Monday, February 23, 2015

Choose Your Trances Carefully - 3

A Trance Auction
I. Introduction

Any blog that uses the technique of "a series" as Dredd Blog often does, will likely get itself into subject matter that overlaps with another series.

That is natural, because as you know, any one subject matter is likely to overlap another to some degree.

In the case of two fairly recent Dredd Blog series, this one about cultural trances, and another "Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch", some of those almost inevitable overlaps happened; so, I needed something to draw a line or two between the overlapping subject matter, and I needed to do so without disturbing the reader's focus too much.

I think I lucked out and found a way to do it.

But first, remember that the overlapping subject matter has to do with this Toynbee observation:
"In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown."
(Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch). This was his condensation of lots of text into an Earth-shaking conclusion, after having studied empires, civilizations, societies, and cultures of human history.

While reading an essay about why Arnold J. Toynbee, one of the most quoted historians at one time, fell out of "favor," I came across some material that caused an epiphany.

Yes, it "dawned on me" that his use of the word "idolatry" to describe certain events, which were taking place in our world of that time, should be compared to those used in this series to help describe the dynamic called a "cultural trance."

His background in that era of time, "the way things were," urged the use of such words.

There is some residue even now (e.g. "rock idol" today; "idolize: 1. to regard with blind adoration, devotion, etc."; "idolatry: 2. excessive or blind adoration, reverence, devotion, etc.").

Our current public discourse indicates a preference for more philosophical, psychological, cultural, and the like, words for describing such events.

Words that tend to be free from any religious sounding nomenclature.

Anyway, the essay that I mentioned above is: ‘The Toynbee Convector’: The Rise and Fall of Arnold J. Toynbee's Anti-Imperial Mission to the West".

It begins with this abstract:
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the historian and internationalist Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975) conducted a highly public campaign against Western imperialism, arguing that the West needed to acknowledge and atone for its aggression if the world was to find peace. His efforts met with considerable resistance, damaging his reputation as a scholar and a political thinker. This article examines the origins of Toynbee’s anti-imperialism in his philosophy of history, his public arguments of the postwar period, and the reaction they provoked.
(The European Legacy, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 455–469, 2012). I came to the conclusion that what he labelled "idolatry" (when he waxed passionate about the West's dedication to a form of imperialism stimulated by nationalism on steroids) was in fact better labelled, at least for our time, as "a cultural trance."

At footnotes 22 and 23, the author of the essay notes:
22. Arnold J. Toynbee, ‘‘The Idolatry of Nationalism,’’ The Listener
4.96, 26 November 1930, 873–74.

23. Toynbee was also concerned with the idolatry of ideologies, nature, race, "parochial" and "oecumenical" communities. See A. J. Toynbee, "The Proper Study of Mankind is Man" (1958), Toynbee MS 2–3, Bodleian Library, Oxford.
If we redo those two notes, and every other place "idol" and "idolatry" are used, we can see that the shoe fits:
22. Arnold J. Toynbee, ‘‘The [Cultural Trance] of Nationalism,’’ The Listener 4.96, 26 November 1930, 873–74.

23. Toynbee was also concerned with [ideological cultural trances], nature, race, "parochial" and "oecumenical" communities. See A. J. Toynbee, "The Proper Study of Mankind is Man" (1958), Toynbee MS 2–3, Bodleian Library, Oxford.
The British Empire, where Toynbee lived, eventually was passed on to America, along with its cultural trance of imperialism, comically described by another writer of that time:
The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims, while incidentally capturing their markets; to civilise savage and senile and paranoid peoples, while blundering accidentally into their oil wells.
(As We Go Marching, by John T. Flynn, 1944, page 222). And, of course, as Flynn pointed out, those things were done "with God on our side" so that our wars are just holy wars to bring freedom to the barbarians.

II. The Current Cultural Trance of Imperialism

Now, America has over a thousand bases around the globe so as to protect those oil wells and markets from misuse by "their owners" (The Virgin MOMCOM - 8).

And, imperialist America has what Bill Maher calls "The Star Spangled Boner" at work in the warmongers of the American Empire.

The imperial trance is especially notable in the right wing (The Rehabilitation of High Priest Bush II - 3), but it has infected the warmongers on the left too (The War Whores Ride The War Horse - 2).

In that light, Tom Engelhardt has pointed out that "peace" is a meaningless word in the Western Empire any more.

The makers of imperialistic nomenclature no longer have a use for the word "peace":
"Here, on the other hand, is a word you won’t see in Washington: peace. Once, it was part of the American political lexicon; now, it’s essentially been banished. You’d have to be a wuss to use it.

And here’s another word that’s essentially forbidden: bases. Since World War II, the U.S. has garrisoned the planet in a way achieved by no other imperial power."
(More and War, The Tao of Washington). Engelhardt adds that since lots of people seem to have noticed, it must have been a while ago that peace went down:
Often enough when something goes missing, it takes a while to realize that it's gone. An example that came to me recently is the once-commonplace word "peace." It's not just that, in a time of public dissatisfaction with America's wars, there's no mention of a "peace movement" or "peace signs," but that in wartime Washington, when it comes to the world rather than the domestic realm, the very idea of "peace" has gone missing in action.
(Peace Missing in Action). These realities reveal a deep-seated cultural trance that happens subconsciously, automatically, and generally without even stirring up our conscious awareness of it.

III. Careless Cultural Trance Selection

Remember that a cultural trance should be selected carefully, because as we see, if it takes hold of a culture it can be perpetuated over long spans of time:
Group-mind trance does not occur only in highly charged temporary gatherings, such as riots or lynch mobs. Group-mind trance is a part of the everyday life of each one of us. We belong to various kinds of groups--families, work groups, churches, and other organizations. Each has its own group mind that entrances us, perhaps more subtly than a lynch mob, but every bit as effectively. And in the group-mind trance, we experience all the features of other trance states.

Group-mind trances give us a basis for understanding the macrotrance of culture. We could think of group-mind trances as existing on a spectrum from the family on one end to culture on the other. Culture is the group-mind trance of a whole people, and because it is so pervasive, it remains largely invisible to those who are held in its sway.

The influence of group-mind trances cannot be overestimated.

The trance that is least recognized but very significant in our lives is group-mind trance ... Here the individual becomes a carrier of the values and drives that characterize the group as a whole. While immersed in the group mind, people may think and act in ways that are totally out of character with how they are when separate. Group-mind trance can occur in connection with such groups as one's family, church, or club; at sports events, rock concerts, tenants' meetings, and political conventions; or when involved with the staff at work or friends at a gathering. Group-mind trance forms a bridge to cultural trance, which may be thought of as a group-mind trance on the level of a whole people.
(Comparing a Group-Mind Trance to a Cultural Amygdala, quoting psychologists). This particular cultural trance, called imperialism, was foreseen by at least two American presidents.

Those two I have in mind warned us, the one urging us to shake ourselves out of it (Beware of The Military Oil Complex), while the other intimated that we should never choose that particular cultural trance in the first place (The Greatest Source Of Power Toxins?).

IV. Herein Lies The Rub

I can hear some saying: "I did not choose imperialism, that cultural trance was here when I was born."

That is so true that it goes for all of us, because the culture lives on perpetually, as Toynbee pointed out.

But more than that, the choices are made "for us" by a very few:
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. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.

They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons — a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty [now 320] million — who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.
It is the purpose of this book to explain the structure of the mechanism which controls the public mind, and to tell how it is manipulated by the special pleader who seeks to create public acceptance for a particular idea or commodity. It will attempt at the same time to find the due place in the modern democratic scheme for this new propaganda and to suggest its gradually evolving code of ethics and practice.
(Epigovernment: The New Model, quoting the book Propaganda, by Bernays). The exercise, then, is to change the culture even while those who control the selection of cultural trances are against such changes.

V. Other Complications

History is not on the side of political course correction (The Elections of Pontius Pilots, 2, 3, 4, 5), especially when imperialism gets into the bloodstream of a culture.

It is exponentially more difficult when that imperialism is also mixed with economic survival:
The 5th Fleet together with troops are in the Middle East where there is lots of oil.

The 4th Fleet has been reactivated after 58 years of being moth balled, and has been sent to Central / South America where there is also lots of oil.

A website of the federal government tells us:
"Oil is the lifeblood of America’s economy."
(Department of Energy [they removed it, so here is The Wayback Machine copy of that page: Department of Energy]). Which is the same thing as saying you are economically dead without your blood, your oil.

The struggle for economic life then, would be the struggle for oil would it not?

Bush II put it in the cowboy language during a state of the union address to congress, saying that "America is addicted to oil".
(The Fleets & Terrorism Follow The Oil). That federal government website and Bush II were both correct in their analysis that linked oil with economy.

VI. Toynbee's Religious Sounding Words Were Accurate

Even if you are not convinced that Toynbee's use of "idolatry" was exclusively because of his era's religious understanding, still he was correct to point out the religious undertones of the decisions which institutionalized oil-based imperialism linked to oil-based economy.

Books by Senator John McCain (currently chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services) as well as other authors, point that out:
From the moment he arrived at the Admiralty, a young man of destiny, Churchill started to prepare the fleet for the Battle of Armageddon he believed was inevitable.
Then, in 1911, the German Kaiser provoked the Agadir crisis ... Churchill went to the Admiralty and his outlook transformed. He was immediately confronted with the decisive question: to convert the navy from coal to oil ... the "fateful plunge" was made ... in April 1912 ... five oil-burning battleships were approved.
Britain was well supplied with coal [but not oil]. It was the Royal Navy which was the impetus for the development of the oil industry in Britain. The problem was supply and the security of that supply. Initially, the British government purchased shares in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, subsequently, British Petroleum [BP].
(The Universal Smedley - 2, cf. Viva Egypt - 2, 3). The religious tenet or religious cultural trance, i.e. the strong belief in "The Battle of Armageddon", was the driving idea that guided the decisions that eventually addicted civilization to oil.

VII. Conclusion

Thus, whether we call it "idolotry" or "a cultural trance" the results are the same (Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Toynbee went down in flames just as Sigmund Freud did, in terms of popularity, because they would not flatter civilization with the lies which the powers that be wanted inserted into the collective psyche, the culture, of the populace.

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.

1 comment:

  1. That's some scary shit there, Dredd . .