Memetic engineering and social control (Myth)
The common myths and meaning on which the U.S. was founded are breaking down, strained by the gnashing confrontation of incompatible, co-occurring narratives. This is long overdue and much needed. Yet powerful interests are trying to seize this shaky moment by trumpeting archaic, toxic narratives that reinforce and advance oppressive agendas in society.
There are auspicious alternatives for how power can be organized in a social order. To free up the space for society to consider significant structural renovations, we must first do deep, digging work to dismantle the supports underpinning prevailing but maladapted myths.
In the previous essays, I argued that the apparent sociocultural phenomenon of Trump is empty and conditional. As in the Wizard of Oz, to view Trump as a monster or an all-powerful wizard is a wrong or illusory view. Rather, recognizing Trump and his supporters as human beings conditioned by their sociocultural context and historical experiences frees this situation up to be much more workable, if handled from a compassionate, conscientious orientation.
The emptiness (conditionality) of what manifests in reality suggests that there is freedom to move among and to reconfigure these real elements. To work masterfully with the strands of many narratives and transform outcomes, one must develop the insight and compassion to trace entrenched assumptions to their origins in experience. Trump the person has invested considerable resources throughout his life in creating Trump the myth. (In dealing with him as a person, we can, collectively, undertake a process of divestment from that myth.)
But there are deep-seated malevolent myths and pernicious technologies that also fueled the grim distension of Trump’s mythic image. White supremacy (and its underlying logic of oppressive hierarchy) presents a paramount, seemingly-massive myth (of both vast and historical proportions) for us to pull back the curtain and reveal its illusory aspects. (If so destructive and prevalent a narrative as white supremacy can be unpacked for its illusory nature, then, dear reader-scientist, what myths can’t?)
Thus, it is my aim to embolden you to investigate and experiment with the myths in your life, whether small or big. This work requires some basic skills at identifying unspoken assumptions, and drawing them out. If those unspoken assumptions are illuminated to be faulty, then the structural arguments (the myth) built on top of them may crumble. May you cultivate a skeptical mind and habitually test the qualities of any myth you encounter.
Making and Maintaining a Mess Of Things: Race & White Supremacy
Race is an ideal construct to choose to unpack in this piece because 1) white supremacist thinking is deeply tied to Trump’s political ascendancy, and 2) race, of the many social constructs in operation, is especially empty. As the PBS documentary series RACE – The Power of an Illusion explains, “race has no genetic (or biological) basis.” Race has everything to do with how one is perceived and interpreted by other members of society. How a person is interpreted is subject to a variety of local contextual cues; moreover, categories tend to evolve to conform with changing social and economic conditions. To provide my own lineage as an illustration, it is unlikely my grandparents and great-grandparents (immigrants to the United States of several distinct European heritages) would ever have gotten together and reproduced without the construct of whiteness to help socially bind them together. The interpretations are not neutral, though: the notion of “whiteness” was created to provide justification for various forms of colonial behaviors by Europeans. As an emergent sociocultural pattern with accordant affects, whiteness has its own culture and norms, of which, unfortunately, racism is a pillar.
The embodied reality of most people today is “messy” (i.e., comprised of multiple identities in tension) in part because social constructs like race do a poor job of giving language to describe diverse familial and cultural experiences. Conversely, race as a social construct seems almost explicitly intended to function to enforce the desired power distributions in society—that is, to maintain social justification for dominator hierarchies.1See #8 of RACE—The Power of an Illusion. Thus race is inextricably linked with the pattern of oppression that also causes many other forms of socially-enforced inequities (such as sexism, classism, etc.). Race, and particularly white supremacy, is a consequential illusion that hugely influences institutional, structural and local realities, especially in the United States; but as an illusion, it can indeed be undermined by nudging out just a few unspoken assumptions that secretly give structure to its claims.
I am going to proceed to hold up the mythos of white supremacy to the light, to point out some of its internal structure. I acknowledge that much of what I am reflecting to you through the mirror of my mind can be hard to look at. This next section of the essay series represents something like a dark night of the soul: a raw grappling with our difficulties, daring a descent into total fragmentation. There is a brighter day, just around the bend, but to go through these difficulties is the only path there. Keep heart. Because to insist violence stay buried and out of sight—”someone else’s problem”—is to permit the problem’s continued existence. As Omar el Akkar writes poignantly in American War, “Perhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence—a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?”
Only by looking at the frank, painful reality of our addiction will we find the gumption to transform our troubled ways. So let us untangle the strands of this story that thrives in our silence and confusion.The U.S. was founded on a centuries-old pattern of theft, extermination, slavery, appropriation, assimilation, and inequal institutionalized treatment. This systematic oppression was designed to exploit and concentrate the world’s wealth into the coffers of a greedy few (colonialism and capitalism are mutually reinforcing, indeed). To reinforce the social acceptability of these violent and divisive practices, the perpetrators needed a myth to excuse the socioeconomic division of people. As with religious orders’ claims of an all-powerful God, the myth of white supremacy was founded to exalt the supposed natural superiority of certain people and argue that their authority to occupy an upper echelon of power and privilege was god-given. Those who could assert whiteness accessed greater privileges than those who could not. And this pattern, though disrupted, persists to this day.
I could provide a long list of the horrors performed in sacrifice to this evil myth, from genocide, slavery, cultural appropriation, and forced assimilation, to the many subtle forms of systematic economic, physical and social marginalization of people of color today. I will spare you the gruesome details in this space, but if you have any doubt to their reality, I encourage you to do some self-education beyond the bounds of this series.2Recommended reading includes: The Noam Chomsky Collection, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, or this list of 16 book suggestions to learn about white supremacy in the U.S. Instead, I want to explore why we still have to deal with white supremacy today—why it has not yet been routed out.
In spite of abundant countervailing evidence, this myth persists in part due to one of its built-in dynamics: that those of privilege get to choose to maintain their ignorance, comfort, and convenience at the expense of the actual well-being, even physical safety, of others. Many whites who benefit from their dominant position in society, and who unconsciously or consciously wish to retain their privileged status, would feel more at ease to just not acknowledge these systems. It should be noted: any lessening of the forms of overt violence resulting from these systems that may have been accomplished over the course of generations, was won by intense struggles led by people of color and supported by solidary whites—and nothing less. (May we respect and support these struggles whenever possible.)
The “fragility effect” distorts the narratives which shape our society: dismissing the narratives of people of color and centering whites’ narratives; promoting conventional voices and marginalizing progressive ones; weighing white discomfort on the same level with people of color’s survival. Effectively, this imprints on us that some narratives are more important (thus, seeming to be more real or true) than others, warping our collective perception.
Trump’s political ascendance is fueled by the collective desperation felt by large swaths of culturally-white Americans that their options for continuing to deflect and evade looking at the nature of their privileges are growing slimmer—and, being low on interpersonal, emotional, and psychological resources, they feel that they are being backed into a corner; their defenses flair, which collectively manifests as the growing prominence of white supremacist sentiment in mainstream discourse. The “America” Trump claims he’ll make “great again” is the one where white people (and, especially those of economic and gender privileges, moreover) can rest peacefully in the illusion of their superiority—where they don’t have to be bothered by narratives that conflict with their traditional positions of comfort and control.
In the last piece, I wrote about our strong urges to avoid cognitive dissonance and to surround ourselves with people and messages that affirm our existing views. It is no small task to get anyone to soften their defenses and let divergent stories in. Nevertheless, this task is especially complicated when people feel no social or mythic pressure to adopt a listening stance—when their self-affirming stories tell them that they are naturally in a dominant position, and others are supposed to always listen while they speak. The social acceptability of the dominance of a people is paralleled in the dominance of certain memes.
Previously, I spoke about the reality of trance and its role in healing processes. What would a mass, psychic, emotional and actual reckoning look like? Can you envision a process of restoration, reparation, and repentance—premised on love, equity, and solidarity for one another? That we might actually go through the ordeal, the difficulties—and come out the other side?
The alternative to breakthrough is breakdown, or disintegration. When something must break—those two outcomes are possible. The former integrates—the latter fractures and scatters (often, violently).
How poetic, then, that the only force that may be strong enough to finally dismember the social fabric and bring down the clunky, ineffectual structures of our government (via Trump’s divisive speech and actions) is white supremacy—the nation’s oldest and possibly most authentic identity and pride.
Meanwhile: the messier the moment, the more stressful the circumstances, and the more psychically fragile the people: the easier it is for the powerful to capitalize on their fear and confusion.
Illustrating The Illusion
White Supremacy’s Suppression of Others’ Stories and Histories: The Original Fake News?
In 2014, Steve Bannon gave a speech at the Vatican that provides a fair example of some of the staple arguments involved in white supremacist mythology. Though no longer in the White House, Bannon’s ideology casts a shadow across Trump’s presidency. Bannon is notably smarter and more worldly than the average white supremacist, yet as a cultural strategist, he is darkly fixated on promoting a warped ethnocentric and fundamentalist vision of the world. Bannon continues to engage in deliberately fomenting a reactionary “soil” to support Trump’s actions “on the ground,” such as through his profitable far-right, fake-news-spreading platform, Breitbart News, which tangibly helps circulate white supremacist sentiment and bolsters its community of supporters.
It is through emotionally-stimulating rhetorical forms (and concentrated spaces, like Breitbart) that more and more individuals’ minds become “hooked” on (i.e., adopt and internalize) narratives of white supremacy. As is widely acknowledged, Trump’s political rise was fueled by stoking the fires of white supremacist sentiment, which was woven throughout Trump’s rhetoric and policies from early on in the presidential campaign. Remember, however, that narratives give an interpretive framework of reality—and the map is never the territory. (Furthermore, as I attempt to show: “power-over” narratives are a map to nowhere, fast.)
In his speech, Bannon claims to be a “hard-nosed capitalist,” and bemoans the way capitalism stopped bettering the majority of people’s lives and has become “corrupted” since “losing its Judeo-Christian roots” (a cultural nod echoed by President Trump in his “we’re saying Merry Christmas again” speech). What Bannon calls “divine providence” (bestowed by a Judeo-Christian God) is that white folks are “creators of jobs” and “creators of wealth.” He claims that this society’s forefathers were staunch enough to prevent the encroachment of Islamic or other cultures into their own, and thus: “they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind.”The presumed past glories Bannon imagines the European nations possessed, he credits to their supremacy. Actually, white imperialists and their descendents are notoriously masterful at stealing the intellectual, agricultural and cultural capital of numerous other peoples, erasing those people from history and claiming the bounty as wholly their own–a pattern that represents a kind of white culture of its own. For instance: in his present-day call to war against Islam, Bannon neglects to acknowledge that when Islamic states flourished in the Middle East in the eighth through thirteenth centuries, unimpeded by conquering interests, some of the greatest strides in human science, math and the arts were accomplished. The myth of white exceptionalism thrives on glossing over the blatant material facts of Europeans’ theft and assimilation of other cultures, attributing their glories instead to a magical, god-given superiority (exactly in line with how monarchies and noble classes were justified throughout European traditions, too).
This is “controlling the narrative” at its grandest and finest. Such a picture of history—in which European societies are naturally superior to all others on Earth—is only balanced if the people and cultures that were used and exterminated are discarded from the narrative, completely—with the king’s grandeur always fixed at the center of your attention (i.e., the central storyline of history).3Ever the point and height of humanity, those kings. [Why is it that those who are most insecure in themselves, most seek their supremacy to be assured?]
This supremacist rhetoric seems reasonable and accurate—if taken from only this narrow historical viewpoint. And to those conditioned (by their schooling, churches, social norms, etc.) to only see from that narrow angle, such nauseating rhetoric could ring true—the “dog whistle” effect. But this rhetoric, like any fundamentalist viewpoint, excludes the stories of many for the exaltation of the preferred narrative. To include others’ actual historical experiences would destroy the argument.
What motivates the abrasive tone of such exclusive, fundamentalist narratives? Fear. Bannon’s advocacy for American “sovereignty” and an arch-conservative protectionism of white assets—both material and cultural—betray fear that someone would come to try to take them away. This actually points to the implicit belief (which is so pervasive as to be invisible, and quite likely IS invisible to a person like Bannon) that “power-over” in oppressive systems of conquest and superiority is the only and perpetual way in which societies functionally organize themselves. They assume that the few who crave power must exact their terrible will on the lives of many, who in turn must give up their bodies, their histories, their lands, and their futures for the concentrated, bloated affluence of a few kings.
There is a reason these mythologies don’t state their founding assumptions—because if those assumptions were to be brought out and laid on the table, they would be shown to be indefensible. Bannon is leaning on how “taken for granted” some of these dominant myths are; truly, one risks being socially ostracized for calling conventional norms into question. But seductive, “toxic” memes function in the shadows: they cannot show you their true nature, or else their gimmicks would be punctured. Like a magician performing a trick, they need you to miss (that is, not perceive) certain aspects of the trick in order for the emotional hooks to lodge in your flesh—and drag you along.
Simply illuminating some of the unspoken premises enables even the most pervasive myth to be dealt with. I advise developing this skill so you may deftly enter into transformational dialogue even with individuals whose agenda might initially, even unconsciously, be to conquer you with their memes.
The Myth Made Me Do It: When Idea Power Crosses Over Into Reality
Memes (beliefs, interpretations, stories, etc.) live in minds, which are connected to bodies; bodies make beliefs manifest, and thus is violence wrought unto people and the Earth on behalf of memes. This is why attempts to condemn individual people of certain ethnic or cultural origins—as Trump proposed with his Muslim-country immigration ban—will not address or prevent the arising of diseased forms of violence or aggression, whatsoever. Individual people are not the true source of our problems. The root of our problems is people’s propensity to act unreflectively in line with their adopted beliefs. If we gain the skills for navigating and resisting being “hooked” by memes, we have a chance to act more thoughtfully and meaningfully.
There is good reason why we, as a society, have discerned that hate speech is not deserving of the same rights as free speech. Just as with shouting “fire” falsely in a crowded movie theater, hate speech is extremely likely, if not intended, to incite harm. Speech has tangible impacts—psychological, social, and cybernetic (i.e., directing systems). Speech provokes action, which is why it is not neutral when someone speaks words that encourage violence. Because speech transmits memes, and not all memes are suited for humanity’s health and wellbeing. Understanding that hate speech is not deserving of the same rights as free speech, we need to advance this ethical step further. We need to undertake a collective project of confronting and neutralizing the threats of entire narratives and mythologies that threaten to undermine societal integrity.
As was discussed in the previous piece, regarding trance states: no matter the content or integrity of the memes, people will act out the stories they have internalized. Due to the way humans are wired, we are prone to become entranced with any compelling organizing framework through which we can interpret the world, and we begin spreading and reinforcing our interpretive framework when we act as though the illusion is the reality. This is how a flimsy mythology such as white supremacy equips people to undertake violent acts affecting real people and materials, even as the structural premises underpinning the mythology are constructed of smoke and mirrors.Because these myths seem to satisfy emotional needs, we act as though indebted or even devoted to these memes—as though our lives depend on acting out and spreading these interpretive frameworks in the world. Worse: violent real acts can serve to reinforce the seeming reality of the myths, causing deeper entrenchment of ideologies and behaviors among people! Because of how smoothly and invisibly myths penetrate our daily rituals and actions, conflating myths as real or people (and not myths) as the problem is understandable.
But let us not remain in this confusion. It is so crucially important to stay in touch with what is real and what is myth, and work to leverage real assets to address the maladaptiveness of certain myths. Again, individual people are not the problem; instead, people may provide the solution, by learning to deliberately work with these assumption- and action-forming processes.
If we cannot learn to attack the root of these problems—by mitigating the memes—then bodies will continue to be attacked, and will continue to suffer. A reckoning is upon us—if we cannot face the deep-seated viruses of white supremacy, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression residing in the soft tissue of our minds… then we will further kill and maim whole bodies and peoples, instead.
Radically Reconfiguring How Power Is Harnessed in a Social Order
White supremacy is just one of many forms of oppressive hierarchy that we grapple with in society today. In addition to the white/non-white binary devised for the purpose of empowering some to exploit others, there are binary axes of sex, gender, sexuality, creed, immigration status, etc. that cause like harm. Yet each of these mythic systems has uniform features, indicating that there is an even deeper pattern-layer that shows up in these particular narrative systems. If we really want to “see to the roots” of our prevailing social conditioning, we must examine all hierarchies of oppression as representing one gross pattern—one mammoth meme.
Hierarchical societal structures (one-way flows which concentrate energy upward) require oppression. Therefore, we are so immersed in oppression—it is so normative and pervasive—that we may not well notice, or have names for, the extensive organizing power of this framework and how it manifests in almost every aspect of our lives. It’s like “the water we swim in,” which is why it can seem impossible to change. But every society’s “normal” is temporary and conditional. What’s normal and prevailing can be changed.
To me, it is desperately important that Americans see how empty and conditional our dominant mythologies are. There are actually a diverse variety of cultural patterns for living harmoniously on Earth, and many viable solutions for achieving widespread abundance, well-being and happiness exist today. To the extent we seek sanctuary in our toxic (but comforting) narratives, we fail to look beyond the boundaries of our conventional understandings for viable alternatives. To change this, let us name our normative patterns and their underlying assumptions, too, and see if we don’t, in the process, uncover open doorways leading to wild and promising alternatives.All oppression narratives are premised on “power over.” Like a perpetual motion machine, the ongoing fuel feeding the systems of “power-over” is the dichotomy the mythos creates, whereby an individual’s self-interest consistently involves obtaining power over others—that is, it is desirable to be in the oppressing class and not the oppressed class (for clear reasons).
Common to warmongers of any color or creed is the drive to gain power over others. As the notion of noblesse oblige (or its modern form, wherein the U.S. military claims to “spread democracy” as it actually meddles in other nations’ political and economic destinies) signifies, in the myths of the privileged group, attaining power over can be framed as “compassionate” in that one believes one’s culture to be superior, and therefore it is beneficial to impose it on other people “so as to help them.” No matter how well-meaning, it still contains the seed of a desire for power over others—in this case, ideological power-over, which says that “my way is definitely superior to your (often traditional, cultural) way.” That subtle desire for “power over” is an ether that seeps into people’s hearts, regardless of their nation or culture of origin.
There is a view of human nature that “power-over” is what shapes everything in the world, and us. This is Trump’s view. Nietzsche affirmed it in the master-slave dichotomy of what is valued. To those who subscribe to this view of power, their aim is to embody nobility: to acquire mastery (i.e., the perfection of their control) over the world. While power is intrinsic in the forms of the world, it is not compelled to take the form of “power-over” any more than water is required to remain liquid and never become ice or vapor. There are other “phase states” that power can take—under the right conditions.
Regarding the state of society today, one of our most challenging obstacles is the pervasiveness of the “power-over” framework and how accustomed we are to acting in accordance with its assumptions. This problem can be healed with alternative memes, forming alternative frameworks of how to understand and relate to power itself.
If there are natural, regenerative sources of power in the world—inherent to the survival and procreation processes of memes and of living things —what are some alternative ways to arrange that power? If our actions both activate and spread the content of our internalized memetic framework, how could we bring more mindfulness to the memes we embody so as to move toward a more life-affirming future?
There are other, often-suppressed ways to orchestrate natural capital that involves very different-looking power relations: referred to as “power to,” “power with,” and “power from within.” These frameworks honor life and life’s intrinsic developmental processes by seeking to productively combine natural resources in a consensual, networked and organic organizational framework. This is superior to planet-wide extractive, coercive hierarchical forms if just because it avoids many of the harms and extreme inefficiencies of a homogenizing, wealth-extracting and wealth-consolidating hierarchy. (It may even help reduce deep levels of cognitive dissonance, if we do in fact experience urges to correct unfair behavior in infancy—prior to social conditioning.) If we can include more and more natural, renewable capital (including people’s inborn talents and capacities) to their fullest extents, this is bound to result in greater and more ecstatic collective accomplishments than ever before.
The Fallacy of Desiring Power-Over and the Authenticity of Desiring Power-To
In the oppressive framework, a small group of elite gain power over the rest of living processes on Earth through extractive consolidating economic and political systems, and (according to this mythos’ implicit laws), this ancient way will forever persist because people will always want power over others. Surely, white wealthy men will continue to defend the power structure that privileges them in accordance with their own interests. Surely, history will only ever repeat itself, just in bigger and more destructive/energy-intensive ways.
What this stance fails to acknowledge or even imagine, is a scenario in which people of oppressor classes relinquish their stance of asserting power over others.
In the case of battling the social narrative of white supremacy, perhaps the most deadly weapon is for people of both sides of the binary to refuse to participate and to devise their own custom relations for how they consensually use and exchange their power. European-descended, white-identified, anti-racist, anti-supremacist people are not hypothetical: we do exist. We are allied with the human struggle for equity and empowerment. We are not “defectors” of our “race”—we reject that lazy, shallow narrative (having seen a bigger picture). We take up positions in the fight for authentic liberation of humankind. Race being a social construct, we sign up to help deconstruct it. We don’t swallow the narrative that anybody should be in power over others, exploiting and profiting off of the lives of others—not even us. Because we just don’t want that. That is not our chosen aspiration.Compassion instructs that my possibility of being the “other” in any statement is just as likely, and conditional, as being the subject. This is especially relevant to consider in cases of unearned privilege like being born into a body that is conditionally perceived-as-white. Whereas white supremacists cannot acknowledge others’ subjective realities as valid, so narrow is the self-protective narrative they’ve swallowed, anti-oppressionists acknowledge that each being’s lineage represents a valid narrative—that is, we are willing to see the picture from infinite angles, because each being (and each viewpoint) is a sacred piece to understanding the whole. Thus we reject the overarching structure of human relations that oppressive rhetoric seeks to establish as so-natural-as-to-be-invisible. If we reject the underlying premises of such ominous speech—all of the air deflates from the overblown balloon of supremacist arguments. Such bombastic threats are shown to be empty (as in the revelation of the Wizard of Oz’s true nature).
In the space between assumptions, between conscious thoughts, concentrate your attention.
We anti-oppression activists of all kinds have laid down our aspirations to power-over, preferring instead a framework of power-from-within, and power-with. We don’t just seek freedom from being oppressed—we seek freedom to actualize our beautiful dreams for the world. Those of us who have experienced a deep breakthrough (framed as “spiritual,” or otherwise) in which we become directly aware of the interconnectedness of everything—we simply cannot be convinced that the correct social stance for ourselves is one in which we dominate and exploit any other. It cannot be done; that argument will not be won. Not even the temptation of personal gratification is sufficient to compel us. For we have dealt with those temptations already—we have greeted them in their many seductive forms, already, and we have overcome them. Thus do we have the immanent power of knowing better.
Thus have we—as anyone can, and may, and should! (and will?!)—relinquished the real threat to humanity, which is the will-to-power-over. Furthermore, we anti-oppressionists who happen to benefit from unearned privileges (due to our given race, gender, class, etc. statuses) will continue to ally with indigenous and oppressed peoples in our collective quest to eliminate the real and terrible threat to humanity, especially pronounced in a treacherous, insular cohort of people today (but whose potential is intrinsic to any/all people), through processes of compassion, restoration, healing, and accountability.
Changing World Assumptions, Changing World Possibilities
“Our ego is what the mind thinks we are. It is an image of ourselves which grows out of our life experiences—our body, sex, race, religion, culture, education, socialization, fears and assertive ego. We are supposed to know exactly who we are and what we believe and are supposed to be able to defend that identity. The more strongly we identify with something, the more strongly must we reject its opposite. Thus, the strongest, most obsessive egos belong to the least complete beings.”
“Developing an ego is like building a castle against reality. It provides some defense and a sense of purpose, but the larger it is, the more it invites attack, and, ultimately, it must crumble. There is a further problem. All fortresses are also prisons. Because our beliefs imply a rejection of their opposites they severely restrict our freedom.” — Peter J. Carroll, Psychonaut, 165
Be skeptical of rhetoric that completely leaves out that there are many ways to be (some of which may even be holistically better in quality, and yet don’t require privileging a few to the detriment of the many). If we could be free to recognize that there are options for how power is channelled, we’d have the freedom to mindfully contemplate and creatively experiment with the desired forms power can take. Speaking, spreading, promoting and actualizing this truth is the real threat to capitalists and supremacists everywhere: the spreading of faith in, practice of, and cross-fertilization among alternative, indigenous, integrative, higher-quality structures for human organization (which will be expanded on in the subsequent pieces).
It is crucial to gain the skills to sniff out underlying assumptions and articulate them, whether applied to your own internalized belief systems or in encountering others’ narratives. Freeing yourself into the silent space between assumptions can have profound effects, allowing the intuitive, integrative forces within to do their work. But there is more. The real creative potential, the ultimate liberating power, comes when one is able to change underlying assumptions. If you could see your own assumptions as “empty” (that is, conditional, having arisen from all historical moments), would you then have the freedom to creatively experiment with alternative pathways?The overall course of action that I endorse involves developing the human capacity to respond mindfully to the intensifying onslaught of memes and media. Instead of a unidirectional flow of power—in which memes colonize and manipulate humans without any meaningful resistance, I advocate for developing a two-way flow of power, in which humans and memes both exert influence and must therefore work cooperatively for the mutual benefit of both. You might have noticed that this parallels with my arguments for undermining one-way concentrations of power in social, economic and political forms (oppressive hierarchy pattern), and my advocating for “composting and redistributing” the natural capital locked into such structures for more autonomous, decentralized, and networked forms of power (consensual combinatory networked pattern)—and that the latter may be necessary for our collective survival, to say nothing of the life-affirming benefits it could bring into the lives of many.
In the subsequent pieces, I will attempt to show that these overarching, formidable myths have shaped real, nitty-gritty aspects of our present moment. Using an understanding of power-over and power-to, I will unpack Trump’s hostile claim to power and implications for “how the chips may fall” regarding the U.S.’s cultural and structural identity going forward. Having gone from individual to social, from psychological to mythological, I will further expand on the possibilities for what consensual, organic cooperative arrangements of power could look like at the collective scale of social movements and nations. After all, the collective scale is the ideal scale to explore how memes and humans combine to form epic stories and manifest histories.
Absorb your attention in the unknown. Let go of any reactions. Let appear whatever wishes. Remain relaxed and centered.
In this open space, invite a dream of a better world to reveal itself.
Witness what emerges.
And notice what resonates.
What are some ways “power over” manifests in your life? Look at your relations—economic, social, material, etc. What do you notice about who or what has “power over” you, and who or what you have “power over” relative to others?
What are some ways “power within” manifests in your life? Do you have the power from within necessary to tweak or modify your operating assumptions/beliefs? How could you develop such power?
What are some ways “power with” manifests in your life? This might involve an experience where two or more people come together consensually, and each contribute their unique strengths, to accomplish a mutual goal. Can you name some examples of times you experienced “power with”? How could you cultivate more such experiences?
Everett Rodgers said, “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation.” Consider the ways in which you receive, and spread, memes—from social media to social norms. In just the past week, see how many messages and behaviors you have been exposed to, and which ones you have exposed others to. What really resonated you, and what felt “off” or empty? What would you change? Going forward, how could you bring more mindfulness and discretion into the memes you give an audience to, and the memes you reinforce to your social networks (online and offline)?
Exercise—solo or in groups: Take a speech by any politician or political figure. This could be a President or Congressperson, or even someone on your school board. Examine the statements in the speech for any underlying, unspoken assumptions that are being subtly broadcast as implicit or “normal” to the audience. See how many unspoken assumptions you can identify and write them out. Then, imagine you are a reporter in the room who is able to ask follow-up questions at the end of the speech. What questions would you ask that might illuminate or challenge some of those underlying assumptions? (Doesn’t matter whether you agree with the assumptions—consider how you might probe them no matter what they are.) Can you get the political figure to acknowledge and defend their assumptions? What kind of discourse would open up, subsequently?
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||See #8 of RACE—The Power of an Illusion.|
|2.||↑||Recommended reading includes: The Noam Chomsky Collection, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, or this list of 16 book suggestions to learn about white supremacy in the U.S.|
|3.||↑||Ever the point and height of humanity, those kings. [Why is it that those who are most insecure in themselves, most seek their supremacy to be assured?]|