John M. Kelley
For most of my life I have tried to act on the values I was raised with, to live a life of principle. In my family that meant doing my best and promoting opportunity, equality and justice for others as well. During the last 33 years I have been at various times a social worker for the elderly, a child protective services worker, an alternative education teacher for juvenile delinquents and emotionally disturbed children, a mental health and addiction counselor, and a mental health program director, consultant and trainer. I have written or co-written five books and numerous articles for professional magazines on these topics.
I have come to the conclusion that most of my efforts were spent in the wrong place. Today I am convinced I should have been trying to change a sick system to nurture people not change people to adjust to a sick system. I do believe that I assisted people in gaining needed skills and that my efforts helped people cope with their problems better. But the question I have had to face is, what is it I have helped them learn to cope with? Rarely do we stop to question the milieu that we live in or what it produces. I now believe that many times I have helped people try to adapt to an insane state of existence.
To understand the pathology of our current culture that the right is trying to sell the world under the misleading label of "liberal democracy", we have to look at how anthropology, cultural history, mythology and evolutionary biology have defined the needs of human beings. The destruction of this supportive culture, developed over millions of years by the industrial revolution in the relatively short period of two hundred years is the underlying cause of individual, family and community ills.
Our Mental and Emotional Evolution
Before the industrial revolution families spent almost all of their time in close contact with each other and their neighbors. Whether farmers or craftsman, families worked together in their fields, homes or shops with each other. Most meals were taken together throughout the day. Families, who had neither land nor craft, worked for others mostly as family units. Families lived together in small villages or neighborhoods in large towns. Historically, houses would be clustered with fields surrounding them many times, pasturage and other lands were held in common.
People lived in extended families, clans and groups. Intermarriage with the neighbors was the norm. Children were raised by communities. These communities were positive in their clear peer expectations, a hierarchy in the community usually based on skill and respect (without great economic disparity) and their need for mutual support to accomplish day to day tasks impacting survival and living conditions. Even the mentally ill and infirm had roles within the community and in most cases were looked on as a collective responsibility. When they moved, they generally moved as a whole community. This could happen because of seasonal changes for pasture, nomadic lifestyle or changing political or environmental conditions.
The counsel of elders or respected members of the community was usually sought out when information came in from the outside or things happened outside the norm that needed interpretation. The collective discussion and wisdom of the community was sought out to decide how to deal with this information. In many cultures women had an equal role in this, in some matriarchal societies a leading one.
People's lives revolved around the seasons, the time of day and other things that kept them inseparable from their environment. Their livelihood and survival were dependent on their knowledge and respect for that environment. They felt a part (and sometimes victim of) of the larger world and universe and held it in a sense of awe. New information was rare and change was slow, maybe not even observable within one lifetime. Things that were not understood were relegated by superstition to the mythology embedded in the culture.
Whether living in a village or as nomadic groups, these communities functioned basically the same. When these norms broke down it was generally because of war, famine or natural disaster. In those times whole communities were destroyed with the survivors incorporated by conquerors or scattered to the wind to join other groups.
Before nation states there were empires. They usually revolved around a specific personality after whose death things reverted to the norm. Empires also generally incorporated all of the people conquered under one ruler or group. Many times they had the same privileges and obligations regardless of culture or language but life at the village or neighborhood level stayed unchanged.
It was this successful functioning of humans in group life that allowed them to become the earth's dominant species. While much time is spent talking about the success of humans being dependent on their creation of tools and ability to alter their environment to their own needs, less credit is given to the communal nature of humans that success depended on. No matter where you go in the world the jungle, the desert, the arctic people lived in family groups, clans, communities. Individual satisfaction was based on accepting your role in the family and community; in return you were given what security there was. Survival and prosperity was a mutual exercise that applied to all.
This group interaction, decision making, nurturance, establishment of norms were the processes that maintained the cultures that insured group and individual emotional and physical survival. The family and community social units came under steady attack as the accumulation of capital and power by self entitled institutions were able to exploit them for gain while at the same time shed themselves of group responsibility. The vehicles for this process were religion, the nation-state and industrial capitalism.
Religions and Nation States
Religion came first as non-institutional tribal culture and incorporated philosophy, mythology and common law. Philosophy is a belief in the nature of man and his relation to the larger world. Mythology is the use of metaphors and stories to explain phenomena outside of objective knowledge and to lend supernatural authority to mere men. Community common law evolved from experience to regulate behavior and settle disputes that threatened the survival of the group. In the group life philosophy, mythology and common law all reflected the common good and those who were seen as being appointed reflected those concerns as well.
The Ten Commandments are rules for the survival and cohesiveness of a nomadic tribe, not a philosophy of life. Jesus' teachings, a philosophy, the creation story, the virgin birth, the resurrection and the deification, the mythology invented to explain and legitimize the authority of the institutional church. While church and state had worked hand in hand for a few thousand years off and on, the merger of the Roman empire and Christianity laid the groundwork for the institutional church of today. Religion levied taxes in the form of enforced tithing, used the mythology of damnation as a recruitment method and enforced obedience through the system of excommunication for believers and exclusion and physical punishment for heretics.
One promised defense while the other a solution to superstitious fear both were organs designed to generate capital and power for their leaders. The formation of nation-states and their geographical boundaries along cultural and language lines allowed leaders to consolidate the feudal system, reducing wasteful internal skirmishes. It also allowed the standardization of currency and regulation, the ability to levy taxes, conscript armies and enforce laws to control the population.
These two sources of power, church and state, merged to bring about some of the most vicious and brutal wars and inquisitions in history with little benefit for the lower classes who served as cannon fodder. Religion and nationalism serve as devices to motivate people through the manipulation of abstract symbols and superstition to justify the acquisition of property and power for the masters of those institutions. When they cooperate, the church gains an army and the state moral authority.
In historic times the community's unity, limited their power. In times of peace local bureaucrats and priests had to live alone and dependent on the citizenry, communication and power were distant. Obviously they couldn't anger locals too much.
The Rise of Industrial Capitalism
The industrial revolution and the growth of the waged based economy were to have severe impacts on both the family and the community. In spite of the fact that many times whole families were employed, working conditions prevented the learning of trades or type of interaction previously normal. 12- 18 hour days under poor and harsh working conditions six or seven days a week left people too exhausted to maintain the kinds of relationships that were previously nurtured. The ill, elderly and infirm, no use to industrial capitalism, became cast aside by industry, the nations and neglected by their exhausted families.
The day to day interactions with their immediate and extended families and community were gradually being replaced with their relationship with their employer. Severance of the connection with the natural cycles of the earth also had the effect of severing people from an their traditional spiritual relationships. Communication with outside events became controlled by the hierarchy of industrial bosses, the nation-state bureaucrats and of course the ever present religious leaders. The community hierarchy was removed from interpreting these events for themselves and their needs as communities were reorganized around industrial needs.
Unions were really an attempt to recreate these community processes within industrial groups. They attempted to create not just economic security but also benefits as compensation for the destruction of family and community units, the community interpreters and leadership hierarchy, and the social aspects of community life. Those not able to participate in the industrial capitalism model in any manner were cast aside by the system. Reform movements fought against this abandonment and were able to gain some success in the form of welfare, social security, disability, mental health and social work programs. But all of these approaches tried to find ways to help people adapt to the industrial capitalist system, a way to maintain them in a minimally burdensome state or to cast them as being personally irresponsible and therefore deserving of abandonment or confinement.
Nation states once saw industrial capitalism as benefiting its ability to maintain a modern war machine and extend its power. At the same time industrial capitalism saw the state as a way to sanction its behavior. Religion, most of the time was willing to abandon its stated philosophy and sanction both to maintain its wealth and secular power.
There are two foundations for the consumer society. The first is the alienation felt by people in a modern society that can't be filled by material wealth and consumer goods, political power or religious fanaticism. It is a direct result of the loss of emotional anchoring that happened because the nature of wage capitalism separated people from their family, their community and their physical environment. The second is the impact of technology and the information age on the isolated victim of the first.
That is why the post World War II period is looked at as a golden age by most people today. It was the high point of industrial capitalism. New deal economics and post war optimism made for economic expansion while providing for the elderly and disabled, unions were strong and negotiating security in wage and benefit packages, mental health and social work services were expanding. Small towns prospered with small factories and farm mechanization. Universal education and civic organizations provided communities with centers of social interaction.
Even though African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and women still suffered from denial of economic and political power, white working class people enjoyed the widespread restoration of family, community ties and economic stability that hadn't been available to them for generations and was an aberration in the history of capitalism. In actuality the period of prosperity and growth in the United States, Japan and the European countries after WWII were examples of socialist democracy in action.
The Medium is Indeed the Message
I didn't realize until long after her death what a profoundly insightful person my grandmother was. She gave me Marshall McLuan's "The Medium is the Message" as a high school graduation present. I didn't take the time to read if for ten years and when I did I was astounded.
Corporate capitalism, national statism and religion all require the maintenance of a basic level of anxiety in their client populations to maintain their worth. Too much serenity and none of them are needed. All three are forms of created consumer need based on fears. All three sell a cheap substitute for the very family and community securities they corrupt and seek to supplant.
With the rise of modern media technologies, nations, capitalism and religions had the opportunity to expand their control. Propaganda and advertising are about breaking traditional barriers to local control and interpretation, bypassing local interpreters and processing. Modern media especially television allowed the three kings to solve the problem of excess production capacity, excess capital and to shape individual thought independent of family and community.
The one way communication of television isolated people and increased symptoms of alienation and estrangement while advertising sold you a false reason for what was causing it and a bogus solution to fix it. Unnecessary consumer products filled the bill and increased profits while markets were limited to America with its post war pent up demand when the largest industrial production capacity in the world suddenly found itself without a war.
Not feeling cool enough? Smoke Chesterfields. Feel empty inside? drink Chivas Regal. Don't feel important? Buy a Cadillac. This was important. While the Cold War was great for expansion of the military industrial complex it produced a surplus of needed consumer goods because there was no world market. Consequently we had all of the needs met of those who could afford them and so we had to create new "needs". Consumerism of unneeded things became the basis of the economy, and advertising became the vehicle for pushing it.
The rise of media isolation and advertising brought about massive disruption of the restored family and community interactions in the post war era. It was common before television for people to go to each others homes to "visit", to participate in community functions and actions and to communicate and participate in our own and each other lives. Television, video games, I-pods and a society based on cars all are isolate and set up barriers between people.
Involvement in traditional churches, local government and civic organizations dropped. Shyster preachers got good at the game. The fastest growing churches today are non-denominational mega churches that depend heavily on television. Some are drive in churches so that you don't have to get out of your cars or talk to anyone else. Most of these offer a virtual family of "common values" but really rely on association based on common manufactured fears. Confused about your feelings of alienation the increasing insecurity of global capitalism, don't examine the cause, get Jesus and find somebody who is different to blame.
People's power in the real world depends on communicating their hopes and fears, interpreting and processing outside information, conceiving and carrying out mutual solutions. Mass media and the automobile driven economy began the process of breaking down both family and community. We lost our place in the family, community, the natural world. In its place there was an emptiness, a hollow place, and an insatiable need we were taught to ignore in the name of rugged individualism. If you weren't John Wayne consumer advertising had an answer, you didn't measure up and the answer was a product, a pill, a car. No wonder Americans are so restless.
Between the money invested in WWII and after Sputnik, science and technology exploded. The explosion of technology led to a quickening of life's pace, we became more mobile, commuting further and further to work, moving further from our extended families, and home communities. We became the most mobile culture on earth.
It became easier and easier to retreat to the media hole in your living room and away from the new people in the suburbs. Every thing that made our life easier cut down on our interactions with others. Convenience replaced intimacy. The mega store replaced the meat market, the produce place, the dime store, the drug store, the hardware store, the local gas station. Fast food and upscale chains substituted for Joe's diner. Your neighborhood business owner no longer advised you on the best purchase, instead a minimum wage teenager fronting for a national company provided you with "customer service".
The short anti-war/materialism rebellion of the sixties ended with the generation splitting between becoming self indulgent yuppies and people who quietly went to jobs in helping professions, teachers, social workers, organic gardeners. Almost all, gradually falling prey to the steady grind of media advertising and pressure to conform to consumerism. Traveling for work was no longer just the plight of gypsies but also the upwardly mobile. Strangers raised our children and our children became strangers. But it was okay, we were the generation of the future, universal prosperity. We just didn't realize the cost of having everything.
We drug ourselves, our children, with pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs, money, things, sex, movies, I-pods, trips, whatever it takes to mask the sad, disconnected nature of our consumer culture. Even this becomes exploited by a whole industry of therapy, thousands of self help books, and a huge pharmaceutical money making machine. Opra and Dr. Phil are our salvation, a bald Jesus in cowboy boots and with a black Mother Teresa for the upper middle class. Even the poor get their shot at virtual reality on Jerry Springer for their "15 minutes of fame". We have tried "reality shows", star adulation, plastic surgery, working out, meditation all in a desperate attempt to find some release from a lifestyle that is making us crazy.
Then they changed the rules; the cold war ended and they didn't need you as a consumer anymore when they had 1.5 billion Chinese. It was no longer necessary to provide you with a level of income to support their profits. The new corporate motto is adapt or die.
For business this isn't a problem, you just alter the product lines. For the growing upper class you make Hummers, new plastic surgeries, more gated communities. For the rest you open payday loan companies, rent to own stores, pawn shops and Wal-Marts. That's the small potatoes though. Because politicians need media to get elected and it costs a lot of money, business now owns politics completely. Neither party will alienate them by discussing the robbing of the common wealth and the economic
enslavement of the working class. Political parties ignore it and beat the drum on minimal or nonexistent fears; terrorists, child molesters and trial lawyers.
While a few jet to the islands for the weekend, the rest find themselves bewildered by downsizing, ever increasing debt, not knowing what success even is anymore. They too are fed the illusion that it is their fault. If they would have just studied harder at a curriculum that doesn't relate to their life, hadn't married so early, had an abortion, maybe found Jesus, saved more money in their non-existent 401k, invested wiser. The average person feels run over, lost and totally confused about the world created by corporate consumerism. They find themselves racing for a future that may find them joining the homeless, an endless stream of low paying short term jobs, a poverty stricken old age, the bankruptcy of a medical emergency or having to mortgage their house for education for their children or nursing home care for their parents.
People walk around full of anxiety about their future but because of the constant misdirection, telling people they are the problem not their society, culture or economy, they are lost for answers. It is complex, hidden like a tiger amongst bamboo; you can feel its awful presence, smell the fear, but don't know where it comes from. When this happens people and people have no community structure to interpret what is happening to them to tell them how to respond in their own best interests by people who share their fate they retreat to an age old responses, superstition and demagogues.
The Rise of Religo-Facism
Facism is the merger of the state and corporate capitalism. Opposite from the free markets it supposedly champions, it seeks to control free thought, free expression and markets not controlled by corporations. It is here. It controls the media, it wipes out the constitution without batting an eye, corporations line up at the public trough as they parcel up the public wealth, it excuses itself from public duty of supporting the physical and emotional infrastructure of America. Corporations extract tax money through no bid contracts given by corrupt politicians who share in the wealth leaving the debt to be paid by the taxpayer who is robbed of government support in their times of need and passing the cost to the taxpayer's children. The politicians moving into high paying industry jobs of the companies who they rewarded with public money.
Corporations have a bad habit of privatizing profits while and economic and social costs are passed on to the public. They claim no responsibility for their products, they spend billions on advertising but claim that doesn't mean it sways personal choice. Your problems are the results of personal choice. Don't hold me responsible for your obesity, lung cancer, birth defects, and murder by a gun, medical malpractice, etc., etc., etc.
The opportunist preachers having mastered the media of television and the religious mother's milk of fear move in for the kill by doing the same thing that government does. It produces a villain; it feeds on the fear that we aren't good enough and presents a new product to fix it, salvation. The seductiveness is that it promises black and white in a world of gray. Don't worry about this world, trust Jesus, go after those abortionists, certainly you are better than them. Jesus wants a free market, have faith brother and be swept up in the rapture. Don't try and figure it out, I'll tell you what to do.
Born originally as a money making machine, it didn't take long for the political and corporate powers to figure out these puffy haired preachers could help them out. The manipulation and redirection of fear by business, political power seekers and churches has combined to create what I call religiofacism. Not only is it the union of the state and the corporation, it is the union of those two and religion. It is now Godly to kill Muslims and spend like there is no tomorrow and abandon your brother to his fate. The irony is that what they term Islamo-facism and many cases terrorism is an indigenous resistance movement to the corporate capitalism that destroys cultures for profit.
This combination is most effective where people are most desperate. Indeed, Red states have higher divorce rates, higher poverty rates, higher rates of teenage births, higher rates of sexually transmitted disease's, imprisonment, all of the measures they say their control will prevent. The right wing religions are also a perfect fit with the new police state. The belief that people must be prevented from being "sinful", that the state should control a woman's body is the same mind that thinks its ok to spy on your neighbor, invade their home, lock you up without charge, torture you if necessary for your own good.
The sad thing is the rich industrialists and media, the politicians and the preachers are all the biggest victims of this fantasy. They have bought the illusion they have created as the substitute for real life. They have the denial of the alcoholic lying in the gutter in filthy clothes, family, respect, self worth long gone clutching the bottle of self delusion tightly to his chest telling himself things aren't really that bad as long as he can have one more pull at the bottle. The difference is between them and us is they have an endless supply of bottles to maintain the self delusion the rest of us do not.
We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us
Does all this mean that we need to go back to living in caves as clans? Certainly not, but we do need to reorganize our families and communities around human rather than needs of the Religio-facist machine. We need to stop thinking somehow we have failed as individual human beings, what we have failed at is to stop the destruction of our family and community, we have to stop buying the kool aid that politicians, corporations and preachers are our salvation and start talking and listening to one another and finding our own solutions.
Look for the similarities and not the differences. Stop going to the salon and start going to the protest, park your car and ride your bike, buy local, talk to your neighbor and your kid and your parents. Go visit someone just to talk. Turn off the television and go to an activist meeting, turn off the hate radio and learn to play a ukulele. The only thing that holds the delusion together is our participation in its continued existence. By forming alternative communities to support ourselves independent of religio-facism we might just save ourselves.
The technology that brought about our imprisonment may have given us the means to break the invisible chains of religio-facism. It opened two way communications again, not subject to space or time. If the computer has multiplied the power of one brain, the internet is the new community council that has just peeked above the horizon to revive the interpretation and processing of outside information for truth and coordinated action, replacing the mind numbing one way propaganda of the tube. It has the power to communicate common concerns and values, to help us interpret and process outside information, harness mutual effort towards a common goal, to organize, to resist, to bring about non-violent change, it is building new communities and families. The community is becoming global, it is as important as Thomas Paine's printing press was to the first American Revolution.
While Howard Dean and Move On led the way, internet blogs serving as citizens' think tanks are challenging the dominance of the well funded Republican propaganda machines. Independent news and commentary outlets have turned the tide on hate radio propaganda and mainstream media cowardice. List serve discussion groups, chat rooms and websites have allowed alienated and isolated rational people to fight back and publicize books, films, art and discussions that otherwise would not be part of the public discussion. People can find each other instead of feeling alone and disconnected. Edwards Pickersgill is one of the fine forward thinking web thinkers who has created one growing example at www.mytown.ca .
These new communities are incubators for change and represent a powerful force that can over come time and distance to span countries and continents. It is the international network that can organize against global capitalism and bring about coordinated actions that can stop it in its tracks. It has the ability for people to smash the boundaries of nation states and supersede international treaties for the rich. It has the ability to kill superstition and mythology that substitute for reason. Some countries recognize this and are concerned, China actively works with service providers to censor content on the net. The U.S. government monitors traffic and is resisting giving power to the United Nations to control traffic. One must wonder why.
Little would be know about the populist indigenous and poor people's movement sweeping South America if it weren't for the internet. Knowledge of what is working there is spreading around the world and represents the biggest threat to global capitalism yet. And guess what; it revolves around the family, community, and the land working in solidarity to protect those environmental, social and cultural shelters for the quality of life.
These indigenous groups have much to offer us in organizing knowledge. They have formed alternative economies and governments basically ignoring the formal institutions to help themselves. Many have their roots in the liberation theology movement that Rome tried to stomp out but merely drove underground. It is one that says that religion, government and commerce must serve all of the people. Information and solidarity can overcome the fear that relgio-facism uses to maintain control. We have the ability to use the internet to redistribute, our airwaves, our resources our land and our wealth to everyone.
Almost all of human social and psychological problems are a result of the non-supportive, judgmental, shame inducing, exploitive, manipulative values of corporate capitalism, nation state power struggles and institutional religions. If we rebuild around philosophies that promote democratic socialist families and communities, we can effectively cancel out the power of those corrupting influences. We must before they destroy themselves and us with them.
John M. Kelley is a teacher, philosopher, writer, artist, political activist, singer of ballads, rebellious Irishman and agent for change who worries daily about the world he is leaving for his grandchildren. His blog is at http://www.mytown.ca/johnkelley
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