opinion and find out what they would charge to fix it. There is nothing wrong with using the peripheral brain route under these conditions.However, there are five other conditions under which people will use the peripheral brain-route that are counterproductive, and these conditions are what propagandists and entertainers will promote to get people to by-pass the central brain route. They are:

  • If there is time pressure (in sales, “time is running out”)
  • Volume scarcity (in sales, “get the commodity now, while they last”)
  • Sensory overload (as described in my casino example earlier)
  • Emotional appeal is superficial (titillation, sentimentality, infantile fantasies)
  • If the person is fatigued

The job of the propagandist and the entertainer is to create the five conditions above that will increase the chances of using the peripheral brain route rather than the central brain route where critical thinking takes place. The ultimate hope of the brainwasher is to restructure the brain itself by using drugs and sleep deprivation. If they cannot do that, they will also hope to keep the victim using the peripheral brain route constantly. Rhetoric at its best, as well as dialectic, will strive to build the self-confidence of the audience or the student so that they always use the central brain route as much as possible.

Ideology, Mythology

All forms of information control are either directly or indirectly connected to liberal conservative, socialist or fascist ideology and some of them also contain mythology. If we look at the practice of ideology, political attempts to brainwash are mostly related to fighting communism. Brainwashing experiments in prison, including experiments with LSD, were connected to the conservative belief that blacks were inferior so using them as guinea pigs was acceptable. Political propaganda is used by all four political tendencies to start and sustain wars, to influence voting or overthrow regimes.

Neither mass nor public entertainment have a political ideology to support them, but both forms of entertainment have mythologies designed to sweep people away. For example, the Lord of the Rings stories and characters, Harry Potter and Star Wars not only sweeps people away during the movie, but they set up future episodes with suspenseful endings. In public entertainment we have sports teams with stirring stories played out in pennant races stretching the drama out over seven months. Sports figures of the past and present are treated as modern day gods and goddesses by their fans.

Rhetoric is clearly identified with the liberal ideology of truth being found from debating different points of view, where controversies are the norm, and no single authority has all the answers. Rhetoric is a monologue where the speaker, at least initially, argues two or three points of view before determining their effect on the audience. The Sophists and Aristotle represented this rhetorical tradition while Plato stood for the conservative authority who does have all the answers.

Dialectic begins conservatively where learning the truth is not the result of the interacting of viewpoints, but as already contained in the authority of Socrates. The heart of dialectic is dialogue back and forth between two people. Later in history, dialectic becomes more liberal with the back-and forth no longer necessarily involving one authority figure. In the hands of pragmatic dialecticians, dialectic is not only connected to content but to process. Dialectic involves rules of conversation. Whereas in rhetoric, logical fallacies are more connected with the qualities of reasoning or tricks played on an audience, in dialectic fallacies are detected in the violations of the rules of dialogue. More on this later.

Symbiotic and Sensual Orchestration

Sensual orchestration

Sensory orchestration is the manner in which the senses are controlled to create altered states of consciousness. The two extremes are sensory deprivation with all the senses but one turned off, or sensory saturation where all the senses are used and they are intensified. Brainwashing involves sensory deprivation with gagging, being blindfolded, and living in solitary confinement. Religious propaganda can be used to saturate the senses. Examples of this are the Catholic Church with its stained-glass windows, incense, church music, holy communion, rich wood and fabrics all being part of the atmosphere of the Mass.

Mass entertainment is often designed to create sensory overload with special effects and multiple sounds coming at the audience in a disorganized way to create astonishment and a diffused attention-span. This encourages using the peripheral brain route when being sold commodities during the show. Public entertainment is more guided, at least in terms of musical concerts and sporting events with the hope of providing vicarious satisfaction, inspiration or awe. Both rhetoric and dialectic look down upon the manipulation of the senses as taking the audience away from using their reasoning processes. They are content with the moderate use of the five senses to experience the world as it really is rather than through what they consider to be “smoke and mirrors”.

Symbolic orchestration

Religious and political symbols are very powerful in motivating people to fight and die for their political beliefs or religion. The crucifix, the American flag, the bible or the Quran exert a great hold over the emotions of an audience, a target or a victim. That’s why in brainwashing torture situations, the victim’s religious books will be torn or flushed down the toilet and their flags will be burned, defecated upon or used as rags. In propaganda, these same flags and books will be used to mobilize people to action.

Mass entertainment will include corporate logos which are stolen from political and religious symbols which have already built up a collective association in people’s minds. For example, look at the colors of the Bank of America or a Chevron credit card. In public entertainment, sports contain the heaviest dose of symbolic orchestration. Think of the baseball caps and jerseys the players wear as part of every major league team. This is part of the major league pantheon that fans participate in when they go to sporting goods stores and buy these hats and jackets, put bumper stickers on their cars and live and die with every win and loss if their team is lucky enough to compete for the pennant. Both rhetoric and dialectic steer clear of all symbols because they appeal to unreasonable elements that will distract from critical reasoning.

Use of Space, Architecture, Monuments

With the exception of mass entertainment, forms of information control are rooted in space and architecture and these containers can accentuate or dampen the form of information control. For brainwashing, the most effective spatial arrangement is solitary confinement before interrogation begins. Rooms have no windows and are poorly ventilated. A space that has windows reminds the victim there is life beyond the prison or hospital. Religious propaganda is most successful in cathedrals which overwhelm the devotees with their scale and high ceilings. Religious propaganda in cozy churches with modest decoration are likely to be less successful. Political propaganda is most effective near patriotic scenes—Bunker Hill, Lincoln Memorial or Mount Rushmore. In addition, Ellul’s sociological propaganda is at work when streets are named after presidents and monuments are made of them.

Public entertainment is made more powerful when held in stadiums which can accommodate thousands. Much of public entertainment is not just this particular concert or this particular ballgame. Rather it is a reflection of the history of the field. This includes the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or the Country Music Hall of Fame. In movies, the reflective day of reckoning is at the Academy Awards.

Rhetoric outdoors is a special challenge because there are not the indoor spatial acoustics to contain the voice even with a microphone or a loudspeaker. Since the heart of dialectic is small groups or one-on-one and held indoors, in educational settings the spatial concerns should be a quiet room with a horseshoe-shaped seating.  This allows for dialectical crosstalk between members, rather than only a one-to-one relationship between the student and the educator.  

Theoreticians 

There are many theorists for all six forms of information control. I will limit myself to the most famous and theorists and practitioners of late 19th and 20th century. For brainwashing, the Canadian psychiatrist Ewen Cameron and the British psychiatrist William Sargant are probably the best representatives. For propaganda, there are Edward Bernays, Herbert Lasswell and Jacques Ellul. For mass entertainment, there are Ivy Lee, Ernest Dichter, Bernays along with by Paul Lazarsfeld. Two of the masters of public entertainment were P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney. Rhetoric has a long and interesting history of theories, but the most famous theorists in the 20th century would be Kenneth Burke, Chaim Perelman and Stephen Toulmin. The realm of dialectic has been recently given a shot in the arm by two prolific schools. One comes out of Amsterdam and headed by Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst. The other school in Canada was founded by Douglas Walton.

How Good are Socialists at Convincing and persuading the Public at Rallies, City Council Meetings and Workplaces?

In everything that follows I will be speaking only from my personal experience watching and participating in rallies, organizing meetings, city council meetings and workplaces on and off for fifty years in the United States. 

Rhetoric for Radicals

Starting on time and welcoming

As I said earlier, rhetoric comes out of a liberal tradition and there is a great deal of research about how to convince and persuade an audience (Billig, Arguing and Thinking, Mccroskey Introduction to Rhetorical Communication). Do socialist organizers know about this research or pay any attention to it? Unfortunately, the answer is “no”. In political organizing meetings run by radicals, they ignore the protocols of good speech-making. One is starting on time. The anarchists especially make it a badge of honor and a sign they are not “uptight” or “hierarchical” by not starting the meeting on time. Secondly there is little or no welcoming of strangers. Religious organizations such as the Unitarians, know better. There are greeters who welcome people as they come in, help them find seating and ask them if they had been there before. What do these socialists who claim to be social do? There is usually no greeter. Newcomers have to find their own way. Socialists already there talk to each other and ignore new people. This is true of anarchists and all the various kinds of Leninists groups I have experienced. I have to say that the Social Democrats are better about these formalities and generally have better social graces.

Five canons of rhetoric

Now let us look at the structure of the speaker’s talk. In addition to a political meeting run by radicals, let us add imagining the socialist speaker is addressing a city council meeting. In rhetoric there are five canons of classical rhetoric:

  • Invention (deciding on a claim and marshalling evidence)
  • Arrangement (deciding the order of placement of the evidence based on the audience)
  • Style (choice of language and expressive devices)
  • Delivery (the speaker’s clothing, use of voice and body movement on the stage)
  • Memory (the use of mimetic devices to help the person remember their speech so they don’t have to read it)

How do socialists do with these canons? Not very well, I’m afraid. While the intention is usually good, socialists usually have no knowledge of the research on the primacy effect or the recent effect in deciding where to place their pieces of evidence. They usually have no justification for the sequencing of their evidence in particular places. The style of socialists is usually insensitive to the choice of words. The language remains pretty much the same regardless of the audience and socialists very often know nothing about expressive devices. Most socialists have bad delivery styles. They don’t dress for the occasion, imaging that such preoccupations are “bourgeois”. They mostly don’t have command of the stage and their movements are awkward. Most socialists I have watched do not commit their speech to memory and simply read it off a paper, breaking consistent eye contact with their audience.

Setting the right atmosphere

Radicals inadvertently carry over Plato’s hostility to rhetoric. Plato saw Truth as independent of time, place and circumstance. Like Plato, too many socialists are convinced they have the truth and do not want to waste time spoon-feeding it to people or finding out what the masses think. Good form, stage presence, flowers, inspiring decorations are seen as superficial and not to be taken seriously. So, it is no problem that chairs are broken-down or uncomfortable, podiums are made out of plywood, there is bad lighting and acoustics. These things are not seen as having any relevance to the content of the message.  The talks are often not well-organized and go on too long. Breaks are not built into the meetings.

Importance of charisma

Most socialists do not understand that there is a rational basis for charisma. Charisma is not just linked to spiritual possession, speaking in tongues and inviting people to fall apart. As I remember it, something like 90% of the presidents who won elections were the taller of the candidates. Why is this? Because there is unconscious evolutionary psychology at work. People judge taller people as having better genes. The same is true with body shape – wide shoulders, narrow waist for men and large breasts and wide hips for women. Facial symmetry, hair sheen are all factors that make someone politically appealing as a speaker. Any leftist political candidates who ignore physical appearances may congratulate themselves in being politically correct, but they are working against the unconscious preferences of the overwhelming majority of humanity. Whatever we think of Obama politically, he had charisma and all the trappings of a good rhetoricians. How many socialists can match this? Richard Wolff, Cornell West – not many more.

Sympathetic, neutral and hostile audiences

Rhetoric theorists divide audiences into sympathetic, neutral and hostile. At rallies I’ve seen socialist speakers give the same speech assuming the audience is sympathetic and make no effort to reach liberals in the crowd who are neutral. City council meetings are the most demanding for a socialist speaker because both the public audience, as well as the city council members, are not socialists, and some will be conservative. Will the socialist have something to offer a conservative, hostile audience? The answer, I think, is they will have nothing.

Grabbing and holding attention

In rhetoric it is normal to expect that when people first come into the room, their attention is elsewhere, and the speaker has to earn the attention of the audience. About the worst offender of this is Noam Chomsky, who regardless of time, place and circumstance starts droning on as if the audience was already captured. Only a tenured academic with a captive audience of students could get away with this anti-rhetoric. In a large group of people, especially strangers, some kind of icebreaker, joke, or inspirational quote needs to be given to get the audience warmed up and focused.

Defining key terms

One of the major steps in making an argument is to define key terms. In argumentation theory, a person’s claim usually has a word or two that needs definition because the word has many meanings and can easily be misunderstood. So, in any presentation about, say, pornography, the word must be carefully defined before an argument proceeds. Most of the time socialists do not do this. They just assume words like “imperialism”, “neoliberal” and “working class” are self-evident.

The rhetorical triangle

In terms of the rhetorical triangle we discussed earlier, socialists are not well-rounded in covering all three parts. Often the pathos part of the argument – the appeal to emotions and imagination – are ignored, as mass psychologist Wilhelm Reich pointed out in the 1930s. The Nazis were far smarter than the socialists in understanding that audiences can be moved by the worst kind of emotions – racism, blind loyalty to the state and infantile wishes of superiority. All the facts and the right sources are not enough.

Appealing to the short-term self-interest in the audience

Those on the left mostly do not appeal to the short-term self-interest of the audience because they think that would be selfish.  Everyone is assumed to be an altruist. There is an absence of understanding that the audience attended to get something tangible from the meeting before leaving. The appeal is often to far-away places and middle or long-term time frames. This leaves most audiences cold and unlikely to return.

Making predictions

Leftists do not attempt to treat the argument they are making as subject to any expectations approaching the scientific method. For example, there is no promised follow- up to see whether what one is proposing was successful or not. Just like bourgeois politicians, there is little attempt to put parameters around the claim, like the exceptional circumstances in the present that might come up that would make the speaker withdraw the claim. There is little quality control in leftist arguments, at least the public ones.  Neither does the leftist make a prediction of falsifiability. Falsifiability means, if the claim was put into practice what are the conditions under which you can be proven wrong?

Having transition plans

The final part of a good rhetorical argument is to have a plan: a step-by-step procedure for how to get from where we are now to where we want to be. This includes a three to five step process for putting the claim into practice, including a timeline. The plan would need to include the costs of all the steps, a feasibility analysis and the benefits to the audience. All this is essential strategy if leftists want to appeal to anyone who is not already convinced. Leftists are very weak in presenting the methods of how to realize the goal with given a set of procedures. The Trotskyists’ call for a transition program is one step in this direction but it lacks the concreteness of my description. The weaknesses of radicals in relation to rhetoric has come to the attention of Jason Delgado, who has written a book about it, Rhetoric for Radicals.

Dialectical Dialogue for Radicals

Marxists claim the word dialectic as their own and imagine that if they have read Hegel and Marx, they know everything there is to know. Typically, dialectics refer to a way of thinking about how capitalism works, or it refers to a stage theory of history. But what the overwhelming number of Marxists don’t know is there is a history of dialectics that has an entire field of speech communication. That means how people talk to each other interpersonally.

Presenting the maximum number of viewpoints

As mentioned earlier, in educational settings dialectics will present between 4-6 points of view because in many human sciences from psychology to sociology to economics to politics, there are usually 4-6 theoretical schools. Do socialists in any setting present four to six schools in addition to their own? No, they don’t. They merely present a capitalist opposition, and then present their own theory. Leftists cannot even bring themselves to treat fairly the positions of contending socialists, let alone liberals and conservatives.

Supporting individual self-development

Referring back to our definition of dialectics earlier, do socialists attempt to bring out the experiences of individuals in public in order to give them an opportunity to self-reflect on their own life? No, they don’t. They may use the life of a single individual preselected in the audience to make a point. Everyone else remains passive. Rarely are individuals invited into the sweep of history. They may refer to history, but the present audience is rarely invited in.

Questions from the audience and cooperative argumentation

The heart of dialectics is question, answer, deeper questions, deeper answers and so on. Most radicals do not invite questions from the audience, in some cases because they think they already have the answers (many Leninists) or because they are afraid of losing control of the audience. In some sense, this is understandable because at city council meetings or at rallies the audience does not know how to ask open-ended questions. They want to make speeches themselves. But in what is called “cooperative argumentation” by argumentation theorists, the conflict between speaker and audience leads to synthetic knowledge which is new and more than what either the speaker or the audience possessed before the discussion began.

Types of dialogue

In his book The New Dialectic, Douglas Walton identifies seven types of dialogue: pedagogical (teaching), deliberative (politics), debate (law), inquiry (science), information seeking (interview or advice), negotiation (business transactions like making deals) and persuasive dialogue (advertising). All these types of dialogue have their own set of rules, customs and violations. Do socialist organizers know about the seven types of dialogue? They may know something about dialectical deliberation, but I would be very surprised if they knew about any of the others, let alone knowing how using the other types selectively may improve their own deliberative dialogue.

Understanding fallacies as mistakes in the process of conversations

Most socialist organizers have probably taken a class in college in critical thinking and/ or public speaking and have learned the various kinds of thinking fallacies. Others have gone on to be lawyers and have training in debate. But virtually no one has learned that the fallacies can be organized according to violations in conversation rules. In their book Argumentation, Communication and Fallacies Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst identified ten rules for critical discussion. Instead of thinking of fallacies as intrapersonal thinking mistakes, the founders of the pragma-dialectical perspective organize all the fallacies as violations of the ten rules of critical discussion. These fallacies are linked to include unauthorized changes in the situation and roles; changes in topics; changes in the physical setting; changes in goals; changes in methods; and changes in rules.

Do socialist organizers know anything about either of the two dialectical schools of speech communication, their principles and methods? I have never met or seen a socialist organizer who knew about this.

Conclusion

In the first two thirds of this article, I compared the similarities and differences of six schools of information control. In the last third of my article, I examined how knowledgeable socialists are about the two forms of information control which are the most anti-authoritarian: rhetoric and dialectic. Sadly, what I’ve found is that most socialists, even socialist organizers, have not systematically used nor continue to use research on rhetoric and dialectic in their work, whether it be rallies, city council meetings or community or labor organizing. I find this very sad and ridiculous considering that socialist claim to be social while ignoring knowing little about research in two of the most prominent fields in speech communication, rhetoric and dialectic. 

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

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The Will to Believe … and to Make-Believe

If you were born in the 1950’s or even a bit later, you more or less grew up with her. She wasn’t an outlier; Jeane Dixon was a syndicated newspaper personality. She graced the covers of popular magazines and floated on the airwaves of radio and TV. Her presence wasn’t confined to the masses; she was consulted by the elite, including at least one U.S. President (Richard Nixon) and possibly influenced a second (Ronald Reagan). She claimed a transcendent ability to see future events and her predictions were actively followed for decades.

It’s not likely you grew up with Edgar Cayce, but it is likely you’ve read or heard about him. He died (1945) about ten years before the beginning of Jeane Dixon’s ascent in popular awareness. Like Dixon, Cayce claimed a transcendental gift that allowed him to see what others couldn’t and was widely acclaimed in his day (and still is).

Long before Cayce, there was the renowned Nostradamus, whose 16th century allegoric quatrains are still perused for meaningful application. Arguably, Nostradamus is considered the greatest seer of all time. His volumes of poetic allegory provide an endless resource for transcendental treasure hunters.

Perhaps more widely scrutinized than Nostradamus is the Biblical book of Revelation. Authorship may be disputed, but is most popularly accredited to John the Apostle. Its allegorical verse has been interpreted and reinterpreted for centuries and continues to be parsed for present and futuristic insight, most notably for end of the world scenarios and the second coming of Christ.

There were, and continue to be, others who profess special accessibility to “spiritual” contact and unfolding future events. Not all achieve national and international recognition, but mystical practitioners are always around. The world is never without those who claim the gift of “seeing” beyond what’s visible. It goes hand in hand with the gift of “hearing” beyond what’s audible – as in assertions of privileged access to the voice of God or other spiritual entities. Both claims provide a pedestal from which to be seen and heard.

It’s woven into our social fabric. We seemingly can’t get enough of those who profess special psychic abilities or claim that God has singled them out to receive exclusive messages. Through 5,000 years of recorded history, we’ve eagerly consulted with and listened to their pleas, declarations, and mandates.

If not in our DNA, it’s certainly come to be institutionalized. Our religions teach and even demand that we accede to the proclamations of endorsed prophets who claim to be recipients of privileged communications. Beyond religious settings, our popular media outlets sensationalize claims of paranormal psychic ability. We were taught to believe, we teach our children to believe, and we require our political leaders to at least appear compliant with culturally recognized seers and prophets. It’s our normalcy. We live in a world that’s eager to accept “acceptable” assertions of paranormal intimacy and privileged knowledge.

“Acceptable” is the key word. Religious and cultural tradition usually dictates the boundaries of acceptable “seeing.” New arrivals are first viewed with suspicion and require vetting. If the seer’s visions or proclamations run counter to established tradition or doctrine, they’re apt to be shunned or declared heretical. It’s somewhat like trying to enter an exclusive nightclub; recognition and proper attire is required.

QAnon is fresh on the scene and doesn’t quite cut it with the established elite. It has aspirations, but is tackily dressed and unconnected. It was met at the door with, “Sorry, no admission, take it to another place.” And so, they did. The “Avengers” comic book version of Biblical prophesying took it down the street. The unconnected are dancing, just like the hoity-toity, but in a cheap pub having no bouncer or cover charge.

It’s to the same music. Sure, they dance with more abandon, but are they really that much different? Is QAnon willingness to believe the claims of a mysterious prophetic voice any different than Christian (or other) willingness to do the same? Is it more gullible or dangerous?

Over the course of recent months, QAnon voices predicted former president Trump’s return to power multiple times. When one such date passed without his reinstatement, another was quickly established. Over the course of centuries, Christian voices have continued to forecast the year of Christ’s second coming (nearly fifty times, thus far). When each stated year passes without incident, another prominent voice comes along to recalculate his return. Who is more gullible?

When QAnon followers (among others) stormed the Capital Building on January 6th, 2021, six people died and hundreds were injured. In 2003, President George Bush referenced the book of Revelation to rally international support for the invasion of Iraq. Thus far,  well more than half a million deaths have occurred and as many as two million have been severely injured. Who is more dangerous?

Believing is acceptance, no matter the tradition or cultural weight behind it. Accepting the primacy of mystical writings from a prophet who lived 2,000 years ago involves the same “surrender” that takes place when one accedes to a present-day mystical internet voice: the will and perception of another becomes one’s own.

More than a hundred years ago, William James lectured on “The Will to Believe.” He suggested that upon meeting certain criteria, it’s advisable to believe in the face of uncertainty when the risk/reward ratio of believing is better than the risk/reward ratio of not believing. He exampled Christianity: If its tenets are true and you believe in them, you go to heaven. If you don’t believe, you go to hell. If Christianity is a false narrative that you believe in, you don’t go to heaven, but neither do you go to hell. So, one might as well believe. At best, it might get you into heaven. At worst, it won’t.

Again, believing is acceptance, but how well does QAnon’s belief fit the James’s rationale for rational acceptance? Not very well, it would seem. Much of QAnon’s conviction centers on Trump’s triumphant return to power, presumably as President of The United States. If the QAnon tenet is true and you believe in it, you go to “Trump world” (What fresh heaven is that?). If it’s true, and you don’t believe in it, you still go to “Trump world” (and what fresh hell is this?). So, if skeptical of QAnon, one might as well remain skeptical. At best it won’t get you into “heaven.” At worst, it might.

That it can’t stand up to the William James rationale for acceptance doesn’t make QAnon less believable; it only means that there’s too little reward or punishment involved to meet James’s criteria for rational belief. Unaddressed is consideration of whether the “will to believe” is actually a calculated decision whose repercussions apply only to one’s self.

If “believing” was a lone endeavor, the William James assessment might carry more weight. “Believing” though, often means believing in someone, and usually it means believing in someone as part of a collective. If it’s religious, it means believing the declarations of one who claims special access to God. If it’s not quite religious, if it’s merely psychic or mystical, it still means believing the declarations of one who claims special access to information inaccessible to others: a spirit world or perhaps visions of future events. It requires acceding one’s perception to another who claims a higher perception. When we do so as a collective, our combined influence or power is surrendered to an entity that then wields it for us. At best, the power will be used to facilitate humanitarian deeds. At worst, it won’t be, and one has only to view a news site or open a history book to see how hellish that can be.

Beyond thoughts of heaven or hell, the “will” to believe allows for collective action that might be constructive, but it also leaves one vulnerable to deception and manipulation. It sets the stage for a perilous Yin Yang duality: a “will to believe” binding with a “will to make-believe.” For both Yin and Yang, “will” is the “craving,” while “believe” and “make-believe” are the “sugars.” The believer’s “will” is to be a part of something bigger than one’s self (it needn’t always be so alluring as heaven). The make-believer’s “will” is to be the center of something bigger than one’s self. When conjoined, it’s a symbiotic relationship; believer and make-believer sweeten and validate each other.

Ancient prophets, new world spiritualists, and modern-day metaphysical internet voices share the same old dynamic: the desire to appear empowered with extraordinary capabilities. If the dynamic wasn’t real, their need would go unnoticed. But it is noticed; they dramatically reach for an audience while declaring primacy to God’s word, to spiritual contact, to mystical visions, or to some sort of privileged knowledge. They have to have it. An audience grants the necessary validation; an audience is proof that one is special; an audience is empowerment.

The “will to believe” is also the same as it ever was: the desire to “belong to” or to be a part of something bigger than one’s self. It doesn’t have to be conjoined with the “will to make-believe,” but the desire leaves it vulnerable to such voices; voices that often claim special knowledge or access to God. The “will to believe” a mysterious internet voice revealing the existence of a satanic global cabal of perverts in the basement of a pizza parlor isn’t new. It’s the same as the “will to believe” in mysterious Biblical allegories portending the second coming of Christ or the dawning of The New Age. Jake Angeli and President George W. Bush shared the same “will to believe.” Jake listened to QAnon, donned a furry horned cap, and invaded the Capital Building. George listened to John the Apostle, donned a respectable suit and tie, and invaded Iraq.

We all seem to have it, the “will to believe,” the “will” to be a part of something greater than our selves. It doesn’t have to meet the William James rationale for acceptance (we have the creative ability to make any held belief seem reasonable). It doesn’t have to be of eternal consequence (we’re willing to believe for less than that). It doesn’t have to be enculturated (though it’s certainly less scrutinized and more “acceptable” if it is). It doesn’t have to be a “make-believe” voice (but it certainly can be).  It doesn’t take too much; it just has to offer something beyond the confines of our limited selves. We’re vulnerable. We’re low-hanging fruit with a need to believe, primed to believe an intriguing voice. One always seems to come along; a voice with a need of its own; a voice that finds us ripe for the picking.

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Jacques Ellul: Controversies in the Rise of Propaganda

Orientation

Controversies within propaganda theory

When I was preparing for a course I had created, “Brainwashing, Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century” I came across the name Jacques Ellul over and over again. Many of the quotes from his book Propaganda amazed me, considering the book was written almost 60 years ago. Still, when I decided to read the book, I had some reservations, thinking it would be dated in many places. In this article I hope to show that not only is it not dated, but it is still among the top theories in propaganda today.

Before we can begin to compare the propaganda theory of Jacques Ellul to other theories, we must address issues within propaganda theory. After doing that we will be able to see how the seven theories of propaganda (including Ellul’s) line up in relation to the controversies. How do we define propaganda? Is propaganda always bad?  What is not propaganda? Most people think propaganda is fundamentally irrational. But can propaganda be rational too?

How far does it reach? Does propaganda exist in all countries or are some more likely to use it than others?  Does propaganda try to change society, or does it reinforce what is already there? Is propaganda limited to the printed word and to images, or can it include monuments, music, coins, postage stamps or billboards? Does propaganda’s intent to change attitudes or behavior, or both? Are some social classes more susceptible to propaganda than others? Are people more vulnerable to propaganda in collectivist societies than individualists’ societies or is it the reverse?

Is all propaganda covert or is some of it out in the open? Is propaganda about facts, interpretations or evaluations? Can propaganda be truthful in fact or is it all lies?  How do propagandists treat their audience? What is propaganda’s relationship to political ideology? In other worlds do liberals, conservatives, fascists and socialists all use propaganda or do some use it more than others? Are propagandists Machiavellian, cynical manipulators behind the scenes or do they really believe in their propaganda? How fast does propaganda work? Is it a gradual process or does it impact its audience suddenly, like a conversion experience? Typically, propaganda is thought to exist in “authoritarian” states. But what about bourgeois representational “democracies”.

My sources for this article are Jacques Ellul’s great book, Propaganda, two terrific books by J. Michael Sproule Channels of Propaganda and Propaganda and Democracy and Jowett and O’Donnell’s textbook Propaganda and Persuasion.

The seven schools of propaganda

Moving from the right wing of the political spectrum to the left there are at least seven schools of propaganda:

  • Reactionary conservative political:

In the 1930s and 1940s this would include Thurman Arnold, Huey Long, Father Charles Edward Coughlin, the Radio priest. In the 1950s there was Joseph McCarthy and William F. Buckley. Contemporary examples might be Bill O’Reilly and the shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck. They are also consistent with neoconservatives or religious fundamentalists.

  • Commercial practitioners:

In the 1920s there was Ivy Lee, and George Creel and most famously, Edward Bernays, who for propaganda reasons changed his advertising campaigns from “propaganda” to “public relations”. These are typically advertisers.

  • Mass communication scientists:

These are the liberal institutions that do polling, most famously the Gallup Poll. Theorists include Paul Lazarsfeld, Elton Mayo, the later Walter Lippmann and Harold Lasswell. Often these are mass media academics who accepted grants from the state or from capitalists such as the Harvard Business School or the Carnegie Corporation.

  • Critical thinking movement:

In the center-left of the political spectrum is the critical thinking movement. Unlike all other schools, this movement says that the issue is less the presence of propaganda than it is the lack of critical thinking schools that can see through the propaganda. Theorists include the later John Dewey, Monroe Beardsley and Robert Ennis. Most often these theorists are college instructors.

  • Reform oriented liberals:

These are the writers and journalists that back in the day were called “muckrakers”. They think that all that is needed is for propaganda to be exposed. After that the critical thinking skills of the masses would take over. The first theorists included Upton Sinclair, the early work of Walter Lippmann, Alfred Lee (the director of the short-lived organization that conducted propaganda analysis), Robert Staughton Lynd and Vance Packard.

  • Sociological school:

This is the school of Jacques Ellul that I shall highlight in this article. Ellul thought that propaganda is the inevitable byproduct of a division of labor in society. He believed it is due to modernization and mass technology. Others with a sociological orientation included Charles Merriam and Graham Wallas.

  • Radical left:

These folks, like the extreme right-wing, think propaganda is the result of class warfare driven by capitalists. The anarchist, communist left was slow to develop theories of propaganda. One of the first was Start Ewing. Noam Chomsky is the most famous example, but his theory was developed in 1988, too late for the research referred to in this article. Besides college instructors, the radical left includes self-educated anarchists and feminists as well as others from different social movements.

The time span for this article is from World War I through the early 1970s. My focus is on mass media and does not include interactive technological breakthroughs such as the internet and various social media such Facebook and Twitter. The forms of media propaganda referred to here will be soapboxes, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, polls, books and film. I think you will find that mass media is a foundation for whatever additional forms of electronic media propagandizing that follow.

Most Provocative Points of Ellul’s Propaganda Theory

  • Unlike other theorists, Ellul argued that propaganda served both the upper classes and the lower classes for different reasons.
  • Unlike other theorists, he understood propaganda as inevitable in modern societies. There is no getting around it.
  • Unlike most other theorists, he saw masses of people as complicit in their own subordination. He saw them neither as victims of circumstance nor heroic masses.
  • He distinguished between hard, fast, political propaganda and soft, slow sociological. He called political propaganda “agitation”. Education is not outside propaganda. It is sociological propaganda.
  • He identified two techniques of propagandizing the masses. First kind is mithridatization which acts like a sedative and sensibilization which is about riling people up.
  • Unlike most other theorists of propaganda, Ellul followed Joseph Goebbels and said that the best propaganda is based on facts. It becomes propaganda with the interpretation of facts. Propaganda based on lies is a sign of weakness.
  • Most propaganda theorists thought the working class was most impacted by propaganda. Ellul argued that it is the upper-middle classes that create the propaganda and that is most likely to believe it.
  • Ellul distinguished horizontal propaganda, which was made inside the group, from vertical propaganda, which uses centralized power. An example of horizontal propaganda was the educational groups of Yankee soldiers organized by the Chinese communists.
  • For Ellul, propaganda does not come from the ruling class, but from the upper-middle class.
  • Industrialist capitalist “democracies” need propaganda because they depend on public opinion, which is disorganized. It requires propaganda to compete with socialist societies.
  • Unlike other theorists, Ellul makes a distinction between ideology and myth and argues that myth is more powerful.
  • His concept of crystallization claims that the individual has latent drives and stereotypes which are vague (based on the work of Karen Horney), and they then become the foundation of propaganda.
  • Unlike other schools of propaganda, Ellul argues that quantitative study of propaganda isn’t effective. One cannot tell how many people are reached and how effective white vs black propaganda is. At what point do you say it failed? At what point does the payoff justify the cost?
  • According to Ellul, psychological propaganda in foreign countries does not work. Propagandists are too ignorant of the attitudes, centers of interest, presuppositions and suspicions of the foreign population.

Definition, Purposes, Fields of Operation and Pervasiveness

Definition

As might be expected, there are considerable differences among the schools over whether propaganda is sinister or benign. Both the reactionary conservatives and the radical left sees propaganda as a product of primarily economic forces. The radical left sees the use of propaganda by capitalists to maintain control of their wealth. The radical right thinks propaganda is necessary to fight against the forces of communism. Both consider propaganda as immoral as the message, source and means are used by either communists or capitalists to perpetuate their power.

The muckrakers are critical of propaganda and see it as used in a wider span of areas, such as advertising, religion and sports, not just in the service of economics. They believe propaganda is immoral because its message, source and means are used to protect the status quo as it pollutes public opinion and undermines democratic thinking. The critical thinking movement agrees with the muckrakers.

Both the commercial practitioners and the mass communications theorists see propaganda as benign and moral. Bernays sees “public relations” as an outgrowth of more successfully circulation of commercial products to a larger audience. They think there is nothing wrong with that. For people like Bernays, propaganda is only immoral when it fails to disclose the source of information.

Mass communications theorists see propaganda as a benign alternative to force and for this reason, they believe it is moral. They think the polls are designed so political leaders can better control their population in order for the population not to resort to violence. The critical thinking movement interestingly points to the collusion of masses of people in propaganda. If the average person had good critical thinking skills, no one would pay attention to propaganda. Surprisingly, Ellul, as a sociologist, does not see propaganda as a product of class forces. He thinks, as I said above, propaganda is inevitable in any mass society just because people need to know what is going on politically and economically, and they can no longer find out through face-to-face contact. For him, propaganda might not be very moral, but it is necessary.

Manipulable use of the word “propaganda”

There are six forms of information control. On a spectrum they can be lined up according to the extent to which they have control over people. On the extreme right, we have brainwashing. Moving towards the left we have propaganda, then rhetoric (or persuasion), then mass and public entertainment. On the extreme left, and the least controlling, is “dialectic”. I will not define these words here except to say that most of them have negative connotations and so all propaganda theorists have a stake in mixing them together.

For reactionary conservatives, propaganda is mixed with brainwashing on the right and dialectic on the left, Since the CIA used the term “brainwashing” to describe what the Chinese did with Yankee soldiers during the Korean War, communist propaganda is mixed up with brainwashing techniques. At the same time, reactionary conservatives lump in the dialectical view of history as some vast mechanical system used by the communists to explain the world. For them dialectic is a vast, controlling philosophy.

Commercial practitioners like Bernays wanted no part of the word propaganda and turned it into “public relations” which was presented as a form of persuasion, or mass entertainment. Mass communication theories also avoid the term propaganda and suggest that news is simply “information” and movies are entertainment. The critical thinking movement also avoids the word “propaganda” by using the social psychological terms “mass persuasion” or “coercive persuasion”. All three propaganda theories on the left are not bashful about using the term propaganda to describe dominant power. The radical left uses the term dialectic as an alternative to propaganda. The muckrakers and the critical thinking advocates are more sensitive about distinguishing propaganda from what they advocate, which is rhetoric and dialectic. Both rhetoric and dialectic are used by journalists and in argumentation and critical thinking classes.

Purpose

The purpose of propaganda also has a wide variation of stances. The purpose for both the extreme left and extreme right is to unmask either the communist or capitalist threat. For the commercial practitioners the purpose of propaganda is to sell products. For the Mass Communication theorists, propaganda is to act as a safety valve to let the leaders know what the public wants or doesn’t want. For critical thinking theorists, their purpose is to expose the informal logical fallacies that typically go with interpreting propaganda. This might include ad hominem arguments, “either or thinking”, bandwagon and conflict of interests within the authorities. For the muckrakers, exposure is the name of the game whether it be the corporations or the state. Ellul has something interesting to say about this. He says the purpose of propaganda is a) to support existing elites in their competition with other elites and b) it is used by the masses that need propaganda to help them understand the complexities of large-scale social life.

Fields of operation

All three theories on the right of the political spectrum in the fields of operation argue that propaganda is only political. Bernays and his followers would sinisterly deny that propaganda is political, even though Bernays himself used propaganda to convince the American public to go to war (World War I) and to support the United Fruit Company against the Guatemalan government in the early 1950s. Mass communication theorists did not really focus on the impact of propaganda outside of politics. All four of the other theories argue that propaganda is present in advertising, television, and movies.

Discontinuous vs pervasive

How well can propaganda be combatted? Not surprisingly, reactionary conservatives, commercial practitioners and mass communication scientists think that propaganda is discontinuous rather than pervasive. The reactionary conservatives think propaganda is limited to the competition between left and right political wings. All other social institutions are neutral. For the commercial practitioners, propaganda is used by advertising companies and in the competition between them, there is no single message that is communicated. In other words, propaganda cancels itself out and the consumer wins! The mass communications theorists think that science is an island immune from the impact of propaganda. The critical thinking movement argues that educational institutions are less likely to be impacted by propaganda. All left wing propaganda theorists think propaganda is pervasive, but it can be combated by political agitation.

Orchestrated or competitive

How systematic are the propaganda mechanisms? As might be expected, right-wing reactionaries think that communist propaganda is seamless and all-controlling. The commercial practitioners think propaganda is very systemic in communist countries, grinding down the population into mindless robots. But in capitalist “democracies” the competition between Republicans and Democrats cancels each other out and the voter is free to decide. In advertising, commercial practitioners deny any orchestration. Advertising techniques are a set of gimmicks and recipes. For mass communication theorists, competition between fields of science allows no overall propaganda that crosses fields. Critical thinking theorists, muckrakers and radical leftists think that propaganda is systematic and orchestrated. Ellul’s sociologist theory has the most to say about this. For him, propaganda is carefully drawn from sociology and psychological research about the needs and psychological mechanisms of the public. There is knowledge about groups and its laws of formation and dissolution. Propaganda is also based on the Pavlov’s laws of association.

Is mass media a tool of control or is it neutral?

Reactionary conservatives say mass media is a passive tool used by liberals and communists. It accuses mass media of a “liberal bias”. Both commercial practitioners and mass media communications theories see mass media as a pure clearing house for finding out either what consumers want economically or what they want politically (through polling). For critical thinking advocates, all forms of mass media are designed to make people take cognitive shortcuts. Muckrakers think that mass media owners have their own self-interests in making money and they are not completely beholden to the ruling class. As left liberals they might point at neoconservative media like Fox News as controlling mass media. Like reactionary conservatives, radical leftists think of mass media as having no independent power and are the tools of ruling class or conservative forces.

Epistemology, Irrationality and Psychological Mechanisms

Is propaganda about lying?

Both the right-wing reactionaries and the left-wing socialists naively think that propaganda is about lies and that truth has no element of propaganda in it. For commercial practitioners’ propaganda is white propaganda – white lies, tall stories, euphemisms and cliches. Mass communications theorists say propaganda is lies about facts. They agree that propaganda could never be based on the truth. Muckrakers also tend to believe propaganda is usually about incorrect facts. Critical thinking theorists think that propaganda can be about lies or about the truth. Ellul’s understanding was the most sophisticated. He followed what Goebbels said about propaganda. The best propaganda is based on facts. Where the propaganda enters is in how the facts are interpreted. Like stereotypes, no propaganda could stick in people’s minds if there wasn’t more than a grain of truth to them.

Is propaganda about rationality or irrationality?

So, is propaganda rational or irrational? Right-wing reactionaries think that communist propaganda is super-rational and fail to take into consideration the emotional side of humanity. Left-wing socialists think that the appeal of reactionary conservatives, whether religious fundamentalists or fascists, is emotional and irrational. Appeals to God and country, blood and soil have no rational basis. Commercial practitioners and mass communication theorists both agree that propaganda is irrational. Commercial practitioners argue their techniques are to appeal to infantile fantasies, as we will see. Mass communication theorists think that anything outside their realm of science is potentially irrational. They think that privately people are more likely to be rational than as a mass. Both critical thinking theorists and muckrakers understand that propaganda can be both rational and irrational. Ellul agrees, adding that propaganda is mostly rational and that irrational propaganda (citing his book written in 1960) is a thing of the past.

What is the relationship between message, source and medium?

Reactionary conservatives are old-fashioned. They focus on the message and who the source is (is the source a front group for communists?) but they don’t’ take a stand as to whether the propaganda is from books, radio or television, or movies. Radical leftists are in the same boat except that they seek out which capitalist corporations might be behind the message. Commercial practitioners think the message, source and medium are not problematic. All are neutral and individuals are free to make up their own minds. Mass communications theorists are not critical of the message or the medium. They think of mediums as interchangeable. However, they do care about the source of the message and how well the message was received by the masses.

Critical thinking advocates are critical of messages and the political leanings of the sources. They are sensitive to which medium the message comes through because fast mass media will not allow people to digest the information and take it apart critically.  It is the muckrakers who are the most critical of all three. As journalists, they are very aware that movies have enormous propaganda potential for storytelling. Television and radio communicate more quickly and there is little time to think. Books, newspapers and magazines have less propaganda potential because the audience can regulate the information at their own pace. The sociological school of Ellul is more critical of the message and the medium but pays less attention to the source.

Does propaganda want to change attitudes or change actions?

Commercial practitioners were among the first theorists to understand that it is much too difficult to try to change people’s attitudes. It was only later that the reasons came out. Attitudes are based on long-standing socialization processes involving family, friends, religious training and elementary education. These socialization processes are too deeply ingrained to change with any short-term propaganda. Therefore, these practitioners target reinforcing existing attitudes but with a slight twist that might provide an impetus to buy something.

Reactionary fascists like Goebbels also understood this and simply reinforced what the German masses seemed to believe. Ellul agrees that propaganda is not about changing attitudes but rather about strengthening what is already there. Mass communications theorists were not really interested in getting people to act, but they hoped that by studying attitudes of masses in polling, leaders could better match the wants of the masses so that they did not lead to destructive collective behavior. The radical left has been historically the most naïve about this, thinking that working class people’s attitudes could be changed towards socialism. 

Propaganda mechanisms used

As far as the precise mechanisms used to propagandize people, only three of the seven theories have mechanisms identified. Commercial practitioners largely depend on both Pavlov in his laws of association and also Skinner’s rewards and punishment scheduling. Lastly, they used an early version of Bandura’s social modeling, having models who are attractive, powerful and seem to have expertise in the products they are advertising. This social modeling will cue the shortcuts of peripheral brain routes. Mass communications theorist Herbert Lasswell had a lot to say about techniques. In addition to working in mass communication he was also involved with the State Department. Lasswell identified three kinds of symbols:

  • Symbols of demand – the aspirations of the group seeking to produce events
  • Symbols of identification – defining the needs of the protagonist and the antagonist
  • Symbols of expectation – presenting facts as immediate or future objectives

Mass communication theorists also used Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory, which involved manipulating the desire for cognitive consistency.

Ellul also relied on conditioned reflexes but then added two other processes:

  • Mithridatization which acted like a sedative
  • Sensibilization which acted like a stimulant

To paraphrase, Ellul (183) mithridatization (the sedative part) is a toxin antitoxin process whereby a person is rendered immune to a poison by tolerating gradually increased doses of it. Closing up, he becomes insensitive to propaganda as a result of past shocks. He no longer looks at posters. He no longer reads the newspaper, but skims distractedly over it. Yet he continues to obey the catchwords of propaganda.

In a mass communication society, the individual no longer has either the independence or the choice of activities sufficient to release his tensions in an appropriate way. He is forced to keep them inside. Goebbels writes that propaganda should reduce frustrations and artificially resolve real problems and anticipate the frustrations to come when they cannot avoid them. Propaganda is like a cure that would numb the liver of an alcoholic in such a way that he could continue to get drunk without feeling pain in his liver, even though it would still kill him. Propaganda suppresses the warning signals that his anxieties, maladjustments, rebellions and demands once supplied. Now he is no more himself than he is when he reacts biologically to a tranquilizer. Propaganda will appear to be a true remedy, but for a sickness deliberately provoked to fit the remedy. Propaganda will intervene as the fake instrument for reducing these tensions by external action. They will flee contradictions by escape through the contemporary ideology of happiness.

If mithridatization is cooling people out, sensibilization is riling people up. Sensibilization is the increase of sensitivity or susceptibility to stimulation. Ellul says the individualist is more sensitive, not to the content but to the impetus it gives him for the excitement it makes him feel. He needs refreshment, a booster shot. When he goes to political movies it gives an outlet.  Propaganda offers release on a grand scale. Just like in Orwell’s 1984 two-minute hate rants, it will permit hatred and provides an object of hatred. It points out enemies to be slain – Jews, bourgeoisie, or communists. Authoritarian governments allow satirical journals attacking the authorities or a wild holiday paid for by the dictator (The Friday of Sorrows in Guatemala). The bureaucrat becomes the scapegoat, while the party remains above reproach. Letters to the editor by the public serve a similar function in Yankeedom. The sensibilization process has a freshness and novelty which correspond to new situations and gives the individualist the impression of having invented new ideals. It provides humanity with a high ideal and permits him to give into his passions while seeming to accomplish a great mission.

How quickly does propaganda work?

All schools of propaganda agree that propaganda works slowly. However, reactionary conservatives imagine that propaganda can also work suddenly as in a religious conversion. Commercial advertisers know that success is not getting someone to buy a new product but to influence an audience to change brands within a product the person buys regularly. They well understand that their propaganda does not stay with the masses for long. Mass communications theorists agree. Speaking politically, muckrakers understand that propaganda cannot dictate what a person thinks. However, through censorship, they can limit the parameters of what an audience can think about. In other words, political propaganda in Yankeedom cannot convince you to vote Republican or Democrat. However, by their refusal to allow third parties into debates they can define the parameters of what audiences think about. The viability of the capitalist system, the imperialist wars overseas and the prison industrial complex are issues outside the Republican-Democrat parameters, so they get no airtime.

For its time, the most sophisticated dynamical version of the relationship between the speed at which propaganda works is Ellul’s distinction between sociological propaganda and political propaganda. Political propaganda works quickly, attempting to spread a doctrine, dividing and excluding people, as in wars and revolutions. The language is emotional loaded with virtue and vice words. Political propaganda works best in public settings where people are at the same place and the same time. People are swept out of everyday life into a kind of adventure. Political propaganda may be overt at the culmination of a campaign, but much of political propaganda is covert beforehand.

At the other extreme, sociological propaganda attempts to unify rather than divide people. It works slowly and methodically. No crisis is at hand and society is moving along at a normal pace. Whereas political propaganda spreads a political doctrine, sociological propaganda spreads a way of life. While political propaganda works best in public, sociological propaganda does not require being in the same place and the same time. Masses take in sociological propaganda over months and even years. Sociological propaganda such as advertising, movies, sports and education is overt in part because it is not perceived as propaganda. The language of sociological propaganda is not inflammatory. It acts as a sedative, using euphemisms, clichés or vague terminology. The purpose is to support the existing system rather than overturn it. Please see Table A for a full comparison.

How Are the Dominant Institutions and the Public Perceived?

Dominant institutions: Controlling or neutral?

Reactionary conservatives are paranoid, thinking that dominant institutions have been taken over by socialists or communists. The radical left-wingers of propaganda theory think that the state, mass media, the educational system and religious institutions are all determined by capitalists’ drive for profits. They follow a version of Marx’s dominant ideology theory where the ideas of the ruling class became the predominant ideology of the workers.

Both the commercial practitioners and mass communications theorists think these dominant institutions are just fine. Commercial practitioners think these institutions are simply quantitative outgrowths of free speech. Mass communication scientists think state, media, education and religious forces all compete and so there is no central control. Critical thinking theorists will be moderately skeptical of these social institutions, but they say the main problem is people’s emotionalism and suggestibility. Muckrakers are cynical about these institutions because they organize themselves to influence the public in a certain direction before the public can formulate and articulate its own needs. This takes place through think tanks, lobbyists and foundations.

Ellul argues that all the dominant institutions are there to perpetuate their own existence and this applies to both capitalist and socialist societies. Surprisingly, Ellul says that it is not the ruling class that is responsible for mass propaganda. They are too remote to understand how to influence the lower classes. Instead, it turns the job over to the upper-middle class. But as Ellul points out, the upper-middle class does not do a good job with it. The lower classes do not read newspapers or magazines. The lower classes are more susceptible to TV, especially to shows depicting upper-middle class life. The lower classes have their own music and sports which the upper-middle class does not understand or belittles.

Masses: passive, active, neutral?

Up to now, we haven’t clarified how well or badly propaganda works with the masses. Are masses passive, active, neutral or passive and active together? Reactionary conservatives do not trust masses because they are distrustful of mass society. For them, masses are dupes of communist ideology. They believe they are also dangerous when manipulated by communists. It is only at the individual level that the average person thinks more clearly, so they follow a version of Gustav LeBon’s crowd theory.  The commercial practitioners look at the targets of their advertising campaigns as passive and hedonistic. They also agree with Veblen’s emulation theory that masses want to “keep up with the Joneses”. But at the same time, they cynically present the masses as freely choosing consumers. Ellul is rather hopeless about the masses, seeing them as disorganized and passive.

Mass communications theorists are more hopeful about the masses. They are passive but can become active once the facts are given to them by the polls. For critical theorists, there is a big difference between publics and masses. Publics have more potential because they meet in face-to-face gatherings. Masses cannot see each other face-to-face and can be active only if they have overcome the reasoning fallacies. Muckrakers think of the masses as temporarily foolish but as potentially active, capable of cooperation, but simply lack information about how dominant organizations obstruct their judgment. The job of muckrakers is to expose dominant institutions. The radical left understands the public most dialectically. They see the masses as victims of capitalist institutions. But they can become active and revolutionary when not oppressed by capitalist forces.

Dynamics between dominant institutions and masses: mechanical or dialectical?

There are two ways to imagine how the relationship between the dominant order and the masses can be conceived: either mechanically or dialectically. Both the radical right and the radical left have a mechanical understanding of the relationship. Both have what is called a hypodermic needle picture. The reactionary conservatives think that people are helplessly injected with communist propaganda unless combated by the forces of anti-communism. With the exception of mass psychologist Wilhelm Reich, leftist until the 1970s saw masses of people brainwashed by capitalist institutions which could only be overcome by the agitation of socialist organizers.

The commercial practitioners talk out of both sides of their mouths. They present the masses of people as being in control of their desires (the consumer is king) while the advertising agencies are simply doing the bidding of the public. So, the masses are the ones injecting the passive advertisers. But behind closed doors, advertisers think the masses are stupid. However, in practice they are always surprised that their advertising campaigns often fail. Mass communication scientists, critical thinking advocates and muckrakers all agree that the dominant institutions have the power, but the power is not so extreme that it can be called a hypodermic needle. Mass communications theorists understand the people in polls do not always go along with these institutions. The critical thinking movement argues that by utilizing more critical thinking tools masses can resist propaganda. Muckrakers also see people banding together and forming alternative media sources. Ellul sees the relationship between propagandists and masses as mutually constitutive. Masses need propagandists in order to understand more simply the complexity of the world. Propagandists need the masses to fight wars and produce profit.

Who is Most Susceptible?

Which social classes are most susceptible?

Earlier I said that reactionary conservatives had a rather cynical attitude towards the lower classes, dismissing them as dupes. However, they also think that it is the middle-class and upper-middle class intellectuals who promote communism, get carried away with the ideology they create and spin unrealistic prospects for a utopian future. Ellul agrees. He also says the social class most susceptible to propaganda is the upper-middle class for they are the ones who are creating the symbol systems and they are the most enthralled with them. He believes that they are more interested in the social issues that the propagandists target and because they are convinced of their own superiority in understanding them. They are more vulnerable to propaganda because they think they are beyond it.

The commercial practitioners also think the middle and upper middle classes are better targets because they have the money to buy the products. Advertisers spend much less of their money targeting the lower classes because the profit margins are too low. Mass communication theorists think the lower classes are more vulnerable because they are not interested in science and are irrational. Critical theorists think working-class, and especially poor, people fall for propaganda because they are less likely to have gone to college and been more likely to learn critical thinking skills. Radical leftists think working-class people are most vulnerable because they do not have the leisure time to understand precisely how they are being manipulated.

Are collectivists or individualists more vulnerable to propaganda?

Reactionary conservatives think that the individualism of industrial capitalist societies make people more vulnerable to propaganda because city living creates rootless individuals who are alienated from the religions that once gave them comfort. Conservatives don’t think that religion in itself is a form of propaganda. Ellul agrees, saying masses of people are more vulnerable to propaganda than the face-to-face public relations of people living in collectivist societies.

Commercial practitioners agree that the lack of mass media in agricultural or tribal societies make them less vulnerable. People in pre-industrial societies do not seem to have the “infinite needs” of individualists in industrial capitalist societies, most of which is created by advertisers in the first place. Mass media communications theorists, on the other hand, think propaganda is more prevalent in collectivist societies (religious beliefs, superstition) and that democratic processes in industrial capitalist societies would train them to be less vulnerable. Critical thinking theorists think collectivists’ lack of training in critical thinking would make them more vulnerable to propaganda.  Both the muckrakers and the radical left think the individualists of industrial capitalist societies are more vulnerable because they think they are too smart to be propagandized.

Who is easiest to mobilize: the committed, the indifferent or the undecided?

All seven propaganda theorists agree that people who are already committed to a position cannot be propagandized. They have too much of a stake in what they already believe to change. At the other extreme, it is too difficult to move people out of a position of indifference. When people don’t care, something dramatic has to happen like a natural disaster, a stock market crash or a revolution to make them care. Propaganda is not strong enough by itself. The people who are most likely to be moved to change propaganda are those who are mobilized but haven’t made up their minds. This is one reason why politicians in Yankeedom work harder to appeal to voters in swing states. They don’t bother with people who have demographically been shown not to vote, nor with states that have a history of voting consistently for Republican or Democratic candidates.

What is the Relationship Between Democracy and Propaganda?

Superficially it would seem that democracy and propaganda are at opposite points on the spectrum. Societies that were democratic would not have propaganda and those who had propaganda were in some ways not democratic. But the problem is that the seven theories of propaganda do not agree about what democracy is.

Most agree that democracy is defined politically as the right to vote. However, both commercial practitioners and the radical left think of democracy as economic, rather than political. Commercial practitioners think democracy is about consumption, having infinite choices in commodities is what democracy is all about. The radical left think democracy is about controlling the workplaces and deciding economically what is produced, how it is produced and where it goes. Mass communication theorists are the most middle of the road, thinking that democracy is having two political parties and voting for them. Critical thinking advocates think that democracy is less about parties and more about issues. Thus, critical thinking texts often have a section with perhaps, ten or twelve of the typical issues Republicans and Democrats argue about in Congress. The job of a critical thinker is to use critical thinking skills to write about or debate the issues. Muckrakers go further and argue that party debate or examining the issues are both done by individuals. For them democracy is about learning how to participate in small groups, coming to group decisions. An example of that is something called “participatory budgeting” where at city council meetings citizens come together to decide on the priorities of a city budget.

Both Ellul and reactionary conservatives think that democracy doesn’t work, but for different reasons. Ellul simply thinks democracy is impossible in a modern society and the word itself is used for propagandistic purposes to give people the illusion of choice. For the reactionary conservatives, democracy is looked upon as an unfavorable turn of events at the end of the 19th century. For political conservatives there is a natural hierarchy, placing people with superior talent and good breeding at the top and their inferiors at the bottom.  Democracy is understood as the rule of a mob that should never rule. Ortega Y Gasset would be the appropriate theoretician for this view.

Please see Table B for a summary of the seven propaganda theorists and their books spanning from the 1920s to the 1960s.

* First published in Socialist Planning After Capitalism

The post Jacques Ellul: Controversies in the Rise of Propaganda first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Power of Magick: Why Materialists, Atheists and Marxists Need it

Dancing Around the Maypole (Times Square Media)

Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the Will.
— Aleister Crowley, The Book of Thoth

Orientation

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

In two articles I wrote in 2019, Facing the Music: Religion, Nationalism and Sports Have Enchanted the Working Class; Socialism Hasn’t  and Re-Enchanting Socialism: How Not to Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater  I argued that socialism, at least in Yankeedom, has denied the use value of the techniques that religion, sports and nationalism use to create altered states of consciousness. They do this because, in one way or another, they serve the powers that be. Typically, Marxists and atheists dismiss these techniques as simply smoke and mirrors based on illusions. They can’t imagine using images, music, song, or dance to alter states of consciousness and to be used to inspire socialists. In addition, socialists and atheists do not pay much attention to the importance of holidays as a way to support an appreciation of our past as well as for grounding the present and the future on special occasions. Celebration of the holidays helps people to remember the big picture.

Not such strange bedfellows

I made the pitch that Marxists, and to a lesser extent anarchists, were missing the boat by not aligning with Neopagans. I argued that Neopagans had the following commonalities with Marxists:

  • They were this-worldly as opposed to other-worldly.
  • The material world was good, not a reform school or a way station.
  • Nature was self-regulating, rather than dependent upon a deity.
  • Society and nature were evolving.
  • Pagans were naturally anti-authoritarian.
  • Most pagan values were anti-capitalist.
  • Most neo-pagans are pro-science.

My Claim

In this article I want to argue that magick is a technique used by neopagans for altering states of consciousness that can be used by materialists, atheists and Marxists to change moods when we feel fragmented, blue, anxious or depressed. Secondly, Marxists, atheists and anarchists have a cavalcade of female and male heroes to populate every month of the year which can be used on holidays to remind us that we stand on the shoulders of giants. I am changing the spelling from “magic” to “magick” for reasons I will explain shortly.

The Potential of Celebrating Holidays

Holidays at their best don’t just remind people of the changing of the seasons or planting and harvesting in agriculture. The changing of the seasons can be linked to the planting, seeding and reaping of socialist projects throughout the year. One holiday where we can see the power of ritual for neo-pagans is on May Day, dancing round the Maypole. It’s important to understand that this corresponds with socialists’ May Day which draws thousands of revolutionaries together throughout the world. But May Day should be celebrations, time off from work, rather than using the day to protest or strike for one reason or another as some socialists have done. As I point out in my article Re-enchanting Socialism, socialists in Europe used to make costumes, sing and dance and perform plays on May Day. What does this do for socialists?  It reminds those of us who are socialists of the big picture, that workers of the world have one struggle and should unite. Why can’t socialists have at least quarterly seasonal celebrations just the way Catholics, Jewish or Muslims have their holy days?

As for materialists and atheists, we can easily name twelve scientists, one for each month to celebrate science. Darwin, Newton, Leibnitz, Einstein, you get the picture. A humanist group I once belonged to in San Jose developed something that became known as “Darwin Day”. It became a celebration that was even backed by the mayor of Menlo Park, who was a humanist. Richard Dawkins even came to speak one year. Atheists have a lot of work to do if we want to compete with religion over the sway of human beings. We need to use mythology for saturating the five senses systematically. Experiencing the world non rationally for an hour won’t kill you! The techniques that sports, religion and nationalists use to sweep people away are rooted in sympathetic magic. These same techniques can be used to combat the downside of sports, religion and nationalism to combat controlling people through mystification, distraction and fear. At the same time these techniques have come to be used to inspire hope, confidence and community to change the world, right here on earth!

Overcoming the Stereotypes of what Magic is

The Magick I Discuss is Not For Fostering Perceptual Illusions

Let us begin by distancing ourselves from preconceived ideas about what magick is. The first misconception is of magick as a secular activity – like pulling rabbits out of a hat or making people levitate. These are optical illusions that are created by professionals who call themselves magicians. We have no quarrel with professionals who do this for a living, but this is not the kind of magick I am talking about. This involves taking advantage of habitual perceptual cues in the service of inducing people to see things that are not there. In fact, magickians of sacred experience changed the spelling of magic to “magick” to differentiate themselves from parlor or professional magic.

Magick is not a Technique for Changing the World

Spells vs Prayers

In these sections I will be relying on two books I have written about the nature of magick and how it differs from religion. One is called From Earth Spirits to Skygods and the other is Power in Eden. In terms of sacred experience, the root meaning of magick is to “shape or make vigorous”. This means magick is an active, irreverent activity in which groups of people take matters into their own hands. This can be contrasted to religion. In origin, religion means to “bind-back”, implying that something was lost that needs to be put back together. The unity that has been torn apart is the evolution of society into classes. All the “great religions” originate in class societies and mostly help to justify those class hierarchies.

The difference between magick and religion can also be understood by contrasting the difference between a spell and a prayer. A spell is like a recipe. If you mix the ingredients in the right order, the results are more or less guaranteed. In primitive forms of magick, there was little or no reliance on sacred presences, or even much in the way of specialists in sacred experience such as a shaman. A prayer on the other hand, involves a deity or high god who listens to the prayer. There is also a priest who intervenes to make sure everything is done correctly. A prayer is a plea for help. You ask God for something and then you hope that He will hear your prayer. The individual is passive. Magickians don’t ask for anything. We use our knowledge of social psychology and we change ourselves!

How Tribal Magick Worked

The system of primitive and secondary magick was predominant in tribal societies and agricultural civilizations before the rise of the monotheistic religions between 1500-1000 BCE. In these societies, altered states of consciousness were achieved by casting a circle, “drawing down” the stellar gods into the circle, calling down specific sacred presences that are connected to the hunt or the harvest (in the case of agricultural states) into the circle. These gods and goddesses were known to be susceptible to certain incenses, music, stones, and herbs which have been called by historians of magic, “correspondences”. By “seducing” the gods with their favorite fragrances, food, gems and music it was thought to increase the chances of the tribe getting what it wanted. Where they went wrong was in thinking that: a) the gods and goddesses were real objective entities; and b) the magick they performed actually changed the world.

Why has Magick Hung On?

This kind of magick has been around all the way back to hunting and gathering societies of at least 100,000 years ago.  Even after the triumph of monotheism, magic hung on marginally in rural areas of society. During the Renaissance, during the Scientific Revolution, through the Enlightenment and to the end of the 19th century magic was alive among certain sectors of the upper classes. At the end of the 19th century, it blossomed because of dissatisfaction with both Christianity and the mechanization of science.

If this kind of magick did not really do what the people imagine it did because the gods and goddesses are not real and because magic did not really change the world, why has it stayed with us for thousands of years? Is it simply a matter of the clergy and the upper classes manipulating the workers and peasants into believing things that were not true to keep control over them, as the Enlightenment thought? Partly I agree that this is true. However, it does not account for the presence of magic:

  1. when there were no classes as in hunter-gatherers – or
  2. when it was alive among the witches in the 17th century, in spite of the opposition of the Church, scientists and merchants;
  3. when magic existed among the working-class artisans, middle and upper middle classes in the form of alchemy where no political control was involved.

Something else was going on, but what was it?

What does Magick Really do?

Magick is the art and science of altering states of consciousness at will through the use of imagination, the senses, the emotions through the arts. The techniques can be used for good or for bad purposes. The entire field of advertising is an industry in the use of black magick. Often the association with changing states of consciousness is that it is some kind of secular, recreational escape from reality. Of course, some of that is true, but my reasons for arguing for altered states of consciousness are dead serious. People alter their states of consciousness primarily for social and personal needs, not just for fun.

When hunter gatherers chase a man dressed as a reindeer around the circle making stabbing gestures, are they really creating some magic-at-a-distance which affects the reindeer in the surrounding tundra? Of course not. But what atheists and Marxists miss is that what tribespeople are doing as they dance, sing, drum, run and leap. They are changing their state of consciousness to build their confidence that they will act in a coordinated and effective way when they do go out on the hunt. So, what is changed in magick is the social psychology of their confidence levels.

The Power of Music and the Arts

At the end of every year, some socialists I know gather at a member’s house and sing the Internationale together. What does this do? It calls forth and reminds people that despite recent right-wing downturns, there is a great socialist tradition of success to uphold. The victories of the Paris Commune and the revolutions around the world are recited. But this gathering could be so much richer. Surely there are socialists in the profession of dance that have thought about what socialist dancing would be like. It could easily resemble the dances around the Maypole. These folks could also surround themselves with the portraits of the great socialists, the way the Catholic Church showcases all the patron saints around the church.

Let’s put it this way. Richard Wagner, despite his right-wing politics, knew a great deal about altering states of consciousness. As a composer and theatrical director, he synthesized the poetic, the visual, the musical and dramatic arts into a single collective experience. He understood that separating and secularizing the arts limit the prospects for altering states of consciousness. He understood the power of a total art experience at the Bayreuth Festivals. Socialists should create our own version of the Bayreuth Festivals with our own twists.

On an individual level, I might be coming out of a sad state or an anxious state, but when I put on the music of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy or Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony, I get swooped away into something higher and deeper than my present troubles. Magick is simply the art and science of how to create particular altered states through the systematic use of music and the arts.

When I was going through a relationship break-up, I would force myself to drive an hour to the Stanford Rodin museum in Palo Alto to draw his sculptures for three hours. In the process of doing that I would be reminded of my identity as an artist, the fellow students and art teachers I had, and how my art teacher used to tell me I drew like Tiepolo. I would drink the same coffee I drank when I drew there to strengthen the altered state in other circumstances. The message was – I am larger and more than my relationships, as painful as they might be.

Guided Imagery

In the last 50 years, hypnosis has introduced guided fantasies into its repertoire to help people relieve stress by using their imagination to go to another place, a peaceful place. Often this involves the use of CDs. The hypnotist would take you to a peaceful lake where you lay across a boat soaking in the sun as the boat slowly drifted down the river. You watch the cloud formations; you hear the birds calling out as you drift off to sleep.

This is all well and good, but what these hypnotists failed to do is give credit where credit is due. Hypnosis is a secularized version of magical techniques that have been known for centuries. Mesmer himself recognized this. When hypnotherapists light incense and burn candles, they are just helping the imagination wander and then focus. Magick is about the controlled and systematic use of imagination. That’s why some magickians put an “I” in front of the word magick and turn it into “imagick”.

Bringing it all Together:  Saturating the Senses

The Catholic Church as Closeted Black Magickians

The Protestants were right about Catholics being closeted magicians and here’s what I mean. When I was a boy my grandmother would go with my parents and I to Sunday morning Mass. Within about three blocks of the church, I could hear the organ slowly inviting us to come forth, inviting me to listen. When we finally arrived at the church my eyes would be drawn to the multi-colored stain-glassed windows. Once inside, my vision was intensified by the vividness of the vestments of the priest. As we moved toward the pews, the smell of incense seeped into my nostrils (“ah, I’ve been here before”).  As I settled into the pew, I ran my hands over the solid oak pews. The floor was made soft by thick, richly covered rugs. Then the choir began to sing something like Ava Maria. We were expected to move throughout the service – standing, sitting, kneeling – all designed to create altered states at different angles (kinesthetics). Three quarters of the way through the Mass, I went to receive holy communion which appealed to my taste. At the end of the service, as we left, the organ music rose again, but this time loud and uplifting (go forth).

The purpose of all this was to create a memorable experience, one that we would want to return to. Regardless of what the Catholic Church thinks it is doing, it is creating a magical altered state of consciousness in its parishes. Given the educational and religious history of the Catholic Church, its authoritarian politics, its murdering of witches and its child abuse, along with advertising, it can easily qualify as black magick.

My Work on the Tree of Life

Initiating a Magickal Psychology

In the time period about 1990 I, met a woman named Sophia who identified as a witch and who knew a great deal about something called the Tree of Life, also called the Qabalah, a Jewish mystical symbol system. She had started her own school on the western mystery traditions. I had been interested in western magic for about ten years, but I never saw a way to apply it in any practical, psychological way.  She knew how to “work the Tree” and she taught it to me and others. There are many ways to interpret the tree, its spheres and pathways (see the diagram below). As a Marxist and atheist, I had no interest in thinking that the gods or planets on the tree, its spheres and pathways, were real or that I could influence the planets through these magical activities. However, I was fortunate enough, thanks to Sophia, to discover the works of Israel Regardie, a trained Reichian therapist, who gave psychological interpretations for working on the tree. He helped me to translate magickal work into psychological work on myself

 Spheres on the Tree

The Tree has ten spheres and twenty-two paths, as you can see on the diagram. One interpretation of the spheres is that they are planets. Each of the planets was the home of a god or a goddess. Each god and goddess had positive and negative characteristics. What was very helpful to me was to learn in more depth what the gods and goddesses were like. More importantly, the idea was that all the gods and goddesses were inside of everyone, a kind of collective unconscious. By reading about the pros and cons of each god and goddess, I was learning about the gods that were very strong in me and those that were very weak and needed work. It was very powerful to see all my psychological strengths and weaknesses mapped across the Tree as if they were parts of my body. All this was appealing to my imagination as well as it did to others, I’m sure.

Pathways as Mythology

As most of you know, the Greeks didn’t just present their populace with gods and goddesses to believe in. They had a mythology which was a history of the interactions of the gods and goddesses. The twenty-two paths on the Tree of Life is the story of the interactions between the gods and goddesses on the Tree. So, when you work a path, you are told a mythological story about the gods’ and goddess’ interaction on that path just like the stories in Greek mythology. The twenty-two paths and the mythological stories are like 22 archetypal situations that the gods and goddesses get themselves into. This provides a structure for the archetypal situations human beings find themselves in. For as has been said “As above so below”. “Above” refers to the gods and goddesses, “below” refers to human stories.

The Three Pillars on the Tree

There are three pillars on the Tree, representing the three methods for altering states of consciousness. The left-hand pillar is the path of structure covering Saturn, Mars and Mercury. The right-hand path is the pillar of dynamics – Uranus, Jupiter and Venus. The middle-path is the pillar of balance: Neptune, Pluto, the Sun, the Moon and the Earth.

The left-hand path is the path of celestial, high magic practiced by upper-middle class magicians of the Renaissance like Ficino and Giordano Bruno, Robert Fludd, John Dee and many others including the followers of the Golden Dawn at the end of the 19th century. The right-hand path is the “earth magic” path”, most associated with wiccans, which reached some working-class women. This has been called “kitchen magic” by Starhawk. Both the left and the right-hand paths are methods of altering states of consciousness through the saturation of the senses, the imagination and the emotions. The middle path is a mystical, not a magical path. Its way is to empty the senses, imagination and the emotions. This is the path of meditation, fasting and sensory deprivation. Mystics like Saint Teresa or Jakob Böhme are examples in the West, as are yogis of the East.

Casting a Magickal Circle

You begin by stepping into a magickal circle of your own construction. You can mark it up with letters and symbols which you could create with thick cloth that can be taped down on the floor. I actually used permanent magic markers directly on our garage floor which we transformed into an art and writing studio for me. The magical circle contains the four elements, the four seasons and all the planets that surround the circle. The actual magickal operation involves the saturation of the senses with the music, incense, colored lights, candles, herbs, metals and dance that corresponds to the goddess upon whom you are calling. The intention is to lose yourself in the mythological stories which go with the gods and goddesses you invoke. The purpose is to build up a sensual memory for each goddess and god. You use them to build up strength to bring forward the goddess or god within yourself in dealing with the life problems which correspond to their domain.  This is done through the use of the arts – journal writing, written self-affirmation and art-work – drawing, sculpting and mask-making.

Regularizing the Ritual

Each of the spheres has a set of correspondences, including a day of the week, specific stones, metals, animals, herbs and music. In performing magical rituals, I bring down the planets from the sky metaphorically into my magical circle so that I can work on my psychological problems. I would work the Tree as a psychological “tune-up” every week or two.  If I wanted to work on a particular psychological problem, I would metaphorically evoke the planet under which the department of the problem falls. If I wanted a “tune-up” through the mythological stories, I would work each of the 22 paths. What I used to do is work one path every two weeks so it would take me 44 weeks to go through all the paths. Both the work in the planets and the paths took me about 90 minutes and I worked them once a week (not that different from therapy, but in my opinion, much more imaginative and creative).

Psychological Explanations of Magickal Work

  • Opening up access to the unconscious – the gods and goddesses within – including emotions, senses, imagination, dreams and fantasies.
  • Objectifying my relationship between conscious and unconscious in a concrete form (writing poetry, stories, drawing, mask-making and sculpture) representing the problem I am are working on.
  • Dialoging between the god, goddess and path and my individual psychology.
  • Putting the results of the dialogue into action with an effort that strives to overcome the problem in real life.
  • Integrating and internalizing the results of that action into my psychology, hopefully building confidence.

Steps in the Magical Procedure

  • Identify the problem you want to work on and write it in a sentence in your magical notebook
  • Identify your strengths and problems in order to strategize how to solve the problem.
  • Set up an “atmosphere” for the goddess or god in whose province the problem resides, including the appropriate candles, colored lights, mythological drawing, appropriate metal, appropriate stone, appropriate animals (perhaps small sculpture) appropriate robe, herbs, music and movement (dance, gestures).
  • Review a story about the path or sphere – there are books for this including The Shining Paths by Dolores Ashcroft- Nowicki.
  • Take a guided visualization journey with a CD. The book Magical States of Consciousness by Denning and Phillips is good for this.
  • Review the relationship between the strengths and weaknesses of the gods and goddesses and your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Objectify the problem and solution in some kind of concrete form using poetry, music, drawings, masks and sculpture.
  • Write a self-affirmation which goes with how you’d like to be which is drawn from the mythological story. Write the self-affirmation 5 minutes every day for twenty-one days.
  • Identify what action steps need to be taken each week to deal with the problem.
  • Record your reaction to the journey in your magical journal.
  • Bring the ritual to closure through food, drink and dance and put away all atmospheric props.

I’ve given you an example of how an individual could create an altered state of consciousness. There are neo-pagan groups all over the country that do versions of these rituals, either with the Tree or Life or some other symbolic system and they do it collectively. See Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler for examples of this. Some of these folks are political anarchists. Marxian socialists badly need to incorporate something like these rituals for our social and psychological health, especially in these dark times. Otherwise, we will be left behind – as we have been for two centuries by religion, nationalism and sports.

Objections and Rebuttal

Some of you Marxists, especially in the United States might think these rituals are ludicrous on an individual level, let alone performing them in groups. Are you going to lead the workers in these rituals? “Over my dead body” you might say. Well, your dead body just may be trampled to death for masses of people are interested in magick. With any luck, the workers are going to lead you. Most of humanity is thrilled by this pageantry if it is organized well. The fact that the Catholic Church is still drawing working-class people in despite its anti-working-class history, its murderous persecution throughout history and its record of child abuse. We must learn from the Catholics, just like the Catholics learned from the pagans.

Many materialists and Marxists may be afraid of the reification of imagery and the danger of believing these rituals literally change reality instead of only our psychological states. Sorry, but the answer to reification is not some ascetic denial as the protestants tried to do. The answer is to have rituals, song, music and dance that are not superstitious. A magickal practice that we have, not a practice that has us.

Conclusion

If materialists, atheists and Marxists expect to first compete with religion, nationalism and sports, we must learn to create our own mythologies, rituals, music, dance, song, pilgrimages and holidays. We need to be theatrical stage managers where we suspend judgment temporarily just as we do in the movies or at plays for the purpose of having a deep, moving or cathartic experience.

If this has any appeal, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Pagan traditions have a rich historical system to draw from that easily competes with the Catholic Church. All these techniques are in the service of altering states of consciousness through magick to create focused and inspired states of consciousness which invites atheists and materialists to be even better scientists and invites socialists to be even better at creating a socialist heaven on earth.

• First published at Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post The Power of Magick: Why Materialists, Atheists and Marxists Need it first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Neoliberal Psychological Romanticism: From the Primal Scream to the Collective Unconscious Part II

Orientation

In Part I of this article, I begin by grounding neoliberal psychology in the political and economic reality of neoliberalism between 1970 to 2020. First, we discussed the historical origins of neoliberalism, and then its economic exploitation, mystification and ideological use to control people. I briefly discussed the realities of the practice of neoliberal economic policies which has resulted in cannibalization of the infrastructure. Further, I show thirteen instances in which neoliberalism shows its class bias. Neoliberalism is an ideology because the upper and upper middle classes of society do not use neoliberalist economic policies on its own class. It is only applied to neoliberal practices when it comes to middle-class, working-class and the poor who experience this cannibalization.

In practice, neoliberalism strips the individual of his social, qualitative, historical and cross-cultural connections so that all social life can be reduced to a quantitative, measured and calculating cost-benefit analysis. Everything is saleable and reduced to a price. At a micro level, neoliberal psychological realism results in what is called the “entrepreneur self”. This entrepreneurial self is manifested in at least five areas in which neoliberal psychological realism takes place:

  • in the thinking processes of the working class;
  • in the commercialization of child development;
  • in the relationship between Barbie-doll toys and the obsession with being thin;
  • in hookup sex; and,
  • in the preoccupation with living in the present through its ideological use of “mindfulness” psychology.

In this Part II article, I discuss two forms of romantic resistance to neoliberal psychological realism: humanistic psychology and the human potential movement on the one hand, and New Age spirituality on the other.

To counter the entrepreneurial self of realist psychology, romantic psychology develops an “expressive” self that was the result of the work of Maslow, Rogers, Fritz Perls and Arthur Janov. This expressive self peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The other kind of romantic psychology is in cultivating what I call a “mystical self” as embodied in the work of Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell. This “spiritual psychology” peaked in the early 1980’s and continued to cultivate followers at least well through the 1990’s.

In the next few pages, I will review selectively some features of romantic neoliberal psychology as they relate to the humanistic psychological construction of an expressive self. Please see Table A for a deeper comparison between the entrepreneurial self of Part I and the expressive self.

The human potential movement early years: New Deal liberalism

 Abraham Maslow

The seeds of romantic psychology began in the United States, not in the 1960s, but decades before. Maslow was very influenced by the anthropological, cultural relativist work of Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. Both anthropologists challenged the progressive theory of cultural evolution. They were extremely sympathetic to tribal societies and each championed what they thought were their liberating sexual practices. (This anticipated the sexual revolution of the 1970s). The neoliberal political and economic movement began with the Freiburg Circle in the 1930s at roughly the same time. Abraham Maslow began his optimistic quest to rescue psychology from the clutches of what he felt was the pessimism and determinism of Freudians and behaviorists. Maslow first mentioned his famous “peak experiences” as far back as 1946. According to Joyce Milton (The Road to Malpsychia), Maslow was a New Deal Liberal, and as late as 1960, Maslow maintained a respect for Marx. Among his most enthusiastic students was Abbie Hoffman who switched his major to psychology and took every class Maslow offered.

Carl Rogers

Parallel to Maslow, Carl Rogers, another humanistic psychology heavyweight, began studying at a liberal theological seminar in NYC in 1924. Five years later he worked for twelve years on the front lines of counseling, working with problem teenagers and abused children as a staff psychologist in Rochester, New York for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He developed a following among social workers and pastors.

In the early 1960s, Rogers published On Becoming a Person which outlined his version of Maslow’s self-actualization. Increasingly, Rogers was critical of most institutional authority including psychiatrists, and this translated into how he did therapy in the 1960s and 1970s. Rogers did his best to level the playing field, insisting that a person’s emotions and personal experience were the most important guides to health. Rogers became a champion of self-directed therapy in which the client determined the goals, processes and when they ended therapy.

Esalen Institute

The home of the human potential movements in the 1960s and 1970s was Esalen, located in Big Sur, California.  The two co-founders, Richard Price and Michael Murphy had different ideas about where Esalen was going. Michael Murphey identified more with a mystical tradition, having studied with Sri Aurobindo in India. Richard Price was more sympathetic to the experiential, drug-taking wing of Esalen. Throughout most of the 1960s, Esalen was closer to what Murphy wanted. This changed in the latter part of the 1960s with the wave of LSD use on a mass level and the growth of a counterculture.

Shift to romantic neoliberal psychology

By the early 1970s Esalen had moved from a more moderate, discipled approach to a drug-using, “winging it“ orientation. There was a willingness, and, in fact, an expectation by group leaders that people experiment with LSD. Fasting, trance states rebirth rituals, dream work, social nudity and group dancing were par for the course. Sexual encounters within group sessions were common.

The cathartic theory of the emotions

The foundation for virtually all humanistic psychology was the cathartic theory of the emotions. However, the venting approach to the emotions did not originate with therapists. It has roots in the Greek concept that audiences watching a stage play and emoting along with the story serves a cathartic purpose. Aristotle felt that viewing a tragic drama would allow catharsis to occur for the audience, draining off pity and fear. According to Joyce Milton, the cathartic method as a mental practice within the field of medicine was introduced in 1877 by Josef Breuer, perhaps best known for his theory of hysteria and his use of hypnosis. Later these ideas were taken up by Freud. In the hands of humanistic psychologists, the cathartic theory states that emotions are like steam under pressure. If not released, they will explode. Emotional ventilation is supposed to relieve inner frustrations.

This theory was carried on in groups with Will Schutz’s encounter groups and Fritz Perl’s Gestalt groups. Therapists taught people to scream, beat pillows and confront each other. This also occurred in individual therapy with Janov’s Primal Scream therapy along with a spinoff group, “Center for Feeling Therapy.”

Group Cathartic theory: Will Schutz and Fritz Perls

Social psychologist Will Schutz helped to transfer relatively tame “sensitivity groups” in the 1950s to the dramatic encounter groups that began in the mid-sixties.

Schutz conducted the groups as marathon weekend-long events in which sleep deprivation eroded inhibitions. After 24 hours without sleep, open and honest expression as well as actual tears, seemed to flow more easily. (Encountering America, p. 195)

Fritz Perls was trained as a psychiatrist and Reichian therapist and led his first encounter groups in the mid 60s: Jessica Grogan tells us:

In contrast to traditional encounter groups that relied on the self-direction of the group, Perls held the reins in his groups. He utilized the concept of the “hot seat,” a position in which the seated individual received his full attention. Another empty chair was set beside the seated individual and served as an object of projection (it became the victim’s mother or father).

Perls then proceeded in the words of one Esalen historian to take the person apart by noticing and commenting on every defense mechanism, every body posture, every quiver of voice or eyes. Instead of allowing group members to interact with the hot-seated individual, Perls assumed full control while the group watched on in silence, and often, awe. After a brutal dissection of his subjects, Perls measured his success in tears. He then attempted to re-integrate the fractured person in order to create all new gestalt or whole person (Encountering America, p. 197)

Arthur Janov and the Center for Feeling Therapy

About the same time humanistic psychology was “letting it all hang out” at Esalen, in Los Angeles, Arthur Janov was developing what he called “primal therapy”. According to Janov, almost all of people’s problems centered around their parents not giving them the right amount of attention. The way Janov took his clients back in time to the original parental deprivation was a three-week isolation regimen with no external stimulation. When alone and not in therapy sessions the client was not to smoke, drink alcohol or coffee, watch TV, listen to the radio or talk on the phone. They were now raw enough to be taken back to the primal scene. As they got closer, they screamed more and more at their imagined parents. The idea was that once you got the screaming “out of your system” it was possible to begin living a full life instead of through muffled anger at parents.

In early 1979 A spin-off of Janov’s emerged, the Center for Feeling Therapy.  They followed Janov’s method of having the new client stay in a secluded motel room alone for three weeks. A new client of the center met with a therapist in marathon three to seven-hour individual sessions during which the person was attacked and criticized. Over the next 10 years, the center grew very successful. There were 350 patients living near one another and sharing homes. As often happens in cults, the demands of the therapists grew more bizarre and at the end all twelve therapists associated with the center lost or surrendered their licenses.

The problem with the construction of a romantic, expressive self is not just that the therapists had no scientific basis for the cathartic theory of the emotions, but that they stirred people up on marathon weekends but offered no structure for them to integrate all of what was stirred up after the weekends were over. Several suicides at Esalen in 1968-1969 served as painful indications of the Esalen staff’s inability to provide comprehensive services for the mess they had created. For more on the dark side of the human potential movements, see Singer and Lalich’s book, Crazy Therapies.

The sun sets on the romantic expressive self

The numbers of those involved in the counterculture during the 1967 Summer of Love was no more than 100,000 people. But by the early to mid-1970s “flower power” had become mainstream and hippiedom had arrived. As the counterculture became a more mainstream phenomenon, psychology found a new life in self-help books. From 1972 to 1979, self-help books mushroomed across bookstore shelves, but many were written by authors untrained in psychology. Nevertheless, as in any large bookstore, the psychology section contains at least 10 shelves of self-help books for every shelf of books that attempted to uphold some scholarly standard. Many self-help books actually disparaged psychotherapy directly.

By the mid-1970s, the humanistic movement seemed more self-indulgent rather than awakening a higher and deeper self. After 1975, Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) participation began to decline. In 1976 and 1977, the annual conference attracted about 2,000 participants. By 1980 that number was 1,000. Literary critics turned on the field and John Updike wrote that the American ride had run out of gas. The expressive self was withering on the vine.

Neoliberal Romantic Spiritual Psychology: The Mystical Self

In the early 1970s, feminist women’s spirituality was in crisis. On one hand, women fought for more inclusion within Protestant, Catholic and Jewish religious institutions. But for other women, all the world religions were patriarchal. They were drawn to pagan and neo-pagan traditions. Many joined already existing magical groups that centered on people like Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn, while others like Starhawk started wiccan groups from scratch. At the heart of this movement were goddesses and gods and their mythology. Psychologically, all these groups were more or less influenced (whether they knew it or not) by the psychologist Carl Jung, the historian of religion, Mircea Eliade and the mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Commonalities between Jung, Eliade and Campbell

All three were anti-modern, rejecting science and materialism. Their idealistic past was either the medieval world (Jung), 19th century Romanian peasant culture (Eliade), or the early American West, including Native Americans (Campbell). Jung and Eliade rejected democracy and flirted with fascism. Campbell dissociated himself from the 60’s anti-war and civil rights movements. He was not sympathetic to minorities, feminists or toward liberal social programs. Campbell once said he would flunk any student who took part in political activism. All three were anti-communist.

All three mythologists developed a following in the United States. Why? On one hand, their theories went with the emerging anticommunism of the 1950s. On the other hand, they also corresponded to the growing uneasiness of the American middle classes and what they feared was too materialistic a way of life.

All three mythologists were, in different ways, hostile to Judeo-Christian religions, all of which they believed were complicit in modernist problems. Modern religions denied the importance of spiritual experience and were marred in superstitious rituals and material wealth. For all three, mythological stories are really about solutions to common human problems that have been lost, marginalized or demonized by traditional religion. All three mythologists were followers of a spiritual gnostic tradition which says there is a hidden spiritual knowledge that the ancients were aware of, but which has been lost, thanks to modernity. This gnostic tradition teaches that the material world is not reformable and it is better to withdraw from it in order to perfect oneself.

Though Jungian spirituality is eclectically Western, it is fair to say that Jung admired what he imagined to be pre-Christian German paganism. If James Hillman is any indicator, Jungian psychology is a modern version of the archetypal, polytheistic psychology of the Renaissance. The roots of Eliade’s religious beliefs are Hindu’s Vedanta tradition of yoga. According to Robert Ellwood, Campbell flirted with Hindu traditions but ultimately settled on the pagan traditions in the west, from Homer to the Holy Grail.

Carl Gustav Jung and Wotan’s Return

Collective unconscious

In The Politics of Myth, Robert Ellwood tells us that after his break with Freud in 1913, Jung underwent a spiritual crisis and came out of it with an array of archetypes drawn from pagan sun-worshiping volkish mysticism to which he later added other western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. Jung took Freud’s personal unconscious and collectivized it, arguing that nations and races each had a collective unconscious which could be tapped through their mythology and ritual. Jung thought that levels of the unconscious lay like geological strata in the psyche. Mythology was to culture what dreams were to the individual.        

In the modern world, the collective unconscious was repressed because modern religion has lost its ancient roots in mythology and ritual. Modern masses are alienated and lack the symbols, myth and rituals that would ground collective psychic energy and provide integration. Jung followed Ortega y Gasset in claiming that modern humans isolate socially from others, while also separating from their unconsciousness and instincts. To be fair to Jung, given this pessimism towards modernity, it is understandable that he flirted with the Nazi movement. Because of their rootlessness, modern humanity’s collective unconscious had more power and can be easily distorted into a monstrous hybrid which results in the worst of tribalism and modernism (Nazism). Jung realized this later.

Mircea Eliade and nostalgia for the sacred

Rejection of secularism

Eliade fled Romania after it became a satellite of the Soviet Union in 1945. In the same year, he taught at the Sorbonne in Paris and then, starting in 1956, at the University of Chicago. In these roles he became the most important historian of religion of his time. Eliade radically and systematically rejected the very epistemological and ontological foundations of the modern secular world. He thought the object of the study of religion was beyond historical analysis. For Eliade, ordinary means of knowledge and experience are not only flawed but are a “Veil of Maya” over our knowledge of reality. He saw himself as caretaker of spirituality against the assault of secularism. Why should he not try to engineer a religious destruction of the confidence in secular consciousness?

Eliade seemed to hold a degenerate theory of the history of religions. Rather than primitive societies consisting of backward, superstitious people, Eliade was all for Frazer’s description of bloody sacrifices, drunken banquets and carnivalesque masquerades as sacred activities.  Like Dumezil and other “order” theorists, Eliade felt that historical consciousness and modernity was a catastrophe for humanity’s sense of the sacred.

Sacred space and time

The arena of sacred time is myth, not history. Eliade believed that to live in historical time and place was to live under fallen conditions. Mystical experience was to live beyond history and place. Myth tells us of the eternal time of origins. Sacred space is the location in which myths are enacted. The world’s spiritual sites have common properties – they are perceived to be the navel, or center, of the world. This center is the cosmic tree where the perpetual regenerations of the world take place. Thus mandalas, mazes or labyrinths of medieval Christianity helps us to experience this center.

Joseph Campbell and the New Quest for the Holy Grail

The life of Campbell

According to Ellwood, Joseph Campbell was the best known of all interpreters of myth for late 20th century Americans due to his lively and highly readable books, grand lecture hall performances and PBS appearances with Bill Moyers. He was born in 1904 to Irish-American parents and both his grandfathers arrived in the US as poor immigrants who escaped the Irish potato famine. Joseph’s father was a successful salesman who rose his family to upper-middle classes status which exposed Joseph to the arts and cultures of the world, allowing him to attend concerts, plays and museums. After being taken by his father to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, he cultivated a strong interest in American Indians.

Spiritual influences

Through Thomas Mann, Campbell met Indologist Heinrich Zimmer. When Zimmer died in 1943, Campbell received the responsibility of editing Zimmer’s manuscripts. The Zimmer connection enabled Campbell to become attached to the famous Eranos conferences which included scholars like Eliade, Gershom Scholem who had revived the study of Jewish Kabbala, Henry Corbin of Iranian mysticism, as well Jung. Campbell became a major figure in the world mythology with the publication in 1949 of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Despite his flirtation with Indian religion, a trip he made to India made him think twice because of the poverty and the disease he witnessed. In the end, he turned westward. Besides Native Americans, Campbell was drawn to Homer’s Odyssey and stories of the search for the Holy Grail. From 1959 through 1968 he wrote a great four-volume world mythology.

According to Campbell there are four functions of myth:

  • a mystical experience to awaken and maintain a sense of awe and gratitude;
  • an image of the universe in accord with the knowledge of the time (in the sciences);
  • implementation of a moral order; and,
  • to give an account stage by stage through life.

20th century myths: individualism in space: Star Wars

In the application of myths to today, Campbell was no reactionary. He proposed the place for myths to play themselves out today was in Outer Space. This is our mythology in a way that is comparable to the role of Arthurian fantasy in Victorian England and Wagner’s heroes in Wilhelmine Germany.

Ellwood makes a very interesting comparison between Star Trek and Star Wars as a way to demonstrate Campbell’s individualistic roots. Star Trek was about cooperation between the crew, not the individual. It isn’t even about the patriotism of, say, the United States. The crew members included people of many ethnicities. It was about humanity in space. In these episodes there was a direct struggle for power between humanity and extra-terrestrial civilizations. In the case of Star Wars, the theme was about the individual heroism of Luke Skywalker. In Star Wars, Arthurian legend and Wagnerian cycles of myths all show the ultimate futility of grasping for power.

Politically this has conservative implications.  How convenient this is to encourage people to withdraw from political power and engagements into the private world of mythological journeys. What kind of society would Campbell’s view of myth construct? Most likely a society of heroes like the characters of Star Wars who follow their own myths. Meanwhile a ground-crew of non-heroes (the working class) sing about heroes and the songs that keep the social order together. It is ironic that in spite of his conservative politics, he was extremely popular at Esalen.

The mystical self as the playground of the upper classes

What kind of Americans were drawn to Jung, Eliade and Campbell?

Interestingly the publisher of both Campbell and Jung’s work, Bollington, was owned by Paul Mellon, related to Andrew Mellon who was one of the wealthiest men of that time. Given the conservative tendencies of Jung and Campbell, it is not surprising that they found so much money to “spread their word” at a time of rabid anti-communism in the fifties, and as a reaction to the liberal and radical sixties with its expressive self.

Overwhelmingly, those drawn to Jung, Eliade and Campbell are upper middle-class and upper-class wealthy people – doctors, lawyers, architects and ministers from the upper middle-class as well as the independently wealthy. They are people who laid low during the 1960s and 1970s and then stepped forward into the vacuum left by the human potential movement. They became the upper-class version of the swing to the right-wing politics. This was happening at the same time when the lower classes were gravitating towards a right-wing fundamentalism in the churches of the South.

The place and misplace of romantic self

As I said at the beginning of Part I, romantic emotional and spiritualist selves are two different answers to the experience of feeling trapped by neoliberal modern social conditions and realist psychology. Their proposals are either to flee from all social relations (expressive self of the human potential movement) or to search for a premodern social life based on an organic community. Their reaction is either for the individual:

  1. to detach from society and rebel emotionally, or;
  2. to reject the associative, social contract relations of modern life, not by denying our social identity as the expressives do, but to dissolve into pre-modern social life as in the Middle Ages or into pre-Christian paganism.

Please see Table B for a more exhaustive comparison between the expressive and mystical selves.


Why Revolutionaries Should be Atheists

Orientation

As one of the co-founders of Planning Beyond Capitalism, you might ask why we would publish an article about atheism? Shouldn’t we just stick to political economy and leave people’s beliefs about the origin of the universe and our place in it for future generations to figure out?  We have many reasons for thinking that an atheist stance is crucial for revolutionaries to take. Politically, I trust atheists more than anyone else, because I trust that their political commitment is to this world since we do not have a back-door escape of some God looking after us in the next life in case the revolution doesn’t work out.

Most people believe in the existence of invisible spiritual beings. But most of them have not thought out clearly why they believe in them and how their lives would be different if they didn’t believe in them. On the surface, it seems to me a major reason why people believe in spiritual beings is because their parents believed in them, along with other authority figures in their lives.  Belief in spiritual beings might be practiced out of love and respect for those who have cared for them. Belief in God helps us to overcome a fear of death by the promise of not only a life in the hereafter, but an eternal life in the hereafter. These beliefs, combined with the propaganda of the churches, not just in books but in the liturgy, rituals, architecture, and statues that have been created, are bought and paid for by gullible parishioners.

For atheists it’s a different story. My guess is that most people who are atheists have thought long and hard about the existence of spiritual beings. Like most people who are in a minority, we know far more about the beliefs of the majority than the majority knows about our beliefs. If theists understood us, we would not be accused of being hedonists, or evil people with no morality.

The purpose of this article is to flesh out some of my own reasons for rejecting the existence of spiritual beings in the hopes of strengthening the commitments of other atheists who came to it more intuitively.

Qualifications

My references to monotheism will be limited to Christianity, which I know best. I’m confident there will be overlap with Judaism and Islam, at least in part. Secondly, I am only focused on the existence of God, not the subset of issues that come with it. So, there will be no discussion of where we came from or the existence of life after death.

Anthropological and historical reasons

In my opinion, atheists begin their contention with those who believe in God by mistakenly accepting that the monotheists move to dismiss animism and polytheism from the debate. Instead, I think atheists should make the monotheistic religion face that:

  1. For most of human history from 100,000 years ago until 5,000 years ago tribal societies did not believe in gods or a single god. They believed in earth spirits, ancestors’ spirits or totems.
  2. Once people began to believe in high gods (with the rise of agricultural states) they were polytheistic gods and goddesses for another 2,500 years before monotheism became a contender.

We should dispute this monotheistic assumption by making them face that people have not always believed in God and that their belief in monotheism is:

  1. historically recent, and;
  2. only appeared in certain parts of the world.

We must also challenge their assumption that monothetic belief is somehow naturally arrived at through the use of reason. We must make them face their blood-stained history of the subjugation of pagan earth-spirits, ancestor spirits, gods and goddesses on their way to a maniacal rule. We should not let monotheists smuggle in their claim to solely represent the forces of spirituality. A real discussion about atheism should be between atheists, believers in earth spirits, ancestor spirits, goddesses, gods and God. Monotheists should have to debate, not just atheists, but animists and polytheists. This will weaken the force of monotheism because in this light they are outnumbered, both historically and cross-culturally by animists and polytheists.

Geological reasons

Belief in gods or a single God was due in part to the results of large-scale natural disasters—earthquakes, volcanoes and floods or comet debris. These events filled people with terror and triggered their imagination with the belief that the god(s) must be angry. When people lack an explanation for natural events that threaten them, they imagine the disaster comes from a God who controls nature.

Notice how God is in control. There is no monotheistic deity who is out of control. In other words, nothing happens by chance. Monotheists prefer accepting even the devil to chance. At least the devil has a focus, a will and is predictably evil. The most important thing for monotheists to believe is that someone had better be driving. This hoped-for control makes it possible to influence God through propitiation, casting spells or praying.

Sociological reasons

As Marx pointed out, religion is the opium of the people. For the lower classes, it is opium because it teaches people to wait patiently through a miserable life in the hopes of a future “pie-in the sky”. Religion is also an expression of humanity’s alienated creativity. God is the doer of all things humanity wishes it could do but it cannot. Humanity then disowns its own creativity and projects it onto a god who then tells humanity what to do. Therefore, the utilitarian achievements in irrigation, agriculture and the calendar are attributed to the workings of God, not of humanity’s own creation. Others say that gods were once great human beings on earth who were reified by future generations that did not experience the new inventions directly.

If people wanted to be objective about the characteristics of God, those characteristics would have little or nothing to do with our own comfort level. But what do we find with the monotheistic deity? We have either a tempestuous father figure of the Old Testament or a loving father of the New Testament who, one way or another, is looking out for us just like the parents we wish for.

Furthermore, when life gets confusing or difficult, we are consoled by the prospect that God has a “plan” for each of us. But how does the plan work? How can it possibly be coordinated with God’s plan for everyone else? In answer to this we might be told “God works in mysterious ways”. In other words, secondary rationalizations.

A good objection to Marx’s theory that religion is the opium of the people is that if God is just a consolation prize for the lower classes, then that should mean that people in the middle and upper classes who have good material lives would be able to see through the subterfuge of theism and become atheists. But, as we know, there are plenty of people in the higher classes who have a good life, yet still believe in God. How can that be explained?

It is true that most middle and upper middle-class people continue to believe in God in spite of their comfortable conditions. However, it also is true that a higher percentage of atheists will be found in these classes. Yet this doesn’t explain the rationale of the rest of them. Another factor to consider is whether the economy or ecology of a society is stable or unstable. My prediction is that the more stable the political economy of a society, the percentage of people who are atheists will rise. But when the ecology or political economy becomes unstable, it’s a different story for the upper classes. For example, in contemporary capitalist society, the upper classes live very well, yet capitalism is very unstable and might give capitalists reason to consider believing in God because they don’t know how long they can count on their wealth.

Political reasons

The favorite explanation for the Radical Enlightenment is that religion is the tool of elites to keep people ignorant and distracted by the promise of a world to come after death.  This enables these elites to hold onto their power and property in this world. It is important for elites to ensure that people believe they are tainted with original sin because that weakens people’s self-confidence and resilience to navigate in the world with neither God nor the elites. It is also important that God be seen as a father, for that is a model for the habit of submission in the family.

Psychological reasons

I think Freud hit the nail on the head with this one. He said belief in religion was infantile. It was a wish to climb back into the womb where there is no conflict, pain or uncertainty. Everything is taken care of by the father.  People believe in God as a substitute parent who loves them unconditionally.

Wilhelm Reich thought that religion requires that sexuality must be repressed. Sexuality is a way for humans to give each other pleasure without the need of elites or deities. If people can be taught that sex is a bad thing, they will be more dependent on religious authorities to give life meaning. Or in the case of sour grapes, you can repress the desire for sex while pretending to be above it all, as Nietzsche might point out. Belief in God helps us to overcome a fear of death by the promise of not only a life in the hereafter, but an eternal life in the hereafter.

Where does this repressed sexuality lead? There is nothing sicker than the fantasy life and deeds of religious authorities whose sexual life is repressed. One only has to look at the torture techniques of the religious authorities against midwives in Early Modern Europe and the Catholic priests’ contemporary continuing molestation of little boys.

Ontological reasons

How can God be all loving and all powerful while there is great suffering in the world? How to account for the hundreds of thousands of innocent children and adults who are bombed, starved and inhumanely treated in the name of nationalism? Either God is not all-powerful because there is great suffering which he is powerless to do anything about, or he is all-powerful and not all-loving because he permits suffering to continue.

“Divine Intervention” by God into human history is a big thing. But what does it say about God’s engineering prowess if he constantly has to butt into his creation process? Human beings design things that can last a very long time without any intervention. What kind of engineer is a god who has to intervene in his creation from time to time because he botched things the first time? If God were all powerful it seems the world would not be in the mess that it is in. “Thoughts and prayers?” Why is prayer necessary if God has a plan? Why are we begging for mercy from a lousy engineer? Divine intervention reveals God to be a bad engineer.

Atheism and politics

The relationship between atheism and politics is tricky. Broadly speaking, those who are atheists are divided into liberals and socialists. Many liberal atheists are still supportive of capitalism. So too, many socialists are monotheists when they believe in some kind of liberation theology like those of the Catholics who consider Christ to be a revolutionary. Yet for all the reasons addressed above, those who are the most trustworthy for carrying through revolutionary socialism are atheists. As socialist atheists, we gain immortality through building heaven on earth, either in our own generation or in generations to come.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

Let it burn

I admit to feeling a slight sense of sadness watching the images of flames soaring from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, but once it was reported that no one had been seriously hurt, my slight sense of sadness quickly gave way to a feeling of pleasure. My slight sadness was because part of me appreciates the considerable amount of quality craftsmanship that went into constructing the thing, and it saddens me to see some of that beautiful work destroyed. But when weighed against the symbolism of a major institution of oppression engulfed in fire, it’s hard not to feel happy.

One of the most well-known critiques of religion – any religion – is Karl Marx’s famous quote that “It [religion] is the opium of the people”. It’s arguably one of the most important things Marx said, because religion controls the lives of billions of people around the world. Even in supposedly secular western countries religion still exerts considerable influence. The most obvious proofs of this fact are fairly numerous. Take, for example, the fact that large numbers of supposedly enlightened westerners still feel the need for religious ceremonies at the most important events in their lives – births, marriages and deaths. So for Marx to point out that this important necessity to the lives of so many people is no more than an artificial relaxant is every bit as revolutionary as anything else he said – and every bit as true.

Of course Marx, was not the only great thinker to realise the illusion of religion. About sixty years before Marx penned his famous quote, the great Tom Paine, for example, observed that,

Al national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.1

Paine’s great book Age of Reason totally destroys the credibility of religion generally, and the Christian bible in particular. With his usual perfect clarity of vision and expression he strikes at the very heart of the phenomenon of religion, and explains why such an utterly irrational and largely deceitful belief system has been allowed to thrive for so long – a human invention “to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit”.

Adam Smith, the supposed “father of capitalism”, noted the deep cynicism of religion being used in pursuit of profit even earlier than Paine. Writing in the middle of the eighteenth century about the looting by the Spanish of the Americas, he observed:

… the council of Castile determined to take possession of countries of which the inhabitants were plainly incapable of defending themselves. The pious purpose of converting them to Christianity sanctified the injustice of the project.2

The most successful revolutions against religion occurred in communist countries, such as Russia and China where religion was strongly discouraged. But many other revolutions, such as the French Revolution and Spanish Civil War, also recognised the essential role played by the clergy in maintaining the grotesque oppressions against which they were rebelling. The logic of revolutionary reasoning is convincing, and is basically the same point that Smith and Paine both made: the rich and powerful use religion to justify the massive crimes they carry out in order to stay rich and powerful.

For example, in a recent TV documentary about the legendary songwriter Woody Guthrie, an old newsreel showed a scene from the 1930s where some of the desperate people made homeless from the drought-stricken American prairies were attending a church service. The camera panned slowly over the haggard, care-worn, emaciated faces of the congregation whilst the voice of the preacher could be heard saying how their troubles were “because of how we live”. Their fault in other words, not the fault of a pitiless government that had not long since largely completed its genocide of their own native populations, or of a ruthless banking system where people’s lives were irrelevant compared with profit.

About a century earlier, when thousands of Scottish Highlanders were being savagely evicted from lands they had worked for centuries, the preachers were there colluding with the super-rich as they always have to ensure the grotesque Highland Clearances, cynically known at the time as “Improvement”, would not be resisted by the people:

With a few noble exceptions, the ministers chose the side of the landlords, who built them new manses, made carriage roads to their doors, and invited them to share in the new prosperity now and then with the grant of a few acres of sheep pasturage. In return the churchmen gave God’s authority to Improvement, and threatened the more truculent of the evicted with damnation.3

It’s no coincidence that even today the biggest church congregations invariably comprise poor oppressed people seeking answers for their suffering. Once again they’re told that their misery is all part of some mysterious cosmic plan, controlled by some invisible, all-powerful super-natural being. No doubt many are still being told their suffering is their own fault, and the best they can do is go to church more often, and donate even more of the little they have to church funds.

But the hard inescapable fact about all of the main religions is that none of them can prove the very existence of the god or gods in whom they compel their followers to believe. It’s widely believed by Jews and Christians alike, for example, that their god created man in the image of their god (Genesis 1:27) and that believers were therefore the most supreme of beings with a right to complete dominion over the Earth and everything and everyone on it (Gen 1:28). This teaching has been used to morally justify the vast destruction of our planet and countless billions of other people and other living species. Yet there is no evidence to support the existence of this god that supposedly approves of all this. So it’s far more accurate to believe that god did not create man in his image, but that man created god in his image instead.

So when I watched pictures of flames licking hungrily from the roof of Notre Dame I felt more pleasure than sadness, and I make no apology for that. Let it, and all the others like it burn – unless they be permanently closed down, their priests made redundant, and the space used instead for useful, purely secular, community centres, quiet places where anarchists and communists, for example, could meet up and teach to others the myth of religion, and teach reason instead to the poor and oppressed, that no supernatural being has ordained their suffering, and will certainly not be coming to relieve them of it. They are on their own, and the sooner they realise that the sooner they might decide to combine to do something about it.

  1. Age of Reason, Tom Paine, p. 22.
  2. Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, p. 711.
  3. The Highland Clearances, John Prebble, p. 63.

The Circle Over the Triangle: A Collectivism and Cyclic Belief Change Comes Around

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake

There is an American Native game, counting coup, which is both rarefied and possibly the answer to the male testosterone/female co-opting of testosterone that has given rise to Civilizational humanity since the so-called fertile crescent gestated the evil arts of subjugating man, woman, child and ecosystems to a small cabal of landowners (sic) who got humanity to work for food.

I always go to Daniel Quinn and other neotribalists to look at the long-range, way back, to give some justification to a tribal and hunter-gatherer past that for many of us is locked in our genes, accessible to fewer and fewer people daily as the world becomes a landmine of DNA-warping, cell-depleting, culture-sapping madness orchestrated by white men (mostly).

In our cultural mythology we see ourselves as having left tribalism behind the way modern medicine left the leech and the bleeding bowl behind, and we did so decisively and irrevocably. This is why it’s so difficult for us to acknowledge that tribalism is not only the preeminently human social organization, it’s also the only unequivocally successful social organization in human history. Thus, when even so wise and thoughtful a statesman as Mikhail Gorbachev calls for “a new beginning” and “a new civilization,” he doesn’t doubt for a single moment that the pattern for it lies in the social organization that has introduced humanity to oppression, injustice, poverty, chronic famine, incessant violence, genocide, global warfare, crime, corruption, and wholesale environmental destruction. To consult, in our time of deepest crisis, with the unqualified success that humanity enjoyed here for more than three million years is quite simply and utterly unthinkable.

Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Adventure

What’s lovely about my own intersection with Gary Brumback – the author of the book this review-dash-screed is enveloping: Life’s Triangles and America’s Power Elites: Can the Living Field be Leveled?  — is that Gary reached out to me and solicited my comments and possible endorsement of this book (he’s a regular contributor to Dissident Voice), through the auspices of one of modern civilization’s double-edged swords – the world wide internet.

I think it’s both unreal and uniquely human to reach out across the digital universe, and when someone who is connected to me through my words, and finds some linkage, then I believe that’s sign enough to make some connection deeper, or revealing.

It’s gutsy for this 84-year-old former organizational psychologist to have reached out to me (I’m not now your typical thinker and writer), and the proof is in the pudding when it comes to his writing and then how the diner/reader of those ideas, through the grist of his words and grammar (courses) gets the true taste (or terroir) of the author’s (chef’s) orchestration of ideas and composition.

As many readers of my work know, I am captivated by holism and systems thinking, and many times I am looking at life – universalities — through my own optics. I understand the drive to want to understand how tidal wetlands work and how elephant seals can go down 7,770 feet for up to two hours without succumbing to the bends or nitrogen narcosis.

But inherent in that learning and yearning, I understand the power of attracting forces, both physics and metaphysics, and the value in coincidences, both mathematical and magical, and more and more, daily, I am grasping the reasoning for my own living and thinking and breathing. Here I am on the Oregon Coast (central) just having done my first day’s class to be a certified marine mammal (and to help tourists/visitors understand the other zoological and ecological concerns) naturalist. I was about to fiddle with my short story collection which is coming out in several months from Cirque Press, and I was also prepped to blog from my post here in Otis, Oregon.

Instead, I answered the email call from Gary to take a look at his book and write up something. What interests me most about fellows like Brumback is his tenacity to not only understand the world around him using a variety of tools from his 84 years on the planet, but also his desire to be one among us as writers – anti-authoritarian thinkers who deeply question the role of this country in the upsetting of people and cultures throughout the globe.

“Call of Duty” is what I see my role now turning 62 next week. I have engendered good will and hard learning in thousands of students, at public gatherings where I “ran the show” (a hat off to Ed Sullivan) and in my writing, big and small. I’ve written three-parts to my hell-hole experience working with homeless veterans at the Starvation Army in Oregon. But in reality, the linchpin for me is my call of duty, call and answer, to carry forth in any way possible, the message of revolt. Speaking of revolt, I remember hanging out with Robert Bly on two occasions – one time in El Paso as we made it over to Juarez for tequila, and another time 23 years later in Spokane with bourbon and quietude. I wrote a promo article for his appearance in Spokane as part of Get Lit!. His poem, “Call and Answer,” is powerful, even at 17 years old.

I bring this up as a tangent to describe some of what I interpret as the core value in Gary’s new book:

Call and Answer

Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

It is the Saturday of my life, most likely, as I just spent sometime at Cascadia Head, where the Salmon River and the Pacific Ocean battle it out during the various tides ebbing and flowing. Alone, with harbor seals popping their heads up, and their partner, a river otter, watching me look at two bald eagles looking for seal placenta to gobble up.

Here, visiting Canadian photographer Isabelle Hayeur who is on a residency at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, is shooting the Oregon Coast. The Canadian is here on the Pacific Coast of Oregon for first time, and her residency continues her exploration of water and land, people and ecosystems — to show the changes to the ecosystems caused by humans. Here, that Cascadia Head shot and the Salmon hitting the Pacific near Lincoln City, Oregon.

See the source image

I know for sure as the colluding forces of capitalism – a real misanthropy of both the mind and body – eat at my exterior, the very simple act of movement — with my plodding bag of bones — if I am to survive in this sick world of capitulation of both parties working to mine the last corpuscles of the workers and working class — is sometimes herculean. It’s my Saturday, as Bly states, but I am not sure of this writer Gary’s place in time, if it’s Thursday for him, or Sunday.

I’m not saying this is the 84-year-old Brumback’s position, but I know his clarion calls are what Bly states clearly in these stanzas from this small poem –

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

Brumback is looking to reach those angels of our better selves, and he is wanting the cries of great writers and thinkers, alive and passed on, to push out the silence that is engulfing the entire body politic and public of this ripped-off-land-and-killing-natives country that has made more than a trillion pacts with the devil, a foundation that daily reverberates as the grand Faustian bargain of keeping silent for the few spoils of capitalism.

Americans are in their own tight spot now: keeping on the lights, fridge half full, Super Bowl projected on plasma TV, the latest model of Jeep in the driveway, work that eats at the soul and the body. The bargain, I believe, Brumback is not so quick to go quietly into the night, as this book uncovers the full weight of an old man’s lamentations and ruminations.

His book is compelling for those young minds that have been colonized and whose hearts and souls have been metastasized by consumer culture, the true bedrock of capitalism. Small intonations of the country’s history and this current manifestation of corruption are the drumbeats to his march forward in this quickly drawn book of very big historical ideas unleashed for the uninitiated mind.

Back to that Native American counting coup allusion I begin with:  It’s sort of what I see unfolding as my own literary device while reading Brumback’s book, Life’s Triangles and America’s Power Elites. “Coup” for the Lakota and others was counted to establish position in the tribal honor system. Status mattered, and competition to count the greatest coup was intense. Here’s the beauty of this bravery – getting close enough to touch an enemy with a coup stick without causing him harm.

The self-styled book is by former organizational psychologist Brumback, who counts his own coup many times in this book, as he wanders through the history of the United States, with both whimsy and with a Quaker’s eye toward justice. He uses a variety of wide angle and telephoto angles in order to look deeper at the simple equation of the rich — with military might behind them — controlling the destiny of the country – us, its inhabitants – and the insecurity of the planet, from all the other inhabitants of 192 countries plus the flora and fauna of the planet’s Gaia.

Here, for the Lakota, killing an enemy far away or at long range did not count as a coup. Moreover, winning by overwhelming numbers counted as a “non coup.” Bravery involving a solitary warrior in a headlong battle charge that was climaxed by touching, with no lethal tap of a stick, now that was a coup, as Indians harmlessly touched an enemy with wooden sticks for the purpose of counting coup.

In so many ways, Brumback’s book “touches”—counts coup — upon the enemies of humankind, with myriad of histories of this country since first contact with those Lakota et al. The writer delves into the mess of the United Snakes of America utilizing quick riffs while cracking open these causal relationships of greed, power, hierarchy, elitism, pathology in this country’s early years and now advancing into today’s predatory capitalism and parasitic economics (or our Shock Doctrine derived from our Monroe Doctrine) Brumbuck is interested in.

He’s also demonstrating another sort of intellectual “counting coup” in a sense since Brumback touches the enemy with his own touchstones and short pithy points connecting to the current state of global affairs.

His goal, it seems, is to consolidate a lot of his writing over his 84 years on planet earth and to codify a body of work he’s studiously read and then to bring himself to some conclusion that there might be some hope for his children and grandchildren. His belief in organizational psychology as a determinant of how bloody sociopathic the not-so-modern corporation is and how that pathology has twisted and turned (morphed) into a gigantic toxic and self-replicating broken set of laws regulating the elite’s projects of domination and extermination is the umbrella covering his writing.

Oscar Wilde is right when defining a cynic in his work, Lady Windemere’s Fan, with Lord Darlington quip: “A person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

From Raj Patel’s first chapter, The Value of Nothing, Patel can help me understand Brumback’s criticism of capitalism and his somewhat of a defense of it in some idealized state that hasn’t yet existed:

From its inception, the free market has spawned discontent, but rare are the moments when that discontent coalesces across society, when a sufficiently large group of people can trace their unhappiness to free market politics, and demand change. The New Deal in the United States and the postwar European welfare states were partly a result of a consortium of social forces pushing for new limits to markets, and a renegotiation of the relationship between individuals and society. What’s new about this crisis is that it’s pervasively global, and comes at the last moment at which we might prevent a global climate catastrophe. But the breadth and depth of both these crises reflect how profoundly our society has been transfixed by free market culture. To understand how this will affect us in the twenty-first century, we need to understand how it began, and to ask why today’s markets look the way they do

Here, the book Gary sent me, in a nutshell, which Brumbuck puts in his own book’s preface:

Here’s a quick overview of this book. It’s a substantial distillation of and addition to my relevant books and articles on the subject.

The first chapter may seem very abstract and academic, but believe me, it is about very real matters, life itself. This chapter lays the groundwork for understanding why the power elite do what they do and what happens when they do it.

The second chapter explains the very nature of power and introduces my concept and illustration of the “power tower” with the elite at the top and the “les Misérables” at the very bottom with several levels in between.

Chapter Three probes what makes the power elite “tick” by looking inside their “black boxes.” When you read this chapter, you will understand that I don’t flippantly ascribe evil motives and evildoing to the power elite.

Chapter Four thoroughly describes and explains the power elite’s “badvantages,” my term for situations and circumstances that give advantage to bad behavior. For example, “our” government gives many handouts to its master, Corporate America.

Chapter Five describes the seemingly limitless bad behavior of the power elite and their functionaries of the corpocracy.

I want to warn you about Chapter Six. It is a true horror story of the consequences of the power elite’s evil doing. By the time you have finished reading this chapter you may be a bit depressed if you believe it is credible. As an antidote I’ll try to inject some homespun humor now and then, starting now. “There is no beating around the Bush, he is what he is.”

And finally, Chapter Seven asks whether the power tower with its power inequality can be changed to the power rectangle with its power equality; in other words, can the living field finally be levelled? This question explains the question mark at the end of the book’s subtitle. Putting there instead an exclamation mark would have been sheer balderdash.

What his book does is galvanize much of his reading – and respect for – other writers who have peered through the looking glass of the Military-Prison-Financial-Ag-Chemical-Education-Legal-Patent-Pharma-Med-IT-AI-Real Estate-Insurance-Education Complex to discover the truths many of us in the anti-authority/ anti-hierarchical/pro-humanity/ pro-universal rights of nature have discovered through our discourse, our deep and fledgling philosophies, and our own experiences in the insanity echo chamber that is modern and post-modern America.

He dedicates this book to Howard Zinn, and Brumback mentions that other books he himself has written could not have been envisioned or codified without the teachings and writings of Zinn:

I am also dedicating this book to the late Howard Zinn, the author of a book on American history that is a must read! I dedicated my previous book to him, which shows how indebted a follower I am. Like my previous book, I could not have written the one you have in your hands were it not for Mr. Zinn’s illuminating history book that tells the true history of America [A People’s History of the United States, 2005]. The power elite understandingly hate Mr. Zinn’s book. The former governor of my home state, for example, was gleeful upon hearing of Mr. Zinn’s death and promptly banned his book statewide from high school curricula. Is it any wonder that my high school history classes in the 1950’s remain the same today, “trivialized, militarized and numbing?”

What I love about this Will Rogersian approach to history Gary brings to this book is the power of his short, deliberate passages outlying the rules and madness that have been fomented in the name of a small elite in this country. He captivates himself in each section, as if new to the material himself, embarking on a self-styled journey to tell what he knows and what he’s read.

This book is a compilation, a Popular Mechanics and Farmer’s Almanac of Brumback’s autobiographical intersection at explaining how capitalism is a game of manipulated vestiges of a global  usury past, where Fiefdoms and Kingdoms and unholy alliances of dictators and religions have splayed humankind. No matter where Gary treads, he comes up with the same underpinning for the book, and his other books and probably all his other writings, as well as his own conundrum now in advanced age:

I’ll finally end this long Preface with two questions and an advance notice about my choice of certain nouns and pronouns.

First question: do you think on the one hand that there is a tolerable difference between a handful of evil doers choosing villagers in a far-away land and then bombing them to smithereens in our names and on the other hand the many millions of us letting it happen?

Second question: do you think the surviving loved ones blame the few or us in general? You can tell my answer by my varying use in the text of nouns versus pronouns. For example, instead of writing “the military bombs innocent people,” I will occasionally write “we bomb innocent people” to emphasize that whatever is done by a certain few is being done in our names. Since you might find this practice irritating if I always do it, I will do it only occasionally.

Here in the preface, Brumback sets up the entire tome on a simple proposition – what is done and said by/in Las Vegas/USA stays in/with those living/working/dying in Las Vegas/USA.

The contradiction is blaring, though, as one of my friends, Andre Vltchek states in his humanitarian and global writing – that the rest of the world, that is, the world other than Western Civilization; i.e., Europe/EU, UK, USA, Canada – pays for its/our so-called “higher standard” of living, higher level of economic/environmental/health well-being, and its/our unlimited (seemingly) time to ponder its/our own rotten and degenerate selves.

Through the eyes of someone (Gary’s unblindered eyes, as he states it in his book) in this country, USA, who believes that capitalism somehow can be fixed or somehow is derived from a fair system of checks and balances (however, capitalism always relies on growth and continual growth, antithetical to anything we know about the limits of growth, the finite systems), I venture close to proposing to Gary another set of principles needed to live as Homo Sapiens in this world, tied to retrenchement and a form of ecosocialism, far from any new and improved or regurgitated capitalism:  we are living in a closed system of planet earth, and the fragility of the commons (air, water, sea, land, food) now is even more pronounced with ecosystems collapsing (Sixth Mass extinction on steroids) from over over-harvesting, over-polluting, over-rearranging/razing.

Ecosocialism is Utopian, but so are we as writers and thinkers:

Ecosocialism is a vision of a transformed society in harmony with nature, and the development of practices that can attain it. It is directed toward alternatives to all socially and ecologically destructive systems, such as patriarchy, racism, homophobia and the fossil-fuel based economy. It is based on a perspective that regards other species and natural ecosystems as valuable in themselves and as partners in a common destiny.

Ecosocialism shares with traditional socialism a passion for justice. It shares the conviction that capitalism has been a deadly detour for humanity. We understand capitalism to be a class society based on infinite expansion, through the exploitation of labor and the ransacking of nature.

Ecosocialists are also guided by the life-ways of indigenous peoples whose economies are embedded in a classless society in fundamental unity with nature. We draw upon the wisdom of the ages as well as the latest science, and will do what can be done to bring a new society, beyond capitalism, into existence.

I go back to Andre Vltchek  who looks at the polluting effects of capitalism on cultures wide and far, tied to the so-called artist :

You say “European cultural institutions”, and what should come immediately to mind are lavish concerts, avant garde art exhibitions, high quality language courses and benevolent scholarships for talented cash-strapped local students.

It is all so noble, so civilized!

Or, is it really? Think twice!

I wrote my short novel, “Aurora”, after studying the activities of various Western ‘cultural institutions’, in virtually all the continents of the Planet. I encountered their heads; I interacted with the ‘beneficiaries’ of various funding schemes, and I managed to get ‘behind the scenes’.

What I discovered was shocking: these shiny ‘temples of culture’ in the middle of so many devastated and miserable cities worldwide (devastated by the Western imperialism and by its closest allies – the shameless local elites), are actually extremely closely linked to Western intelligence organizations. They are directly involved in the neo-colonialist project, which is implemented virtually on all continents of the world, by North America, Europe and Japan.

‘Culture’ is used to re-educate and to indoctrinate mainly the children of the local elites. Funding and grants are put to work where threats and killing were applied before. How does it work? It is actually all quite simple: rebellious, socially-oriented and anti-imperialist local artists and thinkers are now shamelessly bought and corrupted. Their egos are played on with great skill. Trips abroad for ‘young and talented artists’ are arranged, funding dispersed, scholarships offered.

Carrots are too tasty, most would say, ‘irresistible’. Seals of approval from the Empire are ready to stamp those blank pages of the lives of still young, unrecognized but angry and sharp young artists and intellectuals from those poor, colonized countries. It is so easy to betray! It is so easy to bend.

Please note I am not comparing Gary or his book to other writers or their books/writing, some of whom he cites liberally throughout this latest one. I believe in a new way of book analysis, or reviewing a book – by putting myself into the stream of consciousness that cascades for someone like myself who in the process of reading will take to heart how closely or far away that content resonates with my own life and my own writing. It is the power of a book like Gary’s to incite not only my own deep introspection about what it means to be an American, someone who has worked (albeit struggled by not getting bought and sold by corporate America, but still . . . sold down the river in the careers I’ve held), but also what it means to be counter to almost anything and everything this country produces or stands for in its national collective consciousness.

His thesis for the book is tied to his own backing of organizational psychology. He uses these equations to illustrate where he’s coming from:

Anyone’s Equation:
Person + Context = Person’s Behavior + Consequences

Any Organization’s Equation:
Organization + Context = Organization’s Behavior + Consequences

Any Nation’s Equation :
Nation + Context = Nation’s Behavior + Consequences

Of course, every person, every organization, every nation has their own equations, sort of like a unique DNA code. The specific details in any equation can change from day to day, except some of the details for chronic habits like that of America’s endless warring and spying change less.2 A nation, therefore, over the entire course of its history may have gone through zillions of its more significant equations with varying details in the input side.

Thus, what anyone, any organization or any nation do throughout their lives depends on themselves and their contexts. Behavior never happens without both and will never be fully explained without both.

Beyond his background in psychology, Brumback looks to his writing now as a way to express his historical knowledge of America’s bloody programs of subjugation and to militate his belief in non-violence as he was reared as a Quaker.

He sets up the book by talking about his background working with organizations, treating them sort of speak to heal themselves, which in the end he sees as impossible under the current structures of limited liability companies and the bigger transnational corporations that are rapacious in every way.

Brumback alludes to working a long time for industry, the US federal government and non-profit research business. The power of the company man, and his own background in academics (a rather conservative and lock-step group think cabal), he admits, muted his criticism of the Viet Nam War as he was then (1960-75) fearful of endangering his career and his family.

He talks of being a “recovering” academese reader, writer and talker, and his book is far from any sort of style found in the pedantic journals where members of the nefarious American Psychology Association dump their stories on.

Brumback: This book is therefore as deliberate ‘street write’ as I can make it, a conversation, although one-way with you.

Interestingly, he gives us 12 Facts (as seen in a Jan. 23, 2019 Dissident Voice piece) that are not truths that have embedded into the American mindset, the American propaganda of historical warping, lying and outright censorship. There is a reason why this country goes into zombie or dervish mode every year — when two multi-billion dollar organizations, Rams and Patriots, under the umbrella of a white patriarchy elitism called the NFL — watching entitled, redneck or mute millionaire players whose ultimate contribution to society is to sell cars, beer, Viagra and the lies of empire on their way to permanent Traumatic Brain Injury hell.

  • False Fact: The American Revolution was fought to free the people from suppression by King George and his chartered corporations.
  • False Fact: “We the people of the United States——-do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
  • False Fact: We are the “United States of America.”
  • False Fact: America is a democracy.
  • False fact: America’s Civil War was fought to free the slaves.
  • False fact: America’s wars have been unavoidable and just.
    False Fact: Whistleblowers are traitors.
  • False Fact. Our nation’s military represents the best this country has to offer.
  • False Fact. America’s war veterans are heroes.
  • False Fact: To rationalize its own excesses, including its hand-outs from the government, corpocratic capitalists spout the theory of trickle-down economics as a rationalization for their own hefty welfare benefits, arguing that more money at the top will eventually trickle down to the bottom in the way of jobs.
  • False Fact: The rich say the poor get what they deserve.
  • False Fact. Public services need to be privatized because government is inefficient and costly.

In many ways, Brumback has both fun moments and sarcastic fluidity  with these American exceptionalist delusions throughout his book, but he is serious about launching a straightforward attack on the elite’s continual degradation of the citizenry of this country: hollowing out our “symbolic democracy” through the systematic formula of penury, debt slavery, theft of the commons resources, the rapacious appetite to despoil ecosystems and communities, the socializing of the externalities of their dirty businesses and then in turn privatizing all the profits; and, finally, their basically illegal, unethical and unconstitutional ways of going about their wealth and political power accumulation.

What I like best about this book is the earnestness that Brumback brings to the page. He is there to guide the reader into the hall of mirrors and house of horrors that embody America. He is a troubadour for truth and unraveling the seemingly complexities of the elite’s rule over the majority, the 90 percent of us who are not any part of the Point Zero Zero One percent’s project of human annihilation.

In the end, Brumback hits back at the idea of nature versus nurture, at the very end of the book:

Recall in Chapter 3 that I included genetics as an input in the black box. Our genetic history simply can’t be denied. But when it comes to being bad or good morally speaking, what do we know about the role of genetics, and does it really matter?

Psychologist Stephen Mason concludes that “some people are, quite simply, born bad.”

Not so concludes psychologist Dacher Keltner. “He finds that positive emotions lie at the core of human nature.”

Two diametrically opposed conclusions. My conclusion is that while babies are innocent at the instant of birth because they have not had time to behave badly, some will eventually do so habitually, and some won’t. What role nature plays in influencing their behavior is immaterial in my opinion. What matters from a practical standpoint is the question of how to deal with the resulting wrongdoing.

What’s your opinion?

While we can argue over epigentics and the complete failure of the human seed and human semen to produce unadulteratedly since the  products of capitalism; i.e., toxins, from Teflon to aromatic particulates, from Atrazine to PCBs, from glyphosate to flame retardant, from mercury to cesium, have overtaken humanity and all zoological systems.

Is Donald Trump, the sociopath that he is, friend and abuser with Jeffrey Epstein and Roy Cohn, and that Donald whose father is in a Woody Guthrie song for the old man’s racism, well, is that president (sic-sic) who represents the ills of the father and the unfettered protection of his elite class and the muscle of his casino thugs, is Donald, with NPD (narcissistic personalty disorder), responsible for his hatred, racism, lies, and power hunger? Or is it his upbringing, or months inside his mama’s womb, or the people around him to blame?

roy cohn

That’s the crux of the book, really: Brumback is asking the reader to judge for ourselves the depth of the conspiracy of the rich toward absolute control of the majority. Is there true evil in the world, or are all children borne of original sin?

Those toxins and carcinogenics and structural violence systems were created, marketed, sold, defended, patented by men/women, in corporations. The socipathic definition of a corporation is the same as the person, but can we give a free ride to the majority of people in the corporation who are just, to recoin my favorite phrase, Little Eichmanns?

In any sense, the embodiment of the Hudson Bay Company is the message in the Heart of Darkness, which reflects the individual as sociopath and the LLC as sociopathic, as the amorality of corporations is obvious from a million cases we all can tap into from the written record. That these companies — polluters — have gained personhood is compelling, from the start of this country’s slide deeper and deeper into the morass of capitalism — set forth 133 years ago in 1886 in the Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. This obscure case set the precedent that corporations have some rights under the 14th Amendment and were given de-facto personhood.

So, then, we have given corporations even higher status in this personhood allusion/legal definition in the Citizens United Case . What sort of person is a corporation?

Are they philanthropic and kind to their neighbors or are they the kind of people who will slit your throat to take your wallet?

For most of us in the Brumback class, we see the very nature of the corporation as both amoral and sociopathic.

They exist to make money, regardless of the social consequences. And they have gotten legal protections from the consequences of their crimes — a true Mafioso or cartel paying off the politicians and the cops and judges to gain unimaginable wealth and power over us, the 90 percent.

A sociopath and a corporation have identical incentive structures and motivations:

  • Both sociopaths and corporations exist for the sole purpose of self-centered goals—sociopaths want a variety of things (money, power, sex, etc.) while corporations are solely focused upon making money.

  • Neither has an internal sense of morality and, barring intervention from a more powerful authority, both are willing to exploit others in service of their goal; just as how a sociopath may be willing to lie, cheat and steal their way through life, a corporation is willing to use child sweatshop labor to depress costs.

  • Both sociopaths and corporations are constrained through risk/reward analysis—sociopaths weigh the value or pleasure of doing something immoral against the legal/social risks, while corporations weigh the profit of their actions against the cost of legal/social actions against their agenda.

In the end, we have to develop both sensitivities and thick skins in the gambit called This American Life. Brumback makes his claim to some of those contradictions and dichotomies in his book. He can be contacted by the reader here for more information on ordering the book. Gary Brumback.

I sign off with the words of Eduardo Galeano whose Memory of Fire trilogy sets deep in my soul. From an interview:

I want to be an honest man and a good writer, as James Baldwin was. I greatly admired him. He once told a story that I used in the third volume of Memory of Fire. He was very young, and he was walking down the street with a friend, a painter. They stop at a red light. “Look,” says the friend. Baldwin sees nothing, except a dirty pool of water. The friend insisted: “Look at it, really.” So Baldwin takes a good look and sees a spot of oil spreading in the puddle. In the spot of oil, he sees a rainbow, and the street moving, and people moving in the street; and he sees madmen and magicians and the whole world moving. The universe was there in that little pool. On that day, Baldwin said, he learned to see. For me, that’s an important lesson. I am always trying to look at the universe through the little puddles in the streets.

Facing the music: religion, nationalism, and sports have enchanted the working class; socialism hasn’t

Orientation

Religion, nationalism and sports as propaganda for the ruling class.

In the closing section of my course Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century, I ask my students to compare organized religion, nationalism and sports, not only to determine the kind of propaganda they are (black, gray or white), but also the devices and artifacts that are used. This includes the use of architecture, statues, rites of passage, liturgy, sacred music, pilgrimages, holy days, use of visual symbols, language manipulation and techniques for altering states of consciousness. The world religions have used these processes for at least 3,500 years to exploit, control and distract people from their misery on earth and direct us instead to variations of ‘you’ll get pie in sky when you die’.

The history of nationalism over the last 400-500 years has closely followed the techniques of organized religion. In fact, I think it is fair to say that nationalism is more powerful than moderate and liberal religion in motivating people. I doubt whether most people of liberal or moderate religion in the West would sacrifice their life for their religion. But at least among the working class who sign up for the military, nationalism can motivate people to fight and die to kill strangers in other countries who share the same social class.

Sports, as opposed to religion or nationalism, is a more joyous escape from the difficulties of life. If I were a betting person, I would bet most Americans might go to the barricades if the AFC and NFC championships were not televised. A championship playoff game such as the World Series could certainly outdraw any religious or patriotic ceremony in TV ratings. And what is the result? Who wins the game ultimately has little effect on the lives of the fans. Yet they continue to watch. This is some mighty potion going’ on. Do the socialists understand it? Do we use similar techniques to win the working classes to socialism? Not on your life!

Qualification

I am certainly not claiming that religion or nationalism has the same hold on people in the 21st century that they did in the 20th century. At least in the western countries, there has been a steady decline of interest in religion. Nationalism certainly does not have the grip on Europe that it did in the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, in spite of this decline, both carry enormous power.

I   Socialists’ Failures to Come to Grips With Enchantment

It’s not enough for socialists to simply claim that religion, nationalism and sports are examples of “false consciousness” for the working class.

I would think that socialists, being social, would be hip to what is going on with these propaganda techniques. Sure, you may find cultural critics beginning with the Frankfurt School who will bemoan the lack of taste among the masses and state how all religion, nationalism and sports produce false consciousness. But this is a very mechanical and unnecessarily bleak understanding of the potential of the techniques used in these areas to light a fire under the working class. We must not only point out the manipulative nature of enchantment, but we need to be dialectical and ask how we could use these techniques to promote socialism. After all, the construction of a sacred space (whether a church or a ballpark), a dramatized story, ritualized gestures, and the use of music and the arts to alter consciousness is not just naïve superstition. It is part of our bio-evolutionary heritage to be interested in these things. The alternative to the alienated enchantment of sports, religion and nationalism is not de-enchantment, as so many dry-as-dust socialists seem to think. We must build a “this-worldly” pagan enchantment that is a foundation for socialism.

Socialists’ failures against nationalism and religion

Three examples should give you the picture. The first is the famous one of socialists before World War I. The socialist parties in Europe and, to a lesser extent in the United States, were very confident that the workers of the world would unite to oppose the war. After all, the workers understood that they had no fatherland, right? Wrong. Not only did working class people kill each other after being whipped up to mass hysteria, but most of the socialist ministers, some of them great intellectuals like Kautsky, Plekhanov and Kropotkin got emotionally caught up in defending the fatherland. Socialism as a political movement of internationalism was no match for nationalism.

The second example is of Germany in 1933. During the depression in that country, the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) was the strongest socialist party in the whole world. Economic conditions were bad. Great time for a revolution, right? What did the socialists do? According to the mass psychologist Wilhelm Reich, they simply fed the masses boring statistics about their condition. However, the Nazis understood that there is a charismatic side to people, a side that likes mythology, drama, pomp and circumstance, doomsday scenarios, scapegoats, black and white answers and promises of redemption. Goebbels and the Nazi brass understood mass psychology while the socialists were buried in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

My last example is about the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is one of the most horrendous institutions in the West in the last 800 years. Its officials committed every one of the “seven deadly sins” time after time as they tortured heretics and witches. They’ve made deals with royalists and military dictatorships and they have made peace with capitalists long ago. The Catholic Church has a record of child abuse that spans centuries. Yet many U.S., Italian, Spanish, French and all the other people in Catholic countries continue to attend mass and support the Church financially. At the same time, the socialist parties that actually do want to create heaven on earth with workers could not ever get masses of people to come to meetings once a week. People are too busy for that. But they are not too busy for church. How can this be?

The issue here is not that the working-class is stupid or that they are victims of false consciousness. Rather, I believe the issue to be:

The Church must be doing many things right to continue to collect their revenues and get people to attend in spite of being seen as the world’s first international terrorist organization.
Do the socialists understand this mass psychology? No, they do not.
Do the socialists think that the techniques of religion, nationalism and sports could be used to mobilize people for socialism? Ah, what?

Marx did not understand religion and nationalism

Marx said some very riveting things about religion. Among other things he saw the construction of “god” as an alienation of human creativity. But at the same time he believed that religion would wither away under communism as people’s material conditions got better. Clearly this has not been the case. Neither was Marx very dialectical about how religion could be used by socialists. With the exception of liberation theology, socialists have not understood how to transform all the ingredients that go into “cooking” a religious experience and mythologize a socialist story complete with music, ritual, mythology and patron saints. The closest instance of socialists doing something like this is May Day in southern European countries. It used to be that people made costumes for May Day and gathered together while wearing those costumes, sharing food and singing The International. All these things gave it some of the sweep and drama of religion.

The extent to which the Communist Party tried to outlaw religion is revealing in how little they understood it. All this did was to make it more attractive by burying it underground. Socialists also did not understand that nationalism would not disappear under socialism. During World War II Stalin needed to refer to the “Great Russian Fatherland” (hardly a call to socialist internationalism) in order to inspire and join people together through hardship.

Neither did socialists understand that race cannot be reduced to social class.

Again, Marxists’ general approach is that race will only preoccupy people when capitalists use race to keep people from uniting as a class. But once workers gain class consciousness, the issue of skin color will dissolve in people minds. This has not been born out in experience. In addition, because of Marxists’ cynical attitude towards evolutionary psychology they have yet to make current in their theory the fact that ethnocentrism goes all the way back to hunter-gatherers. While ethnocentrism and racism are not the same thing, ethnocentrism is present enough to see that the skin color of people does matter around the world and that this was present long before capitalism existed.

Marxists cannot explain how sports have charmed the working class

A number of years ago, Noam Chomsky commented on how amazed he was by the intelligence of working class people when they called into a sports talk program the Monday after Sunday’s NFL games. Their analysis of what plays didn’t work, what plays could have worked along with the strengths and weaknesses of the players was astounding. But then he pointed out how all this intelligence goes away when the same people are then asked to make a political analysis of the current events in their lives – working conditions, wages, war. The working class is mute when asked to explain how and why capitalism is failing. The question is not why working class people have cognitive compartmentalization, separating sporting events from their everyday life. The question is what does sports offer people that makes them so involved? Have socialists asked themselves what would have to happen to make working class people be carried away by socialism the way they are by sports?

As many of you know, a number of years ago the Seattle Seahawks played the New England Patriots in the Superbowl. The Seahawks were losing but had a great drive going at the end of the game. With about 90 seconds left and the ball on the New England one-yard line, the Seahawks quarterback decided to pass the ball rather than hand it off to Marshawn Lynch who had a great game. The pass was intercepted. I knew the next day in my brainwashing class, this was what they wanted to talk about. It wouldn’t have mattered if the stock market crashed. Why is this? Unless students were betting on the game, they had no material stake in the outcome. Still – most of the men in the class were very involved.

II  Bad Taste: A Communist is Swept Away By Baseball

Flashbulb memories of my performance as a baseball player

When I was about 7 years old I used to play a ‘let’s pretend’ game. I laid out 4 rags I’d gotten from the garage and placed them in a diamond form which represented the bases. The bases were about 45 feet apart. Then I looked at our house and took my batting stand and let my imagination take over. The scene is no doubt familiar to many of you. It is the last of the 9th inning, we are losing by three runs. The bases are loaded and there are two outs. Then I swing and hit the ball – tsssssch! “ As Mel Allen was saying in my head “there is a high fly ball deep to right center. The centerfielder is at the track. It is going, going, gone”. Then I would trot around the bases. As I got older I played a great deal of hardball and I hit home runs, but never quite experienced the situation I imagined when I was seven until my last year of playing.

In 1968 our team from Brooklyn got into a playoff game at Victory Field which was one of the fanciest fields around. My girlfriend Rose Nuccio let it be known to me that this was the last time she was coming to my games. Sunday was her only day to sleep in. “Besides” she said, “you are 0-8” (referring to my performance in the last two games.) She brought her sister Miriam along with her for this game. In the top of the first inning I am up with two guys on base and two outs. The left-handed pitcher, Rick Honeycutt, throws me a high inside curve ball.

“Tshrush”! I tomahawk the pitch and the ball really does head for the right centerfield fence just like in my fantasy 13 years ago. As I watch the ball head for the fence time and space seem to contract. It’s as if I were in my backyard 13 years ago. The ball lands on the tennis courts on the other side of the fence scattering everyone. I am so out of it that as I make my rounds of the bases I miss first base. The coach has to get me to touch the base. As I round second I see Rosie and Miriam jumping up and down screaming like two young Italian gals will. The look on Rosie’s face as our eyes met was like a melting ray of sunlight that united our eyes. I missed third base too. Finally as I headed for home most everyone on our team came out to home plate to meet me. It was as if we won the World Series. I disappear in a mass of teammates at the plate.

I have told this story in my psychology classes as an example of a peak experience. I also use it in my brainwashing class to show how powerful sports can be in moving people. Virtually every time I tell the story I cannot help but become teary. I’ve seen students cry even though they know nothing about sports. Unless socialists can find a way to create this kind of drama, not occasionally but as part of a regular seasonal sequence, we will continue to be marginalized.

The lure of professional baseball: the return of the hero Ken Griffey Jr. to Seattle

My last example is about a baseball player many of you know. Ken Griffey Jr. was a great home run hitter for the Seattle Mariners for about 10 years. For whatever reasons, I believe he asked to be traded to Cincinnati, where he played for about another seven years. Probably because he was a left-handed hitting center fielder like I was, and because of his grace I liked him and followed his career. Then I heard he was traded back to the American League, to the White Sox. The following year he was traded back to Seattle. How would the fans feel? Would they hold a grudge because he left? I knew they wouldn’t. I wanted to see the homecoming so I watched the game when he came back to Seattle. The fans made signs and were screaming for him. They must have given him a 5-10 minute standing ovation. Tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t even a Seattle fan! What was going on was not a baseball game. It was the return of a god to his home ground.

Movie stars, musicians and sports figures are our gods and goddesses. These celebrities have happily replaced priests and military generals as our heroes. Like gods and goddesses, they enter into sports mythology complete with the stories of great World Series, great stories of betrayal (by playing for another team) drug scandals and homecomings. The people of Seattle understood that when they came to this game they were participating in the final days of a great sports god, and this mattered more than who won this particular game. If socialists cannot figure out that this is what is going on with sports fans and, even more importantly, how to use this energy for our purposes, we will continue to be marginalized.

III Socialist enchantment needs to happen before the revolution

Socialism has certainly had its events that could be claimed as peak experiences or even religious experiences. Anyone who had participated in a revolution knows these moments are euphoric and unforgettable. Anyone who participated in the Occupy Movement will not soon forget it. And those centrists fools who think that Occupy “is over” will be in for a rude awakening as their spastic, decaying capitalist system will continue to undergo more nervous breakdowns. These breakdowns will only produce more “Occupies”.

But what about budding socialists who have never had revolutionary experiences? What do we have to offer them in the way of inspiring collective experiences before a revolutionary process begins? Throughout the year baseball has its opening day in April; the All Star game is in July; the World Series in October. Religion has its holy days peppered throughout the year. Nationalism has its holidays – President’s day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. What is missing under socialism is a similar pageantry of rituals, joining in song and dance along with regular places to meet and celebrate. All of these things build a theatrical stage scaffolding for extraordinary revolutionary events. I am not talking about practical, political meetings. Theatrical stage sets might inform the practical but they are the celebration of the socialist tradition regardless of specific political or economic events that might be happening.

Socialists understand enchantment during and after revolutions, but before the revolution too many socialists are disenchanted crab apples. In part, this is because of a sad lack of yearly seasonal rituals that keep the fires burning between one revolutionary generation and the next.

Lastly, religion, nationalism and sports all have ways of linking the important events of the year to the lifetime of the individual. Catholics have confirmation at roughly the age of nine; Hispanic Catholics have quinceañera around a girl’s 15th birthday. In sports an individual might visit Cooperstown (Baseball’s Hall of Fame) for their birthday. Nationalism has its pilgrimages to the Washington monuments in the summer. What does socialism have to offer? Is it possible to have something like my baseball flashbulb memory tapped into some systematic experience that could be given to socialist children or adolescents? Would it be possible to have an experience of socialism before the revolution, which is similar to whatever it takes to make the fans wave their signs, scream for 10 minutes and become emotionally spent when their hero comes home and is paraded through the streets? Boy, does socialism need some of that potion. We need some Love Potion Number 9.

In Part Two we’ll explore in more detail what this might look like.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

As World Burns, Half US Population Chronically Ill . . .

Stealing Life with the Big Bad Retail King — One-third of All Buying Transactions 

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

— Iago, Shakespeare’s Othello

It’s more than disconcerting to hear the blathering now, September 2018, about Jeff Bezos. About Amazon dot com as richest company ever. To hear the fawning love of the rich guy, now, when we were predicting a slave master killing publishing, killing independence; news reports and tribute after tribute for this full-fledged Midas of tax cheating, our homegrown monopolist of the highest order, anti-American who gives a shit about main street America, a misanthropic fake news purveyor, a full-bore felonious PT Barnum and smoke and mirrors double shuffle guy who thinks of his tens upon tens of thousands of warehouse workers as spindles, interchangeable parts, and to hell with their precarity, their one nose-bleed from homelessness.

This is a time of same sides of the coin of the realm: the conservative and the liberal, the War-Mongering Democratic Party drooling at the McCain fiasco and the Sycophantic Zio-Christo Republicans confused about who is going to own what while scampering away like rats into the alleys as the headlights of their narcissist-in-chief blowtorches the world.

The most important characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, seeking excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy. These identifying features can result in a negative impact on an individual’s interpersonal affairs and life general. In most cases, on the exterior, these patients act with an air of right and control, dismissing others, and frequently showcasing condescending or denigrating attitudes. Nevertheless, internally, these patients battle with strong feelings of low self esteem issues and inadequacy. Even though the typical NPD patient may achieve great achievements, ultimately their functioning in society can be affected as these characteristics interfere with both personal and professional relationships. A large part of this is as result of the NPD patient being incapable of receiving disapproval or rebuff of any kind, in addition to the fact that the NPD patient typically exhibits lack of empathy and overall disrespect for others.**

** Note that NPD runs through the DNA of these ministers like Jimmy Swaggart or Billy-Franklin Graham, through the family RNA of so-called royalty of the world, in the brain chemistry of the likes of a Henry Kissinger or Adolph Hitler, in the hypothalamus of fruit-salad bedecked generals and in the frontal cortex of all great and not-so-great thespians, from politicos to actors.

Moreover, this Bezos, our great Albuquerque-born plumbing showroom huckster peddling absolutely all the stuff we do not need piled up in his fulfillment centers, represents those two sides of the same coin: powerful, libertarian, ruthless and spirit-less, driven to conquer/distribute/hawk all the stuff in any sort of catalog that exists out there to fulfill the needs and mostly not so necessary junk of obsolescence and consumer addiction. A cold anti-philanthropy multi-billionaire, whose net worth of $160.7 billion is headline news now as the TV clowns present the Top Five, Top Ten/Twenty diligently, Bezos is the top of the dung heap according to another rag with all the news unfit (for humanity) to print . . .

. . . Who is the richest person in the world? While Forbes updates their list of the world’s billionaires in real time as markets fluctuate, the magazine also releases a more static list each year. The total net worth of these money-makers when the 2018 list was released in March was $7.67 trillion. Click through to see 2018’s top 20 richest billionaires on the planet.

forbes-cover-03-31-2018.jpg

With his company — which epitomizes the heights of death star techie logic, next gen robotics, drones, massive crisscrossing of products through a digital satellite-fed network of Prime Time orders — Bezos has continually kicked out with the help of Seattle PD we protesters with one share of his shit stock at shareholder meetings protesting his sadism around refusing to air condition fulfillment centers while instead putting rent-an-ambulances outside the doors! Oh, this economic disruptor of small and large businesses, all part of that gift of unfettered homicidal capitalism a la retail conglomeration, is reviled, hated, but will be the big section in those econ books from many years to come.

Bernie Sanders wants a special tax on this white shark-eyed Jeff Bezos? Funny follies of the political kind. Imagine, justifying all the tax evasion and felonies of the billionaires and millionaires and banks and hedge funders and the rest of the elites — that’s the cool truth of our state of misrepresentation in Washington. Never political cries of “tax them all for their externalities — all the damage capital and capitalists have done to the world.”  Major and minor municipalities and entire states fall over themselves with money dripping tongues out of their mouths while courting this company with so many freebies in the billions to get another load of office buildings or fulfillment centers or even another headquarters/campus or pod of fulfillment centers. At any cost.

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Walmartization of the world, or was it McDonaldization first, or Fordization, but now Amazonization of the culture outstrips anything up to this point in this country’s lunacy. You can get anything anytime anywhere for anyone from this five and dime on steroids.

Or,

The Details About the CIA’s Deal With Amazon: A $600 million computing cloud built by an outside company is a “radical departure” for the risk-averse intelligence community

Just in Time Employment, 11th Hour appointments, Permanent Temp, a Precarity defined as the New Almost Slavery Gig gigs — Coulda Been HuffPost Slave

Yet, on Democracy Now, again, in September 2018, we are led to believe we now have to be aghast about those fulfillment centers and those Americans being worked to the bone, worked down to the shredded screws in their hip replacement hardware, worked to confusion and exhaustion and then discarded for not working hard enough for this Master Blaster of the Retail Monopoly.

Juan Gonzalez of DN tells us about these “cutting edge” stories from his Rutgers University Department of Journalism and Media Studies students working on this “breaking news,” while Juan laughs and smirks at the reality of “us” (not me) ordering everything on Amazon.

Here, the DN reports:

As Amazon Hits $1 Trillion in Value, Its Warehouse Workers Denounce “Slavery” Conditions

Exposed: Undercover Reporter at Amazon Warehouse Found Abusive Conditions & No Bathroom Breaks

Ahh, but we over at DV have been printing these stories for more than six years:

Nichole Gracely / May 21st, 2012

Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley (LV) is a distribution hub, and many fellow Amazon associates and Integrity Staffing Solutions temps had previously worked in other local warehouses.

I have and I can say that they’re typically rough workplaces.

At first glance, Amazon’s LV fulfillment center appears benign.

Primary red, yellow, green and blue splashes of color brighten the place, and motivational posters and friendly educational signs that feature cute characters provide guidance. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of workers populate the warehouse at once, diligently taking direction from hand-held scanners or computers, and the place is enormous so it doesn’t appear cramped. Seriously, the place could house a small city.

Physical strength is not a necessary qualification to perform any of their warehouse job functions, and management is ostensibly concerned with worker safety. Just about anyone could staff Amazon’s FC, especially since it only takes a couple of hours to train workers to perform any specific job function. It’s safe to say that anyone laboring in an Amazon FC has fallen into hard times, and many of my former coworkers’ resumes featured distinguished past titles, impressive demonstrations of manual skill and ability, and/or lofty educational attainment.

Many never thought they’d wind up in a warehouse and so, yes, this was all foreign for many. Other workers who staffed other warehouses in the past didn’t know what to make of the place because there is something different about Amazon, something alien.

“Chairman” Bezos once said that Amazon workers don’t need a union because we own the company. “Chairman” Bezos has zero tolerance for union activity and several Amazon unionization attempts were summarily squashed.

After two years on the job an Amazon FC associate is entitled to eight shares of stock. If Amazon is trading at, say, $250 a share, that’s $2,000. Ownership? $250 per share is a generous projection. Seasoned investors are baffled by AMZN’s current overvaluation because of its unhealthy 188:1 (fluctuates, yet always unhealthy) price to earnings ratio, and they’re waiting for the bubble to burst.

Nichole went on to write a piece in the Guardian: Amazon Seasonal Work  And the Guardian published another one, more than four years ago: Being homeless is better than working for Amazon

Bread and Roses — 106 Years Ago, Back to Now: Strike Amazon, Strike US Correctional Institutions, Boycott

I got this from a friend, Andy Piascik, a long-time activist and award-winning author whose most recent book is the novel In Motion. He can be reached at ###.

In the end, in the face of the state militia, U.S. Marines, Pinkerton infiltrators and hundreds of local police, the strikers prevailed. They achieved a settlement close to their original demands, including significant pay raises and time-and-a-quarter for overtime, which previously had been paid at the straight hourly rate. Workers in Lowell and New Bedford struck successfully a short while later, and mill owners throughout New England soon granted significant pay raises rather than risk repeats of Lawrence. When the trials of Ettor, Giovannitti and a third defendant commenced in the fall, workers in Lawrence’s mills pulled a work stoppage to show that a miscarriage of justice would not be tolerated. The three were subsequently acquitted.

More than a century ago and it’s rabbit-holed history . . . and what do we fight for in this country now? We have fear of unions, we embrace the gig economy/outsourcing on Kratom (called near slavery by socio-economists), and the unimaginable bullshit and shit jobs have generated aimlessness, screen addiction, be mean to thy neighbor mentality, cold hearts and Homo Retailipithecus. Bullshit jobs, as Graeber states:

A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.

Shit jobs tend to be blue collar and pay by the hour, whereas bullshit jobs tend to be white collar and salaried. We have become a civilization based on work—not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself.

What is Labor Day or May Day now in a world of Marvel comics and infantilization of every intercourse we have with every sort of humanity? Do we care about solidarity? Do we know how to build communities? Do we see neighbors and people in and on the streets as equals, people, us? What is the value of work when it is drudgery, dog-eat-dog, king of the hill and top of the dung heap relationships? We have to go beyond now this simpleton way of seeing the world from the bifurcated Groucho Marx eyeglasses. This is a great time of upheaval, splintering, hot house planet, Sixth Mass Extinction, a world of capital making more capital off of war, resource theft, thievery of other nations’ and cultures’ futures.

Jobs, Who Doesn’t Choose to Collapse, Hothouse Planet, People

As I continually teach young people to think, you are what you eat, what you do, what you think, what your read, what you say, what you believe, what you aspire to, what you hope for, what you do or not do to be one with humanity. If your life is one of toil, what is inside the heart, and what do you do with those beliefs and philosophies while slogging away? Are you a believer in exceptionalism, Zionist or Christian superiority? Is the white shade of skin the defining element in your life? Do you have passions that are your own, or are they manufactured, designed, and cajoled by the money changers and propagandists?

 The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

This line was from a speech by Rose Schneiderman, Polish-born socialist and feminist and prominent labor union leaders in America. It’s a phrase embodying everything today we workers need to utilize as a galvanizing force upon our souls to break away from these people like Bezos and the entire master crafters of our pain, poverty and penury. When I say “our,” I mean the world’s collective pain in the form of billions of people, for whom Western Culture (sic) has set loose a wildfire of forced displacement, murder, resource extraction, war and disease of the mind and body.

It was also a successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, during January–March 1912, which is pretty much universally referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike. Pairing bread and roses not as counter-balances — fair wages and dignified conditions. Defining “the sometimes tedious struggles for marginal economic advances in the light of labor struggles as based on striving for dignity and respect,” as Robert J. S. Ross wrote in 2013.

I imagine the Bezos types wanting every last penny from every last $2-a-day inhabitant on earth, and I imagine this fellow is as steely-hearted as any in an Upton Sinclair book — and note this first quote by Sinclair is for me about men and women working today, even though Sinclair was writing about a living livestock animal torn from life:

One could not stand and watch very long without being philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe…. Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him, and a horrid Fate in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, all his protests, his screams were nothing to it. It did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life.

― Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

Delusions  of Terra-Forming and Mickey Mouse Grabbing Adults’ Attention

So what do we do with these Titans of idiocy, with their billions and their algorithms, with their broken telescopes peering into the black hole of humanity?

What about the 150,000 chemicals in human cells created by the industrialists, those synergistic variant effects we have zero knowledge about, which have helped push our American society into a chronically ill species of over 50 percent of a population cycled through Western (Un-)Medicine. Children with autism or on the spectrum — count that as possibly 30 percent of all births by 2040. Diabetes 1 and 2, more than 15 percent or more of the population by 2040.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a really important concept that is difficult to teach the public, and when I say the public, I include my clinical colleagues.

Still, atrazine is not the only human hormone-altering chemical in the environment. Dr. Winchester tested nearly 20 different chemicals and all demonstrated epigenetic effects, for example, all of the chemicals reduced fertility, even in the 3rd generation.

Still, why do 150,000,000 Americans have chronic diseases?

Researchers believe that every adult disease extant is linked to epigenetic origins. If confirmed over time with additional research, the study is a blockbuster that goes to the heart of public health and attendant government regulations.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a huge thing that is going to change how we understand the origin of disease. But a big part of that is that it will change our interpretation of what chemicals are safe. In medicine I can’t give a drug to somebody unless it has gone through a huge amount of testing. But all these chemicals haven’t gone through anything like that. We’ve been experimented on for the last 70 years, and there’s not one study on multi-generational effects.

Environmental Working Group tested more than a dozen brands of oat-based foods to give Americans information about dietary exposures that government regulators are keeping secret. In April, internal emails obtained by the nonprofit US Right to Know revealed that the Food and Drug Administration has been testing food for glyphosate for two years and has found “a fair amount,” but the FDA has not released the findings.

Ahh, the melting planet, the water cycle’s disrupted, the entire mess of planetary re-shifting is on a collision course with Homo Sapiens. Everyday I get more and more notifications from friends and thinkers about the impending collapses, the impending peak this and peak that (Peak Everything).

Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation, as did Easter Island and the Greenland Norse in the past. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote … can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing). For the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline. But we also are the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere else in the world today, and from what has unfolded in societies at any time in the past. That’s why I wrote this book.”

― Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Feudal Factories of Propaganda and Propagating .001 Percenters — Water, Man, Water

We trust ourselves, far more than our ancestors did… The root of our predicament lies in the simple fact that, though we remain a flawed and unstable species, plagued now as in the past by a thousand weaknesses, we have insisted on both unlimited freedom and unlimited power. It would now seem clear that, if we want to stop the devastation of the earth, the growing threats to our food, water, air, and fellow creatures, we must find some way to limit both.

― Donald Worster, Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West

We are seeing this circling of the billionaires’ wagons (vultures circling the 7.8 billion marks, us), this Bezos and Musk lust for space, for some planetary gated-armed-Utopian community. These fellows and dames are something else, and the conjurers of news unfit to consume fall over them, recording and publishing story after story about their wisdom and foresight and shamanistic ways of predicting the future.

Remember George W. Bush and his big ranch buy in Paraguay? That was 12 years ago, readers, yet, back to the future, with news (sic) report after news report (sic) keeps tracking the next billionaire economic ejaculation. W, and we thought he was only painting pets!

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The Chaco is a semiarid, sparsely populated area known — to the extent that it’s known at all — for its abundant wildlife, rapid deforestation, nothing in particular… and what lies beneath it…

Our Real Wealth Trader and Outstanding Investments contributor Jody Chudley thinks he knows the true gen about the Bush land grab.

Jody says he has a “secret” about the Bushes. And he adds, “It has to do with an investment idea that’s hardly on anyone’s radar.”

The real reason Jody thinks Bush 43 and family snapped up nearly 300,000 acres in those semiarid, sparsely populated wastes of Paraguay?

Water.

That’s right, blue gold. Bush bought the rights to a veritable ocean of fresh, clear-as-glass, Grade A water.

His land rests atop one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world: Acuifero Guarani, by name.

According to Jody, “Acuifero Guarani covers roughly 460,000 square miles under parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. It is estimated to contain about 8,900 cubic miles of water.”

If you can’t quite imagine 8,900 miles of water, picture a pool nearly three times the size of California. That should give you a decent idea.

A fair amount when you consider that 98% of this planet’s water is salt water.

Of the other 2%, almost 87% of it is trapped within glaciers, hence inaccessible. Jody’s “trusty calculator” informs him that only 0.25% of the water on this cosmic ball is fresh (underground, or in rivers and lakes). Just a drop in the figurative bucket…

Now, we knew this sort of stuff was going on with the elites, who look at us all as easy marks, broken money bags, the fat cows or broken pigs of their global stockades.

What’s happened is this trickle-down lust-love-longing for these people who get plastered in the headlines as being grand and philanthropists, deserving of every cent and every billion made on the back of people, earth, cultures.

Their trans-capital and monopolies  and viral presence like Google, Facebook, Walmart, and on and on sucks the revolution out of revolutionary, since we are now shackled to their ways of doing things. The goal of the capitalists is to harmonize their theft with our survival, whatever it takes to put five to a studio apartment (of course, sneaking the other four into the room in the dead of night), whatever it takes to just float through a gridlocked urban and suburban world. So, from Bush and Paraguay, to this Gawker Killer Thiel, we have enough evidence of their feudal ways, their slippery snake eyes methods of shitting on we underlings:

Here is Robert Hunziker:

Peter Thiel, the PayPal billionaire and renowned super-super-super libertarian and unapologetic Trumpster love-fester achieved New Zealand citizenship in only 12 days and bought not only his citizenship but a $13.8 M estate in Wanaka, a lakeside community.

According to a phone interview with the former PM of New Zealand John Key, “If you’re the sort of person that says I’m going to have an alternative plan when Armageddon strikes, then you would pick the farthest location and the safest environment – and that equals New Zealand if you Google it… It’s known as the last bus stop on the planet before you hit Antarctica. I’ve had a lot of people say to me that they would like to own a property in New Zealand if the world goes to hell in a hand-basket.

USA-TRUMP/

Hell in a hand-basket, from the former prime minister of New Zealand — 1935 Book, quote:

If the average white New Zealander takes the Maori seriously as a human being, he is usually rather too ready to blame him for characteristics which more careful study will show not to be inherent at all but actually the result of the coming of the Europeans themselves, the extensive destruction of Maori life and the virtual dispossession of the Maori people. Little attempt is commonly made to understand the causes which produced, for a time at any rate (for they are passing) those Maori characteristics which have become almost proverbial amongst us. To put it frankly, we blame the Maori for becoming what we have made him. It is interesting to realise that similar circumstances of the contact of peoples have occurred before, and in view of the people referred to there is one instance which it seems particularly fitting that we should bear in mind. The instance comes down to us from the days when another great Empire, an ancient one, was civilizing native peoples. There is on record a letter from a wealthy Roman landowner to his agent in Britain telling him to ship no more British slaves “as they are so lazy and cannot be trusted to work.” Similar causes produce similar effects; we should be less ready with hasty judgment and hasty blame. There is a widespread belief, and it is one certainly cherished by the average white New Zealander, that no native people have ever been so fairly treated by Europeans as have the Maori people. As a matter of fact, if it is fully and frankly told, the story of the contact of Europeans with native peoples is much the same everywhere. What we have are so many varieties of what a leading anthropologist has recently termed “the tragic mess which invariably results from the impact of white upon aboriginal culture.” It is true that the Maori people have survived, but this, on careful analysis, proves to be very largely due to their own qualities and their own efforts rather than to any specially favourable mode of treatment. If we are honest there is little ground for pakeha self-congratulation.

Ahh, the evidence of climate change (global warming–hot planet) was there in 1896 researched, formulated and discoursed by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius (and then later, amateur G. S. Callendar ramified the greenhouse effect of burning fossil fuels, and then later, C. D. Keeling measured the rising CO2 levels tying that to the greenhouse hot house effect), but for which has been swept into confusion by those marketers and mad men. Imagine, average planetary temps going up from  2.5–11°F by 2100. Imagine that!

The more civilizations evolve, the more energy dependent they become, so it’s possible that trillions of civilizations in the great continuum of space evolved, rose, fell and disappeared.

If you develop an industrial civilization like ours, the route is going to be the same. You’re going to have a hard time not triggering climate change. For a civilization to destroy itself through nuclear war, it has to have certain emotional characteristics. You can imagine certain civilizations saying, ‘I’m not building those [nuclear weapons]. Those are crazy.’ But climate change, you can’t get away from. If you build a civilization, you’re using huge amounts of energy. The energy feeds back on the planet, and you’re going to push yourself into a kind of Anthropocene. It’s probably universal.

—  Adam Frank, astrophysicist

Interlude, Interglacial Periods, Working for the Homeless — Flailing at Windmills

 

Comparison between summer ice coverage from 18,000 years BP and modern day.

Yeah, these big ideas I broach with homeless veterans and their attendant family members, and while the Gates-Kochs-Zuckerbergs-Bloombergs-Adelsons-et al have zero concern about us, the proles, the  detritus of their Capital, I believe working to change one life at a time — even if it’s a life riddled with evictions, felonies, relapses, epigenetic familial hell, PTSD, trauma, spiritlessness, physical decay — has meaning since in that process I have incredible interchanges with people who sort of want the same thing — paradigm shifts and de-industrialization and ecosocialism a la Marx 3.0.

I try to find peace in writing, even these polemics at DV or LA Progressive; and in my own world of fiction-poetry-creative nonfiction, the windmills abound because of a rarefied culture of the M-F-A (masters in fine arts) elite — those gatekeepers of the small literary kind, or even the National Book Award kind. This country is not big on real outliers in anything tied to the arts, and I am one of those round pegs looking to splinter the quintessential square hole.

Short story collection? Who the hell would read that? Well, try out a project of mine to get the stories —  thematically (sort of) threaded (sort of) to the “Vietnam experience” — as a hard copy from a small press, Cirque. You can read one of the stories, “Bloody Sheets,” here, starting on page 115.

The collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, is a gathering of fiction, much of which has been published in literary journals. I have succumbed to a Go Fund Me “deal” to help balance-offset the costs of printing a book on paper with ink.

I have no idea if a Go Fund Me will even take off. The first and only donation is from filmmaker Brian Lindstrom. Amazing, a struggling documentarian throwing in FIRST.

But we are in a new normal of shitting on writers, expecting us to have our day and then our night jobs and then write-write-write for free.

That is the question, really, who wants to spend their time reading short stories, outside the very narrow readership of Masters of Fine Arts aficionados who in many regards can be pedantic and puffery artists?

Vietnam, no less, in a time of Tim Burns rotting the foundation of the war we committed, or the Obama administration’s scrubbing of the war in his effort to commemorate it (Obama gives killer Kissinger awards).

Vietnam. One of my short journalist pieces for an old weekly I worked for in Spokane.

How many died in Vietnam and Indochina? 3.8 million? Oh, that Nobel Cause (War) myth I run into daily at a homeless veterans shelter, that is was winnable and worthy. Killing farmers, man, in their rice paddies! Whew, only a Zionist could write that script.

Read my short story collection for a different way to frame creativity and that time period, that narrative framing, that time in history that has defined and redefined the ugly wars of today. I am going to give this a shot in a time of blatant skepticism and group-think/act/do.

Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam. Be part of the creative impetus. The energy. The publication of a short story collection. With that “ask” of the reader who then gives will receive another book of mine, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber.

In my view [Dan Kovalik], this Noble Cause myth may be the most powerful and enduring propaganda trick ever perpetrated. And, it works so well because the audience for the trick — the U.S. people — are such willing and eager participants in the charade.

To explain the power of the Noble Cause myth, Marciano quotes from Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize lecture.  I set forth a larger quote from the lecture than appears in the book because it is so profound:

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

John Steppling, my fellow writer who studies intersections of culture-mimesis-art-politics (My review of his book,  Aesthetic Resistence and Dis-interest. That Which Will Not Allow Itself to be Said, here at DV) discusses the MFA phenomenon, a true watering down and controlled form of check and balances fiction:

So, the fact that The Rockefeller Foundation underwrote (and still underwrites) a good many MFA programs (and not just in literature, but in theatre and fine arts) is both relevant, and not. Or maybe a better way to address this is see The Rockefeller Foundation as symptom. I received a Rockefeller fellowship, which I hadn’t applied for. But, the very fact that creative writing programs boomed after WW2, and permeated the academic landscape is without question linked to the patronage of institutions like The Rockefeller Foundation (and the MacArthur Foundation, and…). And to deny that the tacit influence of these institutions is idiotic.

Now, it’s also true that what John Crowe Ransom and Stegner and Burrows preached is correct. Or it’s correct up to a point. It is revealing that Melville was derided, because Melville wrote a lot of ideas, and additionally observed the ways those ideas and that knowledge existed in the world. But it is equally true that you do not observe those harpoons so closely, or closely in a particular way, that all you get is a harpoon description. And a so described harpoon that never participates in riots or social unrest, and whose production is unexamined and the harpoon company that distributes it is left blank…the better to describe the fluted morning dew that bifurcates my tabby cat’s shadow on the harpoon handle, and etc etc etc is only a individual’s sensory observation. The harpoon must be known, not just observed.

The real point here is that what Iowa started, and many other University programs followed, was to narrow down the definition of “fiction”. Dante would not be considered fiction today. While there is a point in demanding a concrete description, and not a generality, the exclusive focus on the concrete meant that ideas were being eliminated in fiction. The world is not abstract… but that includes History and politics and tensions of daily life. Those offices in New York, or those bad marriages, are not separate from the Chinese Revolution, or U.S. Imperialism, or the blockade of Cuba or the present two million men and women in prison in the United States. ‘Greatness’, whatever that means, and I have no problem with that word, or the ideas behind it, is in discovering both what that connection is, and ..and this is important I believe…how our own personal emotional and psychic formation, and development are related to both Mao and our failed marriages (or, even the successful ones).

The emphasis on observation, on brute description, however eclipsed ideas as a subject for fiction. You may not sit down to write ideas, per se, but you certainly have an idea of what a harpoon is. You have to know certain things, and, in fact, the best writing is that which tells you what you don’t know, not describes nicely what you already do know. And there is a tendency in young writers to generalize. So on the one hand it’s natural to emphasize the concrete, but the result, perhaps intentional, or partly so (given the Rockefeller project) was the elimination of ideas in prose, and the narrowing of the definition of what constituted “fiction”