Author Archives: jjaronaldson

Identity, Ideology and Power

identity - fingerprint world

“An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you” – Morris Berman 

Of all intangible resources, identity is arguably the most important. Identity is contingent upon an individual’s position within a social milieu, and this social milieu is fundamental to a wide range of physical and mental well-being outcomes.

Since the mature adult’s identity is a function of a social context, it will always be constructed and defined in relation to the ‘other’. As the bestower of identity this ‘other’ is in possession of power either to grant or to withhold this scarce resource, and to utilise it as leverage with the intention of enforcing a desirable action or behaviour.

identity - man in suit

But around what exactly does an identity form? In what manner is it constructed, and in what way can it be defined? All identity formation takes place as the outworking of an underlying ideology; without an ideology – that is, a system of ideas, ideals, beliefs and assumptions upon which an understanding of society and the wider world is formed and through which knowledge and events are interpreted and made sense of – no identity can emerge. Each individual and every group identity is the outworking either of an explicit or of an implicit ideology. A shared ideology is a key component of group cohesion and the means by which resources pertaining to mental well-being such as social acceptance, physical security, and protection against external threat are extended.

Significant resources will be directed towards the promotion, embedding, and strengthening of the prevailing ideology and, where opportunity exists to promote an ideology that encourages identity formation of the type that serves the interests of the primary power-holding group, such opportunity will be taken; the granting of resources that meet a particular set of needs on the one hand, with the aim of removing other, more fundamental and valuable resources on the other, can be utilised Trojan-horse style, to great effect. As referenced in a previous blog post, ideology formation that encourages individuals and groups to self-identify as commodities in service to the greater capitalist cause, reduces the degree of resistance experienced when a policy of incremental and gradual resource removal is subsequently put into effect. Since many believe that capitalism is fundamentally unsustainable as a long-term economic model, based as it is upon the ever-increasing exploitation of a fixed amount of physical and human resources1 and upon the deliberate and unsustainable expansion of a global-scale credit bubble, certain quantities of human ‘fodder’ are required to keep the system afloat, at least until a substantial macro-correction is triggered. Caron Bradshaw of the CFG may be of the view that capitalism is “…still the best economic model“, however the main beneficiaries of this model are shielded from its impact; impacts that are typically most felt by those living in the developing world.

identity - diffusion

The promotion of any ideology that encourages such self-commoditisation, whereby an individual’s time and bodily resources can be exploited, serves this purpose well; significant societal changes over the past fifty years indicate that such a programme has long been underway: for example, the legalisation and widespread availability of pornography communicates the message that human bodies are mere resources to be utilised. The acceptance or imposition of a collective ideology distinguishes the in-group from the out-group and, therefore, identifies those with whom it is acceptable to share collectively held resources.

The corruption too of traditional identity roles through the promotion of a particular ideology, such as feminism2, is no accident; the battle for the resource of identity is the direct outworking of a battle between competing ideologies.

Print

One recently emerged facet of the relentlessly promoted LGBT (etc.) ideology is the concept of gender fluidity, whereby the individual is led to believe that it is within their gift to self-identify insofar as gender is concerned. One of the consequences of the promotion of ideologies such as this, ideologies that seek to erode rather than to consolidate identity, is the formation of both an individual and a collective identity vacuum. This vacuum, once formed, can then be filled with any identity, or subset of identities, that have been formulated and promoted with the particular purpose of occupying this space; the resources of traditional identity formation have been apprehended and removed with the result that hungry souls are compelled to fill up on whatever scraps there are, regardless of their nutritional value.

Conceptually, self identification is consistent with the wider dehumanising ideology that promotes identity erosion, self-commoditisation and societal atomisation. This is achieved through the exchange of the lesser resources of apparent autonomy and self-determination, with the much more valuable resource of clear and established identity formation. This does not, however, reflect the individual’s lived reality, and falsely divorces the process of identity formation from its core social context. The truth of this becomes apparent at the very point where those who seek to ‘self-identify’ as a particular gender or non-gender, nonetheless insist upon the full buy-in of others. Thus, the way in which the ‘other’ identifies the individual is in fact an inescapably vital element of the way in which the individual self-identifies; it is clear that such a collaborative process is integral to identity formation, and its increasing replacement by coercion, threats of social exclusion, or even legal sanctions, serves only to confirm this.

Identity formation too is a contingent state, that is, a process within which certain conclusive positions are never achieved. As part of a social milieu, the validity of an individual’s self-identification is called into question whenever such an individual has the ability to alter and re-alter the way in which they self-identify. Self-identification is a function of the manner in which an individual perceives themselves and their wider context at a particular moment in time, and so the self selection of the gender element of identity is problematic because it must take place within the collective; identity is defined and determined not just by how we identify ourselves, but by how those around us – both the in-group and the out-group – identify us. Thus, it is argued, the removal of the process of identity formation from within the context of the social milieu, along with the creation of a construct that emerges from the coercion of those around us to assent to a self-defined label, cannot be considered true identity formation. Rather, it is a one-sided and individualistic pursuit, removed not only from its collective context, but also from established historical and cultural traditions that provide cohesion and indeed, meaning to society itself. The stripping away of meaning from the basic identifiers and symbols that underpin society will result in the eventual erosion and collapse of that society. It could be argued, given the deliberate channeling of resources towards the widespread and relentless promotion of this agenda and others like it, that the undermining of society has, in fact, been the very intention.

identity - wee men

Erik Erikson (1959) describes the journey of identity formation, emphasising the importance of adolescence as a key stage in the emergence and consolidation of essential elements of identity. It is no surprise, therefore, that a significant battleground for competing ideologies is that which centres around this age bracket since, to define the individual and the collective identities of those under the age of sixteen, is to define the identity of an entire generation. Control, therefore, of the ideology underpinning the education system and of media and entertainment outlets aimed at the pre-adult audience, serves a crucial role both in establishing unquestioning acceptance of key ideological tenets and, with this, embedding the manner in which essential and enduring elements of identity take shape and become established. In this way new forms of individual and group identity can be constructed, new norms established, and entire societies remoulded.

1. Note, for example, the change in business terminology during the 1980s from ‘Personnel’ to ‘HR’/’Human Resources’; the person has been stripped of his or her personhood becoming, instead, a mere resource to be consumed in the pursuit of profit.

2. It is possible that feminism is a movement that has undergone ideological subversion (Schuman, 1984), whereby a well-intentioned campaign aimed at reducing the oppression of women has been co-opted by a set of powerful and influential individuals who ‘spoke’ for the cause and covertly directed its progress towards achieving a set of objectives that differed from the publicly stated aims. For example, it is stated by Aaron Russo, that the feminist cause has been funded by an elite group of wealthy bankers (including David Rockefeller) as a means of increasing tax revenues through the introduction of greater numbers of women into paid employment, and as a means of indoctrinating children from a younger, more impressionable, age via the state-controlled education system. The broader purpose behind both of these objectives being the erosion of the traditional family structure, with the intention of bringing the general population under greater governmental control.

Eriksson, E. (1959), Identity and the Life Cycle, International Universities Press

Schuman, T.D. (1984), Love Letter to America, WIN Almanac Panorama, Los Angeles

The Institution as Parent

2/07/2011_1HERSA1_B018

“When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts.” – Michael Ende, The Neverending Story

It is maintained that, rather than attaining complete emancipation from mother or father, the mature adult seeks merely to move the mantle of trust onto a replacement authoritative individual, group, or institution. Thus, in combination with the need to place trust in the institution as parent, and in order to fit in socially and to minimise effort, there is a strong natural draw for the individual to place trust in those people and institutions that occupy positions of power relative to themselves.

In order to protect its position of privilege, the institution as parent has significant incentive to ensure that the population at large is convinced both of the merit and of the need for those same institutions (government, monarchy, big business, entertainment industry), to act as parent. Such convincing takes place most effectively through avenues such as education, mainstream media, and the entertainment industry. These same avenues also serve to support the political and economic strategies that are key in dispossessing the individual of the very resources that would reduce their reliance on those institutions. Government policy deliberately designed to promote the atomisation of knowledge, the segregation of skills, and the suppression of critical thinking, serves to create a society composed of individuals that are left too weak and too ignorant to operate without remaining heavily reliant upon this society and the institutions that control it.

An additional dynamic at work is that of the individual’s need to believe that those in positions of power have benevolent, or at least benign, intentions towards both them and towards the population at large. The need to believe this runs so deep and has such power that any evidence that appears to challenge or contradict such assumptions is ignored, diminished or rejected, along with the individuals or groups through which such evidence comes. This can be equated with the way in which a child maintains faith and trust in an abusive or neglectful parent, or where the victim of domestic abuse continues to remain in such a relationship, maintaining faith in the empty promises of their abuser.

stockholmsyndrome1

Thus, trust placed in individuals and in institutions with malevolent intentions, can be viewed as a form of Stockholm Syndrome outworked at a macro scale. The abused party without power and under societal pressure to conform, has a great need to believe that those with power over him intend no harm. Such a need is the expression of a fear: a fear that the world is not in fact a safe place, that those in charge cannot be trusted, and that those in charge do not put their citizens’ interests first.

For the majority, such a reality is simply too unbearable to contemplate and it thus becomes easier for such individuals to create a modified version of reality (a fantasy) within which such realities remain untrue: the acknowledgement and acceptance of the presenting truth would mean that all that is understood about the world and that individual’s place in it, would become a lie. Therefore, the easier alternative is to operate out of a construct that is characterised by confirmation bias and denial. However, since in doing this there remains a suppressed awareness that such self-deception is taking place, over-compensatory responses are commonplace. Such responses include the championing of the causes of the very individual, group or institution responsible for the removal of that individual’s resources – even when those same resources are being leveraged to that individual’s on-going detriment and further resource removal.

Typically, such advocates will be vehement not, ultimately, for the benefit of the powerholders in question per se, but for their own benefit and for the need they have to convince themselves that the fantasy under which they labour is, in fact, a reality. Such vehemence is strengthened by the drive for ego preservation since, to acknowledge that a long-held world view has been held in error, would be to acknowledge that one has, in fact, been hoodwinked.

stockholmsyndrome2

The institution as parent ensures the provision of basic physical resources, as well as healthcare, infrastructure, education, judiciary, defence, and other fundamental needs. However, over time, the role of the institution as parent has expanded to also include provision (funding) for higher level resources such as certain forms of entertainment (arts, sport) and media (BBC). Its parental role has even extended into the realm of the provision of moral resources and the promotion of a particular belief system that is outlined through the drafting of legislation that officially defines that which is right and that which is wrong. Such a belief system is promoted through funded, and therefore controlled, educational and media outlets, and enforced in the UK through bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This expansion of the role of the institution as parent has been enabled by deliberate cultural engineering, underpinned by the policies of successive governments over a period of several decades that has served to erode and to sideline the role of the natural parent.

Under the institution as parent, growth is purposely stunted, maturity and independence is thwarted, and an environment is created within which offspring are deliberately kept in a condition of dependence, ignorance, and fear. Such a parent is self-serving, manipulative, and parasitical: a malevolent entity, a not insignificant proportion of whose energies are expended on seeking to obscure its true intentions.

Yet, in many ways, such a relationship between ‘parent’ and ‘off-spring’ is a mutually beneficial one whereby the offspring never progresses beyond adolescence, although is convinced of its emancipation, and retains its heavy reliance upon the institution for even its most basic of needs. Such a belief protects the ego of the individual, but fails to reflect reality. Here, the institution retains the lion’s share of resources and, therefore, the lion’s share of power but does so in such a way that the true extent of this imbalance remains concealed.

Power and the Zero-Sum Game

Balance-scales

“The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it.” – Adolf Hitler

In order to create situations of scarcity, capitalism requires the unequal distribution of resources; such scarcity, in turn, serves to increase the value of the resources already under the control or ownership of certain individuals or groups. A situation, either real or perceived, whereby such resources are understood to be finite, is also necessary in order to drive this dynamic; this has the effect of increasing the degree of inequality between the haves and the have-nots, resulting in an increase in the associated power imbalance.

Often the finitude of earthly resources is bemoaned in that such limitations are widely expected to lead to the ultimate downfall of capitalism as a system; however, it is this very feature of capitalism that is key to its continual and widespread adoption as an unfettered economic model, serving the interests of those already in possession or control of the lion’s share of available scarce resources, while presenting an egalitarian veneer. Careful control is maintained over the quantities of scarce resources that are made available to the vast majority of citizens; such measures seek to ensure that there remains adequate incentive for modest resource gains to be achieved, while also ensuring that any meaningful transfer of power is avoided.

war strategy

The zero-sum game aspect of that which drives much of the macro economy and, therefore, the decisions taken and the attitudes held at the micro level, is imbued with an implicit and general understanding that for every gain, there must be an equivalent loss, for every plus, an equivalent minus; such a principal underlies the worlds of commerce and recruitment, the property market, and the sport and entertainment industries. Since elements of competition feature as either distinct or as less obvious elements of much that surrounds the average person in their day to day life, it is little wonder that, for certain individuals with a particular predisposition and developmental history, the need to compete serves to inform the manner in which almost every interpersonal interaction takes place (Adler, 1930)1, even where no zero-sum game type of scarce resource situation is at hand. In such situations resources might be available that are not in fact scarce and, as such, no need exists for the parties in question to compete.

Examples include situations within which there is a competitive dynamic at work among a group of women, even where no obvious suitor is at hand to produce a sense of scarcity out of the resource of perceived beauty; or among a group of men attempting to ‘out-Alpha’ one another, creating scarcity out of the resource of respect, even where every opportunity exists for this resource to be made available both plentifully and mutually. Ultimately, such behaviours are driven by a pervasive and overwhelming sense of lack – for the individual stuck in the zero-sum game paradigm it is assumed that, where a deficit is brought into being elsewhere, an automatic and equivalent surplus will automatically accrue to them.

Power and ‘The Other’

For such an individual, and also at the macro level of international power dynamics, a question to consider at this juncture is, in situations where the quantities of resources held or controlled by an individual or group remain unchanged, does interpersonal power continue to exist in the absence of another party? That is, does power exist only in relative terms, i.e. ‘I have power (only) because you do not’?

Thus, what is it that drives the desire to attain and control scarce resources over and above those required to ensure the well-being of the individual and their immediate social group (family)? Is it the action being sought from another party that serves as motivation, or is it the enforcement of that action that underlies the desire for interpersonal power? Does the drive for such attainment and do the behaviours that accompany it alter in the absence of another party?

Another question to consider is: In order to feel truly powerful does the individual who seeks to have another party ‘do what they would have them do’ require that such an individual or group fulfil a particular role, that is the role of ‘non-powerful’? There is much to merit such an assertion and to support the idea that one of the first moves within an interpersonal power contest will be the enforcement of a subservient role by one party upon another.

pebbles

Typically, acquiescence to such a demand will be demonstrated by requisite gestures, i.e. body language and speech patterns universally recognised as being subservient in nature. However, where resistance to the fulfilment of such an imposed role takes place, conflict and power contests will result; more overt measures will then be required in order to enforce the subservient role upon the resistant individual or group.

Eric Berne outlines the presenting dynamics within a variety of interpersonal ‘games’ in his seminal treatise on transactional analysis, ‘The Games People Play’2. Power contests are a feature of all of these games, along with the tensions brought about by the attempted enforcement of a required role by one participant upon another. More often than not such enforcements tend to be successful; resistance to the fulfilment of a particular role imposed by another party will typically result in the resistant party becoming the target of aggression and/or of social isolation. Such outcomes are highly undesirable and, for this reason, conformity to the will of the more powerful party usually occurs.

  1. Adler, A. (1930), The Science of Living, Allen and Unwin (London)
  2. Berne, E. (1964), The Games People Play, Grove Press

Power and the Commoditisation of the Human Soul

monarchs-richest.jpg.w560h310

“Souls can’t be sold. They can only be lost and never found again.” Ray Bradbury

 The Rules and the Rulers of the Game

A group that obtains control over the majority of available scarce resources will find itself in a position of power over the remainder of the less well resourced population. One consequence of this, particularly at the macro scale, is that this group is able to be the definer of what the rules of the game are in terms of the ways in which scarce resources can and cannot be legitimately acquired. This group will be in a position to impose these rules upon the wider population although, often, these rules will not apply to them; they will also be in a position to enforce adherence to these rules and to impose punishments upon any rule breakers. It is important to note that the set of rules that this individual or group devises and imposes may be markedly different from those that they themselves were subject to at the point at which they acquired the scarce resources now under their control.

By way of example, capitalism is a mechanism of scarce resource control and distribution backed by a set of rules in the form of national and international law. Often those responsible for the establishing and maintaining of the capitalist system did not acquire their own resources within this mechanism but instead through the inheritance of wealth. Oddly, inheritance is a form of resource distribution that is typically enshrined in legislation by the same law makers responsible for introducing and enforcing the legal framework that supports the capitalist system; this makes more sense when it is understood that where the British nobility is concerned, assets, especially land, was originally seized through acts of force1 – a form of scarce resource acquisition which, again, provides protection to those already in possession of the lion’s share of the available scarce resources through legislating against any similar actions being taken by others. Thus, the capitalist system is a system weighted in favour of those already in possession of scarce resources, as it is through the leveraging of these resources that additional resources can be obtained, often through little or no effort being expended on the part of the owner of those resources. This is achieved, for example, through the charging of interest on borrowings, or where the relative value of assets increases as a result of the increase in the scarcity of such assets. Such an increase in scarcity can be achieved either by design or as a consequence of shifts in the wider economy.

poortax

The Necessity of Inequality

Unfettered, the tendency over time is towards an ever increasing concentration of resources in the hands of the few and ever increasing inequality in the pattern of distribution of available scarce resources; indeed, it is a requirement for the sustenance of capitalism that inequality in the distribution of scarce resources is perpetuated, relying as it does upon infinite growth within the constraints of finite resource availability. It is a fundamental economic principle, then, that value within this construct is driven by scarcity.

The Drive to Commoditise

One effect of capitalism is that with an increase in the scarcity of certain resources, there is a consequent drive towards the commoditisation of anything that will enable the further accumulation of resources. Thus, in the same way as capitalism relies upon short-cycle obsolescence to fuel consumption and therefore growth, culture itself has now become a quickly recycled and disposable commodity. Cultural tenets of human experience, imbued with a depth of significance that in some cases has been acquired over a period of centuries, have now become commodities commandeered merely to serve the capitalist cause of the here-and-now. This can be observed in the widespread use of multicultural art, music, verse, dance, costume, language and craft in countless advertising campaigns during recent decades.

As emblems of understanding and as symbols through which people have communicated for centuries, cultural tokens will naturally take on a globalised form as communication networks themselves continue to globalise. Within the realm of such a culture, all objects become valid targets in the drive to commoditise – these are objects with a short shelf life, their worth only determined through the prism of economic value. Centuries of music tradition are supplanted by constantly updated download charts; newly developed technology becomes obsolete at a staggering rate; many of today’s headline news stories enter into and then fade out of the public consciousness within a matter of days; accounts of human suffering are commoditised into a twisted form of entertainment on rolling 24-hour news channels with the sensitisation of viewers ever-diminishing in the face of that which used to shock2.

The concept of value as seen through the capitalist lens is so pervasive that the merit or otherwise of such a perspective is often not questioned, nor is the prioritisation of the pursuit of resources deemed to be of value within the prevailing hegemony; consequently there is a great loss to society of the creativity, intelligence, education and time which are, instead, invested in the endeavour of the attainment of quantities of scarce resources beyond the levels that are required to meet true need. The resources of the human soul thus become scarce resources, the residual quantities of which often proving insufficient for the sustainable investment in family relationships, friendships, personal development, community and wider society.

The Strategic Redefinition of ‘Scarce Resources’

Scarce resources can be used as a form of leverage in the drive to define what scarce resources are within a particular context. This dynamic can be observed within any group where there is a single dominant individual setting the agenda as to what is deemed to be important or desirable. Typically, control over physical resources affords control over other, less tangible, resources such as communication networks, media, education, and the truth itself. In the context of global capitalism, those responsible for preserving the status quo are typically permitted to define what certain scarce resources are and, indeed, the relative value placed upon these; this principal extends to abstract concepts such as time, to the time resource under the control of the individual, and, by extension, to the value placed upon the individual and the human soul.

 barcode tattoo

Conclusion: Self-Commoditisation

It could be argued that ultimate success in this particular capitalist endeavour has been achieved where, not only do the principle beneficiaries of the capitalist system consider other human beings as a scarce resource to be exploited, but that those individuals themselves define and measure their own worth principally in economic terms – as a resource to be exploited by, and in the service of, the capitalist cause3.

 

1 The capitalist system is ultimately established upon the historic seizing of land and property by force by certain groups of individuals. Having completed this endeavour, those groups or individuals were then able to take full control over that society through the threat of the denial of resources to its remaining disempowered members. Of primary importance at this stage was the establishment of a set of new rules (laws), set up in order to protect the newly acquired resources and, by association, the positions of power of the resource holders. Such rules are upheld by organisations established with the purpose of protecting the interests of the ruling group through the enforcement of the rules (police, army), and through the imposition of punishment upon those transgressing them (judiciary, prison service). This is the manner through which most royal family dynasties and associated nobility (the supporters of the original leader of the resource-grabbing insurrection), originally came to power. In Western societies not established out of revolution, democracy as a form of rule is typically deemed by the ruling group to be acceptable because it is established, first and foremost, to afford protection to the resources of the current resource holders and to their positions of relative privilege. Even where there has been an original act of revolution, Western-style democracy is often introduced and can be observed to take on a similar form: protecting those who, amidst the chaos of revolution, took hold of more of the available scarce resources than any other individual or group. In the longer term, due to its inextricable role in the meeting of the most basic of human needs and wants, land is the most valuable and, therefore, the ultimate of all scarce resources; those who have seized or who have otherwise acquired the most valuable land will thus occupy the most powerful positions. For example, while a large proportion of land in the UK is held under public ownership, much of the remainder is owned by a relatively small number of very wealthy private individuals. Typically, Western democracies will only permit citizens to exercise influence over the allocation and distribution of scarce resources and the laws that pertain to these, to the extent that this influence does not impinge upon the core interests of the ruling group.

2 Within the paradigm of free capitalism, human suffering is an obstacle that gets in the way of the drive towards the attainment of greater quantities of scarce resources. In this sense then, the normalisation of and numbing to human suffering serves a useful economic purpose.

3 This idea is explored by Oliver James in his 2007 book Affluenza. In the second chapter he recounts an episode of an encounter he had with someone called Holly, describing her as someone who had ‘allowed herself to become a commodity that has been bought by a pay-TV company’. James provides this and other examples to illustrate what he identifies as a growing prevalence of a kind of self-commoditising approach to work and, in a broader sense, towards life itself – something he likens to a ‘global infection’.

James, Oliver (2007), Affluenza, Vermilion, p 82

The Fantasy and Reality of Personal Power

blog crevasses

In ‘The Road Less Travelled’ M Scott Peck references Erik Erikson concerning the various crises that are typically encountered during the course of a life of average length, outlining and, in the process, expanding upon the concept:

What makes crises of these transition periods in the life cycle – that is, problematic and painful – is that in successfully working our way through them we must give up cherished notions and old ways of doing and looking at things.

Many people are either unwilling or unable to suffer the pain of giving up the outgrown which needs to be forsaken. Consequently they cling, often forever, to their old patterns of thinking and behaving, thus failing to negotiate any crisis, to truly grow up, and to experience the joyful sense of rebirth that accompanies the successful transition into greater maturity.

Although an entire book could be written about each one, let me simply list, roughly in order of their occurrence, some of the major conditions, desires and attitudes that must be given up in the course of a wholly successful evolving lifetime:

–               The state of infancy, in which no external demands need to be responded to

–               The fantasy of omnipotence

–               The desire for total (including sexual) possession of one’s parent(s)

–               The dependency of childhood

–               Distorted images of one’s parents

–               The omnipotentiality of adolescence

–               The ‘freedom’ of uncommitment

–               The agility of youth

–               The sexual attractiveness and/or potency of youth

–               The fantasy of immortality

–               Authority over one’s children

–               Various forms of temporal power

–               The independence of physical (and surely mental – JR) health

–               And, ultimately, the self and life itself1

Arguably, every dysfunctional behaviour or interaction stems from an individual’s inability to have successfully negotiated one or more of these crises which, in turn, begs the question: are all situations within which there is an identifiable power struggle indicative of an immature clinging on to one or more of these obsolete notions?

blog fantasy world

A key driver of most if not all of these fantasies is a belief that there is a scarcity of certain resources, and such a belief may or may not have foundation. However, even these crises are connected by a sense of omnipotence; the power dynamic present within each being based upon a belief that one can have another person, entity or object do what one would have them do regardless of whether or not there does in fact exist control over and possession of the scarce resources required in order to achieve this. The point of crisis is reached whenever the anticipated outcome in a given situation fails to occur; that is the individual or group does not in fact perform the action required of them, with insufficient scarce resources being held with which to use as leverage. At its core the crisis is the point at which reality directly confronts an individual’s understanding of a situation along with the true limitations of their power therein. At this point an individual can choose to respond in one of two ways:

  1. To accept the reality of the dynamic, ie. that there are in fact no scarce resources, that there are indeed resources but they are not sufficiently scarce, or that there are indeed scarce resources but possession or control over these is not held.
  1. To attempt to mould the world into that individual’s ill-fitting view of it; whether that is the tyrant trying to rule the world, or the domestic tyrant trying to rule what he considers his world, including everyone and everything in it.

For many, the second of these two options appears to be the easier as it avoids the short term pain of the giving up of obsolete patterns of thought and behaviour; however in the longer term it leads to greater and more protracted pain that results from the indirect consequences of failing to engage with and, therefore, to successfully negotiate the particular crisis in question.

A pattern of similar choice making then tends to develop in the face of further life crises with the result that the individual leaves themselves little option but to construct, layer by layer, a fantasy world of their own making. Such a fantasy world bears an ever diminishing resemblance to the real world, to their place within it, and to the true extent of resources over which they exercise control.

Furthermore, such a world becomes entirely disconnected from their responsibility to those with whom they share their life, namely a responsibility that they would seek to successfully negotiate the various crises of the transition periods within their own personal life cycle. Thus, and in order to maintain an internally consistent narrative, nothing can be allowed to remain in such a fantasy world that does not uphold the eschewal of that individual’s personal responsibilities, or that serves as a reminder of any previous failure to negotiate a crisis.

1. Peck, M. Scott (1978), The Road Less Travelled, Random House, p 74-75

Power and Imperialism

Pine Forest

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one” George Bernard Shaw

One answer to the question ‘what is the purpose of life?’ is that meaning is found to the extent that one’s life contributes towards some greater purpose, that is, to the extent that it forms part of a larger narrative. This serves to explain the concern that many have with the leaving behind of a legacy, a vestige of the essence of their true self that will outlive them.

And yet this drive to leave something behind is neither impinged upon nor diminished by the reality that, for the vast majority, any memory of their identity and the things done during their life will have disappeared from the collective conscience within three generations at most. Nor is it acknowledged that there will be, in all likelihood, little or no interest in who they were or the life that they lived. Furthermore, there is no clearly understood manner in which this essence of one’s true self can be effectively summed up and communicated during one’s life, let alone in the form of a relic. The eternity that is placed in the heart of every man1 is deeply rooted and thus mortality, located as it is beyond any individual’s control and beyond the associated limitations placed upon their life, is a very great offense indeed; much time is lived out under the veil of this denial and, particularly during the early decades of life, many thoughts, decisions and plans rest upon an assumption that one’s physical and mental faculties will remain in good working order and sustain life indefinitely.

That an individual’s life will not endure in the thoughts and conversations of those who outlive them removes from it much of what is meaningful, particularly with regard to any contribution made to the greater whole. The offense of this is so hard to endure that for many the compulsion to leave a legacy for the faceless future unknowns is such that it consumes the manner in which their life is lived out, leading often to compromised priorities and impacting detrimentally upon relationships with family members, friends and colleagues. Such an inherent weakness within the human psyche, founded in the tension between the need for immortality and the reality of the mortal existence, can be fruitfully exploited by those in positions of power.

over the top blog pic

The imperial ambitions of an elite few are made possible only through the persuading of the many that the risking of their lives for the expansionist national cause carries with it a meaning that transcends the terrestrial life, and in this sense serves to achieve for them a form of immortality. True immortality is achieved and defined with reference not to the mortal but to the immortal and, as a state of being, does not cease to exist merely at the point that the mortal itself ceases to exist. However, the brand of immortality offered within the context of imperialist expansionism is bounded insofar as it is, as a construct, attained solely with reference back to the mortal and is so defined to the extent that the deceased only remains immortal in the consciousness of mortal beings. In this sense, then, it is nothing more than a cruel trick. Phraseology such as ‘their names will live on’ and ‘lest we forget’ feature heavily in the rhetoric that is associated with ‘the ultimate sacrifice’. In a similar way national anthems, engravings, prayers, readings and state broadcast events are replete with such sentiments – to be shared by and for the benefit only of those who, for the moment, remain alive. Here, the immortality of the immortal is entirely bound up with the mortality of the mortal.

the glorious dead

Through such means the collective social conscience becomes saturated and public perception is thus engineered to align with the interests of those wielding power at the nation state level. Much could be written upon the extent to which this bears the hallmarks of a death cult at a macro scale (see here for a listing of the main characteristics of the death cult), nonetheless its formulation serves principally to perpetuate and to strengthen the established system of resource allocation and control, and to meet the needs of the incumbent set of power-holding imperialists.

And yet both parties each have their own reasons to perpetuate the charade; the alternative is to acknowledge that warfare is driven by the insatiable appetite for power of the few at no personal risk or cost to themselves, and that the death that the many die at their bidding possesses meaning only insofar as it achieves this end.

1 Ecclesiastes 3:11

Chosen Powerlessness

5552414422_40a540cb9d_b

Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing – Proverbs 11:7

While an individual simultaneously wields and is subject to the wielding of power, it is not the case that in every circumstance all individuals wholeheartedly strive to obtain ever increasing quantities of power. That is to say, there are significant matters of concern to society as a whole where individuals choose to adopt a passive, unempowered position. Even individuals or groups that ordinarily strive to obtain scarce resources with the purpose of wielding power in certain contexts will, in other contexts, adopt a passive position, seemingly content in their position of relative powerlessness. Such contextual differences and the phenomenon of selective engagement in contests of power are explored briefly below.

It is proposed here that the rationale underlying the choice between one particular power contest over another is informed by the individual or group’s perception of its capacity to obtain the scarce resources that are at stake. Such a perception is informed by an understanding of the likelihood that the individual or group will prevail in a given power contest, along with a genuine assessment of that individual or group’s own abilities, strengths and limitations in comparison with an opposing party.

An analysis of this type of situation is, however, easier to undertake and to rationalise at both the individual/micro level than at the societal/macro level. What occurs, for example, when large numbers of individuals choose to act in concert for the purposes of a shared, collective goal? Or, contrastingly, where it is understood that the collective pooling of action would indeed be effective in altering a given power dynamic and thus in obtaining control over certain scarce resources, and yet the choice to not act is the one that is made?

It is widely acknowledged that within each individual there operates an impulse from birth until death towards the creation of and withdrawal into what can be described as a series of artificial wombs1. At the societal level this leads to the establishment of standard government structures that serve to facilitate and to perpetuate the dependency relationship of childhood at the level of the collective. These structures are established and operated by a political elite set up in the role of parent/human god, the purpose of which is to eliminate all risk from life and to tend to society’s every infantile need. In this context such needs will inevitably focus upon scarce resources such as clothing, shelter, affirmation, and the handing over to this political ruling class of the means of access to these resources. The expectations placed upon the political ruling group, a group that is effectively hired through the taxation system, is to fulfil a mission that all parties understand but never publicly acknowledge as being an impossibility.

group-colour-people-18932838

Cooper (1991)2 states that society hires politicians to:

  • Obtain security without managing it
  • Obtain action without thinking about it
  • Inflict injury, death and theft upon others without the need to consider the consequences
  • Avoid responsibility for their own intentions
  • Obtain the benefits of science and of reality without the need to exert themselves in the discipline of learning or of facing either of these things.

At an individual level fear, laziness, and time constraints, combined with knowledge and financial resource limitations, compel the individuals within a society to abdicate certain key responsibilities and to pass these responsibilities over to a professional political class. Such arrangements have endured across generations and across much of the world.  Society’s act of handing over is, then, a conscious and freely chosen position of powerlessness and is primarily motivated by each individual’s need to keep their diary clear, and their hands and consciences clean. It is also motivated by the need to avoid any act that might threaten the self image as one of blamelessness and innocence. The need to be considered innocent in adulthood is merely an extension of an infantile state, and in this sense can be considered regressive in its nature. In the infantile state most individuals have been afforded protection by a parental figure acting out of love. During the period in their lives during which that individual was still considered immature, this parent made good for mistakes that they made and bore many of the adverse consequences of their bad behaviour. In the mature state then, a failure to take responsibility for those actions for which an individual can justifiably be held responsible, such as their own behaviour, is a form of childish, reality-denying self indulgence. Inasmuch as public trust in politicians remains very low, society at large also needs to acknowledge its own responsibility in being so eager to hand over control of and principal access to vast quantities and various types of scarce resources.

Thus, the abdication of power through the relinquishment of scarce resources is as dysfunctional as the tendency towards the attainment of scarce resources in order to wield power, especially where the reasons for such relinquishment are rooted in fear, laziness or cowardice. And yet, to acknowledge this reality would prove to be too distasteful and too unpleasant for the majority of individuals to contemplate, and therefore an acceptance of and justification for the abuse of the position that is held by those in government has to be found – a contrivance that is more palatable to the individual than taking a long and sober look into the mirror.

The self-reflection that such a response demands dares to ask whether appropriate responsibility is taken at the interpersonal / micro context; however, the even greater challenge is to broaden the scope of such enquiry to the macro level, and to the taking of personal responsibility within the context of society as a whole.

1 This Freudian concept states that such wombs can take on a multitude of forms such as physical wombs (bed, private home, workplace), emotional wombs (routines, the support of friends and family, sporting allegiances, insurance policies and pensions), and spiritual wombs (religious beliefs and observances).

2 Cooper, M.W. (1991), Behold a Pale Horse, Light Technology Publishing