Getting out of the Game

Games, in all their nuances, have become an obsession for contemporary societies. In a sense, we are lost in the dialectic between winning and losing, and dominated by a need to take part in all games by taking sides with the players when we cannot directly intervene ourselves. We could divide our life-experience between the games we play, on one hand, and the games we watch, on the other – the latter being what unites us to a culture.

In this voluntary desire to watch all games, we have become more childlike than we were in previous centuries, and we are dominated by a peevish, childlike will to win, peppered by a hatred of losing. Of course, this creates weak and geeky characters.

We desire strong sensations and X-treme sports are fashionable, but in general, most of the more dangerous games are played out in the virtual landscapes of the plasma-screen reality that our younger generations so willingly drown themselves in.

Living the game is a vulgar way of experiencing life, and our civilisation is a tasteless one. Lost in the virtual miming of authentic being that is the game, human beings are forfeiting their own authenticities in favour of the ultimate purposeless rituality of playing. Competitiveness may be a good incentive for children, but the adult should be able to find a better reason than winning a game to motivate him or her – isn’t that partly what differentiates adults from kids?

In certain respects, our obsession with games is a logical one, for it is the game that is being offered over and over again by the civilisation that we operate within. By playing or watching we are merely swallowing that which is given to us on society’s platter. It is hard to say ‘no’ to the only thing which is constantly and abundantly being fed you. Of course, we quickly get addicted. Once we are addicted, as in all addiction, it is very hard to break the habit. To do so we have to see the dangers of the patterns we are following. Nevertheless, our absurd obsession with the game does become apparent when we see how repetitive the compulsion is.

Each time the game is played, it is basically the same as every other time. All games are confined by finite rules that are unbending, and because of those rules, the only differences allowed are variations of what is the general repetition of the same game over and over again. Only creativity can give any meaning to the game, and only art can save us from the repetitious mitigations of our souls that playing and watching games inflicts on all our societies.   

Art, in fact, is a transcendence of the game obsessed society, and games are a vulgarisation of our creative and artistic instincts.    

Husserl’s Philosophy-Science

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In his essay, Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man, Edmund Husserl rightly associated the origins of the spiritual with the scientific investigations of the early Greek philosophers. Philosophy is an all-encompassing discipline and, like spirituality, it is concerned with the whole. In order to highlight this process, which has almost been rendered invisible by Judeo-Christian concepts of duality, demanding a necessary division of the scientific from the spiritual, Husserl coined the term philosophy-science.

For Husserl, philosophy-science is a way of thinking which, if inculcated in society, would create a new historicity. We would add that this historicity would, in effect, be the beginning of an authentic human history as such, for it would be the first time that humanity has propelled itself forward for its own cause and with purely environing, spiritual intentions rather than empirically dominating or acclimatising ones.

Husserl argued that scientific achievements have a different kind of temporality to other cultural commodities:

“They do not wear out, they are imperishable … what scientific activity achieves is not real but ideal.”[1]

Ideal achievements are those that give substance to the environing. But science doesn’t guarantee environing; it is an impulse pushing us toward the creation of the Utopia, but if the impulse isn’t taken up by the organising forces and institutions of society itself, then the achievements of science will remain in the banal field of acclimatisation.

Only by embracing a philosophical-science teleology will scientists truly advance toward Culture (with a capital C, by which we mean an authentically human culture). Once embraced though, validities procured through science will be found as material to feed ideals on an even higher level and progress will unfold through becoming and growing in a snowballing fashion of passive accumulation:

“Thus science designates the idea of an infinity of tasks, of which at any time a finite number have already been accomplished and are retained in their enduring validity.”[2]

An enduring validity that creates a permanence running through the ever-changing, always-developing act of becoming.

Knowledge has a quality of permanence and conservation, while at the same time it is the fuel for imagination and the motor for all progressive, transformative change. The scientific telos streams all radiating tasks in the direction of the simple, all-embracing job. Each demonstration of validity is important, if not essential, in the holistic creation of the whole and in the progress towards the understanding and validation of everything that is needed to transform everything in a positive fashion.

Validation comes through the process of making it valid – validity rests itself, therefore, in becoming rather than in being. The desired end is itself impossible to ever really group because absolute Becoming can never ever Be:

“Scientific truth claims to be unconditioned truth, which involves infinity, giving to each factually guaranteed truth a merely relative character, making it only an approach, oriented … toward the infinite horizon, wherein the truth in itself is, so to speak, looked on as an infinitely distant point.”[3]

The infinitely distant nature of that which really is. Infinitely distant but also always actual. The future must always pass through the present. The end depends on the actual.

“Scientific culture, in accord with the ideas of infinity, means, then, a revolutionising of all culture, a revolution that affects man’s whole manner of being as a creator of culture. It means a revolutionising of historicity, which is now the history of finite humanity’s disappearance, to the extent that it grows into a humanity with infinite tasks.”[4]

This growth began with the beginnings of philosophy, when: “man becomes the disinterested spectator, overseer of the world.”[5] But, in an historical sense, we must ask ourselves if we have actually progressed since the classical age of the Greeks, or are we in a process of retrocession? Environing itself has slid into the quagmire of economical environing, developing elaborate macro theories around abstract actions of exchange that have fashioned a competitive and aggressive world based on production for consumption. A world that has very little benefit for neither humanity as a whole nor the world we are overseers of. In this economic world there is very little place for philosophy or for human Culture. Humanity and the world are suffering because of that. Obviously we have our answer to the above question: historically we are lost in a dangerous process of retrocession. A retrocession that will lead to a point of no-return in which we will drop into an abyss of nihilism if Culture and the philosophy it was born from are not allowed to find an historical impetus to push them back into the significance gained by their involvement in the environing world again.

Our world is acclimatised and environed. It is moulded through our practical needs and through our theoretical impulses. However, when the theoretical itself becomes a pragmatism, then the environing process curls back into acclimatisation, thwarting all human progress. This is what happens when the environing is driven by theories of economics.

Money is an abstraction which we cannot seem to live without, and though its inception was to simplify the complexities of exchange it has become something far more important, becoming the a priori of all possible exchanges and hence the a priori of all possible activities. Now, before anything can be done, it seems, money must be taken into consideration.

Because of this, we believe that a successful implementation of Culture can only be possible if we are capable of rethinking our relationship with money: analysing the dictatorial role it plays on our lives and liberating arms that are stifled by that dictatorship in order to allow Humanity to flourish. To achieve this, philosophy-science needs to be applied to the economy in order to create an economic system that is humanly ethical.

[1] Edmund Husserl, PHILOSOPHY AND THE CRISIS OF EUROPEAN MAN, 1935, p.6

[2] Ibid, p.7

[3] ibid

[4] Ibid, p.8

[5] Ibid

CULTURE AND ENVIRONING

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PART ONE: CULTURE

I.

Traditionally there has been a European idea of values which is a universal concept of culture as life endowed with purpose. This notion of culture was not only born from spiritual creativity, it also engendered that spiritual creativity, and as such was self-generating. In its origins it was a humanistic idea, but that has been distorted and sullied by nationalistic, romantic notions that are basically anti-human, species-separating concepts. Now, the admirable and purposeful idea of culture has been reduced to a minutely marginal non-importance and is more closely associated with utopian fantasies rather than being the cultural-wing of any political agenda.

The rise of nihilism and the spirit of the homo economicus castrated the great idea of Culture (with a capital C) and guided its tamed, gelding spirit into the stables of the marketplace, reducing it to the status of commodities. As something that can be bought and sold, culture (with a small c) became intelligible for Wealth (with a capital W) and once that Wealth knew what it was handling, it could welcome culture into its system.

But the sterilized culture is not the same as the purposeful Culture. Culture with a capital c does not now exist beyond the realms of the hypothetical, and if it did exist once it must now be pronounced as lost, or dead. Meanwhile, the sickness inflicting culture in Europe could very well be a direct consequence of this disassociation, because:

A) The idea of Culture has not completely disappeared. A phantasmagorical remnant of it still exists in the ideal realm and that is capable of producing nostalgia for the purposeful, even though it never really existed. We are expected to believe that any absurd search for the ghost of something that never even properly was, is a sad, sick neurosis.

But even worse than the neurotic craving for the never-existent is:

B) A morbid belief that Culture is something dangerous and even seditious, and that we must be on our guards against it all the time. This idea sees Culture reflected in the ideological, nationalistic spirits maintained by the likes of Wagner, or they reduce it to that which threatens their self-esteem by positing the virtues of the intellectual and unintelligible.

Pop-culture is nihilism’s rejection and refutation of Culture. The Beatles proved that culture didn’t have to be difficult to be good. With pop-music and Hollywood cinema, culture was blasted into being a great commodity, and it became an enormous industry. Pop-music and film were the nihilistic bridges bringing culture and capitalism together.

Another way of looking at culture is as a kind of reaction by human beings (societies and individuals) to the needs created by their environment. Seen like this, culture becomes a kind of technological evolution driven by needs for survival or adaptation to environments. Some of the needs are created by hostile environments, but not always. Of course, the environmental reason for culture explains why there are so many diverse human cultures.

But how does all this apply to the grand idea of European or Human Culture?

II.

Our environment now is dominated by our economics. We are what we can buy. We are what we can earn through our labour. We are the money that we have or are capable of manipulating. We are this homo economicus because we live and breathe money inside a bubble created by the economy. Our environment is the economy.

Perceived in this light we can see that if culture is our spirit, then that spirit is an economic one as well. Money is our body and soul: it is the nature and spirit of society.

No wonder it feels like society is sick.

III.

With apologies to the ecosphere, the environment in which humans dwell, is, for the most part, a human-made environment – and if human-made sounds somewhat exaggerated, then at least we can talk about its human-acclimatisation.

Throughout the world, the phenomena of acclimatisations are often radically different. One way we like to measure these differences is via the concept of standards of living. Here the System tries to bring in its own technological theme and it attempts to measure its progress and, from that, its successes, via the concept of improving living-standards.

Yes, all this is far-removed from the human purposiveness inherent in the grand idea of European Culture. Living standards are means of success through acclimatisation that have nothing to do with spirit and purpose. The lures of living standards are comfort and happiness through comfort. The drawbacks one faces once one embraces this culture-of-comfort is an obligatory compromise to conformity.

Nevertheless, in the historical process of acclimatisation, humanity also developed a second path away from the merely material necessities into other psychological, theoretical or spirited areas that are generally embraced in the term the arts.

 

PART TWO: THE ENVIRONING WORLD

It is the arts and the artistic spirit unified with technology[1] which is the true basis of the spirit of European Culture. In his essay on the Crisis of European Man, Husserl referred to this as the Umwelt or the Environing World, [2]which he called: “a spiritual structure in us and our historical life.” [3] We point to this term because we see the importance of making a distinction between acclimatisation for material reasons (either for survival or the improvement of living standards) and the environment we create around ourselves from the theoretical or ideal, due to our psychological needs (these could include the abstract concepts of love and beauty, or moral concepts like respect and truth). Environing has, therefore, a deeper purposiveness than acclimatisation and offers reasons for working beyond the simple necessity of survival or the luxury of comfort.

Also, whereas acclimatising is a process that ends with the achievement of the desired result, within environing there is an emphasis on the process rather than the achievement. As such, it implies a concept of becoming that goes beyond the present and allows for the idea of the eternal.

Husserl’s environing was something that was not necessarily born with the Greeks, but was sophisticated by them through the development of philosophy. The spirit of European Culture is therefore also embedded in that Greek philosophy and its core of purposiveness, reflected in its own environing of its culture.

Environing transcends acclimatisation. Acclimatisation has created local peculiarities, but these cultural traits are only relevant to environing as windows or reminders of the variegated fabric of humanity. We are the same and we are different. This is the paradoxical reality of the human condition. The truly defining ingredient of humanity must lie somewhere in between.

However, the middle-term between SAME and DIFFERENCE is hard to find: SIMILARITY is too close to SAMENESS to be satisfying. We need a term that contains both of the antagonistic elements without prejudice to the other.

By focussing on the aspect of BECOMING, which turns the cultural process into a continuation, we get an image of humanity as a forward pointing arrow that desires the eternal. Acclimatisation is about the actual, environing is concerned with the final causes of an eternal process of becoming.

From the point of view of soul, humanity has never been a finished product, nor will it be, nor can it ever repeat itself[4].”

There can only be environing in the realm of the human, because there cannot be a national or individual goal except to die or destroy itself. In terms of nation states, ultimate purposes, end goals or the Greek idea of telos are tragic notions, and they can only lead to the most terrible and perverted conflagrations of spirit that become manifest in violent international conflicts.

Environing, therefore, must always be contained to the greater, general set of the Human. The individual artist will achieve the eternal only if humanity itself can achieve the eternal. And the same is true of the nation-state: To succeed for its subjects, nations have to evolve, and the evolution of a nation can only be successful if it is able to dissolve into the higher evolutionary body of Humanity.

But what is humanity? In biological terms we are the homo sapiens; and from an environing perspective we are the animal with the power to rationalise and create art and technologies that can transform our environment and ourselves. In psychological terms we are a river, always changing, but which can also flow into pools that can quickly stagnate if we lose touch of the ocean which we are destined to become, and in which our authentic fulfilment lies.

Like the river, humanity is past and future and the actual is a dangerous illusion that we will perish in if we get trapped by the mesmerising force of that mirage.

[1] an etymological tie wrapped up in the original Greek term techni which embraced both art and technology

[2] Edmund Husserl, PHILOSOPHY AND THE CRISIS OF EUROPEAN MAN, 1935, p.3

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, p.5

What we Forget

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Every living creature, and, of course, every human being, has a spiritual tie to nature. It is the cosmos that has created us, moulding us out of itself, and pre-programming us through our DNA to eventually return to it when our physical life deteriorates or is broken and dies.

All spiritual linkage, therefore, should be not with the land or with the country, or with the people who speak our language, but with the Universe.

From this stand-point, human culture has been a steady process of psychologically dis-possessing us from our authentic home, which is the entire Universe. This dis-possession begins with our parents and the immediate family that take possession of us immediately. An initial dis-possession that spreads itself out into the extended family, then our friends and neighbours, and little by little all this dis-possession through kinship dissolves into the great dis-possession by the cultural environment of the state.

On Culture

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We have said before that culture is memory, another way of saying this is that it is determined by a certain way of thinking. Either way we are talking about what we are thinking about or what we remember and, therefore, what we can bring to mind, hence, what we know. Knowledge has to be expansive. Therefore, whichever way we look at culture, the idea of containing it within certain regional or national borders is a constricting manipulation that starves culture rather than enriching it. States can reduce it to a common language, a unique diet or a shared religion, but such bottling up only impoverishes the notion of culture.

Although it is true that isolation has developed very rich regional cultures (we only need to think of the case of Japan), a richness which is often endangered by exposure to other cultural influences and needs to be preserved, this should not distract us away from the overall richness of culture itself. Culture, as a whole, is all human cultures as a whole. The whole is made up of its parts and is enriched by those parts. Knowledge of the universal is more enriching than a deep commitment to the local. Culture is not something which should be restrictive and isolating, quite the contrary, it should be a method of inspiring expression through learning and discovery.

A cultured person can never be defined as a person who speaks one language, the exact opposite is the case. The more languages you speak, the more cultured you are, because you know more; you have a fuller memory.

By defining culture this way, it can be clearly seen how cultural development is at the basis of all social progress. Intellectual enlightenment and reason is the basis of all change in society, but it is also the basis of all order. Ignoring the importance of an intellectually trained society jeopardises not only social progress, but its order as well. All totalitarian regimes have fallen prey to this simple sociological fact: deny your people access to the sources of knowledge and limit their power of expression, and, no matter how much control you impose on the people, the social structure will eventually crack and fall apart.

Seen as memory or knowing, localised ethnic groups and nation states have been used as guardians of that collective local memory. The Spanish will look after flamenco music; the Chinese will preserve their opera; the Japanese their Kabuki; the locals in the republic of Tuva will deal with Tuvan throat singing; the Welsh will ensure that the manufacture of harps continues. Let us not be misunderstood, protecting these aspects of culture are important: but not just to the locals who have developed these arts, it is important for all of us, because every human achievement enriches humanity through culture, and every loss of any creative achievement is a cultural loss for the whole of humanity.

The universal development of culture is made possible through the creation of museums, libraries and encyclopaedias; with the invention of recording devices and the miracle of the World Wide Web. Culture is now a global experience that mitigates the need for national protectionism. It is relatively easy now for someone from Japan to be ignorant of Kabuki but a specialist in flamenco. This phenomenon has its advantages and dangers: whilst amplifying the number of potential guardians of human knowledge and skills, it also brings with it very few guarantees. Local guardianship through the guarantee of tradition and local cultural identity is still the best safeguard for preserving cultural elements in danger of extinction. When cultures are domesticated, taken out of their natural geographical location and cared for by new guardians who could be in any part of the world, this is often perceived as an existential threat to cultural groups who may define their whole existence via their cultural identity, and the steady tramp of empirical expansion has been responsible for the decimation of countless indigenous cultures. If there is any need for the preservation of nation-states or regional identities it is this.

And yet, if the real cry for preserving the national identity is that of saving culture, why is culture such a meagre concern for nation states?

In terms of the percentage of GNP spent on culture in the European Union, only one of the member states, Estonia, dedicated more than 1%, and the average is only 0.58% of GNP.[1] Perhaps the economic argument behind this is: “if you want culture you can pay for it yourself,” and yet, if the reason for having a national identity is a cultural one, how is it that less than one percent of the taxes we pay is invested in the culture that is our reason for having a nation state that can be allowed to tax us in the first place?

In any case, the problem of preserving cultural parts, especially minority cultures, draws a vicious circle in the question of culture, in which cultural gain through universality destroys the very parts that enrich that same universal culture. The local has to be preserved, but it can no longer be expected to continue in isolation. To resolve the paradox, we must look between the internecine poles of action, but what lies between the universal and the solitary? Communication is a way out of the solitary into the universal, but it doesn’t give us a route back into isolation if we need to go back; this can only be guaranteed through memory. Culture, then, can be a destructive force for cultures, and the only way the negative aspect of the relationship can be made positive is through the preserving power of memory. For culture to be alive it needs to keep its memory alive – alive in such a way that the cultures remembered can maintain themselves as living cultures. Likewise, cultures have to see their significance not only from their own isolationist perspective, but their larger importance in the greater space of our universal culture.

What we are discussing here is nothing new, but it is something forgotten. The question of culture is best represented if we look at our traditions of funeral rites. When our loved ones die, we make an effort, through ritual, to preserve their memory. When we die, we would not like to be forgotten. Our dealing with death is embedded in our culture and in fact culture is a kind of metaphor for our attitude toward death, or impermanence. That is why culture is memory.

[1] Source: Council of Europe Compendium: Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, 2010-2011

PLEASURE, DESIRE & CULTURE … SADOMASOCHISM & ART

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There is an idea in Lacan that desire is always thwarted by pleasure. Perhaps the always is an exaggeration, but in trying to envisage how this could be, we start to see how the relationship works between desire and culture.

In fact, the development of the art of prolonging pleasures, that comes from the process of satisfying desires, is an integral part of culture. Likewise, cultural differences could be gauged according to the different ways they have of thwarting as well as prolonging, perpetuating and interpreting the pleasures of satisfying our desires.

Again in Lacan, desire is really desire for the other, and this psychologically tendency, that points toward a basic human altruism, is exploited by our Wealth-driven cultures to establish itself as the Big Other (either in the form of the nation-state or the God) in order to mould societies in ways that will ensure the fulfilment of its own needs. And, as such, by doing so, at the same time diminishing authentic human altruism in favour of nationalism and religious chauvinism.

However, aside from nationalist, racial, religious and class identities, most cultural differences can be measured by the kind of food on your table. The art of defecating is also cultural, although in a wider sense, as is the art of achieving orgasm.

Once we examine the cultural controls over our most basic needs, we enter a sphere of what Foucault called biopolitics, and hence bioculture.

Once this perspective on culture has been established, it could be interesting to analyse how nationalisms need to exploit the culinary extension of our satisfactions – which is decent – leaving the art of defecation – which is not – to the multi-national designers of toilets. The latter has relegated the hole in the floor to a curiosity status, whilst the sit-down stooling water closet has advanced into mostly all cultures without too much nationalistic resistance.

The other indecency, sex, has traditionally been put in the hands of God and, with the invention of bedrooms, performed out of sight, behind closed doors and curtains. What one does to prolong the pleasure is fine, as long as it’s not with a member of the same sex or a different species of animal. Because of this, the biopolitical-cultural struggle in terms of sexuality, has been as much one of opening the door and an attempt to make one’s particular indecency as legitimate as everyone else’s indecencies.

The cultural effect of such a revelation is that there are no cultural boundaries in sex at all, but rather they overlap all boundaries. As for the religious, well, it must be becoming clearer to them now, how they were duped into looking after culture’s dirty washing. In fact, it often seems that the laundering of sheets and towels is the only thing the church is good for.

*     *     *

But let’s return to our point of departure: pleasure thwarting desire. The thwarting of course is seen as the experience of desire itself, which wants to satisfy itself as quickly as possible. Desire is always urgent in its essence.

Lacan’s original idea was expressed in an essay on “Kant and Sade”.

The thwarting of desire and the subsequent pleasure derived from it, is made obvious in sadomasochistic rituals, but it is this same process of refining desire through the act of thwarting pleasure that creates cultures and forms the highest and most refined cultures.

But, does this then mean that high culture and sadomasochism have the same nature? Or that culture is a sadomasochistic thwarting of our basic drives? Affirming this doesn’t say much, but it might help us to be more honest with our motives. Which is not to say we must dress our gourmets in latex, yet if they did, at least we can now appreciate the logic behind it.

As for us, as Sapiens creators, the question that now arises is: if art is to be linked to pleasure, what is art’s relationship to desire? How does art thwart desire? What is the pleasure being prolonged in art?

Of course the answer cannot be pronounced generically, but the question may be pertinent for any analysis or criticism of art. It also may be key for understanding why art works for some people and not for others, and why some works of art are more universal than others. Likewise, it might give us some leeway into discovering why some works of art are more profound than others by examining profundity through the depth of the prolongation of the thwarting of desire. Art appreciation now becomes an analysis of the sadomasochistic experience.

Obviously, many art lovers would be surprised or offended if we analysed them as masochists. However, this may also explain why great art can so very often be rejected, and that the difficult is often too cruel for its audience to bear. Great art and high culture knows it needs an audience that are prepared, committed and willing to endure its torture in order to be appreciated. And fine, yes, let’s repeat it, the audience don’t want to be considered sadists any more than the audience want to be masochists, but, in truth, we must be, if we are to create and appreciate great works.

The artist must work at the sadistic art of thwarting the object of desire, for it is in this thwarting that the art takes place. Going directly to the object of desire is anti-art, or pornography.

Wealth: the Great Factory of Fear

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The basis of culture lies in the acquisition of universal principles. Universal ideas inspire great art and they pull us out of the day to day to open much richer, deeper and more fulfilling life potentials.

History is studied as one of the humanities and, as such, it is also associated with universal principles of humanity. Nevertheless, the actual historical process, seen from the universal point of view, is a great mistake. Our historical process has been constantly pulling us away from universality and from humanity. It has been a contradictory process in which our only unification has come through a sense of opposition to other human beings.

Independence, in our historically constructed world, is won by adhering ourselves to a group of humans we can supposedly identify with, opposed to the rest of the human beings that we don’t identify with. What suffers in this process is the universal culture and our concept of humanity itself. Humanity becomes lost in the shallow, but very muddy waters that are created by so many fusing scissions.

Oppositions create alliances. Our enemies force us make friends with their enemies. Lack of harmony creates tension-full sub-harmonies. Fear becomes an impulse for living. Or, more than an impulse, it becomes the vital driving force of the dynamics of life. Social, political, economic life is all pushed along by fear. The fear of being invaded, of losing what you are, of the power to express yourself freely, of losing your language. A fear of losing your job, your means of paying bills or the fear of not getting enough to pay for your shelter and your food. A fear of becoming seriously ill, of losing your mind, of dying.

Threats come from without and within. Society seems to take responsibility for finding solutions to threats whilst exploiting the need for such solutions. Any legitimate power is sustained by an apparent need for solutions: solutions to apparent threats.

The greater the threat the more powerful Power can be. And Power with a capital P is Wealth with a capital W. Civilisation is plutocratic by nature: it works in favour of money, designed to make the wealthy wealthier. Threat is a necessary tool for Wealth. While Wealth drives civilisations, there will always be social and cultural stress.

Wealth itself is not decision-making, it is a greed for decision-making that pulls all resolutions through its hungry mouth. In order to get the fortunes it needs, Wealth must perpetuate fear. It must create necessities that only the power of Wealth can resolve.

Civilisation becomes an accumulation of massive-infrastructures, for in order to organise the masses, a massive organisation is essential, whether through private or public means. The Society is enslaved by all the necessities we can imagine to have our individual strings pulled. There is no better ally to the dictatorship of Wealth than fear-fantasised necessities. Fears manufacture necessities, but fear-made necessities are false-necessities.

MAKING THE MASK – IDENTITY AS IDEOLOGY (2)

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Ideologies are masks. And if we add to this Althusser’s idea that “Human societies secrete ideology as the very element and atmosphere indispensable to their historical respirations and life,”[i] then we start to get an image of the veiling process of human society in the falsifying process of mask-making. It is through the creation of masks that society paints (in a secreting way) its own suitable, fake reality around itself. Any reality that is secreted or painted on must be regarded as a false one.

Once we have recognised the existence of the ideological mask we must ask ourselves: what is the real condition under that mask? Is it so ugly or so drab that it needs a mask to make it interesting or presentable? Of course the mask bearer erroneously thinks he or she is looking at his or own reflection in the mirror – and in this way we must see ideology as a bewildering hoax or scam, and the society as a clever grafter who has its subjects in its pocket. But why is it that the subjects are so susceptible to this hoax?

The first mask is the name which itself comes out of a language that frames us within that name. And here we have the paradox of language: it frees us by allowing us to communicate but enslaves us by making us subject to the requirements of the other’s communication. Without language our society and culture, indeed humanity itself, would be inconceivable, but it is not until one can escape into another new language that one can ever be aware of the power contained in the mask that we were given in the first place. Language unites but also separates us. It makes us different to those who speak other languages and unites us with those we immediately understand. They who speak our language are our own, but this is another restriction. If language is our most human trait, it is also our most anti-human as being the prime cause of human division and our lack of species consciousness.

The masks of cultures make demands on us and ultimately strive to condition our existence, pushing our self-perception towards a sense of belonging to a part of humanity that is different to, separate from and better than the rest of humanity … and this is the fundamental error.

Emphasis on difference is always there whilst the dividing lines are clearly and deliberately drawn, and emphasis on differences engenders the competitive spirit – the struggle against the others; the creed of us and them; the multifarious masks of isolating identities.

Ideologies grow like mushrooms, sprouting out of the damp earth of separation and the fertile soil of competition. Ideologies look for their antithesis to give them purpose, furbishing them with the power of dialectic against the rivals and enemies. Ideology needs to coexist with its ideological antithesis in order to give itself meaning. “We only makes sense whilst we stand by Them,” is the unmasked motto of all ideologies. Ideologies coexist in order for them to compete and clash, and it is in this coexistence that these opposing forces seep into each other, muddying each other and forcing each other to evolve into hypocritical absurdities that eventually become unsustainable.

The falsity of the mask can only be maintained for so long. Eventually all lies must be seen for the fictions they are. Reality will always push its way through to the surface of the artificial cover that is hiding it. Our own Moloch system is a massive ideological mess of a mask which is rapidly starting to peel and crack.

[i] Louis Althusser, FOR MARX, London, 1969, p.232

SAPIENS IN THE IRON MASK – IDENTITY AS IDEOLOGY (1)

iron mask

Althusser revealed the meaningful link between ideology and identity[i]. Not only meaningful but also a potentially liberating discovery if we first accept identity as a mask, more precisely an iron mask. But even the iron mask can be removed, and so can all ideologies. Once we recognise our identity for what it is we can submit it to necessity: a process which will firstly require a stripping away of masks and make up in order to establish the true essence of what one is, and recreate our masks, more honestly, according to that essence.

If the essence of our species is sapiens, then our identity will have to be anchored in our ability to think and know things. This is a continual process. Our first honest mask is therefore a fluid thing, a painting on, a face make-up rather than the fixed appendage that is the iron mask that so many of us wear now.

If the nature of Sapiens is the flowing continuity implied by knowing things then ideological identities are dangerously anti-sapiens, and anti-human. Societies and cultures give us masks that inhibit the progressive nature of the sapiens’ thought-unto-knowing flow. The socio-cultural mask says: “This is it,” and allows for no further reflection. An identity made up of these elements on its own, or the identity of the tribe, the team or the club, is a perversion for Sapiens, who needs the capacity for continuity of thought. Society traps the sapiens nature in a rigid mask forged in the metals of ideologies.

The only healthy ideology for Sapiens therefore is the ephemeral face that is painted on us and can be easily rubbed off. In the same way that we can paint our face to be a clown tomorrow, a beautiful woman the next day or an absolute ghoul if need be – the identity of the continually thinking Sapiens must be a morphing one.

At first the idea must seem repulsive for it is anti-natural to our iron-mask ideologies and it could be accused of being an apology for superficiality. In the ideology-identity society there is a blind faith in the values of one’s identity that gives each one of us our own character. In this way we confuse strength with an anti-sapiens quality of firm, unbreakable convictions. In the system’s fiction the mainstream narrative can make a hero even out of an ethical cripple as long as he or she remains faithful to his or her convictions. And yet this is the most dangerous fiction of all and has led to all of humanity’s most tragic debacles. The debacle of fascism and Nazism, the human debacle of the communist state and the religious empires with their Inquisitors and fundamentalists.

Of course it is true that humanity has always been a mask-inspired species, and identity probably arose with consciousness itself. This is why we make the distinction between the mask as make-up that can be wiped away, on the one hand, and the solid iron mask that we are imprisoned in, like the king’s unfortunate twin brother in Dumas’ novel, on the other. A dual potential arises in humanity: the one allowing us to paint our own identity or, the submission to the mask that we are locked into. But only the former has the flexibility to allow Sapiens to properly evolve.

[i] Althusser’s Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects – in Slavoj Zizek, MAPPING IDEOLOGIES, p. 82)