The Culture of Make Believe

For us to maintain our way of living, we must tell lies to each other and especially to ourselves. The lies are necessary because, without them, many deplorable acts would become impossibilities.

I am in this same river. I can't much help it. I admit it: I'm racist. The other night I saw a group (or maybe a pack?) or white teenagers standing in a vacant lot, clustered around a 4x4, and I crossed the street to avoid them; had they been black, I probably would have taken another street entirely. And I'm misogynistic. I admit that, too. I'm a shitty cook, and a worse house cleaner, probably in great measure because I've internalized the notion that these are woman's work. Of course, I never admit that's why I don't do them: I always say I just don't much enjoy those activities (which is true enough; and it's true enough also that many women don't enjoy them either), and in any case, I've got better things to do, like write books and teach classes where I feel morally superior to pimps. And naturally I value money over life. Why else would I own a computer with a hard drive put together in Thailand by women dying of job-induced cancer? Why else would I own shirts mad in a sweatshop in Bangladesh, and shoes put together in Mexico? The truth is that, although many of my best friends are people of color (as the cliche goes), and other of my best friends are women, I am part of this river: I benefit from the exploitation of others, and I do not much want to sacrifice this privilege. I am, after all, civilized, and have gained a taste for "comforts and elegancies" which can be gained only through the coercion of slavery. The truth is that like most others who benefit from this deep and broad river, I would probably rather die (and maybe even kill, or better, have someone kill for me) than trade places with the men, women, and children who made my computer, my shirt, my shoes.

If we hope to stem the mass destruction that inevitably attends our economic system (and to alter the sense of entitlement - the sense of contempt, the hatred - on which it is based), fundamental historical, social, economic, and technological forces need to be pondered, understood, and redirected. Behavior won't change much without a fundamental change in consciousness. The question becomes: How do we change consciousness?

I have heard people suggest that because humans are natural that everything humans do or create is natural. Chainsaws are natural. Nuclear bombs are natural. Our economics is natural. Sex slavery is natural. Asphalt is natural. Cars are natural. Polluted water is natural. A devastated world is natural. A devasted phyche is natural. Unbridled exploitation is natural. Pure objectification is natural. This is, of course, nonsense. We are embedded in the natural world. We evolved as social creatures in this natural world. We require clean water to drink, or we die. We require clean air to breathe, or we die. We require food, or we die. We require love, affection, social contact in order to become our full selves. It is part of our evolutionary legacy as social creatures. Anything that helps us to understand all of this is natural: Any ritual, artifact, process, action is natural, to the degree that it reinforces our understanding of our embeddedness in the natural world, and any ritual, artifact, process, action is unnatural, to the degree that it does not

Learning has to come from doing, not intellectualizing.

Let's be honest. The activities of our economic and social system are killing the planet. Even if we confine ourselves merely to humans, these activities are causing an unprecedented privation, as hundreds of millions of people-and today more than yesterday, with probably more tomorrow-go their entire lives with never enough to eat. Yet curiously, none of this seems to stir us to significant action. And when someone does too stridently point out these obvious injustices, the response by the mass of the people seems so often to be . . . a figurative if not physical blow to the gut, leading inevitably to a destruction of our common future. Witness the enthusiasm with which those native nations that resisted their conquest by our culture have been subdued, and the eagerness with which this same end is today brought to those-native or not-who continue to resist too strongly. How does this come to happen, in both personal and social ways?

One of the fables we live by is that some day the killing will stop. If only we rid ourselves of Chinese, white men will have jobs and white women will have virtue, and then we can stop killing. If only we rid ourselves of Indians, we will fulfill our Manifest Destiny, and then we can stop killing. If only we rid ourselves of Canaanites, we will live in the Promised Land, and then we can stop killing. If only we rid ourselves of Jews, we can build and maintain a Thousand Year Reich, and then we can stop killing. If only we stop the Soviet Union, we can stop the killing (remember the Peace Dividend that never materialized?). If only we can take out the worldwide terrorist network of bin Laden and others like him. If only. But the killing never stops. Always a new enemy to be hated is found.

The fundamental metaphor of National Socialism as it related to the world around it was the garden, not the wild forest. One of the most important Nazi ideologists, R.W. Darré, made clear the relationship between gardening and genocide: “He who leaves the plants in a garden to themselves will soon find to his surprise that the garden is overgrown by weeds and that even the basic character of the plants has changed. If therefore the garden is to remain the breeding ground for the plants, if, in other words, it is to lift itself above the harsh rule of natural forces, then the forming will of a gardener is necessary, a gardener who, by providing suitable conditions for growing, or by keeping harmful influences away, or by both together, carefully tends what needs tending and ruthlessly eliminates the weeds which would deprive the better plants of nutrition, air, light, and sun. . . . Thus we are facing the realization that questions of breeding are not trivial for political thought, but that they have to be at the center of all considerations, and that their answers must follow from the spiritual, from the ideological attitude of a people. We must even assert that a people can only reach spiritual and moral equilibrium if a well-conceived breeding plan stands at the very center of its culture.

This is the key to understanding the difference between indigenous and civilized warfare: Even in warfare the indigenous maintain relationships with their honored enemy. This is the key to understanding the difference between indigenous and civilized ways of living. This is only one of many things those we enslave could tell us, if only we asked: They, too, are alive, and present another way of living, a way of living that is not - in contradistinction to our God and our Science and our Capitalism and everything else in our lives - jealous. It is an inclusive way of living. They could tell us that things don't have to be the way they are.

We have a need for enchantment that is as deep and devoted as our need for food and water.

We were not meant for this. We were meant to live and love and play and work and even hate more simply and directly. It is only through outrageous violence that we come to see this absurdity as normal, or to not see it at all. Each new child has his eyes torn out so he will not see, his ears removed so he will not hear, his tongue ripped out so he will not speak, his mind juiced so he will not think, and his nerves scraped so he will not feel. Then he is released into a world broken in two: others, like himself, and those to be used. He will never realize that he still has all of his senses, if only he will use them. If you mention to him that he still has ears, he will not hear you. If he hears, he will not think. Perhaps most dangerously of all, if he thinks he will not feel. And so on, again.