A Kept Culture

 

By

Cognitive Dissonance

 

My thinking on a variety of subjects has changed over time and I expect my understanding will continue to evolve as new information, knowledge and propaganda enters my orbit. Contrary to popular belief this is a good thing because it means my mindset is not as static and rigid as some, though it is most certainly worse than others.

One of the great questions of the ages is why we, and by ‘we’ I mean anyone other than ‘they/them’, tolerate the abuse we receive from the hand of our masters. While the mistreatment is most often handed down on an individual basis, “We the Abused” outnumber the abusers by at least 10 to 1. And I count among that ‘1’ all those who enable, support and carry out the abuse. So why do we tolerate something we can clearly stop if we so wish?

Earlier on in my ongoing awakening, a never ending process of self reflection and discovery, I would sometimes use the derogatory term ‘sheeple’ to describe both a people and a condition. I was grasping for a simple all encompassing answer to a complex problem, and believing that the vast masses were blissfully ignorant while passively grazing upon an array of consumer goods satisfied my need to understand what to me at the time was incomprehensible.

This is not to say some are not exactly as described. In fact at one point in my life I fit the bill perfectly, totally consumed in my naval gazing and mostly oblivious to not only my own lot in life, but those around me. As a single parent raising my boy alone for seventeen years, I was righteously indignant if anyone dared to question my focus. After all, I was doing it for the child(ren).

But deep down I knew that at best my explanation was inadequate and at worse deeply flawed. While at several points in my life I was a ‘sheeple’, the description did not fit all my situations all the time. I lived in, and existed within, a far more complex world than could be described using simple concepts and ideas. Like a broken clock I was on the rare occasion quite accurate, but for the vast majority of the time I was dead wrong. I suspect my view was biased by familiarity both with myself and others who fit the description. But more importantly, it was comforting to believe I understood the problem and that I wasn’t ‘it’.

So I continued to search for an answer to THE question, though this time I was more thoroughly grounded after recognizing my desire for a simplistic answer and my need to absolve myself from blame or culpability. This self examination and understanding led directly to my explorations into denial, both of the self and of the collective.

This seemed to make more sense to me and quite frankly still does as a significant contributor to this issue. Denial is infinitely customizable, scalable and adaptable. One can be in total, partial and minimal denial about a subject or subjects and our denial can ebb and flow as circumstances and conditions, including our anxiety and fear, dictate.

We are never completely denial free unless we can claim to have cleared all the Cognitive Dissonance cobwebs from the mind, an assertion I would not make since I stumble across, and become entangled within, new ones on a reoccurring basis. If anything as I continue to grow I find more, not less, though they are increasingly more subtle and nuanced.

But while denial more completely describes the present state of the human condition, it still falls short of encompassing the infinite variety of daily life within the Insane Asylum. How does one cope with being in a near constant state of loss and grief, of borderline depression, while still ‘functioning’ on a day to day basis? In many respects we are endlessly circling the five stages of loss and grief so nicely described in the Kubler-Ross model, yet clearly on a higher, more complex, level of existence because it encompasses both the individual and the collective.

JFK Funeral - CleanThe JFK funeral - Collective loss and grief

An example of the individual/collective loss and grief dynamic in play was the days and weeks after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Words fail to adequately explain what the nation on all levels experienced at that time. There were few, other than the very young, who were not emotionally moved either directly by the loss or by the collective pall the country entered immediately afterward. As a child of seven years, while I did not understand what was going on, I was definitely moved by the emotional trauma others were dealing with at the time.

However, Kubler-Ross describes a onetime devastating loss or the recognition of an impending loss and the process of navigating that loss and grief, while I am seeking an explanation of a never ending existence within the loss and grief process because the ‘loss’ relates to, and is an integral part of, our daily living. I am speaking directly to the psychological and emotional consequences of the overall condition of our existence rather than onetime events that disturb our existence.

I suspect using the term ‘loss’ is inaccurate or incomplete, at least in the literal sense of the word. While a Lion captured in the wild and then confined to a cage at the zoo ‘knows’ what it has lost, a lion born into captivity never really is aware of a ‘loss’. But both lions may still suffer from the same neurosis which springs from the sense, the knowing, that something not quite definable (and more importantly unchangeable) is wrong.

It is my supposition that “We the People” also suffer from the same loss, the same trauma, as the captive born lion does, an inner ache and a growing awareness that something is very wrong with the world and our life within it. Because the reality we live within is the only reality we know, most of what is wrong is not readily apparent to the majority of us since this is just the way things are and everyone else lives more or less the same life as we do. A failure of our imagination is partially to blame for the sense we all have of being trapped with nowhere to go and no way to change.

The other day Mrs. Cog used a term to describe a fictional character from an old movie. She said the character was a ‘kept man’ and I instantly understood what she meant, though it would not have mattered if she had said ‘kept woman’. In so many ways the relationship between the ‘keeper’ and the ‘kept’ is remarkably similar to our ‘kept culture’ and the basis for our dour outlook and sense of impending doom and depression, even if it only lingers under the surface of our awareness. Let me attempt to further explain.

There is always an implicit, and often an explicit, agreement of understanding between the keeper and the kept that pretty much spells out the duties of each party as well as the rewards and benefits of the arrangement. With regard to our kept culture, on a broader scale the general terms and conditions of the agreement are spelled out in grade school, then further defined and refined in college, while the specifics of each situation are expressed by each employer/benefactor. Here is what you ‘do’ and this is your ‘compensation’ for doing so.

While most, if not all, of the power remains in the hands of the keeper, it is to the benefit of both parties that an illusion of equality is inferred between the keeper and the kept in order for the kept to feel they have ‘agreed’ to, and are ‘willing’ to, fully cooperate with the keeper to fulfill the terms of the agreement. You catch more flies (and keep more kept) with honey than vinegar. But make no mistake about it, this agreement can be only abridged or fundamentally altered with the consent of the keeper and not by the kept, thus demonstrating where the real power resides.

On those occasions when the kept strays beyond the boundaries laid out in the agreement or angers the keeper, it is then that the power carefully hidden from view and veiled behind propaganda, public protocols and cultural ritual is exhibited in a manner that leaves no doubt who is in charge. Just as the keeper may afford the kept a credit card or regular cash disbursements in order to further the illusion the kept is free and independent, those liberties can and will be quickly rescinded if for no other reason than as a reminder of who holds the power in the relationship.

Riot Police - CleanTo protect and serve.........whom?

So too the power of the state, its sharp edges deliberately smoothed by propagandized historical storytelling and mass media assurances, is obvious to anyone looking down the barrel of a gun or being summoned to court. There is no doubt which party is expected to submit when the keepers of the peace and the purse pull you over or summon you for an audit. Ultimately the authority of the keepers is derived from the threat of force, though it is in the best interest of all parties involved to keep this fact carefully obscured behind a thousand sheer veils.

On the surface it would appear the participants never change in these agreements until death do they part. And for some this is the case. But what helps cement the illusion of freedom for the kept, and magnificent benevolence of the keepers, is the seeming ability to change the conditions of the agreement, with each able to leave in order to form a more perfect union with another kept or keeper. But while individual conditions and connections may change, the overall framework remains the same.

This is similar to a formalized agreement between a players’ union (for example the NFL Players Association) and the sport’s organizing consortium (i.e. the National Football League) which outlines the rules that govern the overall relationship between players and league (the Collective Bargaining Agreement). This enables both parties to negotiate everything and anything so long as it follows the general rules and regulations of the governing agreement. So too, the kept and keeper may both change lovers at will so long as they do not switch roles or do anything else that violates the governing agreement parameters. In some ways the keeper is just as constrained as the kept.

Of course the keeper retains a greater degree of flexibility with regard to timing, selection and opportunity, whereas the kept may not overtly ‘select’ a new keeper, but must ultimately be selected by the keeper. The kept may burnish his/her resume (appearance, social and sexual skills, education and training, athletic ability) to increase desirability. But with the market flooded with available (read cheap) kept individuals, ultimately the market is controlled by the keepers. In practice a keeper keeps more than one and often dozens, though there may be a favorite the keeper returns to time and time again.

So while there is some degree of certainty for the kept so long as they remain productive and compliant, there is still a good deal of risk realized from being kept, and most of this risk is arbitrary and unspoken. Needless to say this creates a smoldering sense of anxiety within the kept and over the long term contributes greatly to their neurosis. Essentially being kept is simply another form of slavery, one driven mostly by the willing participation of the kept in service to the keeper. Thus we witness modern day plantation living in all its glory and profit.

Apple Headquarters - CleanThe future Apple headquarters - Modern plantation living

I could go on and on with further examples of how “We the People” are a kept culture, including an in-depth exploration of the psychology underlying it. But why take all the fun out of it by rubbing our noses in our own excrement. The fact remains we for the most part willingly participate in our own slavery because the perks are too good to reject and the pain is not great enough to compel us to shake off the chains that binds us to our own servitude.

While I certainly understand how powerless the kept believe we/they are, and by extension how powerful the keepers remain, this is all an illusion designed to keep the kept (and in many respects the keepers themselves) mesmerized, seduced and sated. The powerful impression of system rigidity and momentum serves to maintain the status quo.

We rarely consider casting off our own chains because we consider our binds tied to everyone else’s and the system itself, thus exponentially complicating the problem in our minds. We conflate our personal condition with the overall systemic condition and vice versa, thus perpetuating the illusion with very little energy introduced to actually change our lives. After all you can't fight city hall......right? The funny thing is you don't need to fight city hall to reformulate your 'self', just the desire and courage to do so.

If ever there was a perpetual motion machine invented, it is the social ‘agreement’ I just described. The small amount of energy  introduced from outside the closed loop system to keep it churning is minor compared to the amount self produced by the active participation of both the kept and keeper as well as that generated by the ever evolving parameters within the much larger collective governing agreement. This energy, whether internal or external, is expressed primarily as emotion and when multiplied by 325 million, or 7 billion, is quite frankly the most powerful man made force in the universe.

While we blame the keepers for our kept condition, it is we who are ultimately to blame for our slavery primarily because we expect that we must change the world when all we need do is change ourselves. I often ask those around me, “How do you eat an elephant”, a seemingly impossible task. The answer is, of course, one bite at a time. But in order to do so we must be brutally honest with ourselves and recognize our contributing role in the collective farce and the personal conditions we must change if we are to slip the binds that tie.

The perks that come with being kept will not survive the breaking of the keep. And it is our denial of this fact that greatly contributes to the power of the keepers and of our being continuously kept. Pain must be endured and several steps back must be tolerated, even encouraged, if we are to eventually move forward. Centuries of prior collective experience and memory cannot be erased in days, weeks, even months. Nor can we expect others to blaze the trail if we are unwilling to walk the path, alone if necessary. Stop waiting for others to start the process and take your first bite of true freedom.

 

11-01-2014

Cognitive Dissonance

Isolation - Clean

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