Friday, February 26, 2010

Celebrity Culture

The last phase of this democratization/debasement process is the culture of celebrity. Movie stars are individuals worshiped and emulated by millions, granted hitherto unimaginable influence and power in the world. Admittedly, their influence is less in the socio-political realm than in the spheres of entertainment; but this only means that their reach is all the more subtle and insidious, extending as it does beyond the outer realms, to the inner psychic life of the populace, their dreams and fantasies. Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage are considered ordinary people who became “stars” through a mixture of talent, determination, and luck. Yet, by virtue not only of their wealth but their enormous popularity—Robert Bly calls it “that manna that comes from the attention of millions”—they have become living, flesh and blood idols—gods incarnate.

Anyone who as ever seriously tried contacting a movie star knows that, for the average person, it is every bit as absurd and impossible as connecting to the gods ever was for ancient man—considerably more so, in fact, since ancient man—given the wisdom—could connect to the gods on the inner planes if not the outer. Making a personal connection to Steven Spielberg or Mel Gibson, however, is about as likely as a lowly peasant gaining an audience with the King would have been in days of old. Celebrities move in a different stratosphere altogether.

Stars are success personified. They represent a modern, coarse version of the old mythic narrative of the Hero achieving his rightful place as King against insurmountable odds and almost insuperable obstacles. Yet stars do nothing as or by themselves, and certainly nothing heroic (unless a ruthless determination for success at any cost can be considered heroic). They are actors who play heroic roles. The shaman-adventurer enacting his quest for the tribe from a place of Knowing, allowing others to share in his experience of gnosis, has become Arnold Schwarzenegger killing Arab terrorists and saving New York City from nuclear holocaust. A star plays a fake role within a manufactured narrative, and becomes rich and famous for doing so. The real-life narrative (the celebrity success story, equally beloved by the masses for the vicarious thrill it provides) mirrors and mocks (inverts) the manufactured narrative in which the Hero acts selflessly for the good of all, and prevails, receiving no personal reward for his troubles save the knowledge that he has done what is right and realized his destiny. A star in real life, on the other hand, attains the supreme reward of wealth, power, and fame by relentlessly pushing his or her personal agenda for self-aggrandizement (literally, when s/he makes it to “the big screen”), an agenda which benefits no one but the star (and of course, his/her many handlers). The star then becomes a living resonator onto which the public can project its own disowned “stellar” (divine) nature, becoming in the process an adoring fan, worshiping at the plastic altar of celebrity.

A fan does not choose his or her idol for any actual, internal qualities which it embodies; nor is that fan receiving power or a sense of purpose through worship. There is no option of “action” at all for the subject of the modern state, since all such actions are already determined by the social control system in which he lives, in which the only freedom is the freedom to choose which idols to worship, and which channels to tune to. Fans are defined not by their actions but by their “taste,” their personal preference (and their fanaticism!), and the only freedom remaining is the freedom to choose their particular brand of entertainment.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Democratization of Archetypes

Throughout the current series of posts, I've been referring to, and attempting to map, a process that might be called the “democratization of the archetypes.”

If we begin after the species had moved from being a collective or hive consciousness into self awareness, this process can be simply described as follows:

First we had gods. The gods were the creators of life and the arbitrators of reality. The very laws of Nature stemmed from them (they were these laws, embodied), and humanity could only subject itself to them gratefully, worshiping them blindly and praying for their favor. In a few, rare cases, an individual could embody these forces by aligning with them, thereby becoming one with them. These were the tales from which myths were born, stories of men becoming gods through a terrifying rite of passage by which they overcame the monstrous demons of their lower natures, and entered into active service to the divine.

Religion—as opposed to animism—began through storytelling. As people’s connections to the archetypes became conscious through myth, and through primal enactments, rites of passage and so forth, so began religious ritual and the like. Religion as a social power structure began when individuals—master shamans and storytellers—grouped together and were accepted—or imposed themselves—as representatives of the divine. The rest of the tribe then had to go through these representatives in order to connect to the gods. In the early days, the shaman elite would have still allowed for initiation into divine knowledge, through plants, ritual, ordeals, and the like. But eventually, as the elite came to ever more jealously guard their knowledge, magik was outlawed, and the new priesthood began to lay down religious laws, social mandates, and the like. External religion was really the inception of politics—understood in their deeper, original context, the two cannot be separated. The idea of social rule, for example, originated with priestcraft (for example, the Pharaohs of Egypt) and later with a “royal line” of Kings (royalty being those who determined reality). In both cases, rulership was by divine decree. Over time, these became “sacred” bloodlines to whom the tribe subjugated itself, without thought or question as to the rulers’ worthiness or suitability. It was simply a given: the gods had chosen these men and women to implement their rule, and one could no more question the gods’ decision (or those of their representatives) than one could question Nature.

Eventually, however, the rule of priests and kings gave over to the rule of an elected government: officials nominated by the people, of the people, for the people. This was an illusion, of course, since the same “royal” bloodlines prevailed; but it was a necessary illusion, meant to keep up with the transforming psyche of the collective, the growing need of the self-reflecting ego for a token sense of self-determination. This was all part of the continuing evolution of the surrogate individuation narrative.

Morality and Oligarchy

Another key aspect in this process was the motion of morality. Morality had been entirely absent from ancient myths, and from the actions of gods and royalty alike. But over time, it became central to the process of debasement-via-democratization of archetypes. Morality referred to modes of behavior, rather than to an inner quality found within Nature itself (including human nature); now that humans no longer had a direct connection either to Nature or the divine, such qualities had to be proscribed and enforced, both legally and socially. Whereas gods and kings were considered above morality (their rule has always been “do what we say, not what we do”!), politicians and social leaders were required (in theory at least!) to lead by example; as such, they were expected to be paragons of moral rectitude and virtue.

Since political leaders are ostensibly “elected,” they are theoretically equal to the rest of the “tribe.” Their power pertains not to them as individuals but to their “office,” their function within the democratic social structure. Hence they are not rulers but “public servants.” In reality, the power structures in place today are every bit as oligarchic and impenetrable as they ever were (and in many ways more so). Secular, elected officials and leaders are now answerable neither to the gods above them nor to the “electorate” beneath them. Their rule is as total as that of the Pharaohs and Kings ever was, only now they no longer offer even a superficial reminder of the divine realm that is the true source of power, both of elite and mass, of body and psyche. Once upon a time, subjugation to the gods—and even to their human embodiments, the shamans and heroes—was a means of empowerment for the tribe, allowing a psychological transformation/individuation through alignment with archetypal forces. Submitting to the authority of an “ordinary” elected elite offers no such possibilities. We have surrendered our sovereignty to “powers” and “principles” that are quite obviously unworthy; and besides the dubious comforts of security and convenience, we receive absolutely nothing in return.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Diving into the Deep with Infinite Waters Ralph

Had a lot of fun with this one.

(The sound is rather poor on this version: I will upload a better recording to the podomatic site soon.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Price of Freedom

Plato and the Art of Imagineering

Plato’s Republic proscribed the banning of all poets save those working for the state. Individuals creating new myths, new narratives, through personal expression was considered a serious threat to the established order of things. Being a mythmaker himself, Plato understood that myths are the means by which the collective psyche, like a garden, is seeded and cultivated. To govern a society, it is necessary to have control at a deeper level than merely social. What really rules people is their unconscious life, and to have control of the collective unconscious, you must take charge of the myths which people live by. To this end, our myths have been hijacked and restructured by a secret elite of storytellers, of whom Plato was one of the more famous representatives.

The aim of these meme creators and “imagineers” (the term coined by Walt Disney in 1952) is to redirect psychic energy, the real currency of control, away from the collective and to their own specific ends. This is a process that continues to this day, and key to it is the way that myths, while appearing to empower the tribe with “inspiring” tales of heroism, actually engender conflict and malaise within it, slowly stripping it of its power and integrity. At the same time, these myth-stories (once instructional, now mere “entertainment”) serve to distract the collective from the truth: that the source of the conflict and malaise is these very same amusements—and the “governance” behind them. This way, the tribe never suspects that the very thing it is using to escape from an intolerable, disharmonious reality is itself the source of that disharmony. Instead, it project its discontent outward, onto the Other, and turns its rage inward, against itself.

This can be seen clearly enough today by the countless Hollywood movies that are backed—and to a large extent conceived and created—by the military-industrial complex. These are films that seemingly glorify a rebel hero, a lone outlaw figure who fights against a corrupt and abusive government system and who prevails against all the odds. The distorted, inverted solar hero supposedly stands in for the common man, and for the collective; but actually, he represents—in none-too-covert, symbolic form—the oligarchic military elite. So while audiences cheer Bruce Willis, and experience a vicarious thrill of empowerment as the tenacious “little guy” overcomes a monolithic corporate power, they never suspect that all of their energy is actually going to the same power system that is ostensibly being “defied,” even as their hard-earned wages wind up lining the pockets of a small clique of corporate movie-star billionaires and their hidden backers.

The Price of Freedom

Freedom in the ancient world was a burden—or perhaps a calling—as much as it was a privilege; far from being an inalienable “right” granted by the State to its citizens, it was rather an attainment that few aspired to and even fewer had the dedication to achieve. In alchemical or psychological terms, freedom and individuation are synonymous. Freedom in the true sense has little or nothing to do with external constraints or social liberty; it has everything to do with integrating the disowned fragments of one's psyche to allow for anamnesis—reawakening to one's true nature and function within the Universe—to occur. As Jung wrote, individuation can only occur via the dissolution of the persona, the constructed identity. Christ said, the truth shall make you free, meaning the truth of who we are once the mask is removed. The price of freedom is this—our sense of personal self—and it is a price that only a very small, heroic few are willing to pay.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Land Before Ego

The Original Storytellers

Initially, myths were communicated by word of mouth. Perhaps the tradition of storytelling began when members of the tribe, returning from adventures inner or outer, having experienced new realms literal or figurative, wished to communicate their experiences to others. They would tell their stories by embodying them, allowing the rest of the tribe to share in them vicariously. Since the storyteller and the tale were one and the same, listeners would have had the option of matching the truth embodied by the storyteller within themselves, and of being altered by it through a direct transference of knowledge/experience. There would be no need for interpretation, because the story, being told from a place of Knowing, could be received likewise.

If we imagine a time in which humanity shared in a collective consciousness, a time before the formation of individual ego consciousness, such a hive-mind would have no need of language to communicate. As the gradual formation of separate ego existence began—or rather, as some of this subtler interconnectivity was lost—the possibility, or necessity, of communication between separate individuals (components of the “hive”) would have arisen. Perhaps musical expression was the earliest manifestation of this inter-communication, with song being the first expression of the human voice? Music and song may have been a means of communion within the tribe, to share the bliss (and pain) of a collective organism experiencing the dawning of separative consciousness? At some point, then (perhaps through collective trauma, resulting in a fragmentation of the group psyche), the sense of an individual self came into being. With it came self-reflection, the ability to experience oneself as a separate being. This would have both resulted from and further augmented the possibility of comparing oneself—one’s capacities as a hunter, singer, storyteller, or whatever—with others in the group. Self-awareness led inexorably to self-consciousness; and when comparison became possible, conflict and competition inevitably followed.

Storytelling as we know it today would have been one side effect of this process. When individuals were part of a group consciousness, anything experienced by one of them would have been directly available to the rest. Once this mind-link began to deteriorate, however, the need for language (initially song) as a means for sharing experiences increased. Early storytelling would have often taken place in the evening, around a fire. Such a radiant light source (whether flickering flames or TV set) is an effective means to put the rational side of the brain to sleep, thereby opening up the irrational, unconscious side to direct transmission. These fireside tribal storytelling sessions would have enabled the group to stay attuned at a collective level, even as they were becoming more and more isolate in their daily activities, as warriors, hunter-gatherers, and the like. It was at this point that something began to shift. As already stated, with self-awareness arose the possibility of differentiation. If certain individuals in the group became aware of a greater capacity for individual consciousness (or perhaps a greater facility to move between the two states of consciousness), they would have also understood that knowledge and experience was a source of power, to the individual as much as the group. This realization, and this increased power, had the potential for separating them from, and placing them over, the group.

The Shaman Elite

These individuals would naturally recognize one another; they would tend to form smaller, tighter groups among themselves, in secret. Instead of sharing their knowledge with the rest of the tribe, they could use it to increase their superiority and control over it. If such was their intent, it follows that they would begin to shape and direct the old tribal stories (and any new ones they were instrumental in telling) towards a different end than that of collective individuation. The myths would then be encoded in new ways, meant to reveal their alchemical truths only to those already attuned to the “higher” frequency of the “elite,” while the rest of the tribe would receive a diluted and distorted version: a simple story designed not to empower them but to enchant and entertain them. In other words, to cast a spell over them. Once divested of their deeper alchemical essence, the stories would eventually come to be seen as literal descriptions of heroic feats or hidden treasures, and suchlike; rather than allowing for inner transformation, such stories would inspire fascination with outer goals and accomplishments. They would foster a desire for specialness, which would then give rise to discontent and competitive drive, leading to conflict among the tribe. The members of the tribe would never suspect that the actual source of this conflict lay, not in any social arrangements, or even in themselves (though that would soon be the case), but in the stories themselves.

Behind these stories, inside the mythic narratives or memes which they implanted in the collective psyche, lay the manipulations of a small group of “initiates” (in the early days at least, these initiates would still ostensibly have been a part of the greater tribe, but hidden within it). In the dark as to the actual source of their discontent, the tribe would then turn their hostilities upon one another or upon neighboring tribes, and conflict would inevitably ensue. The mythic narratives once designed for alchemical transformation would then be enacted at a social level, as actual, tooth-and-claw warfare. The resulting fragmentation and chaos would further empower the hidden shaman elite to extend their system of social control, until such a time as it could become open control, complete with law enforcement, religious counsel, military defense, and suchlike.