The Interchangeability of Mass Movements & The Role of the Undesirables in Human Affairs — an excerpt from Eric Hoffer’s book “The True Believer”

Tonight I’ll be transcribing a bit from chapters 3 & 4 of the book The True Believer (1951) by Eric Hoffer, beginning on page 25:

The Interchangeability of Mass Movements

14

When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program. In Hitlerian Germany it was often a tossup whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis. In the overcrowded pale of Czarist Russia the simmering Jewish population was ripe both for revolution and Zionism. In the same family, one member would join the revolutionaries and the other the Zionists. Dr. Chaim Weizmann quotes a saying of his mother in those days: “Whatever happens, I shall be well off. If Shemuel [the revolutionary son] is right, we shall all be happy in Russia; and if Chaim [the Zionist] is right, then I shall go to live in Palestine.”

This receptivity to all movements does not always cease even after the potential true believer has become the ardent convert of a specific movement. Where mass movements are in violent competition with each other, there are not infrequent instances of converts—even the most zealous—shifting their allegiance from one to the other. A Saul turning into Paul is neither a rarity nor a miracle. In our day, each proselytizing mass movement seems to regard the zealous adherents of its antagonists as its own potential converts. Hitler looked on the German Communists as potential National Socialists: “The petit bourgeois Social-Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communist always will.” Captain Röhm boasted that he could turn the reddest Communist into a glowing nationalist in four weeks. On the other hand, Karl Radek looked on the Nazi Brown Shirts (S.A.) as a reserve for future Communist recruits.

Since all mass movements draw their adherents from the same types of humanity and appeal to the same types of mind, it follows: (a) all mass movements are competitive, and the gain of one in adherents is the loss of all the others; (b) all mass movements are interchangeable. One mass movement readily transforms itself into another. A religious movement may develop into a social revolution or a nationalist movement; a social revolution, into militant nationalism or a religious movement; a nationalist movement into a social revolution or a religious movement.

15

It is rare for a mass movement to be wholly of one character. Usually it displays some facets of other types of movement, and sometimes it is two or three movements in one. The exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt was a slave revolt, a religious movement and a nationalist movement. The militant nationalism of the Japanese is essentially religious. The French Revolution was a new religion. It had “its dogma, the sacred principles of the Revolution—Liberté at sainte égalité. It has its form of worship, an adaptation of Catholic ceremonial, which was elaborated in connection with civic fêtes. It had its saints, the heroes and martyrs of liberty.” At the same time, the French Revolution was also a nationalist movement. The legislative assembly decreed in 1792 that altars should be raised everywhere bearing the inscription: “the citizen is born, lives and dies for la Patrie.”

The religious movements of the Reformation had a revolutionary aspect which expressed itself in peasant uprisings, and were also nationalist movements. Said Luther: “In the eyes of the Italians we Germans are merely low Teutonic swine. They exploit us like charlatans and suck the country to the marrow. Wake up Germany!”

The religious character of the Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions is generally recognized. The hammer and sickle and the swastika are in a class with the cross. The ceremonial of their parades is as the ceremonial of a religious procession. They have articles of faith, saints, martyrs and holy sepulchers. The Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions are also full-blown nationalist movements. The Nazi revolution had been so from the beginning, while the nationalism of the Bolsheviks was a late development.

Zionism is a nationalist movement and a social revolution. To the orthodox Jew it is also a religious movement. Irish nationalism has a deep religious tinge. The present mass movements in Asia are both nationalist and revolutionary.

16

The problem of stopping a mass movement is often a matter of substituting one movement for another. A social revolution can be stopped by promoting a religious or nationalist movement. Thus in countries where Catholicism has recaptured its mass movement spirit, it counteracts the spread of communism. In Japan it was nationalism that canalized all movements of social protest. In our South, the movement of racial solidarity acts as a preventive of social upheaval. A similar situation may be observed among the French in Canada and the Boers in South Africa.’

This method of stopping one movement by substituting another for it is not always without danger, and it does not usually come cheap. It is well for those who hung the present and want to preserve it as it is not to play with mass movements. For it always fares ill with the present when a genuine mass movement is on the march. In pre-war Italy and Germany practical businessmen acted in an entirely “logical” manner when they encouraged a Fascist and a Nazi movement in order to stop communism. But in doing so, these practical and logical people promoted their own liquidation.

There are other safer substitutes for a mass movement. In general, any arrangement which either discourages atomistic individualism or facilitates self-forgetting or offers chances for action and new beginnings tends to counteract the rise and spread of mass movements. […]

17

Emigration offers some of the things the frustrated hope to find when they join a mass movement, namely, change and a chance for a new beginning. The same types who swell the ranks of a rising mass movement are also likely to avail themselves of a chance to emigrate. Thus migration can serve as a substitute for a mass movement. It is plausible, for instance, that had the United States and the British Empire welcomed mass migration from Europe after the First World War, there might have been neither a Fascist nor a Nazi revolution. In this country, free and easy migration over a vast continent contributed to our social stability.

However, because of the quality of their human material, mass migrations are fertile ground for the rise of genuine mass movements. It is sometimes difficult to tell where a mass migration ends and a mass movement begins—and which came first. […] The migrations of the barbarians in the declining days of the Roman Empire were more than mere shifts of population. The indications are that the barbarians were relatively few in number, but, once they invaded a country, they were joined by the oppressed and dissatisfied in all walks of life: “it was a social revolution started and masked by a superficial foreign conquest.”

Every mass movement is in a sense a migration—a movement toward a promised land; and, when feasible and expedient, an actual migration takes place. This happened in the case of the Puritans, Anabaptists, Mormons, Dukhobors and Zionists. Migration, in the mass, strengthens the spirit and unity of a movement; and whether in the form of foreign conquest, crusade, pilgrimage or settlement of new land it is practiced by most active mass movements.

Part Two

The Potential Converts

[Chapter] 4

_________________________

The Role of the Undesirables in Human Affairs

18

There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation or any distinct group by its least worthy members. Though manifestly unfair, this tendency has some justification. For the character and destiny of a group are often determined by its inferior elements.

The inert mass of a nation, for instance, is in its middle section. The decent, average people who do the nation’s work in cities and on the land are worked upon and shaped by minorities at both ends—the best and the worst.

The superior individual, whether in politics, literature, science, commerce or industry, plays a large role in shaping a nation, but so do individuals at the other extreme—the failures, misfits, outcasts, criminals, and all those who have lost their footing, or never had one, in the ranks of respectable humanity. The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.

The reason that the inferior elements of a nation can exert a marked influence on its course is that they are wholly without reverence toward the present. They see their lives and the present as spoiled beyond remedy and they are ready to waste and wreck both: hence their recklessness and their will to chaos and anarchy. They also crave to dissolve their spoiled, meaningless selves in some soul-stirring spectacular communal undertaking—hence their proclivity for united action. Thus they are among the early recruits of revolutions, mass migrations and of religious, racial and chauvinist movements, and they imprint their mark upon these upheavals and movements which shape a nation’s character and history.

The discarded and rejected are often the raw material of a nation’s future. The stone the builders reject becomes the cornerstone of a new world. A nation without dregs and malcontents is orderly, decent, peaceful and pleasant, but perhaps without the seed of things to come. It was not the irony of history that the undesired in the countries in Europe should have crossed an ocean to build a new world on this continent. Only they could do it.

19

Though the disaffected are found in all walks of life, they are most frequent in the following categories: (a) the poor, (b) misfits, (c) outcasts, (d) minorities, (e) adolescent youth, (f) the ambitious (whether facing insurmountable obstacles or unlimited opportunities), (g) those in the grip of some vice or obsession, (h) the impotent, (i) the inordinately selfish, (j) the bored, (k) the sinners.

I’ll stop there tonight on page 30 with hopes of picking back up on copying portions of this book in the not-so-distant future.

Tonight’s thoughts on Corporate Amorality

Paying special attention at the 21-22 minute mark onward, culminating in the hallelujah moment coming at 24:15.

Did you catch that? “When people call corporations evil, what they’re really saying is that they’re simply completely amoral … compared to a shark.” Yup. That’s exactly what I mean when I refer to corporations as amoral. Having listened to the video up to this point while tending to laundry, and also as a big fan of the documentary “The Corporation” since several years back (even gave it as a gift a couple times — go. watch it. now.), this discussion has me nodding along in agreement. And most especially on that point. I do use the word “evil” because it is still extremely relevant. What is evil? Are all forms of amorality evil? No, it doesn’t make sense to accuse the natural world of being evil though its processes strike us as impersonal and oblivious to our moral concerns. Yet when it comes to human beings and human constructs, morality absolutely does factor in, and must. That corporations operate amorally while they affect all of society and everyone and everything in it, gone global — this is a problem. A legal fiction now dominates our economy and is determining legal policy swayed in its favor. It is a legal fiction that tremendously impacts and has radically altered societies across the world, changing the ways we live and work and eat, yet it claims to be above and beyond morality. How so? How can that work long-term? Insanity is required to place faith in a gameplan like that.

Just the myth of perpetual growth becoming somehow a sustainable strategy going forward, forever, was your first clue that someone’s loopy behind the wheel and hell-bent on driving economies into a straightjacket. It’s not science, folks — it’s just economics. Big egos are at play here. This is not the land of microscopic particles or predictable scientific theories. No, this is about people. Art and life in motion, hustling and bustling. We people function within moral codes in our social settings, from societies on down to neighborhoods to nuclear families to individual persons. That’s the way it goes. We are naturally moral beings, which is to say everything we create that is of the realm of people cannot help but be influenced by our moral sphere. It is a human construct, therefore we are responsible for it. The dream that we can create something that we can set and then forget is gimmicky cheesiness that we’ve not evolved far enough to deserve to entertain the notion of.

People don’t like to hear that, but it’s true. We’re still a rowdy, greedy lot. We’re fallible, and that means everything we touch can wind up misused, even if we never saw it coming and were mistaken in thinking we knew perfectly well what we were doing. As humans, we fuck up all the time. Such is life. Moral failings are a part of life. Yet when it comes to the corporation, created and managed by people, employer to and provider for people, we want to pretend it should be treated as if on the level of natural phenomena beyond our control? Completely unregulated? Allowed to roam around free to monopolize and oligopolize, to buy political power for prices collectives of ordinary citizens couldn’t possibly compete with, to produce products that turn out to be dangerous without government or citizen collectives’ oversight?

Sounds like a brilliant plan. Bet it won’t work. People who imagine something like this working are dreaming of some well-oiled machine that functions in a predictable fashion, yet they can’t seem to follow the predictions to their unsavory end. It’s become a centralization of power scheme, plain and simple, and it affects us all profoundly. And it openly admits to being amoral by design to boot. What a hell of a conundrum. I’m just surprised so many people continue to cling to this as if it’s really a long-term-sustainable plan. That’s Disney fantasy, folks. We’re talking about the accumulation of power here. People are working through this construct — this is no act of nature, this is a product of humankind. We live interdependently in societies.

There’s a very weird and disturbing trend of people jumping on board, blindly, backing this notion of “progress,” as though it’s a given. It must occur, right? Things must continue getting better and better, right? Like that too is something predetermined by…what exactly? A god? No. The universe? Thought that was supposed to be amoral too. Karma? Good luck? What makes people so sure that the future will be an ascension in terms of progress that will truly benefit humankind? Technological progress doesn’t automatically equate or positively correlate with human progress, not in the way people like to think. We’re deluded. Been fed a steady diet of bullshit for so long that most of us can’t figure which way is up any longer.

But that’s all I have time for at the moment.

What do you believe?

I’ve become distracted. Been in a hell of a mood lately, largely because my back hurts. Lots going on in life right now. Relationship turmoil. Trying to find my next car in a hurry. Busy workweek with crazy hours. A great deal on my mind. And of course, there’s the perpetual gripe about how many assholes exist in society (myself included, sure, to an extent, but damn! Some folks seem like all they want to do is fight and insult others, especially online.).

I’m just tired, more now than usual, but it’s not a new feeling. What the fuck do I believe in? I don’t know. What should I believe in? What is there to really believe in anymore? I believe in my loved ones, which isn’t to say that they’re always 100% honest but that their love helps tie me into the game of life. Without them I don’t know where I’d be. Nowhere good.

Next I believe there’s more to this life than we humans will ever understand. Some shit is just beyond our comprehension. Nothing wrong with that. We experience what we’re able, even if we can’t usually clearly convey our experiences to one another. What’s beyond our comprehension is also necessarily beyond the scope of our languages. I’m fine with all of that and take it as a given, and what that helps serve to do is to create a reminder of our human limitations. Nothing wrong with cutting ourselves back down to size regularly — our tendency is toward arrogance otherwise.

Now, what else do I believe? I believe most folks are both good and bad, not mostly good as so many like to assume. No, I recognize us for the opportunists we are. We are also very often hypocrites, especially now that relative anonymity makes it more difficult to fact-check in a sea of strangers. And we’ll never eradicate our rough and deceptive tendencies, because they serve dual functions — that is unless someday we wind up genetically re-engineered in some “Brave New World”-sort of fashion (long after I’m dead and gone). But back to dual functions, because that’s important. Much as we like to divide everything into black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, virtue and vice, the reality is much more complicated. Welcome to human life — that’s what it’s all about. Shades of gray, some darker or lighter, but all on a gradient.

We very often have a tendency toward cowardice as well, hence why heroism strikes us as so exceptional and commendable.

Men and women do differ, but individuals break down to their own unique combinations of traits, predispositions, environmental influences and experiential input. This need to reduce people down to clumps and groups that we can speak so generally about to where conversations unravel into nonsense — it’s doing nothing for us. Just contributing to all the clattering, making noise, stoking the embers of hostilities in one another.

Look, I’m in a bad mood today and will just spell it out. We’re driving one another fucking crazy. If people are fine with that and still think the benefits outweigh the psychological and social costs associated with maintaining a bullshit status quo, then I’m on the wrong planet or was born in the wrong era. But whatever. When I say people are going to do what they’re going to do, it may come across as defeatist, but it’s true. People don’t want to talk about what’s going on today — they want to blame and point fingers and throw around statistics they’re barely acquainted with just because they appear to bolster their own pre-formed beliefs. Humans are terrific rationalizers, that being one of our species’ specialties.

At this point, what is there left to do but dream? I do my best to pay as low of taxes as I can since this war machine is paid too much already. I speak up at any opportunity to declare bullshit on so much we have going on the U.S. I’ve refrained from having children, lightening the load for myself and others. (Just think, you all dodged a bullet on having to deal with whomever I managed to screw up. You’re welcome.) Been trying to make sense out of my life experiences and come to terms with where I’ve personally been in the wrong, much as I continue to make mistakes, but how can one avoid doing so? New experiences equal new opportunities for mistakes and learning. That’s just how life goes.

And I’ve vocalized my frustration with what movements I have dabbled in and am in the process of trying to share what tidbits life has been teaching me. But what do I know? I’m a malcontent Luddite apparently. Obsolete. It’s not a pleasant thought, but it’s a reality that it seems I must come to grips with and accept.

People want to scream over one another, forever clanging their pots and pans and trying to drown out what they perceive as their opposition. Bunch of noise. What is to come of it other than driving one another nuts? What do we hope to accomplish, if anything? I want to know, but people won’t say other than by tossing out vague terms like “equality” and “egalitarianism” and “humanism.” But what do they want to see? Most, I believe, want to see something similar to what is already in place. And I suppose if that’s their dream, then so be it, but I don’t share it. And I don’t know what else there is to do right now but to focus in more on my own life and matters that are my responsibility or where I have power.

Is it just me, or does the world feel too big?

Back to my cave now.

21st-Century Schizoid Americans

[The video for King Crimson’s 1969 performance of “21st Century Schizoid Man” was removed on youtube, damn it all to Hades.]

Amazing song. It became a favorite almost immediately after stumbling across it on Pandora 2 or 3 years back.

Want to marvel more at the talent that goes into creating a sexy piece of music like that? See this “Premiata Forneria Marconi” cover of it:

Blows the mind. Daaammmn. What artistry, nothing like the techno-pop auto-tuned crap churned out today.

Every once in a blue moon I just like to chill with this song, run it through 2-3 times, let it sink in. This song’s peculiarity grabbed me right away. And then you look at the lyrics, and it’s sobering poetry:

Cat’s foot iron claw
Neuro-surgeons scream for more
At paranoia’s poison door.
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Blood rack barbed wire
Politicians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Death seed blind man’s greed
Poets’ starving children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Right on. I get it. This is one of those songs worth us 21st-century schizoids meditating on from time to time. But maybe that would actually lead to more mindless nihilism (as opposed to conscious and principle-guided nihilism I suppose, having now listened to others’ arguments drawing a distinction).

And maybe what I typically think of when I use the word “nihilist” in an insulting fashion are people who are so deep in apathy that they no longer care what they believe in. They choose not to think that far ahead, or they reassure themselves and others that the future will simply sort itself out. Technology and scientific research are bound to pave the way to universal happiness, don’t ya know? Because they don’t really believe in anything, they turn their attention to everyday life and willingly become consumed by mindless entertainment with little to no educational value at a time when we really need to be paying closer attention to what’s going on around us all.

Because we’ve dropped the reins. Who’s running this show? Still placing faith in the invisible hand of the market? This is not a pure capitalistic economy in the U.S., not by a long shot. And our economy is fusing with our political institutions, or, more accurately, it’s buying out its seats and positions with campaign contributions and lobbyist bribes.

And who do we imagine is responsible for this? It’s not as if it came about through an act of God, if by that we mean the deliberate workings of a supernatural force or being. No, it’s the vast majority of people on earth’s fault — WE THE 99%.

Now, I was born at the beginning of the ’80s, and of course life in the U.S. has been bullshit for a long time before then. It’s been bullshit since WWI. It’s been bullshit since the Civil War. Might’ve been bullshit right out the gate, but who knows? None of us were there. The documents passed down tend to be those of famous and influential people of a given time, not opinion polls collecting data on what average folks had to say about things. Gotta keep it in perspective.

And it’s inquiries like these that are schizoid in their own right.  Ha  High abstract thinking requires a bit of unsanity, to quickly paraphrase the message discussed in a recent video by Professor Anton:

I appreciate the way he thinks, mild in manner and all.

Back to “21st-Century Schizoid Man”…

So, how did we let this happen? How did we let modern life become what it is? Well, one thing humans did is placed a tremendous amount of faith in science and technology to deliver an impressive future we’d enjoy. As noted above, we assumed the market would somehow bring this about (though much scientific research isn’t determined by public input or purchasing power, but rather through political allocations we trust elected officials and appointed persons to carry out responsibly on our behalf — and how has that worked out for us?). Humans tend to choose entertainment over seemingly abstract duties and responsibilities, and plenty are overworked and lack time to devote to taxing inquiries. We’re kept so busy with trying to figure out how to navigate in modern life, and our social lives have become infinitely complicated now that we come into contact with so many varied people on a regular basis.

Every temptation under the sun exists today and can be had for the right price. In a sense, we in the U.S. do live in a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. That chips away from people’s orientation toward commitment, honesty, dignity, practicality, intuition, imagination, thrift, and heart. We’re a bunch of kids in a candy store, and it’s not a secret. Nothing feels truly off-limits. What does dignity even mean today when everything’s for sale, including most of our souls? Can we even grasp which way is up? What might that look like? What fundamentals continue to truly matter in this day and age?

Is this what nihilism means to some people? To be stripped of everything you thought you believed in and then try to reconstruct a narrative that may be more convenient or perhaps tailored according to principles we individually define for ourselves? Sounds nice in theory, but how many of us possess the willpower, fortitude, and well-developed conscience to properly direct our lives in an honestly productive fashion? How many want to do so beyond keeping up appearances? Today’s “sin” seems to lie in not keeping up appearances and thereby setting others at unease.

How much faith do I have in us? Aggregately? Not much. In select individuals? Plenty. In myself? I don’t know. The game has warped me. We humans are not infinitely malleable and our environments play such a major role in molding us; life in today’s concrete jungle and all that spins off from that is creating a specially challenging situation to contend with.

We must be in hell

It’s been a rough month.

Have a little bit of time left this evening to unwind before heading to bed. Actually it’s already too late, but dammit, I just need a little time to myself. Been so busy lately and under the weather.

Thank God there’s always music. Just randomly wandering through my music playlists…

[…]

Keep your children from doing wrong

Cuz you know damn well they’ll go to hell

[…]

Some say that hell is below us

But I say it’s right by my side.

Evil in the morning, evil in the evening

You know damn well that we all must be in hell

That was Nina Simone singing “Go to Hell.” It’s the sort of song that grows on ya quickly. It succinctly and briefly puts into words what I feel is true as well: that the hell to be concerned most with is the one we’re creating right here on earth.

An afterlife is beyond me. No one can say for certain, because those who know for certain aren’t here to tell. And that’s fine. The only worry I have with such an idea is the fear of being reincarnated. lol  But whatever. I heard or read recently someone saying that if that were the case, wouldn’t the best goal be to create a life worth living, a life we’d be proud to repeat? Sounds nice in theory at least. I’d be satisfied with us simply not co-creating hell on earth, however we might get around that.

Brings me back to pondering on the idea of attempting to create order (as through a bureaucracy) actually leading to greater disorder than expected, which I believe was discussed by Rick Roderick when talking about Marcuse (posted a few posts back on here). Makes me wonder if the inverse isn’t true as well, that when we back off on attempting to micro-manage everything and allow communities to be what they will and be molded by the individuals that reside there, that this chaotic arrangement might actually lead to greater order across the board. Perhaps a few basic principles deserve to be universally respected to maintain what peace is possible, but the fewer the better. People have to want such a way of life to work, and without concerted effort on the part of individuals choosing to live in accordance with a better way, all attempts will be undermined again and again.

But there’s no way to get everybody on the same page. Again, the fewer principles to be universally respected, the better chance for widespread compliance. And no, there’s no point adding “thou shalt not kill” to that short list, because people do kill and sometimes it’s even justifiable. If people’s hands are tied too tightly, they won’t go along with it. But before exploring what few universal principles might be worthy of adopting, we need to outline the ultimate objective they are meant to serve, which I believe is to allow the greatest amount of freedom for all balanced against the call for justice.

In what I’m envisioning here, more detailed mandates, codes, and laws would necessarily vary and be broken down to the community level where they have a chance of being enforced and where public compassion and individual mercy has the power to remain involved in social processes. But on the macro level, keep it simple, stupid. Because at that scope very little can be enforced without a heavy top-down, centralized approach to governing the masses, so the masses must ultimately be responsible for governing themselves, which obviously boils down to communities, then families and kin, then the individuals. I see no other way to keep from living in some form of a Nanny State.

But of course this says nothing about how to get out of our current predicament which is closing us in whether we like it or not. And perhaps nearly everything I come up with is little more than pipe dreams.

Back to music.

Moving on to one of my all-time favorite songs:

Switching genres to accommodate another favorite of mine, “Blood, Milk & Sky,” paired with some cool fractal imagery:

Dinner and a lecture on Marcuse

Another thought-provoking lecture (circa 1993) from Duke Professor Rick Roderick on the writings (“One-Dimensional Man”; 1964) and attitudes expressed by German philosopher Herbert Marcuse:

Didn’t know a thing about Marcuse before today, so far as I can recollect.

Alienation. Rationalization. Banalization. I’d say those three pretty much hit on the head what we’ve been confronting so long as I’ve been alive.

On the menu this evening were sauteed beer brats, steamed green beans, and microwaved easy mac. And now I’m off to work once again for about an hour.

The folly of science-worshiping

A number of people today are science-worshipers.

Now, what do I mean by that term? A science-worshiper is someone who places a tremendous amount of faith in science and scientists to save humanity from itself. What do I mean by that? Well, have you been listening to people out and about in our society? Many seem to be laboring under the illusion that scientific advancements automatically should be equated with “progress.” Many of these same people can go on and on about all the innovations and luxuries we enjoy today that wouldn’t have been possible without science, arguing that scientific exploration has wrought more benefits than harm and always will.

When I interject to say it’s unwise to assume future success will automatically follow past successes, this is dismissed. When I question whether these advancements have truly, aggregately, done more good than harm, I’m considered a loon. Why is that? Because people are blinded by science. The latest in technology. Some people apparently can’t handle their precious adoration of all that is scientific being scrutinized by “Luddites” like myself who wonder if it isn’t such a good idea to run headlong into the future without any pause to ponder what it is we’re trying to do here exactly. The science-worshiping attitude seems to be that all problems that will arise can and will be remedied by the application of newer and better scientific innovations. Cased closed. Luddites everywhere be damned.

But no, the case is not closed simply because some folks choose to approach the vast topic of living in a decidedly scientific era through a largely uncritical lens. That is their blind spot, which they can’t see because they’re in attack mode and out to ridicule anybody and everybody who isn’t as madly in love with all that is scientific as they are.

I do love scientific exploration. Always have. BUT, doing so doesn’t require me to be devoted to defending all that is scientific as if we have some sort of war on. The war’s already been won. Didn’t you get the memo? Science won out. It’s here to stay, folks, assuming we don’t somehow knock ourselves into a new Dark Age. There’s no need to defend it tooth and nail against anyone who wishes to critique what technologies are being used to do and how they’re altering our world in ways that aren’t uniformly positive.

I, for one, pay attention to how our technologies have come to alienate us from one another (in conjunction with other cultural realities, including population density, globalized communication and trade, grand economic imperatives that all are subjected to, etc.). The swift transitioning of life at this point in time is mind-boggling for nearly everybody, because we’re having to learn so much for our own selves, the old ways being on the way out and rendered obsolete in the new world we’re helping co-create. Wisdom of old stands no chance in a topsy-turvy age that has us redefining our values and tolerating lifestyles that are basically imposed upon us.

So where does the new wisdom come from then? From one another, from the wider collective, from the greatest number of people capable of reaching some sort of consensus. People like to bat around the term “democracy,” but what they’re really getting at is majority rule. On one hand people will argue that we each have rights and voices that deserve to be respected, YET when it comes to what impresses most on us, it boils down to what the majority of people have come to expect from one another.

And this leads back to my criticism of science-worshipers. Many of these people seem incapable of comprehending how much they’re accepting as if it’s granted. And how do they know so much? Because they read it in a journal somewhere, or in the newspaper, or saw it on television or in a documentary, or learned it in school. Where else would they get all this information that they claim to know?

See, we’re relying on what others tell us, yet again, this time scientists and so-called “experts.” And who are they? Employees of institutions mostly, which can and does lead to conflicts in interest. Because scientists, like everybody else, are trying to earn a living here. And like everybody else, they aren’t impervious to personal biases or being ego-driven or simply being wrong at times. They are human beings, not superheroes. Scale ’em back down to reality and have a closer look. Take notice of how the FDA actually operates and how much overlap there is within it and corporations backing research tied in to the economics game. How much truly independent research do we think is really going on out here?

And even if most scientists prove to be decent, upstanding people with sharp minds and boatloads of integrity, they aren’t oftentimes in control of how they’re findings wind up being used by others, namely the institutions they work for. So you see this isn’t simply about bashing scientists or science here, not for me; it’s about following the money and trying to remain realistic about what’s actually happening within the realm of scientific exploration, rather than just focusing on some idealized set of events we wish were taking place.

Now, here’s the real kicker. We common laypeople (some of whom may be “experts” or scientists in one field or another, but all of us are laypersons when it comes to everything outside of our own individual focus) are trusting information handed down by scientists. Which scientists? Typically the ones backed by their peers. But what if the majority of persons—all persons, including scientists—are laboring under popular illusions?

This point is most clearly demonstrated when we turn to the pseudoscientific realm of psychiatry. It’s come to receive widespread support within American society, going so far as making people out to be lunatics who speak out against what it’s doing. This is a field that donned a scientific veneer so as to be taken as seriously as medical science, but without actually curing a thing and possessing no diagnostic tests that clearly tell us much. So the MRI scan shows the brains of these children to light up in places that differ from the “normal” majority of other kids? So what? That still doesn’t tell us much. Techniques of this nature are being used to lend credence to a field that makes money through aiming to “correct” non-conformists, whether that be active children or adults unwilling to slap on a smile and perform for others in this collective delusion pretending life is dandy, just peachy keen.

Because a field of study utilizes scientific techniques, that still doesn’t qualify it entirely as a full-fledged science. Anyone can make up a scheme and set about trying to find evidence to support it, but if the evidence is incapable of being falsified (either because there’s not enough information available to go on or because the wacky scheme was hatched rather as an attempt to garner support for what’s ultimately being used as a social engineering project), it isn’t science. Not if that word is to maintain any value.

On the topic of psychiatry, I’ll link to external sources that can break down the situation in greater detail:

Let me say briefly that my own attitudes toward the fields of psychology and psychiatry were shaped growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, witnessing people around me taking these prescribed psychotropic drugs and learning how easy it is to get them (even general practitioners hand them out like candy). So my viewpoint on this has been shaping up for a long time on its own, but then a few years ago I stumbled across the works of Dr. Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist who was critical of his own field. And what I find when I talk to people on this subject is they are quick to dismiss Dr. Szasz because he was a voice pushed to the fringe and drowned out by the vast majority who work in the field and sing its praises. Why overlook the concerns of that man? Simply because his views ran counter to what the majority wants to believe. I speak his name and promote his books because they provide a very interesting way of understanding how the psychiatric field has come into being and what it has historically been used for. His arguments strike me as very compelling. But why would they compel someone who’d prefer to believe the opposite is true?

And this is the crux of it, folks: oftentimes we believe what we want to believe. We tend to seek out sources that bolster beliefs we already have and to be resistant to contradictory evidence and arguments. Many, many people go along to get along. They will accept what the majority is up to, uncritically. If this many people believe something is true, it’s not likely to be wrong. Right? Wrong. And history has shown us this again and again. People are wrong all the flippin’ time, even scientists (and decent ones are willing to admit this). Life involves trial and error. Human biases have a tendency to get in the way. Plenty of the most influential seekers of truth up through history were viewed as heretics in their communities, and some were killed as a result. We know this. And yet many continue fallaciously making appeals to the majority. Why? Probably because it feels like the safest bet. And it requires less legwork out of us, because information corresponding with popular viewpoints is pasted everywhere.

People believe what they want to believe. And they also believe who they want to believe. Based on what? Personal biases. Conformity pressures. None of us are immune to this. But it still comes down to beliefs, because we laypersons aren’t conducting these experiments for ourselves — we’re trusting what others claiming to be more knowledgeable put forth. We’re placing faith in them to use proper methodology and to not be biased by political and economic pressures. We’re placing faith in them to know better than we do because they claim access to information the vast majority of us aren’t privy to. That is a form of faith. What is faith but an enhanced level of trust?

People can argue all day that this and this is verifiable, but if we can’t personally verify it for ourselves, it’s just chatter. It’s big talk that we can’t back up. Because, in reality, most of us just don’t know. We trust the doctors and scientists to know what we don’t know and to act on that knowledge in our best interests. How is that not a leap of faith all unto itself? Especially when it comes to the latest findings or highly abstract subject matter. How does this differ all that significantly from people centuries back placing faith in priests who also claimed to know on matters that the common people couldn’t access and comprehend for themselves (in the times before the advent of the printing press)? People today will argue that “one is true while is the other proved false,” but hindsight is 20/20, folks. How can you be so certain that what you strongly believe today won’t prove false someday as well?

And what reason is there to assume that scientific exploration alone can provide the full picture? What does science teach us about morality and philosophies? How far can it really go in helping us create lives infused with meaning?

With modern life in hyperdrive and new technologies being spit out daily, how can we pretend to know so much? When I contemplate it seriously, all of this demonstrates to me is yet another way in which we humans are growing increasingly dependent, in this case on “experts” and the explanations and arguments they hand down.

This blog entry was read and recorded and then uploaded as a video on YT:

On homosexuality, religion, and the mental health field — excerpts from the book “The Manufacture of Madness”

More from Dr. Thomas Szasz’s book The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement (1970). Picking back up in chapter 10, page 160:

The change from a religious and moral to a social and medical conceptualization and control of personal conduct affects the entire discipline of psychiatry and allied fields. Perhaps nowhere is this transformation more evident than in the modern perspective on so-called sexual deviation, and especially on homosexuality. We shall therefore compare the concept of homosexuality as heresy, prevalent in the days of the witch-hunts, with the concept of homosexuality as mental illness, prevalent today.

 Homosexual behavior—like heterosexual and autoerotic behavior—occurs among higher apes and among human beings living in a wide variety of cultural conditions. Judging by artistic, historical, and literary records, it also occurred in past ages and societies. Today it is part of the dogma of American psychiatrically enlightened opinion that homosexuality is an illness—a form of mental illness. This is a relatively recent view. In the past, men held quite different views on homosexuality, from accepting it as a perfectly natural activity to prohibiting it as the most heinous of crimes. […]

 The Bible prohibits almost every form of sexual activity other than heterosexual, genital intercourse. Homosexuality is prohibited first in Genesis, in the story of Lot. One evening, two angels come to Sodom, disguised as men. Lot meets them at the gates and invites them into his house. First, the angels refuse Lot’s hospitality, offering instead to spend the night in the street; but at Lot’s urgings, the Old Testament tells us, “they entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot. ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’ “

 The men of Sodom wanted to use the travelers as sexual objects. Among the ancient Israelites, however, he who gave shelter to strangers was obligated to protect them from harm. Because of this, Lot offered his daughters as substitute objects: “Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ “

 As this suggests, homosexuality was considered a serious offense. This story also makes clear the abysmal devaluation of women as human beings in the ethics of ancient Judaism. Lot values the dignity of his male guests more highly than that of his female children. The Christian ethic did not raise the worth of female life much above the Jewish; nor did the clinical ethic raise it much above the clerical. This is why most of those identified as witches by male inquisitors were women; and why most of those diagnosed as hysterics by male psychiatrists were also women.

 […]

 It is important to note that only male homosexuality is forbidden: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman . . .” God addresses males only. He does not command woman not to lie with a female as with a man. Here by omission and implication, and elsewhere by more explicit phrasing, woman is treated as a kind of human animal, not as a full human being. The most up-to-date legal statutes of Western nations dealing with homosexuality continue to maintain this posture toward women: Though homosexual intercourse between consenting adults continues to be prohibited in many countries, nowhere does this apply to women. The inference about the less-than-human status of women is inevitable. No wonder than in his morning prayer, the Orthodox Jew says, “Blessed be God . . . that He did not make me a woman,” while the woman says, “Blessed be the Lord, who created me according to His will.”

 Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality had of course a profound influence on the medieval equation of this practice with heresy; on our contemporary criminal laws and social attitudes, with regard to homosexuality as a hybrid of crime and disease; and on the language we still use to describe many so-called sexually deviant acts. Sodomy is an example.

 Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (Third Edition) defines sodomy as “The homosexual proclivities of the men of the city as narrated in Gen. 19: 1-11; carnal copulation with a member of the same sex or with an animal or unnatural carnal copulation with a member of the opposite sex; specif.: the penetration of the male organ into the mouth or anus of another.” This definition is pragmatically correct. In both psychiatric and literary works, the term “sodomy” is used to describe sexual activity involving contact between penis and mouth or anus, regardless of whether the “passive” partner is male or female. Fellatio is thus a type of sodomy. Because human beings frequently engage in these and other nongenital sexual acts, Kinsey correctly emphasized that there are few Americans who, in their everyday sexual lives, do not violate both the religious prohibitions of their faith and the criminal laws of their country.

 In short, the Church opposed homosexuality not only, or even primarily, because it was “abnormal” or “unnatural,” but rather because it satisfied carnal lust and yielded bodily pleasure. This condemnation of homosexuality, says Rattray Taylor, “was merely an aspect of the general condemnation of sexual pleasure and indeed of sexual activity not directly necessary to ensure the continuation of the race. Even within marriage, sexual activity was severely restricted, and virginity was declared a more blessed state than matrimony.” It is no accident, then, that carnal lust, leading to nonprocreative sexual practices and pleasure of all kinds, was a characteristic passion of witches. They were supposed to satisfy their cravings by copulating with the Devil, a male figure of super-human masculinity, equipped with a “forked penis,” enabling him to penetrate the woman at once vaginally and anally.

Moving on to page 168:

Psychiatric preoccupation with the disease concept of homosexuality—as with the disease concept of all so-called mental illnesses, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or suicide—conceals the fact that homosexuals are a group of medically stigmatized and socially persecuted individuals. The noise generated by their persecution and their anguished cries of protest are drowned out by the rhetoric of therapy—just as the rhetoric of salvation drowned out the noise generated by the persecution of heretics and their anguished cries of protest. It is heartless hypocrisy to pretend that physicians, psychiatrists, or “normal” laymen for that matter, really care about the welfare of the mentally ill in general, or the homosexual in particular. If they did, they would stop torturing him while claiming to help him. But this is just what reformers—whether theological or medical—refuse to do.