The God-King’s Addiction
In line with the basic roots of cultural conflict, as described in the previous blog, some humans – in their terror and shame – also experience that, on the most basic animal level, another way to feel indomitable and even immortal (some would say, to feel more “alive” and even joyous, ie “schadenfreude”) is to subdue, control, punish, and even kill another human being (again, Becker and others repeatedly assert that it is our basic awareness of our animal-state, a central reminder of our smallness and mortality - which we try to avoid - that precipitates such, in fact, animalistic behaviour). In his final piece, Escape from Evil, Ernest Becker goes so far, and to great lengths, to purport that we seem to need enemies to contend with the terrible, weighty ocean of mortality-dread (from the subsection, “The Science of Man Under Hitler”). Importantly, he does not believe this to be a proper or functional answer, as we’ll see.
To control another person is to feel the ability to control conditions. To feel the ability to control conditions is to feel the ability to control our life. To feel the ability to control our life is to feel the ability to control our death. And to control our death is to control our ultimate fear of smallness and insignificance. To lose this sense, and even actuality, of control is also to lose our sense and definitely our capacity and ability to control conditions appreciable to our own and even cultural, social, political, and species survival.
This is to feel the full terror of shame and existential dread. Remember what Becker and others purport: “…as shame increases action bogs down.”
Most of all, to control and kill another figuratively, through the unambivalent and even exultant abridgement of the target’s ability to evoke life-choices (psychologically and/or logistically) and/or literally, through the cessation of the ability to be physically alive, is to directly expiate one’s shame, guilt, and anger over one’s life-condition onto another human through the basic psychological process of “transference”. As legendary psychologist Dr. James Gilligan reminds us: “Every act of violence is an expression of shame.” Violence is an actual effort by the human animal to transfer the experience of shame into another human. And due to our human condition of smallness and mortality, there is no end to this experience of shame – shame being the perversion of humility. And so, group cultural practices of shame expiation become exponentially virulent and endemic.
So, am I asserting, then, that the violence of the Dobbs ruling comes from a place of shame and shaming?
The shame of the privileged.
The shame of the privileged?
The inevitable battle against the smallness and assumed shame of the human condition that is further exacerbated through a systemized, planned, engineered, triggered, highlighted, and even lauded system of cultural mores by programming certain humans – historically, white humans of European descent (but this model of scapegoating even one’s own tribe for control over persons can be found elsewhere, of course) to believe, more deeply over time, an indoctrinated, acculturated, and ultimately assumed exceptionalism as an ontological given over a basic, shared human condition with “the Other”.
What shame could exist here? Doesn’t only unhealthy pride, narcissism, etc. accompany such indoctrination?
The heightened personal, cultural, and social shame that accompanies such a superiority complex is superiority’s inverse binary of perspective – again, a smallness perversely experienced as shame rather than humility - triggered by real, lived experience. That is, the shame in knowing that, although one is taught – implicitly – that one is perfect and exceptional, the palpable fact, born from experience, remains: we can never be perfect, or the best person ever, or categorically superior. Further, we shouldn’t be. To assume that impossible role or goal is futile and results in an unflinching paranoia of egregiously distorted assessment of self and the human community. And, so, persistent frustration and shame, and the overwhelming urge to avoid them - hence, violence - reign as the prime movers of one’s life.
So, then: what? What recourse remains for those ensconced in the ethics and beliefs in exceptionalism, and its systemic organization as a cultural originary and more?
Persistent Domination and Control. The Overpower.
In this country, White Supremacy and Patriarchal oppression are the cornerstones of a much larger house of a tiered supremacy architecture welded together with myriad means (gender, labor, human/non-human, Ability Rights, etc.) of scapegoating the “Other” – whoever the system of humans determines the inferior “Other” is or should be. From the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 that teamed the moral superiority of the Roman Catholic Church with the jingoistic nationalism and exceptionalist socialism of Portugal and Spain to “create” the New World, mark the “Global South”, and in so doing exponentially expand the slave trade and scapegoating of indigenous peoples for hundreds of years, leading to Jim Crow, then to Eugenics, timed Immigration Laws which foment social unrest and cultural conflict, to systemic classism, etc., - scapegoating and social isolationism (an offshoot of personal exceptionalism) of the self and other have been a part of the U.S. fabric since the inception of privatization upon these shores.
It is of critical importance to note here that, while the phenomenon of “human sacrifice” and cultural conflict have existed for eons, its increase was manifold with the creation of the nation state. Before the advent of the privatization of ownership, the death of the commons (see Garrett Hardin’s legendary pivot piece, “The Tragedy of the Commons”), and the appropriation and conflation of the tribal chief and shaman into the God-King (think Louis XIV; think Robert Mueller’s assertion that we shouldn’t indict a law-defiling sitting president, despite the fact they are an elected public servant, and human being, at that, etc.), there existed a much less hierarchical, and more matriarchal, tribal culture. This tribal culture made sacrifices to the spirit world – not the corporeally-based God-King. These sacrifices, for instance, of rice, beans, wheat, animals, etc. were in appreciation of abundance, not in defilement of another for political promise framed as immunity and impunity. While the driving force – belief in Immortality over Death – was the same, its tone, perspective, and manifestation were, of course, diametrically different. Under the triangulation of Power within the nation state, one social group is sacrificed by another social group at the behest of the God-King and their immediate minions, the most acute divider of all.
Remember, the colonists were religious outcasts from their home nation, bringing their germs and diseased ethic of superiority with them (along with technological implements of destruction, such as guns and steel (see Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond, J.)). Further, most immigrants to the United States have, historically, been poor before emigrating, while living under poverty, exploitation, and state violence, after immigration has occurred. In point of fact, many psychologists consider economic/resource poverty the worst violence upon the human animal, birthing all of its sundry children (spiritual poverty, educational poverty, health poverty, etc.). So, to create a habitat where access to resources for health, if not survival, are scant or scarce, as legislated, is to create, by definition, a system of rationing– as in a prison. And we’re back to the Prison Industrial Complex – systemized everywhere, reified in the literal through the largest system of incarceration in the world.
Given the above, would it be a far stretch to ask if, under the kleptocratic bureaucracies offered up and passing as government throughout history, such governors have enabled themselves to be safe enough to afford to ignore the prison they create, benefit from, and nurture, isolated in their tower? Doesn’t the separation incarcerate everyone, in some way? Leaving oppressors, as Frederick Douglass so poignantly observed with regard to slave owners, with violence as the only tool they are left with to maintain and execute their station? And are such pathologies, knowing this and being mentally unable to behave in a different way, not scared to death of being placed in a different system? If Power and Control through Domination is the only thing such people care about, then they are perfectly terrified of a different system – a system of care. And while they may seem to exist with impunity and immunity, history shows that they are not working for such goals: they believe they already have them. Whether in the home, the workplace, or in government, controllers control insidiously. Without compunction or fear of reprisal – only with stealth to maintain control. And so they leave breadcrumbs to be found and tracked to their undoing. (Note: In the next blog, especially, we’ll look at possible undoings of the Dobbs ruling – a ruling, I believe, meant to further divide a country in service of the triangulation of nation-state power described above.)
If so, what is the way out? Where does freedom exist? Where is refuge? For anyone?
It is no secret miracle that, amidst all of the diabolical oppression heaved upon the “Other” – primarily women and people of color (while also taking note of the multi-racial Eugenics criminality of human stratification passed off as real science at the turn of the 20th century, which especially attacked Black Americans as the bottom of that valuation metric) has emerged the refuge of some of the most glorious and glorifying cultural practices – such as music, art, literature, film, fashion, cuisine, etc. – that the world has ever known. True meaning is secured. Ultimate value is cherished. The Fear of Death is allayed. To think of these cultural triumphs occurring amidst the jailers, jailing, and random violence is to bow down in humility and gratitude – the two qualities most heralded by sages across traditions when discussing resilience - to its creators and communities.
Impacting and literally spurring the lives that produced – and continue to produce – such magic is the culture and cultural legacy of the colonial imperialist effort to dominate people and the natural world in which we live.
Sadly, it is this same culture of domination and oppression – the culture of the selling of the feeling of Power over the “Other” as an antidote to a fear of death, an anesthetic to our condition of smallness, a dilution of shame through the very same system – that actually exacerbates the very elements it wishes to expunge from itself. Like scratching a skin rash – it only makes it itch more. In promoting and executing a violence, one is trapped in a cycle of retributive expiation - intermittently saturated to overflowing the very shame, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness that one seeks to avoid in the first place. And the violence – the shame – heaved upon others is, as our animal state dictates, returned in kind.
And the Controllers know this.
The Dobbs ruling on abortion rights doubles down on this system of ego-sale and socio-sacrificial division, stirring up the group think of a cultural constituency long ago birthed and indoctrinated into such an easily triggered, addictive, cyclical shame-infection and the accompanying violence expiation-inebriants of scapegoating and control.
Further, the ruling uses all the techniques of colonial imperialism that have been used over the ages.
Now, with a framework of culture, history, and violence, we can crystallize how the Dobbs ruling retrogrades a cycle of over a century of ameliorative work in Women’s Rights, spiritual health, mental wellness, and socio-economic growth to re-create the hitch, re-set the trap, renew the trapping tempo, and refresh the superiority tone of a culture of old school imperialism with a new school feel. Oppression and scapegoating - the favorite tools of the trade.
Next Blog: We’ll take a hard look into some key notions and cultural markers of the Dobbs ruling, why they’re a farce, and what is being and can be done to right the wrong.
Written by Peter DiGennaro, Sound Artist/Human Rights Educator