A hero is not a champion of things become, but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo. -Joseph Campbell
The earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed. –Mahatma Gandhi
When money is the ritual of a society, or the opiate of the masses, power becomes objective and corrupts absolutely, and the subjective is forgotten. But we cannot forget that we are both objective and subjective creatures. They are self-similar within us. In order to restore the proper equilibrium, we must live moderately (despite money) and practice compassion (in spite of money). Doing so flips the power dynamic, allowing prestige to trump greed, community to trump commerce, and liberty to trump prosperity.
The Psychology of Money:
Money has an almost magical effect upon us. Most of our lives revolve around making money. It has become a cultural condition, a ritual en masse. There is no denying its omnipresence in all matter of things. It effects, and affects, everything that we value. It is appalling the complete and utter dominance money has over our lives. And yet there is almost nothing we can do about it. In order to understand why this is, we must first understand how the brain relates to reality.
In the beginning, the human brain has no mechanism to recognize what is relevant or what is not. Relevance is an environmental/cultural phenomenon. It is a cultural condition. Money is a good example of this. Money is only an invention. If one does not assign any value to money then it has none, simple as that. All value is actualized through imagination alone. We all agree, as a society, that the invention of money represents the exchange of goods, and therefore it has value. This is fine, but only if we understand that it is just a symbol; that it is an abstraction. And we must further understand that since money is now printed out of thin air, and thereby no longer representing the exchange of goods, it has become an abstraction of an abstraction. It’s when we lose sight of this fact that things go awry. It is when we lose sight of value as truth that things become unhealthy.
Truth-as-value trumps truth-as-certitude, always. The problem with money being the preeminent modern-day ritual is that it is based upon truth-as-certitude. Our culture, over time, has conditioned its people to believe, with almost absolute certainty, that money has absolute value. In reality the only absolutes are natural, cosmic, and universal absolutes, and as long as the laws of humankind coincide with these absolutes then there can be a healthy balance between humankind and nature. As it stands, however, mankind’s fixation with the ritualization of money is not in accord with these absolutes, and so we flounder in excessiveness and disequilibrium.
Having more than what we need has become almost pathological in our modern civilizations. It isn’t our fault, really. We evolved this way as a species. We think we need more than we actually need because of a basic fear of not having enough during “lean times”. It really is that simple. But just as we must fight the urge to eat too much, we must also fight the urge to horde too much. We do this in order to maintain balance and to remain healthy. What’s healthy is having a proper orientation between culture and the natural order of things (nature and the cosmos).
In regards to money, as a symbol for the distribution of goods, we don’t have a proper orientation between culture (economy) and nature (ecology). We've gotten to the point where the economy does not match ecology, or in other words, money does not match resource. This is a gross imbalance that can only lead to the inevitable collapse of any economic system which upholds it, and continues to go about “business as usual” like nothing is wrong. Unfortunately this “economic system” is the current monetary-based system.
David Brooks pinpointed the issue perfectly, saying, “If the fathers of classical economics knew what we know now about the inner workings of the human mind, there is no way they would have structured the field as it is.” He goes on further to say, “Rationality is bounded by emotion. People have a great deal of trouble exercising self-control. They perceive the world in biased ways. They are profoundly influenced by context. They are prone to group-think. Most of all, people discount the future; we allow present satisfaction to blot out future prosperity.”
Here’s the thing: Moderation is the key, but nobody knows how to use the key. It’s a matter of the need for immediate gratification on the one hand and rampant immoderation on the other. What we need is a new ritual. We need a ritual that trumps the ritual of money and the over-consumption that comes from it. We need a way to diffuse, to reciprocate, and to moderate immoderate wealth. And then we need to somehow make this an aspect of our psychological makeup. But how do we do this?
The Psychology of Shame:
Live simply so that others may simply live. -Elizabeth Seaton
Faced with the tragedy of a dying world, the simplest lifestyle does tend to be the best. The shame we feel in our excessive lifestyles is directly related to the ubiquity of our wastefulness. When a culture over-consumes it’s only natural that it is also overly wasteful. There is shame in this, but it is not enough shame to cause any fundamental change within us. In order to trigger enough shame, to make a change, it needs to strike at the heart of the cultural paradigm. In our culture's case this “heart” is money. Living simply asks that we change our center of gravity from inert consumption to proactive adaptation. It asks that we become local world-movers as opposed to global world-watchers. Once basic needs are met our desire to accumulate more “stuff” actually undermines our happiness. The more “stuff” we have the more shame we have (albeit subconscious) for being so excessive.
In order not to be shameful, in an excessively immoderate culture, we are asked to shave the heaviness from our heart. We do this by shedding the incongruous and superfluity on an individual level, so that we can create healthy change on a cultural level. Living moderately leads to living deliberately. Shedding that which is superfluous helps us to focus on making sense out of human excessiveness. Once excess has been shaved away, simplicity is revealed, and we are then free to allow elegance to enter into our lives, realizing that just as brevity is the soul of wit, elegance is the soul of acumen.
In Transforming Militaristic Inertia into Real-world Courage I wrote, “If we are to be courageous, we must transform the mechanism by which we experience shame through acts that transcend shame itself.” As it stands we have no adequate cultural shame regulators in place for greed. In fact, the shame regulators that are in place are backwards. We’re actually made to feel shameful for not making more money than we need. Thus we live in a society that hordes and stockpiles and is excessive in all manner of things.
It is extremely difficult to unlearn what culture has conditioned us into believing. Over a lifetime, culture itself becomes a kind of devil on our shoulder, whispering in our ear, “Get as much as you can. Buy more stuff. Horde; horde; horde! Stockpile; stockpile; stockpile! Don’t stop until you have it all!” And then there is the internal judge, "charging" us with incompetence and a life-sentence of inadequacy if we don’t make enough money, if we don’t give into the cultural cliché of over-the-top consumerism.
Shame is a cultural mechanism. The fear of not being good enough is an almost debilitating thing no matter what culture one is brought up in. In a world where the common motivation is the cliché of, “Get rich or die trying,” one is further left with a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. We are told to be prideful regarding making money. In short, we are conditioned to feel pride in being greedy. Like Carol Pearson said, “Our culture has used guilt and shame as the primary means to motivate people to be good by its standards, so it is no wonder that people feel guilty, and that they need to atone --or sometimes to have someone else atone for them.”
But what is this standard of good our culture holds us to? It is quite simply this: earn as much as you can despite anybody or anything else. This leads to a world of individuals who over-consume, overindulge, and overdo almost everything at the expense of everything else. People living in such a world have no understanding of the relationship between things. So how can they have any understanding of what power is, let alone how to get power over power?
The Psychology of Power:
In order to understand the nature of power we must first understand the power of nature.
As a culture we are grossly unaware of the powers (nature: both inner and outer) that control us to an almost infinite degree. We believe that we have conquered nature and her demons, but we have only suppressed them into an unconscious state and, as a result, they have developed into even more of a menace to us. They are disguised in an impressive array of neuroses, dissociation and psychological confusion. So much so that we have become psychologically debilitated in regards to the power dynamic playing out between our inner nature and nature itself.
The general principle of the psyche is that the deeper we understand ourselves the more of the world we will be able to identify with. As ecologist Gregory Bateson asserts, psyche is not a separate entity from nature, it is a part of nature. The natural world acts like a mirror for our psyches, a screen on which we project our fears and anxieties. Raised as most of us are, in this egocentric, inert culture, we are unable to recognize the connection between cosmos and psyche. This is usually because of years and years of nature deprivation. But alienating nature is alienating psyche. When we deprive ourselves of nature we also deprive ourselves of psyche, and this deprivation creates an unhealthy schism between the two, where psyche becomes psychosis, and nature becomes anti-nature. And so our vision of ourselves and our reality become warped, and the dissociation between human nature and “the other” inevitably occurs.
The good news is that only superficially can we ever separate cosmos from psyche. The bad news is that we have given into this superficiality. Modern man, slaving away in his monetary-based economic system, has escaped the anguish of his freedom only to fall into a state of preoccupation and paranoia. This can be an extremely addictive and confusing state; as Denise Linn gleaned, “As we hurtle into the future, the trappings of modern life isolate us from the earth and leave little room for the inward journey.”
If that weren’t enough there is the hyper-reality (that is, reality by proxy) of popular culture to contend with, which acts as a kind of psychosomatic second skin, blanketing actual reality and preventing us from penetrating the truth of nature and the cosmos. Tearing ourselves away from this hyper-reality is no easy task, so completely does it consume the spirit of our times. Beneath its veil of ignorance we are free to be blissful and carefree, relishing in our luxuries. Lifting the veil, however, is the psychological equivalent to ripping one's skin off. But once the pain has been endured, once the “wounds” have healed into “scars,” the Great Mystery of our life is revealed, and then we are free to discover the reconnection of cosmos and psyche.
By shedding incongruous inertia from congruent action, by lifting the veil, we reveal what has been hidden from us: the Great Mystery. And we are suddenly empowered. This unveiling is like a magic trick on our soul, where instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, we are the rabbit, ascending “the hole” into a new adventure: an adventure so numinous and arresting that we are at first taken aback, in awe, over the uncanny suffusion of sacredness suddenly spilling into our lives. This sacredness is nothing less than us reconnecting with our true powers: our psyches; our cosmos; our souls. It is only after this that we are able to understand that the nature of power is founded in the concept of prestige. How one gets power over power begins with understanding that money is the current mode of human power, but that prestige, regardless of money, is the truer power.
The Psychology of Prestige:
In a gift-giving society, an individual gains prestige and satisfaction by receiving, then adding to what has been received and passing it on. In a consumer society, prestige and satisfaction are gained through accumulation and acquisition. Nothing is given. Nothing is passed on. –Lewis Hyde
We live in a consumerist society, and our culture reflects that. Unfortunately the reflection is ugly. It shows us an image of greed and excessive wastefulness camouflaged by an outlandish hyper-reality. If we were to peel back this hyper-reality we would reveal the throbbing hunger of our animal nature: the need to be recognized. When we really break down the human condition we have a creature that is in more need of its own kind than any other creature to have ever existed. This means we are social creatures. We need each other. More so than any other ape. More so than any other creature. We need each other to be reflections of each other. We are Mirror! And the very crux of the human condition, guilt, is a direct result of our being “mirrors” for each other.
Guilt is founded upon our empathy system and our mirror neurons. When we see another person suffering, we can feel their suffering as if it is our own. This constitutes our powerful system of empathy, which leads to our thinking that we should do something to relieve the suffering of others. If we cannot help another, or fail in our efforts, we experience feelings of guilt. For the most part with “civilized” people, it seems, this emotion has been suppressed and disassociated from its source (in no small part due to cultural conditioning, brainwashing, and nature deprivation), which creates an even more profoundly dynamic social neurosis: narcissism. When guilt is unfounded, narcissism flowers in all its exaggerated grandiosity.
When guilt has no mode of expiation within a society it becomes rampant narcissism. There must be a cultural mechanism in place for the expiation of guilt, for fear that people will become nothing more than shadow-puppets of an aggrandized hyper-reality. As it stands we have no such mechanism. Our culture is a false stage filled with over-actors, with inadequate props and pseudo backdrops, all of which are not in accord with the show of the greater cosmos. Like Alexander Lowen wrote, “When wealth occupies a higher position than wisdom, when notoriety is admired more than dignity, when success is more important than self-respect, the culture itself over-values “image” and must be regarded as narcissistic.”
In order to get back in accord with reality we must be able to unite wisdom and acumen with foolishness and enchantment. Fear and shame must be properly oriented with honor and humor. In order to truly get power over power it is not enough to simply be, we must will ourselves into a disclosure of being. The Greek word Thumos is the desire for prestige. It is the dream of the perfect recognition, when all that is great within oneself has synergized with all that is eternal in the cosmos in perfect synchronicity. A hero is a courageous person who taps into this sacred energy, in abundance. There is so much of it, in fact, that the hero must distribute it, or risk burning himself out. But it is only upon realizing this need for distribution that a hero becomes what I call a New-Hero.
A typical, modern-day hero is someone who has conquered, reigned, and monopolized a particular domain or field, in the sense that they have "bested the opposition" and gained a considerable amount of power. A New-hero, on the other hand, is a person who has accomplished all that the typical hero has accomplished but who also recognizes the need for expiation, for giving back, for completing the natural cycle of life. In this way they are able to relieve the physical burden of immoderate wealth, as well as the psychological guilt that comes from it, and they become a hero over power as opposed to simply a hero with power. This is Thumos. This is true power. Compassion, moderation, and balance with nature are the key here. A New-hero is aware of this, and they are able to overcome their "want" for things in order to give back to the community they have conquered.
A new hero counsels a goodness, an egoistic altruism, that exceeds the ego and self-interest, radiating outward in an enveloping energy that empowers the world. A new hero intermittently, and almost magically, improves themselves while selflessly giving to others. Their kindness is seen as neither selfish nor selfless, but holistic in nature, having no agenda or need but for healthy ambiance and cultural stability; a spiritus mundi: unanimous heart.
A New-hero is a symbol for natural order. They are the personification of the life/death cycle in action. They celebrate life through the redistribution of their wealth. They celebrate death through their open mockery of immoderate wealth. They become the circle. They complete the cycle. They honor infinite growth through their mutual recognition and respect for the marriage between chaos and order. They trump the power of money through their own power to use it as they see fit, knowing that money is pseudo-power and prestige is the truer power. They claim, out-loud to the cosmos, that money is nothing more than a tool. They play with the limits of their power and mock unjust claims of immortality, seeking instead for eternal rebirth.
The Psychology of Homeostasis:
If you are deprogrammed in the cultural causa-sui project, then you have to invent your own: you don’t vibrate to anyone else’s tune. You see that the fabrications of those around you are a lie, a denial of truth. A creative person becomes then, in art, literature, and religion the mediator of natural terror and the indicator of a new way to triumph over it. He reveals the darkness and the dread of the human condition and fabricates a new symbolic transcendence over it. This has been the function of the creative deviant from shamans through Shakespeare. –Ernest Becker
It is through a sense of eternal rebirth that a new-hero discovers what it means to get power over power. It means occasionally breaking away from the norm. It means doing something different, maybe even something forbidden, like breaking with tradition or doing something “backwards,” and Eureka! A breakthrough occurs. The world is remade, refreshed. It means stretching comfort zones, shattering mental paradigms, and poking holes into so-called sacred ideals that have us entrenched. In short, it means breaking with homeostasis.
It is very difficult to change, even when that change is progressive and healthier. The reason is that we are creatures of comfort. But we are also creatures of extreme insecurity. Ernest Becker said it best, “Man, the animal who knows he is not safe here, who needs continued affirmation of his powers, is the one animal who is implacably driven to work beyond animal needs precisely because he is not a secure animal.” We relish our comfort so much that there are psychological effects, namely cognitive dissonance, that we experience when we break with homeostasis.
Cognitive dissonance is a strange psychological phenomenon that occurs when we are conflicted between the way we've always done something and the new way that doesn't make sense and is counter-intuitive. At its most simplistic it is the uncomfortable feeling that arises when holding conflicting ideas simultaneously; at its most complex it is when an idea is in conflict with a fundamental sense of self. Both of these may be a factor in regard to getting power of power. Any time you go from an inert state to a proactive state, dissonance is sure to be a factor. The fact that it's cognitive, mixing in subconscious and unconscious psychological subtleties, makes it all the more challenging. But the fact that it is cognitive gives us the power to learn from it.
The Cognitive Dissonance Counter-intuitive tactic attacks both these extremes of dissonance. By first uprooting us from our entrenched viewpoints and, second, by clipping the cultural straitjacket that binds our perceptual capacities. Also it brings, to the forefront, that aspect of the human condition that is prone to biases, mistakes, and fallibility. It teaches humility in the most primordial sense. It gets down to the roots of the cognitive experience and shows exactly how precarious our cognition truly is. It directly attacks the inert-self, that cowardly part of our self that prevents us from seeing how things can be changed, and ushers in the new hero. If we are to get past our inert-self we must embrace the uncomfortable feeling that comes from experiencing cognitive dissonance. The discomfort then acts as a kind of teacher, a very important teacher. It teaches us how to be courageous.
We must disturb our current homeostasis in order to achieve a healthier homeostasis. The goal here is not only to know our own nature, but to know how much of our self is nature. The answer is: every single aspect of our self is nature. There is no way around it. Governing this precept it stands to reason that we place ourselves in accord with nature. It’s only logical. But our current method of governance is not in accord with nature. In fact it is anti-natural. And if our way of life is anti-natural we must break with the homeostasis of it, creature comforts and all, in order to discover a new healthier way of life. Like I said before, we, as a species, need a new ritual.
It’s as simple as this: if our ritual of power is wrapped up in money, then we are pseudo-powerful. Only guilt and neurosis can come from this false power. If our ritual of power is wrapped up in prestige, then we have power over power. Prestige must trump money. Prestige is to true power as money is to pseudo-power. Money is the gross objectification and materialization of prestige. The way we gain prestige in a world that recognizes money as power, is to get power over money. One gets power over money through the concept of capital munificence and hero expiation, thereby becoming the New Hero. This sets the stage for Eco-moral Tribalism and Commitalism to be culturally and globally actualized.
If a person is only obedient and never disobedient, they are slaves; if they are only disobedient and never obedient, they are renegades; but if they are both, they are revolutionaries.
Calling out to all slaves: raise yourselves to the consciousness of your slavery. The world that has been set up before you, erected without your consideration, is a farce. Rise up! Kill the false power within you. Kick your inert-self off its too-comfortable couch. Dismantle the false world hanging over you, the canopy built by past generations. Rise up! Become a freedom unto yourself.
The Psychology of #Occupying:
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. –Abraham Lincoln
The hunger for a different society is what keeps the occupation movement going strong. The movement is a celebration of true democracy, but most people are so entrenched, so utterly enchanted by plutocracy-disguised-by-democracy that they cannot even begin to fathom such a celebration. We must remember that most people are so inured, so hopelessly dependent upon the system that they will fight to protect it. This is a kind of social or societal cognitive dissonance, the worst kind of cognitive dissonance actually. It arises from close-minded group-think, and one-right-way methodologies; founded upon keeping the rich comfortable and the poor working like good little pseudo-slaves. And have no illusions, the monetary based system is a system of pseudo-slavery. It is the ultimate lie of silent assertion. The menace of the past was that men became slaves; the menace of the present is that men become pseudo-slaves to a plutocratic regime.
The occupy movement is about true democracy overcoming plutocracy. As it stands we have yet to attain true democracy in the West. In order to achieve such an end we must, as responsible, capable individuals, get power over power. The occupiers are asking their culture this: do you wish to live out a harried life of nine-to-five slavery for heartless corporations that don't give a damn about anything except making money, or do you wish to live a happy life of love and compassion doing what you love to do in spite of plutocracy and tyranny? Through such civil disobedience occupiers are changing the political landscape, thus discovering prestige, and thus gaining power over power.
You would think it would not be possible for a humane and intelligent person to invent a rational excuse for slavery; yet you will hear people arguing (probably in the throes of cognitive dissonance) for the continued slavery of employment. Like Naseem Nicholas Taleb said, “Those who do not think that employment is systematic slavery are either blind or employed.” But argue and plead as the occupiers might, they cannot break the universal stillness that reigns, from pulpit and press all the way down to the bottom of society. The occupy movement is at loggerheads with this stillness, and rightly so. “Human history began as an act of disobedience," writes Erich Fromm, "and it is not unlikely that it will be terminated by an act of obedience.” As it stands the rampant stillness in our inert culture is too obedient, too comfortable and too stagnate, and the occupy movement is just the right flavor of insurrection to mix it all up. The occupiers understand that antiquated solutions must be replaced by compassionate insurgency.
Insurgency, the rarest and most courageous of acts, is seldom distinguished from rage, the most common and myopic. Insurgency is not rage, nor is it nihilism. It is the spearhead of freedom. We need to shift the grounds of politics itself. The occupy movement achieves this. There is no doubt that we benefit from a law-abiding society. But at times like these we have a higher duty, indeed a higher responsibility, to health and life itself; and we should no longer allow ourselves to be bound by petty laws that protect those who continue to abuse and pollute our planet. Peaceful revolution is plum necessary when just laws are used to uphold unjust behavior. In the spirit of MLK, and Gandhi before him, and Thoreau before him, we must passionately and compassionately disobey.
Freedom is something you do, not something you are. It is not a given. It takes effort, courage, and determination; usually in the face of those who would make you their slaves. In the same way that living healthy isn't a diet or a fad, but a way of life; revolution isn't insurrection or anarchy, but a way to maintain freedom. Yes, activism is scary. Yes, change is difficult and uncomfortable. Real-world action is painful. Social change is initially unpopular and insurrection always begins with civil disobedience. And so trepidation is a healthy response to cultural upheaval. But our submission is not enough to justify the tyranny which is imposed upon us. And so we must revolt. And so we must occupy. After all, we’ll reap no evolution if we don’t sow a little revolution.
The revolution begins at home. If you overthrow yourself again and again, you might earn the right to overthrow the rest of us. –Rob Brezsny
If you have an earnest desire of attaining wisdom, prepare yourself to be laughed at by the multitude, to hear them say, 'He does not covet what we covet, or seek what we hasten after and pursue, but he stands alone.' Do not mind such rejection. Keep steadily to those things which appear best to you. For if you adhere to your principles, those very persons who at first ridiculed will afterwards admire you. Be contented, then, in everything devoted to living wisely, and it will suffice you. -A.C. Grayling
Getting power over power is no walk in the park. It requires change. It requires butting heads with the current regime. It requires all of us to be aware of the would-be tyrant within. In order not to become a tyrant we must --after slaying the “dragon” and dethroning the “king,” after bringing peace and order back to the Kingdom-- give up our power, relinquish the throne, and then continue on with our journey. This is heroic expiation at its most courageous. This is capital munificence at its most brave.
Regimes do not want to be changed, because they think they need power. But change is inevitable and nature does not obey our will to power. If anything, our will to freedom should always trumps our will to power. To blindly deny change is not only unnatural, it is unhealthy. So in order to be healthy we should embrace change. We should take chances. Shift the current regime. Speak up and be open to disruptive ideas. Act as an agent of, and for, change.
Regimes often have an inflexible view of the purpose of human life. Indeed, the political fallout from such regimes frequently creates oppression from the abstract idea of what “the good life” is. This is usually followed by state intervention and/or cultural conditioning to make that idea a reality. Our response to this should be to realize that different types of freedoms will always be in conflict and to have the perspicuity and acumen to decipher the difference between healthy and unhealthy freedom. If both freedoms in conflict are healthy, then compassion and compromise is in order. If one or both freedoms in conflict are unhealthy, then ruthless questioning, interrogative infiltration, and even insurrection are in order.
The key to bringing equilibrium to any unbalanced human system is not coercion but education. In the same way that it's wrong to coerce people into having only one child to control population (like in China), it is wrong to coerce people into expiating and redistributing their wealth to control the economy. Volition trumps morality. That is to say, free will and personal choice come before notions of right & wrong. The key is to educate people so that their volitional autonomy is in line with moral action. It is wrong to tell someone how they should or should not live, but, and here's the rub, when people become educated they will realize that the healthy way is to have less children, that the healthy way is to be less greedy, that the healthy way is to discover moderation and balance between nature, the cosmos, and the human soul. Like Aristotle said, “The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead.” Please, by any means necessary, choose a life-lived over being just another one of the living dead.
Gary Z McGee (author) from Everywhere, USA on November 14, 2013:
Hello Susan. The conditioning aspects of our culture are mentioned in both the Psychology of Shame section and the Psychology of Power section; that's what I'm referring to when I mention the concept of hyper-reality. You're right though, about the conditioning. Thanks for reading.
Susan Mason on November 14, 2013:
This is a good article for the most part. I have not read it all yet, but I am going to. There is just one problem that I see, so far. This is the fact that you left out the intentional conditioning by the elite, to encourage the current overconsumption of society as a whole. This is NOT innate within human character. Before the fifties we were beginning to produce much more than we were consuming. People at that time, only bought what they actually needed...and most of the larger industries saw that as a big problem. So, they took some very definite steps to begin conditioning us as a society, to want more and more and more.
Gary Z McGee (author) from Everywhere, USA on August 20, 2012:
Me too, lps101. Mine is 'flying' in the face of convention.
lps101 on August 18, 2012:
i believe powers and i have one that is flying