Monday, May 15, 2006

The Left-Hand Path to God: The Mythological Appeal of Socialism

Dr. Sanity is in the midst of an important post about the societal impact of pathological narcissism. In it she touches on something I have been thinking about, which is the deep emotional structure of socialism, and why it is almost impossible to eradicate this meme from the collective psyche.

Dr. Sanity quotes Lee Harris of TCS Daily, who is one of the deepest thinkers in the blogosphere. His piece is entitled Why Isn’t Socialism Dead?:

“When Hernando de Soto asserts that capitalism is the only rational alternative left to mankind, he is maintaining that capitalism is the alternative that human beings ought to take because it is the rational thing to do. But what human beings ought to do and what they actually do are often two quite different things. For human beings frequently act quite irrationally, and without the least consideration of what economist called their ‘enlightened self-interest.' And it is in this light that we must approach the problem, 'Why isn't socialism dead?’

“.... It may well be that socialism isn't dead because socialism cannot die. As Sorel argued, the revolutionary myth may, like religion, continue to thrive in ‘the profounder regions of our mental life,’ in those realms unreachable by mere reason and argument, where even a hundred proofs of failure are insufficient to wean us from those primordial illusions that we so badly wish to be true. Who doesn't want to see the wicked and the arrogant put in their place? Who among the downtrodden and the dispossessed can fail to be stirred by the promise of a world in which all men are equal, and each has what he needs?

“Here we have the problem facing those who... believe that capitalism is the only rational alternative left after the disastrous collapse of so many socialist experiments. Yes, capitalism is the only rational method of proceeding; but is the mere appeal to reason sufficient to make the mass of men and women, especially among the poor and the rejected, shut their ears to those who promise them the socialist apocalypse, especially when the men who are making these promises possess charisma and glamour, and are willing to stand up, in revolutionary defiance, to their oppressors?

The Florentine statesman and thinker, Guicciardini, once remarked, “‘Never fight against religion... this concept has too much empire over the minds of men.’ And to the extent that socialism is a religion, then those who wish to fight it with mere reason and argument may well be in for a losing battle. Furthermore, as populism spreads, it is inevitable that the myth of socialism will gain in strength among the people who have the least cause to be happy with their place in the capitalist world-order, and who will naturally be overjoyed to put their faith in those who promise them a quick fix to their poverty and an end to their suffering.

“Thus, in the coming century, those who are advocates of capitalism may well find themselves confronted with ‘a myth gap.’ Those who, like Chavez, Morales, and Castro, are preaching the old time religion of socialism may well be able to tap into something deeper and more primordial than mere reason and argument, while those who advocate the more rational path of capitalism may find that they have few listeners among those they most need to reach -- namely, the People. Worse, in a populist democracy, the People have historically demonstrated a knack of picking as their leaders those know the best and most efficient way to by-pass their reason -- demagogues who can reach deep down to their primordial and, alas, often utterly irrational instincts. This, after all, has been the genius of every great populist leader of the past, as it is proving to be the genius of those populist leaders who are now springing up around the world, from Bolivia to Iran.”

Lee’s insight here is so profound that it is well worth pondering. It explains so much, and yet, gives us no guidance for how to solve the problem. This will presumably be Dr. Sanity’s job, as she continues her piece.

Let’s look at some of Harris’ premises:

--Capitalism is the only rational alternative left to mankind.

--What human beings ought to do and what they actually do are often two quite different things (which is at the heart of both psychoanalysis [i.e., unconscious motivations] and religion [i.e., the conscience]).

--Socialism partakes of a pre-logical unconscious, mythological power, which is the real reason it cannot die. A beautiful and appealing idea is no match for an unpleasant truth we wish to deny.

--You cannot eradicate religion with mere reason.

--Socialism has an innate mythological/emotional appeal that capitalism lacks.

The disturbing conclusion suggested by Harris is that capitalism, not socialism, is doomed if it cannot somehow bridge the “myth gap” between it and socialism.

As an aside, let me point out that for many months I had been inexplicably waking up at 4:00 or 4:30AM, allowing me to complete my posts before having to get ready for work in the morning. For whatever reason, that hasn’t been happening in the last few weeks. Instead, I’ve been sleeping until around 6:00, leaving much less time to devote to my posts.

Being that my body is the senior partner in our little enterprise, I always defer to its wishes. Back when I was in high school I didn’t have many goals, but one of them was to never, ever, under any circumstances, use an alarm clock. Amazingly, this dream has largely come true for me. If my body is not interested in blogging at the moment, I’m not going to force the issue.

So I'm almost out of time. To cut to the chase, I believe that Harris is on to an absolutely critical idea. It reminds me of how confused the modern world has become about sexuality. Men and women are clearly built very differently--cognitively, emotionally, even spiritually. To me, this is an utterly banal observation. But that is not what is taught in our institutes of higher learning. Rather, they teach the superstitious and mythological nonsense that men and women are identical. As such, this inevitably leads to misunderstanding and frustration.

So in order to change reality, we must first accept reality for what it is, whether we are talking about sexuality or about economics. And if, in the deep structure of our soul, we have very powerful socialistic motivations, then that is something we had better take very seriously, or else it is going to come back and bite us, just as we are going to run into relationship problems if we do not appreciate the differences between men and women.

Well, that’s all the time I have for this morning. I hope to flesh out my ideas about this dilemma in the next couple of days, if the flesh is willing. However, it appears that Dr. Sanity is being drawn into the orbit of the identical mental attractor I am, in which case my own efforts may be unnecessary. Like mankind, I can just remain asleep.


Michael Andreyakovich as Oscar Wilde said...

The difficulty with socialism is that it makes grandiose and beautiful promises, and fails to keep them.

The difficulty with capitalism is that it makes petty, secular, unattractive promises, and always keeps them.

jwm said...

Good morning gang.
Forgive me for jumping OT here, but I ran across something extraordinary. Remember the Time traveler story from Dan Simmons last month? He wrote a long, but very thoughtful and disturbing follow up. Here's the link:

Actually, I have a lot of other stuff brewing in my head this morning. Not too into socialism right now. Be well all.


Lisa said...

Personally, I do not wish to be equal to men. I have no desire to have hair grow only from my nose and ears. ;0)

Besides, most feminazis (ie. Code Pink and other extreme feminists) do not want equality. They already think they are better and smarter than men. They want superiority. Just watch any TV show or movie made today and study the male characters.

will said...

Morning Bob 'n Heads -

Well, in the USA, at least, a political leader can have extreme populist appeal and succeed in turning the old revolutionary equation on its head. That is, such a populist leader can rally the troops, the "little guy", not against capitalism, big business, etc., but against the bloated bureaucratic government itself.

I'm talking Ronald Reagan, of course. So, maybe that's the hope, that in the USA, the instinctual revolutionary myth can resonate to the same populist drummer but in a different direction.

Of course, if a sizable portion of the American population is non-culturated & non-English-speaking, they will be unable to respond to the new American populism. All bet are off then. That's why we must insist that all immigrants are thoroughly integrated into American culture.

will said...

Lisa, much of the new lefty/feminist perspective has it that male and female are identical. But another left/fem perspective is that male and female are not only not alike, but are, in fact, so different as to be totally different species of beings.

The truth is that male and female are true opposites and true opposites contain each other, could not exist without one another. The elemental "building block" of Creation is the play of true opposites.

Lisa said...

I agree Will! That is why they fit together so nicely. Like puzzle pieces! ;)

Hoarhey said...

Saw this over at American Digest.

>>“Waking up when you're already awake is something that takes a bit of doing and a life to learn. You have to first determine that you are sleep-living; a state that most humans inhabit every waking second of their life. Then you have to decide to wake up, to be present, and to hold on to that no matter what the monkey mind may do to return you to slumber.
It doesn't take a sage to glance at the current political and social and entertainment landscape of these states to tell you that many prefer sleep-living to wakefulness. Not only that, the sleepers have a growing resentment towards those who continue to insist on wakefulness. It is as if much of our nation has fallen "half in love with easeful death." That's only one reason why it is more important than ever to know and to act in the world every moment in the belief, "There's never nothing happening."<<

Vanderleun defines the socialist /capitalist divide perfectly in the above quote. Socialism will produce various degrees of “The Soviet Man”, a hopeless slave of the State who’s highest aspirations are forced into the conformity of mediocrity. As opposed to Capitalism, which can bring out the best and highest from those willing to get up and pursue that goal. To actually be better rather than just temporarily feel better.

will said...

Hoars, yeah, with his allusions to "sleepwalking" and "wakefulness", Vanderleun underscores something I've long believed: the difference between left and right doesn't rest on countering opinions and philosophies so much as differing modes of consciousness.

dilys said...

[Turns out the appearance of All Quiet at One C. was my inability to push the "refresh" button...]

This combination of posts from Dr. S. and Lee H. grabbed me too. Of course, if you contrast the material and social fruits of capitalism with those of socialism, there is no comparison. But if we could measure brain-light-up at Leftist demos, and at a rational consideration of market dynamics, there's no competition either.

I suspect the "myth" needs not only to be juicy, but to be shared, for the kind of power Harris is talking about.

And uniformity is not a modern taste.

will said...

Dilys -

If a myth is archetypal, that is, if it really is mythical, then it is, by its nature, shared.

To me, the question is: in what direction is it pointed? That's why I cite R Reagan as one who re-directed the populist myth toward the unique American ethos: individuality and the freedom to choose a spiritual destiny for one's self.

Hoarhey said...

--Socialism partakes of a pre-logical unconscious, mythological power, which is the real reason it cannot die. A beautiful and appealing idea is no match for an unpleasant truth we wish to deny.


In your view, does the religion of socialism need to be transcended in order to acheive the next stage of human spiritual evolution? If so, how do you see that happening? Or is it just a matter of "the narrow way and the few finding it"?
Are you working on a vaccine?

jwm said...

You know, at first I didn't think I had anything to contribute on this topic, but reading around the web this morning prodded me to remember something from just a week ago.
I shut down a bunch of posts on the toy collecting site that I moderate because they were getting political, and (what a surprise) bashing conservatives in general. The topic of health care had come up. One the posters, an otherwise smart guy, was complaining about the state of health care in England. His take on the matter was that the reason public health care was lousy is because they allowed private practice for those who could afford it. His solution was to outlaw private practice altogether so that the wealthy would be forced to use the same crappy system as everyone else. In other words, the cure for failed socialism was more socialism. What's amazing is, like I said, this is from an otherwise intelligent guy. Magical thinking runs deep.


dilys said...

JWM--It is baffling that people want to degrade the benefits to others, even though it will not necessarily add any benefit to themselves (or did your antagonist think outlawing private medicine would put more resources into the system? Not proven!)

It seems to come back to envy -- the socialist's commitment to envy generates more pain than the utility of absolute improvement of benefits he could enjoy in an "unequal" system.

The people I have known with this attitude have very shaky self-worth, and for anyone else to have something they don't seems to feel like a "punishment" or a "judgment" on their worth, and at an unconscious level, being "left out of the tribe" and with a question as to their right to survive.

Now that's toxic uniformity.

The more appealing and healthy attitude is having faith in one's destiny, being grateful for good things, and being inspired by those who have achieved alternative ones. If those with more are nasty people, then it's easy to define them as not better off.

will said...


Author Michael Crichton has said at various forums (or is it "fora"? that he suspects many, perhaps the majority of Americans, have an unconscious desire for totalitarianism.
If this is true, it would be one reason why the myth of socialism doesn't want to expire.

So why would many have such a desire for totalitarianism? Well, to me, it's pretty simple: When you're told what to do, how to think, etc., you don't have to accept the responsibility for your own choices, and ultimately, you don't have to make the supreme decision in choosing between good and evil. Being a god entails such responsibility - and we are "gods in the making", according to no less than JC.

I don't think it a stretch to think the majority of the human race wants to remain in the crib, spirituality-wise. Thus the socialism siren-call.

Sal said...

JWM - thanks for the Simmons link!
The movie he cites is very much worth watching.

AuricTech said...

In one of your previous posts, you noted that "there are a few people for whom the realm of the sacred really seems to be a closed book. You can’t do much for them, but then, they don't tend to be the militant sort of atheist. They just let if go." This pretty much describes me, although I think of myself as agnostic, rather than atheistic.

Perhaps, though, my dystheosia has had the salutary effect of protecting me from the atheistic religion of socialism, in all its myriad forms.

Nagarjuna said...

Who are the "they" who teach that "men and women are identical"?

Hoarhey said...


I'm getting an epiphany regarding your theory about differing modes of consciousness. ;)

Nagarjuna said...

Will, could you cite examples of people you think have climbed out of the "crib" SPIRITUALLY? Do you mean to suggest that no spiritually advanced person supports or could ever support anything other than unrestrained capitalism?

Sal said...

Speaking of mythological appeal:

Some young people are idiots, was my first impression.

But since it's a free country, if your historical disconnect allows you to go salsa dancing in a club named for a murderous Communist tool, you can.

Nagarjuna said...

"On their own, without the attenuating influence of the other line, either side is a distortion of human nature. Each side sees the other as the extreme expression of the opposite pole of the self, thus leading to the polarizing stereotypes that left and right political sides attack each other with. The extreme left (idealized other) sees all members of the right as sociopaths out to get whatever they can from the world at the expense of others; while the right sees all members of the left as the collective mob whose goal is to erase individuality and freedom. But the truth is that at the exreme left AND the extreme right there is a striking convergence of grandiosity and totalitarianism." (Dr. Sanity)

I think this is an excellent point. People on the "Left" and the "Right" would do well to stop characterizing and vilifying one another with distorted stereotypes and strive "to achieve a true dialectical synthesis" of the "grandiose self" and the "idealized other." But is that what we primarily see taking place in the posts and comments on this blog and in the minds and efforts of most of the participants here?

will said...

Narajuna -

Yes, of course, I could name plenty of those who have climbed out of the crib spiritually. Can't YOU?

I will say that no spiritually aware individual could or ever has supported a socialistic form of government.

As for "unrestrained capitalism", well, you sort of loaded the question with the "unrestrained". Obviously there are "restraints" in our form of captitalism and I support them. We came about those restraints due to our freedom to make mistakes and we grew from them. Socialism would have denied us the freedom to make mistakes and thus denied us freedom to grow in social awareness.

Pope JP2 (there's a guy who left the crib) warned against the consumer mentality that capitalism can foster, but it was a warning to make the right individual choice in the arena of freedom. Still, Pope JP2 emphasized that socialism was much more pernicious than consumer capitalism because it denies imdividual choice all together. Thus socialism deadens the human spirit before it can choose between good and evil. We might choose wrongly but we must have the freedom to choose if we are to advance spiritually at all.

Seriously, if you don't comprehend this, you are wasting your time here.

Nagarjuna said...

"Obviously there are "restraints" in our form of captitalism and I support them."

Such as?

will said...

Narajuna, such as antitrust laws. Such as minimum wage.

C'mon, you're not this dense. You know exactly what I meant by "restraints on capitalism."

will said...

Nags - I support some, some I think are too restrictive, some not restrictive enough . . . but what's the point? A free market along with a free society *evolves* - though we lurch and stumble, things do get better over time. Unlike socialist societies where the spirit (and the economies) stagnate.

This is not really a political/economic blog, Nags. Spiritual issues are dealt with here,which at times conflate with political issues. If you want to discuss any issue with an emphasis on the spiritual component, fine, otherwise I'm not interested. I loiter around here because the emphasis is on spiritual matters. There are lots of strictly political blogs out there - maybe that's a bit more of what you're seeking.

Kerry said...

Might we say that capitalism lets me decide what I want, while socialism tells me what I can have? I think socialism is deeply anti-spiritual, and therefore denies and represses our deep, innate urge for liberty, freedom, call it what you will. It might also be called the desire towards God. The communist version of socialism told us we couldn't have any urge toward God by proclaiming, as policy, God's non-existence. Worker bees on the collective farms had this joke, "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us". No thank you.

Nagarjuna said...

"If you want to discuss any issue with an emphasis on the spiritual component, fine, otherwise I'm not interested. I loiter around here because the emphasis is on spiritual matters. There are lots of strictly political blogs out there - maybe that's a bit more of what you're seeking."

Actually, I too am more interested in discussing spirituality than politics. But what I've seen here seems to revolve more around politics and economics than spirituality. But I've only begun reading this blog and there's a lot of thought-provoking material here to review. To the relief of all of you, I probably won't have much more to say until I've reviewed it. But I hope you won't mind if I ask an occasional question or make an occasional comment along the way.

I really DO seek to understand what you're all discussing here. Whether I end up agreeing with all or any of it, I think there may well be merit in reading and understanding it and seeing things from a different perspective than the one to which I'm accustomed.