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