Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Public Loathing as Deification
Cults are often nasty things that subordinate the free will of their neighbors to all sorts of preposterous and outrageous notions. They are the breeding grounds of political and religious extremism and intolerance. They splinter societies and turn relatives, friends and neighbors against each other. Governments periodically find it necessary to suppress them, even resorting to violence—all the way to actually destroying them with fire, as happened with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas on 19 of April 1993. Cults that combine politics with religion, such as the Wahhabi state cult of Saudi Arabia that has been breeding extremism all over the world, are particularly nasty.
But the type of cult I want to discuss is quite different from these.
In fact, it is not even commonly perceived as a type of cult. Its main focus is the construction of Cathedrals of Hate centered on political figureheads. By means of public hate, these figureheads are transformed into deities—demons, to be exact.
Hate is one specific type of emotion; love is another. But all strong emotions are of a kind. Essentially, they are chemical imbalances within the brain that cause us to lose self-control and to act irrationally. Because they are chemically rather than electrically based, they are never fleeting, like thoughts can be, but arise over time and take time to dissipate. And they are all of a kind: we could be variously infatuated or enraged, and love can turn to hate rather suddenly, laying bare the chemical similarity between these two opposite emotions. Individually, privately experienced emotions are inevitable, spontaneous expressions of our animal natures, and the best we can do is sublimate them through art or, failing that, try to repress them. But public emotions, such as rage expressed by large groups, are far from inevitable. They are also far from spontaneous.
If we look around, we can see Cathedrals of Hate being erected all around us by those who feel that they have something to gain politically from doing so. Construction at the building sites of the Putin Hate Cult (PHC) and the Trump Hate Cult (THC) has been particularly active of late, resulting in structures so out of proportion that they seem poised to topple under their own weight and crush their followers. Historical Hate Cults, such as the Hitler Hate Cult (HHC) and the Stalin Hate Cult (SHC) are carefully maintaining their respective Cathedrals of Hate and offering their services to the others by, for instance, allowing PHC’s or THC’s Hate Idol to temporarily don the mantle and wield the scepter of HHC’s or SHC’s Hate Idol. Smaller Hate Cults are also getting quite a lot of attention, such as those of Barak Obama (OHC), Hillary Clinton (CHC), Bashar Assad of Syria (AHC), Kim Jong Un of North Korea (UHC) and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela (MHC).
Please forgive me for pointing out something glaringly obvious. None of the individuals mentioned in the preceding paragraph, whether dead or alive, is, has ever been or will ever be your girlfriend or your boyfriend. No matter what you do or don’t do, you are not going to either bed or get raped by any of them. The most you’ll ever manage, with one or two of them, is to shake his hand under the watchful eye of his bodyguards, or maybe ask him a polite question at a press conference, and even that would only be possible if you are one of the carefully screened few who are allowed near him. And whatever it is that happens to you, none of them will ever be held personally responsible because of a certain legal principle called raîson d’État that grants them dispensation from human moral norms.
But what you can do is jump up and down and shout obscenities about them with likeminded others, or stand around with signs declaring them to be criminals (or whatever else), or accessorize yourself with hate paraphernalia. Walking around St. Petersburg recently, I saw a fat slob digging around in garbage bins near Sennaya Square while sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with “ПУТИН Х**ЛО”; let a Russian friend translate that for you if you are curious. If you don’t wish to be a socially active worshiper at a Cathedral of Hate, you can stay home and seethe with hatred there, annoying your friends and relatives while marinating your brain in the vitriol of strong political sentiment. You’d think that I’ve seen just about everything by now, but even I have been amazed recently by some perfectly intelligent and otherwise clear-thinking people expressing strong emotions about political figureheads that are, by their very nature, unworthy of any emotions whatsoever—good or bad.
Let me explain why it is that political figureheads are by their nature unworthy of any emotions whatsoever.
We live in a world dominated by machines. Agricultural machines produce our food; industrial machines produce out shelter, clothing and tools; various other types of plant and equipment keep us warm or cool, watered and safe and allow us to move about the landscape (generally in triangular patterns between home, work and shopping). And keeping all of this machinery functioning are social machines. These are unlike all the other machines, which consist mostly of hardware or software, because the moving parts of social machines are composed of meatware—human meatware, to be exact. Human meatware is composed of humans that act like robots.
What is a social machine? Here is how I defined it in my book Shrinking the Technosphere:
“A social machine is a form of organization that subordinates the will of the participants to an explicit, written set of rules, that is controlled based on objective, measurable criteria, and that excludes, to the largest extent possible, individual judgment, intuition and independent, spontaneous action. In the process, it becomes blind to all the things that cannot be measured, such as meaning, beauty, happiness, justice and compassion.” [p. 189]
Lest you think that social machines are some sort of pathological aberration, perish the thought! They are perfectly normal for all human societies beyond a certain scale:
“The progression from a humanistic organization that functions on the basis of common understanding, spontaneous cooperation, shared values and individual judgment and initiative to a social machine in which people behave like robots, is automatic: it is simply a question of scale.” [p. 190]
Essentially, humanistic organizations don’t scale. Thus, it is pointless to either like or dislike social machines; their existence is simply a fact that you have to accept and learn to cope with as best you can. You can perhaps opt out of them, based on your own individual likes and dislikes.
For instance, if you dislike industrial agriculture with its chemically poisoned fields, rows upon rows of plastic greenhouses, inhumane factory farms and all the rest, then you can take up homesteading. Then, instead of spending your days sitting in an air-conditioned office looking at a screen you would spend them walking slowly while looking at the rear end of a draft horse, or working a pitchfork while your children grope around in the dirt looking for potatoes to throw in a bucket (as we were doing a couple of weeks ago). But no matter what you do, there will still be social machines, and you will still have to deal with them.
Next, we have to accept that social machines are to a large extent staffed and almost exclusively run by psychopaths:
“…What to a healthy society looks like a terrible character flaw appears perfectly normal, even laudable, in the context of a social machine. Lack of empathy is seen as cool, professional detachment; a psychopath would never let emotion cloud her judgment. Sadistic tendencies (psychopaths hurt people in order to make themselves feel something) are perceived as signs of an incorruptible nature: the rules are the rules! … Because of this, social machines act as psychopath incubators. Psychopaths are not the healthiest of specimens, but because of their greater inclusive fitness within social machines, psychopaths tend to persist and thrive within them while non-psychopaths do not.” [p. 194]
The fact that within social machines psychopaths rise to the top is easy to grasp:
“If having some psychopathic tendencies is helpful for fitting in within a social machine, having more psychopathic tendencies is even more helpful. Consequently, within social machines, pure psychopaths rise through the ranks and concentrate at the top. It should be entirely unsurprising, then, that when we look at the upper echelons of business and government—the C-suite, the boards of directors, the executive branches, the legislatures and the courts—we find that they are pretty much stocked with total psychopaths.” [p. 195]
Finally, let’s draw some conclusions, which should by now be perfectly obvious. All of the Hate Cults mentioned above are focused on national leaders. Nation-states are social machines par excellence. Social machines are run by psychopaths. Whatever it is they do, you can be absolutely sure that it's nothing personal, entirely beyond your control, and nothing to get worked up about. My sincere and earnest hope is that once you digest and accept these facts, becoming emotional about some psychopathic figurehead or other will start to look silly to you, the spell will be broken, the political vitriol in your brain will eventually get metabolized to something less toxic (urine, probably) and you will stop wasting your energies and feel better. As far as all of the Cathedrals of Hate—please don’t go near any of them. Cults are bad; political hate cults doubly so.
I always took pride in watching sports without becoming a zealot for any one team simply based on their name and jersey. This way I could remain open to the nuances of sport and human drama to be found in such contests.
Along comes my son:He is a complete partisan and his mood rises and falls with a particular team.
There must be a deep reason that is hard-wired that causes much of life to become organized along the lines of two opposing teams.
"Essentially, humanistic organizations don’t scale" This is a very important concept I believe. I first came across the idea in the book "The Breakdown of Nations" written in 1957 by Leopold Kohr. A prescient observation of society which is well worth reading, if somewhat heavy going - but then if you read Dmitri you will be accustomed to thinking at the same time!
Outstanding, Like JHK you put into words what i am perceiving in the society I am living in. You are absolutely right America has become a Nation of Hate Cults, But that did not happen by accident. I believe it has been a well planned program that started with Reagan to keep the People of this country from unifying and defying the Military Industrial Complex. The news media has been a full partner in all this. The Bad News is it is going to get worse. i believe by next summer it will be 1968 all over again with riots in the Streets and the National Guard being called out. History repeats itself not because we forget, but because human nature does not change.
Dear Dmitry, one of the comments above is related to sport. Personaly, do you extend the concept in a simiar way to athles and sport clubs,too?
Hate cults are a marvelous way to motivate people into one kind of war or another. To the extent that this succeeds, people sucked into them are (in that context) not that different than the objects of their disaffections.
Heads of state (and government leaders generally) aren't necessarily some unusual kind of person properly called a 'psychopath.' The significant concept is probably 'dissociation'.
That is, these are people who readily go into a state in which one tangle of brain circuitry doesn't quite connect to the complementary tangles that would normally keep it in check. Off-duty, with friends and family such people might be perfectly nice mass murderers. "But we have to carpet-bomb those Somewherelseians to keep them from molesting their daughters. We hate having to do this, but it's our humanitarian duty."
Various degrees and sorts of dissociation occur in virtually everybody, every night when we close our eyes, perchance to dream. Often it'll be emotionally-charged associative networks that take charge of a sleeping brain; other times it might be more 'intellectual' processes operating without much emotional feedback; I don't know if anyone has a complete list of the possibilities.
Either condition in a waking state might be functional. Hypnosis, classroom learning, and getting propaganized are different ways such states help keep a social machine functioning -- but when people can't switch themselves out of such a condition, the word 'mad' comes to mind.
One of John Michael Greer's recent blog posts was titled "Hate is the New Sex." In it he posited that the virtue signaling of hating the haters--whom of course is is only right and fitting to hate, because hate is bad--is a new Puritanism. As older Puritans tried to maintain that sex was evil and not to be thought of, so hate is evil and not to be thought of. Another attempt to amputate part of the human personality. Greer said it more eloquently, so I recommend his new blog at Ecosophia.
And finer and finer distinctions of who is worthy of being hated has led parts of progressive movements into a circular firing squad in which someone who agrees with you on 90% of an issue can be ostracized because they fail to agree on the 10%. Insanity.
I used sports as a comparison to help understand why the world divides in simplistic fashion between 2 sides with heroes and villains.
Is it derived from warfare where control of limited resources is decided and winner takes all? The readers of this blog are not so quick to get swept up in such things. Does that make us lone wolves?
Would you say that our past Confederate generals and prominent 18th century slaveholders have become figures in another cathedral of hate?
The developing Quaker stand against war is far from stupid, even though Quakers themselves have often violated it. As Berty Russell said, war is a very bad way to settle an argument.
We took a more determined stand against slave-owning, among ourselves, half-a-century or so before the Civil War. No human beings were killed in the implementation of this ban. (Renouncing money and coercion, while probably required for complete implementation, simply didn't occur to us.)
I'd like to remove all monuments to my namesake, a prominent slave trader who never did get around to repenting his role, and who is quite plausibly accused of routinely killing captured black soldiers in the war, not to mention his likely role in the KKK afterwards.
Yes, civilization seems to have been practically the same as slavery, from very early on. Cities as residences -- rather than voluntarily [?] built ceremonial centers -- have traditionally been where big landowners gathered for mutual defense and contests for prestige, while everyone actively engaged in feeding the population was out in the villages struggling to survive taxes and rents. (It may or may not have been a good idea; most all the information we have about this comes from spokesmen for the extractive, kleptocratic classes, mostly uninterested in those dull rural clods that kept the whole system in provisions. The experiment is still in progress -- but looking bad.)
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