Civilization at a Crossroads: Feelings, Words, and a Power Grab
Our managers don’t mind our fighting with each other for the leftovers from their table.
This article was originally published on tessafightsrobots.com
Human feelings don’t matter
Unless bringing them up
Suits the invisible man.
Then it’s okay —
And even encouraged.
Is collateral damage
Into selling points
For the invisible man.
Poisoned rivers, stolen soil, tarnished souls, broken spirits,
Talking points, talking points, talking points, talking points…
Unless it’s marked for consumption
Expel the invisible man.
Expel the invisible man.
Expel the invisible man.
Subversion of dignity: A condemnation of propagandists
I see two things happening at the same time.
On the one hand, a lot of people, tired of invisibility and exhausted by the lockdown—regardless of their intellectual take on it—are liberating their intimate feelings spontaneously and powerfully, creating ritual spaces together with others to express a raw and urgent longing for truth, acceptance, and dignity. This coming together is beautiful.
On the other hand, individual opportunists—as well as influential state and corporate actors with preexisting agendas—are latching onto authentic human longings and deeply rooted dissatisfactions to peddle their shallow, cynical, egotistical points.
The two couldn’t be more different from each other but the propagandists are very good at mimicking the language of “authenticity” and “community values,” and they are doing it without shame or restraint. They are capitalizing on all existing crises and inventing non-existing ones. They are hijacking the raw hunger for respect and empathy—a sacred, gut-level feeling that burns in every human being—and they are claiming brand ownership of it as if it’s possible for any “brand” to exclusively own a universal human emotion. (Oh how aligned this is with the trend of cataloguing all nature and living beings!)
The propagandists are messing with our neuronal pathways by creating novel emotional associations based on their suggestions of what should make us sad, happy, or angry on a given day (see also the CIA torture manual). As we sit at an important civilizational crossroads, they are derailing the narrative of healing. They are insisting that in order to be righteous, we need to feel what the newspaper tells us to feel and to never accept other people’s right to walking their unique spiritual path we may not understand. They are lionizing aggressive immaturity and mocking sincerity and depth. They are discrediting life experience and elevating malleability and “irreverence.” They are attacking our most powerful weapon against the soullessness of the machine—our ability to relate, to learn from each other, and to love. Their methods are indeed similar to torture manuals as well as to how institutional religion once claimed ownership of human sexuality and ruled through organized enforcement of frustration, envy, and self-betrayal. It is that thing again, only upgraded for the 21st century (wink, wink).
Meanwhile in the media, the winning style is as shallow as it has even been. The winner’s script might be different every day but the tone is still of an impatient teenager—one hundred percent projected confidence, zero percent nuance. It doesn’t matter what the talking points are. Be it Trump or a newly minted activist, the idea is to be unapologetically right on every front and propped by thousands of unanimous followers—with the opponent being inexcusably wrong on every front, ridiculous, and hopefully alone and in tears. The winner's every waking moment is a picture-perfect courtroom scene in which his total domination is righteous, and the end justifies the means. According to both the old and the new normals, good people are allowed to be jerks.
To make things even sadder, the propagandists—as they’ve done a million times throughout history—recruit and groom fervent supervisors of the “new normal” du jour from the ranks of the unhealed and the extra ambitious. They seduce the most “viral” individuals with a prospect of personal visibility and a sense of impact—delivered through soundbites that have a ring of new authority, change, and redemption to them. The exact ratio of naïveté and calculated ambition in each case is unknown.
“Power to the people! Land to the peasants! Factory to the workers!” said the affluent, capitalist-funded leaders of the bolshevik movement in 1917. History repeats.
Trauma, revenge, and healing: What do we want? Who do we listen to?
Psychologically and emotionally, nations function much like individuals—with an added layer of complexity and greatly prolonged lifespans. Whenever there is an injustice or a significant imbalance, the feeling of being wronged can be temporarily swallowed by the belittled party—benefiting the winner's standing—but it never goes away in earnest until the situation is resolved. The heavy, bothersome feeling can be relieved through an internal decision to place trust in the universe and focus on doing one's best in the moment, through an act of revenge that tilts the balance the other way or—if there is such luck—through dialogue between the offending and offended parties that inspires new understanding, righting the wrongs, healing the wounds, and moving forward, renewed and pure. It is all about subjectivity, free will, and timing.
But if the injustice is not addressed at all, the suppressed feeling of being violated gets passed down the generations where it pops up in increasingly destructive and self-destructive ways—like a person getting sick from stress—until the imbalance is dealt with in earnest. For people, this process can last a lifetime. For nations, this process can take decades or even centuries—but the laws of emotional physics never cease to work.
Sadly, our nation established its dominance on the global map by intrigue and bullying. If America were a person, we would be a terrorist fugitive who begs a stranger to let him in and help him, then robs and murders the “stupid” hospitable host, rapes his daughters, enslaves his entire grieving household, and builds up his financial independence and military advantage from the stolen fort filled with terrified captive servants. And yes, he then invites his friends over and throws magnificent parties while the servants are locked in the back!
In this allegory, a question logically arises as to why the members of the household did not rebel and kick the scoundrel out—and maybe it is because he first threatened them with violence and broke someone’s leg, and then put them against each other, playing the betrayal card? Maybe he tapped into some old rivalry among the family members? Maybe he favored some of them over others, making sudden allies among them? Maybe he told everyone that the other one insulted them? Maybe he bribed the neighbors and installed them as supervisors? Maybe all of the above? In any case, America is not the only “person” who has aspired to fight for global dominance in this way, but it is probably the most successful aggressor of the past few centuries, and a big part of the secret sauce is fragmentation of interests, also known as "divide and conquer."
This style of victory—greedy mobster style—sets the scene for a future vendetta as soon as the previously humiliated party feels strong enough to fight back—or a series of back-and-forth vendettas that continue until everybody on every side dies in the war or the descendants decide to start a difficult journey toward healing and reconciliation, for the sake of everyone’s sanity and survival. And at every step of the way, there are subjective choices and different psychological types with different emotional and practical needs. There are those interested in righting the wrongs and moving on with a sense of renewal, those interested in winning big on behalf of their side, and those interested in stealing from everyone—as everyone is busy going at each other’s throats—which is what I think is happening right now in broad daylight.
From the standpoint of emotional physics, America has been long overdue for a balancing. Our collective past involves numerous atrocities inflicted upon innocent people as well as many broken promises to the original people of this land. Our collective present is neurotic and stressful because there is no love, only the pressure to perform. From an early age, we are integrated into an unloving, quickly accelerating conveyor in which we are faceless numbers who are only given incessant attention if our bills are overdue or if someone suspects us of a crime. Even a high social status—the most important American value and the best protection from indignity—does not guarantee lasting peace.
Some of us are born with or develop a good support system that keeps us grounded as we navigate this dysfunctional machine—and find very comfortable nooks inside of it. Some of us are disadvantaged from birth—either financially or emotionally or both—and thus perpetually zoomed in on the predatory teeth of the machine. Lately though, many of us have been feeling squeezed as the proven American formula for comfort has stopped working in the old way and—squeezed—we are growling at each other because we feel endangered for all sorts of good reasons and need to to relieve the frustration somehow. Meanwhile, our leaders don’t mind it if we keep fighting with each other for the leftovers from their table and for basic dignity—and their hired opinion makers direct our efforts accordingly.
Thus, we have two big problems: One problem is that our civilization is wobbly. The other problem is that the psychological type of a leader traditionally favored and elevated by our civilization is not even remotely qualified to get us out of this mess, regardless of the flavor of the talking points.
To start on a much needed collective journey toward healing, we need spiritually grounded leaders like Nelson Mandela or Vandana Shiva, not egomaniacs like, well, most of our captains. We would benefit from listening to traditional indigenous elders—but the system doesn’t favor wisdom, it mocks and attacks it. Even in our own everyday choices we often tend to support bullies and charmers “fighting for our cause” over “boring” even-headedness. There is even a word to reprimand even-headedness: “bothsidism.” It’s almost as if the purpose of the system is the ongoing vendetta, with no healing in sight.
The dictatorship of the unhealed
There used to be a time in America when consumption became accessible to many, and it became the American dream. As Europe lay in ruins after World War II, America saw a beginning of a new economic boom. Of course, if one were to lift up the curtain, things were not that great in those olden days—DDT and smoking were good for you, DuPont was selling poison to Americans and dumping poison into water, the Jim Crow laws were in place until 1965, American foreign policy served primarily the munition manufacturers, and the original people of this land didn’t even have the legal right to practice their traditions until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978!! Yet the national consumption was on the rise, and it defined the era. That era lasted for about fifty years—but once the new century started, the mood and the slogans have changed.
Perhaps the people sitting on top of the machine started losing their minds for real, and their insatiable addiction to power overflowed. Perhaps, science and technology—or the perception of thereof—have gotten to where it became easy for the overlords to think “globally,” and they became worried about what would happen to their throne if the planet stopped providing for them at the usual accelerating rate due to the pesky procreating peasants and their “first world” standards of living. Perhaps, they have come up with a different pyramid scheme than the one they were using before. In any case, prosperity in exchange for “hard work” is no longer being advertised to the masses. Instead, we are swinging between the fairy tale of a technoutopian paradise and a push for austerity. Austerity now, paradise later.
To introduce austerity and lower individual expectations, our overlords—whoever they are—are pushing the bar down. To do so, they play people against each other and, among other things, invest heavily into the idea of “privilege,” a notion that only impacts inter-peasant relations leaving the position of the overlords intact.
The word “privilege” is a genius invention of the proverbial overlords’ marketing department because it uses a strong emotion tied to a real problem to create a lever out of guilt and shaming, which is used to lower the bar for everybody, without actually fixing the problem or giving away anything of their own! “What,” says the hurting person, “You didn’t get beaten senseless by a cop for sitting in the car and doing nothing? Look at your fat smirking privileged face, you son of a bitch, you. What do you know about life?!” “And you, kissing in public? I haven’t been near another human being for months, how dare you be so selfish? Pig.”
I understand the emotion. I am not immune to it, and there have been times when I felt it in myself and had to fight it off knowing that it's poison. Because I know it in myself, I recognize it in others, and I am not going to take the bait. For example, in this now famous New York Times op-ed, Chad Sanders recommends that white people should inform their loved ones that they "will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives either through protest or financial contributions." I have never met Chad. I don't know what he has been through, and I wish him the sweetest life possible, obviously (not as a privileged person but as a person who has been hungry, locked up in "immigration detention," assaulted, and wronged on more than one occasion). I passionately relate to some of the things he describes—the emotional cluelessness of an unscarred middle-class individual from a first-world country can be frustrating—but refusing to talk to family members, during a pandemic none the less, unless they protest or donate?!! I understand that it is an opinion piece and a commercialized screenshot of an emotional moment but family ties are foundational to one's mental health, and one really can—and should— "forgive" one's mom or one's uncle for not being politically active or even for practicing wrong politics. Suggesting otherwise is insane. Letting the unhealed energy dictate the rules instead of initiating and supporting the healing process is irresponsible on behalf of any leader.
However, what our corporate captains in all camps are doing—by ignorance or on purpose—is unleashing the pain of the unhealed upon target groups or the general crowd to lower the standards for all peasants. They—unhealed themselves—are encouraging indiscriminate resentment because it helps them clear up the stage for “the new” and creates an impression that calls for austerity come “from the people.” It is so dishonest, it makes me want to scream. They are using both the pain and the protective instincts to block actual improvement and meaningful solutions—and this is as cynical as climate.com, a misleadingly named agtech platform for the takeover of the land and the food industry by the "new" industrial agriculture.
Here's what any remotely decent human being in a position of power would do: deal with facts, talk to the people and represent their best interests, respect the human spirit, and invest in righting the wrongs. They would repeal the racist "war on drugs" policy designed to fill private prisons with poor people and secure free labor, they woud ensure that the police are properly trained and kept accountable, they would invest in high quality human education and healthcare and the arts, they would cut down the pollution that is currently disproportionately affectsing poor communities, and so on—but instead of doing all that, the 0.001% are supporting low-level chaos because it helps them keep us looking the other way. Without a doubt, “human rights” will be tossed out of the window the moment their “great reset” is finalized—but for now, “power to the people” is cool. And of course, the 0.001% are happy to pretend to support the plight of the unhealed because it costs them nothing! And not only does it not cost them anything, it actually helps them dismantle the old pyramid scheme and erect a new, AI-centered one.
A civilizational crisis
My job is Poison Distributor.
My condition is
Hatred of Biological Forms.
They call me deranged
But I am the sanest of all.
They call me a merciless killer,
A sadist, a robot, a king.
But I am just a perfectionist.
My job is Poison Distributor.
My religion is
Hatred of Unpredictable Shapes.
My poison will find you
In the water you drink,
My poison will find you
In the air your breathe,
This way or another,
It’ll find you.
My job is Poison Distributor.
A very practical job.
You are welcome.
I believe that we are at a civilization crossroads. Again, we have two problems. One problem is that our civilization has created a lot of messes, and they finally need to be addressed. The other problem is that the same psychological type that brought the issues about, is pointing fingers at them and using them to sell us solutions that are likely to make things even worse.
I have a big picture theory that goes something like this: The seed of our current crisis was probably thrown into the ground centuries ago when then-leaders ordered and enforced an emotional separation from nature that disrupted the way we lived and felt since time immemorial. It broke something in the sensory circuits, and it’s been making us increasingly more lonely, proud and insane (with a disclaimer that we are resilient and adaptive, so we have managed to create beauty and joy at every step of the way, no matter the circumstances). Perhaps it started as an experiment in uprooted creativity. Like a teenager throwing a tantrum based on the desire to self-express and be loved for it, the human kind decided to walk away from the familiar and "innovate."
Each subsequent “innovation” (from mandatory monotheistic theology to war on sexuality to commodification of nature through industrialization, etc.) has created new sensory distortions, new suffering, and new beauty. It's been going on for centuries but now, seemingly, the chicken have come home to roost. We are at a point where our expansion-based economic models applied to a finite planet can no longer satisfy the needs of our masters. Hence, the masters are very nervous and acting increasingly like addicts losing control. Maybe they think they are going to start living forever like any minute now. Maybe they are simply scared of the prospect of having to share with the entitled peasants. But in any case, they seem to be going after a system of total control, while not forgetting to monetize the process of getting there. They feel the need to organize their inventory—water, minerals, plants, animals, and us—and allocate and distribute their resources efficiently. Maybe trim some. Maybe replace some with robots. As long as they stay on top of the machine, any new managerial technique is worth it. The peasants are disposable—but they are a part of the inventory, and they should be catalogued and kept on a digital leash for better management.
The question that is unclear is the quality of the leashes. Will the leashes only limit our freedom (something that we kind of already don’t have), or will they also make us sick and kill us? Will there be beautiful silk leashes for the select few, or will everybody be downgraded to the status of a warehouse worker, via a hard reset and a financial meltdown? Will their “sustainable” model from hell (GMOs, agtech, "green” nuclear reactors, interactive surveillance, insane levels of electromagnetic pollution, pre-crime, AI medicine, post-truth media, etc.) lead us to the brink of mass insanity and possible extinction? These are the questions that are impossible to answer but what seems clear is that we are in the middle of an undemocratic attempt to mechanically dismantle the existing system and assemble a new one with much tighter controls, "for our own good."
I, for one, don’t like the return of the cheerful totalitarian language that was forced on me in my early childhood. Somehow, I don’t think that JPMorgan Chase or the Ford Foundation are looking to transfer the power to the people.
Power to the people: Expel the invisible man
This moment in time is strange, and it came too fast.
I don't have a clear-cut answer; however, believing social engineers isn't one because whether they are well-intended or blatantly evil, they are insane—and they don't care about us.
Maybe we can imagine what our bravest ancestors would have done. Maybe we can take the advice of the indigenous elders and put out minds at the service of our hearts and see where it leads us.
Whatever we choose, may our souls find purpose, and may our gifts be accepted and celebrated by the community. Amen.
I believe my literary apogee may have occurred just about half a century ago. My article on local pizza parlors was voted best of the year by the staff of the liberal weekly at my college. (Which vote, I assure you, was in no way influenced by the surprise arrival of a half dozen family sized gems sent not long after press release.) Since then my grand luminescence may have dimmed just a tad, but as an engineer my blurbs were at least found entertaining from time to time. I had certainly had the opportunity to read some pretty good work through the years. And I am simply dumb struck in awe of yours. I believe I sure a very common vantage point with you, but you have depth and bring clarity and richness that I could never resolve. Mine is just one small voice, but your writings are simply the best i believe I have ever read.