Mr. Magician painting by Todd
(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2013)
“The tendency to aggression is an innate, independent, instinctual disposition in man and constitutes the powerful obstacle to culture.” Sigmund Freud
Konrad Lorenz famously defined aggression as “the fighting instinct in beast and man which is directed against members of the same species.” How about violence directed against members of the same society? I’ve been thinking about the certifiably insane people in Congress who want to deny tens of millions of poor and hungry people sufficient food and shelter and healthcare. I am referring to those duly elected nutcases willing to shut down the entire government to get their murderously selfish way. We might ask: why are these crazy idiots so pissed off at poor people? But more interesting to me is the question: how did these horrible, racist, sexist dimwits attain positions of such great power? And though it may seem overly simplistic, I think the answer is that in degenerate human societies, which ours has definitely become, aggression is a more successful survival trait, in the short term, than intelligence.
I recently read a report summarizing the calculations of a group of budget analysts and economists showing that if the United States government would spend a quarter, that is one-fourth, of the amount currently spent on our military, all the tens of millions of people currently living in poverty in America would immediately be lifted out of poverty. Now why won’t our government do that? The only feasible explanation for our government’s failure to quickly rectify the grotesque economic imbalance in our society is that the people running our government are more aggressive than intelligent. They would rather attack members of their own species than help members of their own species. In other words, they are moronic goons.
Consider this. If you and I got together with two other people, and you had hundreds of eggs and eleven big bags of potatoes and I had thousands of carrots and seventy-three loaves of bread, and the other two people had nothing and were very hungry, what do you think we would do with our abundance of food? Well, if we were even moderately intelligent and just a tiny bit compassionate we would share our food with those less fortunate people. But if we were very aggressive and extremely stupid, we would not share our food but do everything in our power to keep those two people from having anything to eat. This is what we are living through right now on a national scale. We are witness to and victims of a few hundred senselessly aggressive people trying to hoard everything for themselves rather than give anybody else anything. Defies belief, but there it is.
What went wrong? How did we, the people, allow our society to degenerate to this critical point where so few have so much and so many have so little? Another recent article reported that over 75% of the American people have no savings whatsoever and no money beyond this month’s paycheck, if they are fortunate enough to have a paycheck. That’s three out of every four people in the country on the verge of hunger and homelessness. So how is it that we haven’t elected a Congress to represent this vast majority of the population?
In thinking about aggression versus intelligence and why we handed over the reins of power to a bunch of heartless jackals, I am reminded of Marshall Mcluhan saying, “The modern Little Red Riding Hood, reared on singing commercials, has no objection to being eaten by the wolf.” I interpret this to mean that adults infantilized by mass media (and raised by parents infantilized by mass media) are as powerless to defend themselves against the aggressive depredations of the corporate rulers and their government lackeys, as children are powerless to defend themselves against the depredations of violent adults.
Whenever I think of Mcluhan I also think of Christopher Lasch, author of The Culture of Narcissism and The Minimal Self. Lasch said, “The effect of the mass media is not to elicit belief but to maintain the apparatus of addiction.” This crucial observation was especially prescient since it was made before the advent of cell phone computers and Ipads and their ilk, apparatuses that purvey the addictive flow of mind-altering media while the devices themselves are as addictive as the gunk they purvey.
Lasch also said, “Every age develops its own peculiar forms of pathology, which express in exaggerated form its underlying character structure.” So what does it say about our underlying character structure, the American character circa 2013, that we, the people, would consciously choose hyper-aggressive idiots to run roughshod over our nation and the world? I think it says that we, the people, have been lobotomized by mass media and the insidiously invasive technologies purveying that media to the point that we are now, for all intents and purposes, collectively supine and passive in the face of the pathological aggression of a tiny minority of raving bullies.
I think it is crucial in any discussion of media manipulation of the masses to recall that television in its most primitive form did not become ubiquitous in American households until the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and it was not until the 1990’s that television and television-like media were empowered by the internet and internet gizmos to go everywhere with us. Think about what has happened culturally and politically in synch with this television-based takeover of our lives and our society. Our public education system has entirely collapsed, our industrial base is gone, meaningful journalism has been replaced by sensationalist propaganda, our food supply is controlled by chemical companies, our largest banks are owned and operated by unregulated criminals, and we now have a vast underclass, hundreds of millions of people living in or on the verge of poverty, whereas in the 1960’s homelessness and dire poverty were essentially non-existent in America. There is a clear and direct connection between the conquest of our homes and minds by television and mass media, and the collapse of our society—a conquest that took very little time at all.
We the people are perpetually entranced now, the images and sounds and special effects and hypnotic suggestions brought to us minute-by-minute and hour-after-hour carefully designed and calculated to amplify our yearning for friendship and community and adventure and love and health and meaningful work. But rather than actually help us fulfill our desires and satisfy our yearnings, the media never ceases to whisper that fulfillment comes from watching enactments of other people fulfilling those desires. We needn’t do anything but get the latest and fastest and highest definition devices for displaying those constantly reiterated myths we so greatly desire to inhabit. By watching actors and athletes and celebrities and lucky winners attain their goals and live their dreams, or at least lead lives more exciting and colorful than our own dreary lives, so shall we be satisfied.
But only if we keep watching. Should we ever cease to check our phones or our portable screens every few minutes to get an update, a quick fix, or if we miss an episode of that gritty drama comedy murder mystery series we are now hopelessly addicted to, we will fall into a bottomless pit of fear and depression from which there is no escape, no return. Happiness is maintaining a strong clear high-speed connection anywhere and everywhere 24-7. Got it?
And while we’re imbibing remarkable graphics and awesome surround sound and never-ending car crash sequences and fascinating presentations about all the things we’d really like to be involved in if only we had the time for those sorts of things (but we don’t), we are too distracted to pay attention to those maniacs looting the nation and tearing the heart out of what might have been a great society, because whenever we do pay attention we feel, you know, bummed out, because there’s nothing we can do about those unpleasantly aggressive men wrecking everything. That’s just the way things are. Don’t the most popular television shows glorify amorality and violence and stupidity and drug dealing and serial killing and out-of-control aggression? Haven’t things always been that way? Haven’t violent bullies always wrecked everything for everybody else? That’s never going to change, right?
Even so, here’s a wild idea. The next time you go for a walk on the beach, don’t take your phone with you. I know that sounds crazy and reckless and dangerously daring; but do it anyway. You’ll be okay. I promise. And when you’re way out there on the sand, have a seat and watch the waves and just hang out for a while and see what happens. See what you think.