The Empty Self as the Open Door to Rule by Propaganda
A recent piece at Dissident Voice entitled “The Global Crisis of Legitimacy and Liberation of the Empty Self” caught my eye, mainly because I tend to believe that too many in our society are largely unaware that they even have inner lives, psycho-spiritual inner selves, meaning that they haven’t actually examined their values and choices, residual emotional issues, etc., leading them to reflexively accept what this society has determined for them is ‘a successful life,’ rather than a richly satisfying one; one that might lead to dying well, which is my personal measure of ‘a life well-lived.’ Many in that state often fill their personal void spaces with shopping, the newest gadgets, this year’s fashions, and other temporary fixes, the fullness only lasting so long, of course, since their true unrequited hungers may be wholly psycho-spiritual in origin.
In extreme form, those unexamined needs can pave the way to addictive behaviors underpinning wealth and property accumulation, power-seeking just for the thrill of it, even though, again, there are no permanently satisfying levels for those acquisitions that call off the hunt automatically once reached. As: how much is enough? Studies conclude that ‘enough for a relatively secure future’ is more than enough; no matter, the addicted can’t internalize that measurement, can they?
It doesn’t take much sensitivity to feel that there is an increasing background hum of dissatisfaction in the air, but my sense of it is that so much of it is a free-floating anxiety that folks may have chosen the wrong road, and are feeling isolated, lonely, often angry and fearful, and sense that something’s just not right. My sense is also that they may go back and forth about their own part in the wrongness, but still are conditioned to cast blame outward, railing at the same authoritarian institutions they actually see as the authors of possible solutions to their discomforts. Yes, a serious disconnect it is. Many citizens alleviate their discomforts through joining a team, one that reinforces their personal beliefs or credos, not realizing that those often have cultural roots that have been thrust upon them. To wit: think what schools have taught us: loads of American mythology and jingoism that amply demonstrated what part or parts we would need to play in an Exceptional capitalist society: work hard, make a lotta money, become President! Might is right!
The author, Nozomi Hayase, has a different, but related, reason for hooking her essay to the empty self, rather by way of answering Ted Rall’s question about American passivity in the face of all that’s afoot these days in a dozen different fascist and unjust directions. She begins her unraveling of the question with observations about the normalization and easy acceptance of manufactured perceptions of the current zeitgeist, the acceptance of ‘brands’ rather than substance, feel-good faux-political Blue v. Red team sports aided by phony media horse races and staged political drama.
She references the recent dramatic shifts within the various political labels, and the normalization of inhumane ideas and actions that were roundly condemned (say by ‘Liberals’) not long ago. She reminds readers of Shock Doctrine fears and vulnerabilities leading to rather blithe acceptance of the overarching agendas that were the PTB’s agendas in any event. All of those now-deadened senses coalesce into what she calls ‘a second skin,’ blocking the pain from the heat as the Frogs Slowly Boil, i.e.: blocking out reality. Not surprisingly, she sees this administration as the zenith of managed perceptions and extreme deadening gobbled up by the villagers on the teevee, popular music and movies, news as slick (often sick, I’d add) entertainment, etc. That, writes Hayase, ‘creates a lukewarm feel-good political bath replacing real human experience with pseudo-reality. This artificially installed skin intermediates our experience of actual events.’
Zo, back to ‘the empty self.’ The term was coined by psychologist Philip Cushman in a book, and in this paper at the University of Texas (pdf, 13 pages) in which he theorized that a ‘self’s’ construction could only reasonably be examined within the context of the historical culture and milieus of the self’s time and place. Hayase encapsulates the relevance of his work in her mind:
Psychoanalyst Phillip Cushman, in Constructing the Self, Constructing America, analyzed how in post-World War II United States, modern industrialization broke down the traditional social bonds (*the pre-modern self having been one that is rooted in family, religious faith, tradition, and community: my addition from his writings*) and restructured the reality of community and that out of this, a specific configuration of self emerged. He called it ‘the empty self,’ ‘the bounded, masterful self’ and described how it ‘has specific psychological boundaries, a sense of personal agency that is located within, and a wish to manipulate the external world for its own personal ends.’ He characterized this empty self as one that “experiences a significant absence of community, tradition and shared meaning — a self that experiences these social absences and their consequences ‘interiority’ as a lack of personal conviction and worth; a self that embodies the absences, loneliness, and disappointments of life as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger.
Cushman argued how this new configuration of self and its emotional hunger was indispensable to the development of US consumer culture.
We can only assume that he’s speaking of a person’s unconscious desires, knowledge, and related derivations leading to external manipulation ‘for it’s own personal ends.’
She marches on to the relevance in postmodern USA:
Stuart Ewen, in his classic Captains of Consciousness, explored how modern advertising was used as a direct response to the needs of industrial capitalism through its functioning as an instrument for the ‘the creation of desires and habits.’ ‘The vision of freedom which was being offered to Americans was one which continually relegated people to consumption, passivity and spectatorship,’ Ewen saw this in the shift of economy from production to consumption and of personal identity from citizens to consumers.
Yes, indeed, and she further quotes our old friend Edward Bernays, who parlayed his uncle Herr Doktor Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious into his book Propaganda, in which he asserts:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
Hayase calls the work: “the executive arm of the invisible government.” Good framing, isn’t it?
How do you sell propaganda, candidates, ideas, jingoist memes, or the need for unnecessary objects that will be tossed into the landfill six months later? Easy, say Jung and his friend Marie-Louise von Franz: you play on unconscious archetypal drives and desires that can be easily projected externally. Use this perfume: you’ll catch a husband; drive this car: watch da ladies flock to you; buy this huge house; go to this college; Need a new iPad? charge it!; need a facelift, breast augmentation to catch that special man?: 99 dollars down, sixty-three EZ payments! (don’t read the fine print); Vote for Hope and Change! Drown government in a bathtub! Well, you know the drill…
The Commons are not Free Speech Zones! Do not create intentional community with others. Seek only what will benefit you and yours since the economic shit is about to hit the fan again. We are Rugged Individualists. Blue Team, Red Team means Choice! Are you With Us, or Agin’ us? Despondent? Angry? There’s a Pill for that! What the banks did may have been immoral, but it wasn’t illegal … Bomb for Democracy, Bomb for Peace; Don’t pay any attention to the man behind the curtain! Keep the Homeland Secure!
And on and on the internalized allegiance to Product Authority goes, so few being able to resist with dulled senses and reasoned argument against the constant din of the consumer culture. Those of the dissenting, creative, and rebel classes are crushed, jailed, and surveilled as ‘Terrorists.’
Manufactured propaganda is working very well in the current Government Shutdown ‘crisis.’ The R’s are behaving like such flagrant assholes that the D’s look benevolent in contrast. But if you look more closely, as per David Dayen or Norman Pollack, you’ll see how false the framing really is, and what will happen as a result of Obomba’s sequestering. No matter; the polls already show the R’s will be held culpable, as in Newtie Gingrich’s day. The award-winning Obomba Brand has won (aided by the Crazy R’s of course).
But Hayase sees hope of course, as the wheels turn toward more and more global citizens acknowledging the illegitimacy of the institutions and governing bodies and that have sold out The People, and the abject perfidy of Ruling Elite whose crimes against humanity, both militarily and domestically should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. More and more of us are calling for true democracy, as we begin to pierce the Veil of Propaganda, creating new alternatives, manifestly proving the need for our autonomy, our voices heard. As more of us experience the horrors of the Planned Privations comin’ down the track soon, even the middle class citizens will feel more exposed, and will be forced to examine their beliefs and inner values. Hayase again:
In this nakedness, therein lies the possibility for a true freedom. Only when our emptiness is fully confronted and accepted can we find our true autonomy. With emotions and desires that are truly our own can we guide the world into a future that springs from the depth of our imagination.
Who am I? Who are we? What do we want? The thirst for real democracy is a thirst to be free. It is the spirit that drives us to find our true aspirations within. Our self is empty. When society loses its grip and leaders become devoid of morals and compassion for humanity, we need to declare autonomy from all those outside that try to allure us and promise to fulfill our dreams. Through connecting with our own desires and passions we can fulfill the void of the empty self and transform empty slogans into real action. Only then will it be possible for us to become the authors of our own lives, transform history and take charge of our common destiny.
From my own minuscule spot in the cosmos, it’s an article of faith that the positive changes that are occurring are part of the Revolution of Higher Consciousness foretold by many of the Indigenous prophets around the globe, calling for creating brotherhood among ourselves and with the planet in understanding that we are inextricably bound together both materially and spiritually. They believe that there are ways to live in harmony, justice, and cooperation, knowing that we were meant to be creatures of cooperation, not competition.
Truth is coming, it will not stop. You cannot kill an idea whose time has come.
What are your thoughts? We’ve just skimmed the surface of managed perceptions and propaganda. I know that many readers have developed able bullshit detectors, whether through my definition of a fuller self, through reading history, using analytical thought and reasoning. Have you developed skills in aid of the Great Awakening in your communities?
But ya know what? I suddenly feel like an idiot. Having chosen this video accompaniment a couple weeks ago when I began researching for this piece (competing psychological theories, ontological (never mind the hardwired v. acquired arguments) and philosophical schools, and more), I just played it again, and realized that all I’d really needed to present was this John Trudell video. He said it all, while I spent goodness knows how many words bending your ears (er…eyes). Forgive me, please.
‘Trying to isolate us in a dimension called loneliness leading us into the trap believe in their power but not in ourselves piling us with guilt always taking the blame greed chasing out the balance trying to isolate us in a dimension called loneliness.’
Notes: (After much reading, I find I don’t agree with Cushmam altogether, including his contention that modern psychotherapy promotes the ‘empty self’, but for the purposes of this post, it’s of small matter.)
(Nazomi’s link to a longish Roar Magazine article on contrasting views on autonomy, revolutions against capitalism, the real democracy movement, fails now, oddly enough. But in case you want to read it, I’m providing the link.)
cross-posted at Café-Babylon.net