A soul defying, tacit approval of torture: how did we come to this?
By Phil Rockstroh
Journal Contributing Writer
Sep 29, 2006, 01:12
"True sanity entails in one way or another the
dissolution of the normal ego, that False Self competently adjusted to our alienated
social reality . . . and through this death a rebirth, the ego now being the
servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer." --R. D. Laing
The pathology of
American culture is as ubiquitous as its strip-mall ugliness. It is abundantly
evident, in almost every aspect of contemporary life. From the predatory (to
the point of psychopathic) practices of its morally scurvy pirates at the helm
of the corporate/governmental ship of state, down to the pandemic enervation
and proliferate anomie of its galley slaves languishing in their soulless
cubicles -- from the genitalia-devoid mascots at Disney World to the
genitalia-obsessed torturers of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -- the soul-sickness
spreads before us like George W. Bush's taunting, executioner's smirk.
profound dictum leaves us confronting many poignant questions regarding the
true nature of the psychic lives of us so-called ordinary citizens of The
United States of America and our ability to function within this corrupt and
crumbling empire. In short, is it sane to be able to adapt to an insane
Moreover, it begs
the following question. If an individual�s conformity to group, cultural, and
national pathology is rewarded -- thereby encouraging the formation of the
"False Self� -- how might one, stranded within the dysfunctional dynamic,
resist it all and begin to work towards an awareness of their own essential
nature, then perhaps arriving at an individual reckoning involving how to live,
flourish, and subvert the life defying demands of the present era.
First off, what
engenders the formation of the False Self? Laing grasped: When we were
children, authority, in the form of parents, educators, clergy, loomed before
us. Alternatively menacing and comforting, these powerful figures could just as
easily have crushed us as comforted us.
Tragically, all too
often, they perpetrated the primary. Hence, to accommodate the overwhelming
demands of authority, we learned how to curry favor from these baffling,
seemingly implacable forces by the creation of a cipher persona, a False Self,
a tricky and/or obsequious, tap-dancing, little apple polisher, who strives to
garner approval and acceptance, thereby avoiding punishment, rejection and
scorn, by means of the reflexive subjugation of his true nature.
The victims of
False Self adaptation are the quintessence of the corporate/consumer citizen.
Although, they're presence is far from benign: While they are compelled to show
an agreeable face towards unyielding authority, this trope merely serves to
mask a mind seething with misplaced resentments and shallow subterfuge. Doesn�t
this read like a personality profile of Condoleezza Rice or any other member of
that present day Executive Office cast of Lord of the Flies known as the
This process of
metaphysical identity theft begins in childhood. Then, as now, the presence of
individuality-decimating authority can create irreconcilable anxieties within
us, because the actions and activities of authority figures seem as overwhelming
and unpredictable as nature itself.
Now add this to the
already haunted landscape of childhood -- our present day government�s
campaigns of perpetual fear mongering, plus the dominate corporate culture's
modus operandi of commercial exploitation -- and we�re left with one freaked
out populace � one comprised of both children and alleged adults.
fear-ridden existence has rendered us a society of grotesques: In the present
day United States, children have grown as fat as steroid-fed, corporate-farmed
livestock; this has transpired because we overfeed them a diet consisting of
steroid-fed, corporate-farmed livestock, as well as a myriad other variations
of nutrient-devoid, calorie-laden faux food dispensed at a mall's food court,
through a drive-thru window, or out of a cardboard box delivered by a
franchised junk food chain.
Our motives for
doing this shouldn�t be a mystery to us: We habitually shovel high fat, high
carbohydrate, high sugar-content junk into their grousing gobs, in a desperate,
futile attempt to stuff down the boredom, the anxiety, the lassitude they
suffer due to their confinement inside the commercially branded, repressed,
empty, holographic facsimile of childhood we have created for them.
This is the reason
why our children overeat like neurotic domestic pets. As is the case with
housebound, bored, anxious domestic animals, what do they have to look forward
to but dinner? Accordingly, the corporate food industry provides plenty (at a
bloated profit, of course) of junk food -- the table scraps fallen from the
table of the ruling elite of our fat-ass empire -- in order to keep them (and
all the rest of us) obese, obedient, and anxiously waiting by our master's
table for more.
proto-fascist, behavioral control tricks are not just for kids. Corporate
Capitalism has left us Americans psychologically arrested in a pathetic
simulacrum of childhood where our inchoate fears of being preyed upon by our
(so-called) protectors (whom we internally and accurately recognize as
monsters) are displaced into compulsive consumerism (including overeating) and
a reflexive fear of outsiders.
If we were to
awaken to this subterfuge, we would apprehend: Our individual uniqueness is
being robbed from us on a daily basis due to our enslavement to a mindless
system that lives for no other reason than it lives -- a system that eats its
fatted young (giving new meaning to the term consumer economy) -- and exists
only to perpetuate itself -- a system that has become a soul-devouring monster
-- the embodiment of Alan Ginsburg�s Moloch.
Why do we accept
this soul-defying situation? For most of us, the price we would have to pay for
confronting authority would be far too prohibitive; hence, we learn it is
acceptable (as well as politically useful to our power mad leaders) to displace
our anger and fear upon outsiders. Ergo, the so-called Clash of Civilizations
is unloosed and slouches, by way of the Washington Beltway, to Iraq, Iran and
beyond to be born.
This is the manner
that we as a society came to believe we can �compromise� on acts of torture
committed in our name and not fear the loss of our souls as a result of our
complicity. Although, the loss of our national soul would only prove redundant:
Years ago, we decided our souls, both individual and national, were somewhat
less than useful to us -- and not nearly as compelling as a new widescreen,
plasma TV and the like -- hence they were discarded into the reeking landfills
of this toxic country like an old appliance.
These actions are
what the corporate/military/consumer empire demands of us: For it does not take
long for us to learn which aspects of our personalities are accepted and
rewarded, and, conversely, which ones will be punished and scorned. In essence,
the roles we�re expected to play in exchange for being loved, fed, clothed, and
insures us that we're given a "safe" place within the community --
not cast out into the wilderness and fed to the wolves. This fear is not an
outrageous fantasy: It is, in fact, a primal memory. Due to the fact, numerous
forms of infanticide were once common practices in nearly all cultures,
including the act of abandoning outcast children to die in the wilderness.
knowledge still lingers within our psyches, where the memories of such terrors
still howl just beyond the tree line of our waking awareness, instilling within
us the terror of ridicule, of failure, of being ostracized. Far too many of us
succumb to these fears and begin playing the roles circumscribed by their
families, communities, and cultures. Tragically, their true selves, for all
practical purposes, were smothered in their cribs.
In itself, the
False Self, as well as other varieties of habitual self-centeredness, is a
variety of imprisonment. The world is spread before the cell of the self, yet
we prisoners cannot leave the confines of our small, self-involved anxieties;
therein, mind, heart and imagination become atrophied by a lack of experience,
empathy and spontaneity. The bars of the cage might be invisible, yet the sense
of confinement is palpable across our corporatized culture. Ergo, a collective
numbness and apathy levels upon the land � and ultimately our desensitization
to genocide and torture.
To begin to free
oneself from the bondage of the False Self, one must become aware of one�s own
fraudulence. That being: the awareness of one's desperate machinations before
provide us with a point of entry to the act of empathy. Yes, even extending it towards
one as loathsome as George W. Bush. Years ago, the sorry ass son of a bitch put
on a mask (its contours, both menacing and ridiculous) in a vain attempt
to shield himself from being crushed by power. Imagine having his parents:
that soulless cipher of a father and blood-freezing Medusa of a mother. Try to
imagine the psychological carnage involved. It�s the same trauma we experience
daily due to our own powerlessness against the dictates of the corporate
state and its threats, both implied and overt, to cast us into the howling
wilderness of financial ruin, poverty, and homelessness.
(A caveat: The
proffering empathy to Dick Cheney would be pushing the parameters of empathy to
the breaking point: Upon being subjected to Cheney's glowering, reptilian aura,
even Mahatma Ghandi would be reaching for a pair of brass knuckles.)
Even in this
fear-ridden era, there are some among us -- types such as nonconformists,
creative thinkers, and artists -- who welcome (rather than cower before) the
metaphorical wolves (that are recognized, each to each, as fellow outcasts).
Instead of being eaten by the wolves, they are suckled and raised by them.
Nourished by their
outsider status, the creative spirit thrives when freed from the constraints of
a mindless adherence to groupthink. The dark terrain of societal abandonment
becomes their natural habitat: they howl at the moon; they reject the daylight
world of bland consensus; they learn to see in the dark, apprehending their own
interior darkness and, as a result, gain an understanding into the hearts of
darkness beating within those in power.
The wilderness of
political activism, of poetry, of art becomes their home: they don't clean-up
nicely for polite company; they don't let themselves be bred down (as a few
domesticated wolves did) to yapping Toy Poodles, in exchange for a few food
Yes, when you�re
looking at a Toy Poodle -- you're looking at a former wolf, as when your
looking at the corporate press corps, you�re looking at folks whose ancestors
long ago were journalists.
One moment, you're
loping through the woods, snout held high, smelling the scent of fresh game on
the wind, then the next thing you know -- you're being led around on a leash
and collar, encrusted with tacky rhinestones and you're salivating at the sound
of an electric can-opener. One moment, you're a child, entranced in play,
hardwired to eternity -- the next thing you know, you're sitting at work and
your passions, hopes, and yearnings have been shrunk down to Toy Poodle-sized
agendas . . . You're truckling for your boss's approval; you're counting the
minutes until break time, when you can devour some junk food. Like a
domesticated pet, or an unfortunate animal incarcerated in a zoo, you are no
longer a noble animal � you�re a Thing That Waits For Lunch.
To resist, we must
cast off the fear of being an outcast. I remain hopeful: There is yet a
molecule or two of the wild wolf left within us cringing, cloying Toy Poodles.
One must always
remember this: We human beings are of nature too. Accordingly, within us lies
an indomitable self, encoded with the grace and fury of the natural world, and,
if acknowledged and respected, it will awaken and arise. Then the real dogfight
begins: The fur will fly, as we fight, fang and claw, to retake our own
essential natures, and, by extension, begin the struggle to restore health,
imagination and empathy to a nation of cage-accepting, torture-countenancing
Rockstroh, a self-described, auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist
and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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