People need good lies. There are too many bad ones. -Kurt Vonnegut /
Politics, Money and Culture
Politics, money and culture have become bound together in an immense Gordian knot. Many accept this perverse relationship as normal. However, it is not normal, and the co-mingling has produced an intractable force which exploits society’s willingness to substitute pleasure and power for value and meaning.
Besides having aesthetic value, the arts are legitimately used to raise awareness and help resolve issues that affect society. But they are also used as a means for achieving crass political ends.
Politics (the act of influencing actions and policies for the purpose of gaining and keeping power) has become like something straight out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Current events bear an uncanny resemblance to the writer’s comically addled characters and absurd story lines. The line between reality and satire has become so blurred, it’s sometimes difficult to tell which is which. Add to this the current phenomenon of “fake news”, and another layer of insulation distances the public from the whole truth.
Culture (the self-expression of a society through the humanities and science) has become a debris field, contaminated by an unending stream of success-toting false prophets, and littered with victims of the insatiable appetite for money and power. Culture ought to be a beacon of truth, creating a vital mythology of place and time that speaks from and to the human soul. Politics/government can be used to either empower or hinder society’s engagement with that truth.
The present reality is a Political-PopCulture, a toxic symbiosis, with each using the other as fodder for propaganda to further cynical purposes and selfish ends. What the Political-PopCulture presents as truth is a fraud. It is the arts in service to aggregated power. That same power props up and manipulates a pseudo-culture based on fads, appetites and the lowest common denominator in social craving – all done to sell the latest non-essential or worthless superficiality.
In reality, this is censorship. It represents the suppression and subversion of authentic self-expression.
Having a constitutionally guaranteed free press is supposed to mean having access to media which is not restricted by censorship in political, ideological or cultural matters. At its best, it would empower authentic self-expression by exposing the fraud created by those in power. But the powerful know that suppression of a free press – which includes creating media outlets which blatantly present propaganda as fact (Fox) – is the most effective way to manipulate public opinion.
Special interests also work hard to prevent transparency in government. We know from history that governments which lack transparency are in for trouble. And our recent history has demonstrated a disturbing aversion to the disclosure of “secret” information (Edward Snowden). Thus the question: just what is “big media” ignoring or being restrained from reporting?
Ironically, a seemingly simple idea like government of, by, and for the people will mean different things to different people. The Tea Party member in Kansas and the Democratic Socialist in New York have very different interpretations. Even as ideologies debate the definition of “person”, Citizens United endows corporations with personhood, which further erodes the ideal of a representative government already under siege by special interests and big money. It’s all good for the Political-PopCulture and its beneficiaries, but it is soul-killing in its effect on society as an organic system.
The appearance of what’s called alternative media (not to be confused with the Alt-right), including citizen journalism and collaborative journalism, is one response to what some believe is the sell-out by big media outlets to the power brokers. Many are militantly iconoclastic with distinct axes to grind. Some have been exposed as fronts for the fake news movement. It’s too soon to know how effective these alternatives will be in the long run. Personally, I have found value in some, but absurdity as well.
Loosening the Knot
“Turn on, tune in, drop out” was a phrase popularized by Timothy Leary in the 1960’s. He spoke about using psychedelic drugs to gain freedom from a sterile, conforming and ultimately fraudulent culture. I’ve been thinking about this phrase in connection with political pop-culture. I see a link, but in a nuanced (and a less drug-induced) way – and it may offer a way out of the conundrum. By flipping the phrase to drop out, tune in, turn on, we just might have a pathway.
First, drop out of the Political-PopCulture. Refuse to be seduced by the lure of an easy, mindless, synthetic, and superficial way of life. Reject group-think. Refuse to blindly follow the lead of the pseudo-culture’s manipulation.
Next, tune in to a more mindful, sustainable and authentic lifestyle. Nurture the nonlinear right side of the brain. Take responsibility for one’s own physical, mental and spiritual health. That includes the community – as in neighborhood, town, state, country and planet.
Doing the first two things gives individuals and communities the freedom to turn on their innate creative core. It inspires and encourages innovation in the search for ways to solve problems which don’t do injury to self, others or the planet. Cultural expression is free to take form organically, without being shaped by the influence of political agencies whose only interest is in perpetuating themselves through their soul-stealing fraud.
Admittedly, this is a streamlined solution to a complex challenge. It’s one of those simple tasks that are difficult to do. It requires nothing less than reprogramming ourselves after a lifetime of relentless cultural conditioning. It requires letting go of long held cherished beliefs. It means realizing that we have been mislead by people and institutions we trusted implicitly. It also means being willing to forgive those people and institutions in order to move on and accomplish all the great things of which we’re capable.
A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people. -Mahatma Gandhi