I am a fan of Phillip Rockstroh, who is at once a social critic, a philosopher and a poet and writes quite amazing essays, which bear re-reading. Normally, I just quote parts of essays. When I read Mr. Roskstroh’s essay on deception and self-deception, I was going to do what I usually do – and just look for some good lines to reference my own ideas. I contacted Mr. Rockstroh and asked him for permission, which he kindly offered.
I should mention I don’t usually ask for permission. But this essay is also a work of art. And artists deserve more than the respect of implied in simple attribution. Art is the doorway to the soul – always best to knock first.
Like all good poetry, this essay gets better the more times you read it. It is philosophy, as all good poetry is, even the simplest haiku. It is feeling. It is the essential irony of the human condition. Therefore it is also very much open to interpretation-- and intrinsically subversive, its originality upsetting convention – allowing an unfiltered glimpse of reality-as-it-is.
But it has to be read in entirety.
I gave up the idea of just quoting parts. So, I am reprinting the whole thing, with annotations and photos. .
I encourage you to read the essay several times. Take your time. As you will have noticed, I do not present things in "linear" form, veering right and left with asides and visual content. The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line, as we know from Einstein. And the shortest distance between two truths, definitely not.
Tyranny of the Reasonable: Popular Complacency in an Era of Economic Exploitation and Perpetual War
Throughout the course of human affairs, scheming elitists -- let's call them the Plundering Class -- have devoted their days conceiving strategies and executing agendas that serve to enrich the fortunes of a ruthless few (namely themselves) by an exploitation of the harried and hapless multitudes. They scheme, hire silver tongued flacks and muster soldiers to do their biding, while, all too often, the rest of us squander the fleeting days of our finite lives in their service. They plot while we hope. They hoard the bounty of the world while we hoard resentments (generally misplaced upon those equally as power-bereft as we are).
“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” -- Ernest Hemingway
Yet we vulnerable nobodies are free to lie the truth, while self-impressed schemers merely lie. We can live artfully, while they have enclosed themselves in prisons of artifice.
All good poets are also philosophers. So, too Rockstroh. As a poet he speaks to the truth, addressing the ironies of our existence. As he says, “we vulnerable nobodies are free to lie the truth”; which is to say we deny reality while “self-impressed schemers” manipulate and lie.
They wage wars of choice to gain power, acquire plunder, and leave a wasteland of rubble and ashes in their wake. They pursue economic agendas that exploit the things of the world (and that includes rendering the inner landscapes of all concerned a psychical wasteland…and, yes, that includes their own). This is the meaning of the overused (yet terrifying in its implications) term…losing one's soul i.e., the dismal state of affairs of having a soulless agenda -- but not a life. The soul -- being an ever persisting, always dying multiverse of living images -- cannot be reduced to a PowerPoint presentation. You cannot conceive and execute a scheme that will suffuse the hours of your life with resonance, depth and meaning, but you can scheme (as is the mode of mind and the modus operandi of the Plundering Class) your way into creating a hell on earth. In this way, the elites of our soul-decimated age have been successful beyond their most self-deceiving expectations.
“The soul … cannot be reduced to a PowerPoint presentation”. No, but it is --all the time. PowerPoint is the medium for corporate expression. And the medium is also the message. Corporations are not people – they have no soul. But they pretend to.
Is not the relentless shallowness of the corporate/consumer culture a type of a lie -- and a pernicious one at that? Not even taking into account the effects of being plied and pummeled by the relentless legerdemain of a nearly all-enveloping commercial media, a stultifying social milieu has evolved in which the individual is coerced, by means, both overt and subliminal, to construct a false self, a cipher persona, in order to adapt to the demeaning demands of corporate authoritarianism.
“Is not the relentless shallowness of the corporate/consumer culture a type of a lie”?. Indeed. Human beings were not designed for this. Our most ancient ancestors had values for things, but no prices, no money. . All that you owned was your soul. You gained status by giving away “property” not by hoarding it .
A tyranny of the reasonable is in place under corporate hegemony, in which the unique and unruly nature of human character is deemed inappropriate to a workplace environment -- an outright affront to the "team player" esprit de corps of the corporate state. Thus, those adapted to embodying the lie inherent to living a superficial life are considered a company asset (until, of course, perennial rounds of downsizing begin) while truth-tellers carry qualities of the chronically unemployable, and whistleblowers become objects for federal prosecution.
The “tyranny of the reasonable”? That is, of “reasonable” lies. To fit in, we must lie. Or pretend to accept the lies, also a lie. As society becomes bigger and more complex, so too do the lies. Oh, what a tangled web we weave….
Yet, there is a place, an indomitable domain within you that allows you to live with truth…that allows you to live so deeply within your authentic nature that you can live beyond yourself. Finding this place is crucial: For if you cannot bear what is true (often uncomfortably so) about yourself, it is impossible to discern the true nature of others.
What Rockstroh is saying is that all human relationships depend on understanding and empathy. But how can we understand others, if we do not understand ourselves? I have argued that inside we are many people, a crowd -- young and old, that we shut away in the unconscious. We need dialog with ourselves, if we are to have dialog with others. But this is not a dialog of words, as much as it is of feeling.When we open ourselves to ourselves, we open ourselves to the world.
Consequently, life is reduced to a series of provisional deceits. The ability to love becomes atrophied. The world becomes a prison constructed of petrified longing and misapplied aggression. One falls easy prey to peddlers of false hope and propagandists who promote wars based on lies.
We have the ability to lie, as all animals do. It is part of our faculty of imagination. But as Wallace Stevens writes, the pressure of the imagination must balanced by the pressure of reality and vice versa. Modern mass societies destroy that balance. “Modern”? They are retrograde --based on dominance by a few. Human society evolved empathy, altruism and love because cooperation in a small tribal group better serves evolutionary fitness than domination by a few. In Paleolithic societies, people lie also – but the egalitarianism of such societies, always calls untruth into question. .
In contrast, it is essential to maintain a sanctuary within where shame cannot trespass -- where your luminous (but inhuman) daimon is allowed rendezvous with transitory, mortal longing -- where the daimon's outrageous demands cross-pollinate with grim, earth-shackled realities, thus allowing for not only the bloom of radiant possibility but the ability to apprehend a self-serving lie and nip it in the bud.
Ummm… something like I said above. The great thing about poetic prose is makes you think …and think…and think… as you wrestle with the inevitable ‘self-serving” lies that buttress the Self.
This is the place where love is born and abides. It stands before us, every moment of every passing hour. It takes an acquired, all too common myopia, to lose sight of it.
Not all truths are created equal. At times, true statements can be launched with malevolent intent. Such declarations of fact should be avoided for the sake of all concerned (e.g., "Your child was served with a large dollop of the ugly gene distributed so generously in your family"). In contrast, calling out an insidious lie told in the pursuit of a selfish agenda serves the benefit of all, but the promulgator of the self-serving fiction (e.g., a lie such as: "Evidence indicates that the despotic ruler of (fill in the blank of a resource rich or strategically located nation) has become a threat to life and to the liberty of the world at large; therefore, we have no choice but to invade with the full force of our military might and establish the democracy that decent people everywhere yearn for"). The same applies to convictions borne of convenient self-deception (e.g., "I support the troops deployed in the aforementioned invasion…or else people might accuse me of supporting the terrorists").
For an individual, by far, the biggest danger in trafficking in transactional lies arises from losing awareness of the demarcation point between where the lie starts and you begin -- your existence reduced to a fixed smile (and a clutch of hidden resentments) that announces the presence of a counterfeit life. By losing the recognition that you are lying, your life becomes a lie. Often, a comforting lie can be as insidious as an outright prevarication. Building a worldview based on comforting lies translates into a habitual muting of the senses -- a white noise of the mind takes hold drowning out the unique music that forms the core of one's consciousness…obliterating, the quality Kabir averred is: "The flute of interior time [that] is played whether we hear it or not. What we know as 'love' is its sound coming in."
A “ worldview based on comforting lies translates into a habitual muting of the senses -- a white noise of the mind takes hold drowning out the unique music that forms the core of one's consciousness” . Lies are useful. They are to some extent a social necessity. The problem is when we “live” our lies. And allow them to block off the “core” of our consciousness – all the contradictory emotions and feelings and thoughts and associations inside out that we need access to be real people
"Where else," the poet asks, "have you heard a sound like this?"
Sometimes, in art, one must lie -- create artifice -- to trudge in the direction of truth. Yet when governments lie, and those lies, in time, are regarded as historical fact, the lies may become fixed in place, as obdurate as marble monuments, in the collective mind of the populace, even as the culture that was created by those lies comes apart by the wisdom-bereft actions of an ignorant public.
Art uses lies in the service of truth. “The moon is a silver ship”. No, it isn’t We know that. But the metaphor, the ironic juxtaposition of two things otherwise unrelated, speaks truth directly to the unconscious mind --so we “know” the moon in a way that would not otherwise be possible -- imagination, affirming reality . This is quite different from political propaganda in which lies deny reality and the ironies of our existence.
Through it all -- and despite the efforts of even the most relentless prevaricators -- the mysterious nature of life - its unfathomable vastness, its endless intricacies, ambiguities, gradations of truths and variability of outcomes -- provides life with a redemptive quality. The phenomenon allows us, although not often enough, to avoid the hubris of claiming we are privy to all-encompassing, monolithic truth, for, as history reveals, that way lies oppression, stagnation of imagination, murder and madness.
I posit modularity; the modularity of the mind, both individual and collective, both co-extensive. A corollary is that there can be “no all-encompassing, monolithic truth”.
Few things mitigate a compulsion to lie as does admitting bafflement and committing to a sustained attempt to learn to live within the unfolding mystery inherent to earthly life. Said mode of being should not be confused with the unfortunate fate of drifting through life as a wishy-washy cipher. Conversely, the approach allows one to remain open to, thus be enriched by, a wide range of life-enhancing, certainty-shattering, wisdom-garnering experiences.
Life is full of lies. And we are by nature liars, too. But, to the extent that we are aware of this, we must grant the contradictions of our being with humility “admitting bafflement and committing to a sustained attempt to learn to live within the unfolding mystery”
Moreover, a tenacious angel resides in states of absence. To remain connected to the heart of existence, we must continue to love those things that have been irretrievably lost to us. Accepting one will never be privy to omniscience allows seeds of possibility to take root in the cracks and fissures of the soul that have been wrought by heartbreak.
From pain comes creativity.
Antithetical to the overreach of empire and the dynamic of addiction inherent to the consumer state, limits allow us to love the things of the world that stand before us. A kind of deliverance is achieved by arriving at the demarcation point yawning between What Is Gone Forever and Things That Can Never Be. This is one of the locations of the soul where grace approaches us -- a junction where we have been waylaid by circumstance and pierced by grief.
Consumerism offers us bright, shiny new things. Addictions of one kind or another. Our consciousness of past and future offer us something else – a sense of value.
Consequently, we are held in place long enough to not habitually rush past beauty.
The individual who finds an implicate order within -- who keeps hold of the golden thread of his true nature as he wends through the baffling labyrinth of social convention and official deceit -- will make an ally of fate. His true name will be emblazoned upon his heart and will ring across the devouring abyss of a conformist age.
Conformism is dehumanizing. The awareness of beauty links us to our own nature.
In bleak contrast, how can a people whose consciousness and concomitant mode of being was forged in a furnace of cultural perfidy be capable of building anything of enduring worth? The facile fades, even as the lie that gave rise to millions of deceitful heirs lives on (e.g., The citizenry of the U.S. who have shunted from consciousness and expunged from memory, the millions of slaughtered human beings (from Central America to Central Asia, from Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf) resultant from the imperial ambitions of the nation's ruling elites).
We claim we know who we are. We believe the fictions we spin regarding our identity and our interactions with the world. But, to a large degree, we are composed of the very things we are unaware of about ourselves -- the things that we find too uncomfortable to admit inform our actions and form the foundation of our fate.
Whom should we blame for the sins of our society? What Rockstruh is writing here suggests that In the end it is we who are responsible. The buck stops with you.
Propagandists, corporate and political, know this: They know how to manipulate those resistant to self-awareness, by plying them with flattering lies and pummeling them with contrived fears. These overpaid, professional liars know how to trap us in cages constructed of our cherished convictions. This is why, as a general rule, human beings prove so easy to control.
I would extend this argument. The propagandists play the music – but we choose to dance. And we become indistinguishable from the dance.
If you find what you have been habitually avoiding, you might blunder upon who you are.
Antithetical to the process of self-awareness: The quintessence of duplicity we know as corporate man is not interested in connection nor exploration; he craves control. He is not moved by mystery; he has an agenda. He does not know life; he possesses a facile contrivance of being.
But the currents of time will erode his counterfeit world. He will be left with nothing, because, in the long run, he will only possess his own emptiness.
Yet, you cannot force truth upon the deceived. If a deluded soul is fortunate enough to stumble upon it, he will have found it beneath the rubble of his collapsed convictions. His most treasured, now shattered, verities will glint like shards in moonlight, as irascible circumstance has forced him to question all he insisted was true.
This is the means by which wars are avoided. Here is located the point of departure where a subversion of a corrupt order begins.