By Jason Miller
Why are we here? An eternal philosophical question that has no simple or universal answer, and can be asked collectively or individually. Perhaps equally important, yet more individual in nature is the mystery of who we are. Many people spend virtually entire lives with few answers to either fundamental human question, either collectively or individually. Why don't they pursue a deeper understanding of the foundations of their humanity? Why do they shun or avoid a path that would lead to deeper spiritual and intellectual fulfillment, and at the same time enhance our world? Are they apathetic and lazy? Is there a fundamental lack of desire for self actualization and individual freedom in these people? Once could make that argument, but I doubt it. Just as the Matrix offered a pleasant fiction to humans in exchange for their subordination to the machine world, American society offers such an "opiate to the masses" in a variety of forms through a variety of channels.
From a young age, American society bludgeons the individuality out of us. The natural human instinct to self actualize through finding a deep-seated sense of self and sense of purpose is shunted by Madison Avenue, think tanks, political propaganda, government-manipulated mainstream media, churches that manipulate through fear, and a patriarchal system that continues to ensure the dominance of white males.
Corporations like Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and Microsoft have staked their claim on the economic landscape, and continue to steamroll the competition in their insatiable quest to expand. They have created a sterile, mundane uniformity in how people shop, eat and use their computers. A person can save $20.00 per week by shopping at Wal-Mart, buying goods imported from China and stocked by Wal-Mart employees making sub-standard wages, and receiving sub-standard benefits. Meanwhile the locally owned vendors go under, further guaranteeing Wal-Mart's dominance in the marketplace, and further enhancing the role of the big yellow smiley face as a cultural icon. As the economy slips into a depression, the overwhelming monotony of shopping, the only store in town, becomes nauseating. Where do 99% of children under the age of ten want to go when it is time to go out to eat? The allure of toys and play places has kept McDonald's thriving in spite of the fact that their food is unhealthy and its taste is marginal. With 90% of the desk-top operating system locked up, Microsoft does not have much competition. Most Americans would not have an inkling how to change operating systems, or even if there was a better system than Windows Realistically, what choice do they have? How can one seek individuality, freedom, and a sense of purpose in a sterile landscape dominated by monopolistic corporations which often reap outrageous profits as they bulldoze small, entrepreneurial competitors who could offer choice, innovation, and healthy competition?
From the age we learn to speak, our gender roles are assigned to us with a rigid delineation. Boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls. Boys are taught not to cry. Girls learn to act fragile and sweet. America inculcates boys with its twisted compulsion to compete. Losing is cause for shame, and winning is the only thing that matters. The drive to be "number one" is the only goal worth pursuing. Many boys are seduced by the alluring myth that they are valued solely based upon their performance, and when they perform well, they feel high as a kite. Unfortunately, when they do not "perform well", whether it be in school, at work, in the bedroom, or on the football field, their feelings plunge to extreme lows as their sense of worth dissipates. Girls learn that they derive their self worth from their beauty and ability to attract men. America's obsession with the "ideal woman", created with silicone, personal trainers, tanning salons, and air brushes has driven many females to engage in the horrors of eating disorders. How can one know one's true self or one's true purpose on this earth when one is compulsively striving to "be number one" or to be the next Pamela Anderson?
Madison Avenue bears much of the responsibility for manufacturing the alluring lies that Americans swallow so readily. The illusions and pleasant fictions that they project to us through television, magazines, the Internet, and on radio border on the obscene in their disconnect from truth and reality. These propagandistic wizards use intricate forms of manipulation to entice us to buy what we do not need, use products that are unsafe or of low quality, and to our greatest detriment, to waste our precious drive and energy attempting to be someone we are not. Sprite's slogan is to "obey your thirst". If I were to truly obey my thirst, which is a physical drive to maintain the water volume that comprises much of my physical self, I would drink of water, not Sprite. Wearing the "right cologne" or driving the "right car" are not going to get me the "right girl", or at least not one with whom I will enjoy a fulfilling relationship. Drinking Coors at an NFL game is not going to morph me into Kid Rock and surround me with scantily clad women. Madison Avenue projects a steady stream of garbage into the minds of the willing. Unfortunately, most people engage in the mediums used by advertisers to hock their wares, and are readily seduced by the images, sounds, and enticing lies evoked by commercials and ads.
Government plays their role in the oppression of the individual's quest for self and purpose. One need look no further than the Bush administration to find numerous examples. They have sold 150,000 military personnel a bill of goods in convincing them that they are performing a patriotic act by going to war in Iraq, and are continuing to recruit new "patriots" each day with false claims that the war was, and is, justified. The Bush administration brands those who do not support their imperialist endeavors as "unpatriotic" despite mounting evidence that they lied to the American people to garner their initial support of the invasion. From a very early age, we are taught to "pledge allegiance to the flag, one nation, under God". What young elementary school child has the cognitive development to truly understand the meaning of those words as they put their hand over their heart and swear a loyalty oath to the symbol of a concept as abstract as that of a nation? Our psyche is pummeled with the message that a significant portion of our self worth rests on our willingness to support our nation, and even die for it, if necessary, by going to war. But what if our nation's decision- makers are corrupt, and the real cause they are asking us to die for is to enhance corporate and elitist financial interests? Are we still unpatriotic if we refuse to sacrifice ourselves to fatten the wealthy, or are we just using our innate moral sense and intellect? I say it is the latter. If they knock on my door and ask me to participate in their imperialistic crusades, they will get a resounding no, regardless of the consequences they impose upon me.
The oppression of minorities, including racial minorities, religious minorities, women, the disabled, the mentally ill, and gays, is woven into the fabric of American society. Immigrants built the America that we know. The only true Americans are Native Americans, and they were shamefully relegated to a subordinate role long ago by the original immigrants from Western Europe. Blacks are called separatists when they express their cultural heritage and individuality. Middle and Near Easterners are eyed with suspicion and mistrust when they wear their traditional garb. Women who act in masculine ways and achieve "masculine goals" by attaining positions of power are shunned by men and women alike. Hispanic immigrants are vilified for not learning English quickly enough. Disabled individuals are still denied equal access to buildings, facilities, and employment. Mentally ill individuals are shunned and treated as pariahs as governors (like Matt Blunt of Missouri) slash funding for treatment facilities. Therapists and medication can enable the mentally ill to lead productive, fulfilling lives. The Religious Right, a movement of conservative Christians, are giving moderate and progressive Christianity a black eye by attacking the judicial system and attempting to impose their narrow beliefs, including homophobia, on the rest of America through legislation like the Constitution Reformation Act Homosexuals are mocked, beaten, murdered, and perhaps in some ways worst of all, are denied basic human rights by their own government. How can a person be who they truly are, and act for the purpose for which they were intended, if they are oppressed because of an innate aspect of their being?
9/11 enabled Evangelists, like George Bush, to use fear inspired by the event to create false dichotomies of good versus evil. USA good. Middle East bad. Christianity good. Islam bad. Karl Rove and his fellow conspirators preyed upon this fear to propel Bush back into office in 2004, despite the corrupt nature of his administration and his personal incompetence. The Religious Right also seized the opportunity as they moved in to fill the spiritual vacuum felt by many Americans laid vulnerable by fear of more terrorist attacks. What a tremendous relief and comfort they offered by providing all the answers one needs in one book. The clincher was their guarantee that all one needs to do to assure one's ascendancy into heaven is to accept Jesus as your personal savior. Let me see if I understand this offer. The Bible is my instruction book to resolve any problem, I am guaranteed to go to heaven, and I get the smug satisfaction of knowing that I am indisputably right AND that those who believe differently than me are going to burn in Hell? My intellectual freedom and further spiritual growth would be a pittance to pay for such "treasures"!
Wandering in this barren spiritual desert, it is small wonder that many fall prey to the "quick fixes" and easy answers. Instead of continuing on their spiritual journey through the sometimes barren land-scape of ongoing self discovery, and continuing on the challenging quest toward fulfilling one's higher purpose, some get side-tracked by oases offered by the media or government. They focus their attention and energy on attempting to attain society's definition of "success" by becoming the next Michael Jordan, pursuing wealth for the sake of accumulation in an effort to emulate Donald Trump, embodying the patriotic ideal projected by Big Brother, or accepting Christ as one's personal savior and embarking on a crusade to stamp out homosexuality.
I am not saying that people who engage in these institutionalized, inculcated practices are the problem. I have visited several oases at various points in my life, and probably will visit others. The problem arises when a person sells oneself out for the false security these snake oil salesman are peddling, and remains at the oasis. Each human being has the potential to be so much more than we are told we can be. We have the capacity to do so much more than we are told we can do. The tragedy occurs when one swallows the lies and dons the shackles provided by the media, Madison Avenue, the government, and some religions. Once one sells out, the elite and the ruling class have a new pawn with which to further their interests, and they take no prisoners. Human cost, meaning loss of life or limb, only matters to the elite when it translates into financial liability or diminished power over the masses.
The world has entered a dark age. America represents a significant blight on humanity's well-being. The current administration's insatiable desire to spend money it does not have, and incur massive debt, has placed the world economy on a precipice. America is becoming a debtor nation, beholden to its lenders, not unlike the so-called "Third World", developing countries, which the United States views with such condescension. Despite its scandals, the United Nations represents a unifying body that could potentially offer solutions to many of the world's problems involving poverty, war, and natural disasters, if it was properly managed. Yet if this administration has its way, the UN will be little more than a puppet to further American imperialistic interests. America is involved in an illegal, imperialistic war in Iraq, and a potentially "never-ending" war which Bush has launched against terrorists, a nameless, faceless enemy with whom we can engage as long as it fills the military-industrial complexes coffers. For them, the beauty of it is that it does not matter whether any more terrorists exist or not because there it will be virtually impossible to prove that they have been extinguished. Bush and his followers have created the real judicial crisis in America as they are attempting to railroad several unfit candidates onto the federal bench, are attempting to do away with the filibuster in the Senate, and have created and endorsed attacks and threats on the judiciary. Bush and the Religious Right both have an irrational resolve to severely cripple the judiciary because it is the only remaining significant check on their power. Since stocking the judiciary with "their people" was not effective, their new plan is to render it impotent. America's Religious Right mirrors the dogmatic followers of Islam in the Middle East, and is garnering the political power to convert our republic into a theocracy. Many of these events have unfolded because people have been beguiled by the propaganda of Karl Rove and the Religious Right, or because their obsession with attaining the "American dream" of "success" has kept them too occupied to be aware of what these schemers have been doing.
It is not too late for a change of course. The Morpheus of my life offered me the red and the blue pill in 1993, and I chose red, which in the Matrix, opened the door to reality while blue enabled one to keep one's distorted version of reality intact. I chose red, because at that time, my version of reality was not something I would want to wake up to the next morning. Reality unfolded before my eyes as I learned to emphasize reason, logic, critical thinking, acting assertively, and gathering evidence over faith, fantasy, self delusion, deflection of responsibility, and waiting for someone to show me the way. My worldview changed. Human dignity, human rights, parenting my children, educating myself, respecting myself and others, empathy, honesty, taking responsibility for my actions,and love as an act of will (as defined by Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled) became my core values. Certainly, I have my limitations, make mistakes, backslide, and above all, do not claim to have THE answer, or even a complete answer. However, when I took that red pill from the Morpheus who came into my life, my eyes were opened to a world of hope, love, and possibilities for spiritual growth and development without harming others. They were also opened to the many lies, manipulations, and abuses of trust. I work each day to discover more about who I am and what my purpose is, and to apply my energy and time toward fulfilling that purpose. THE answer does not exist. I know that some people do not feel comfortable with that concept, but it is true. Each human being has the capacity, and bears the responsibility, for finding THEIR answer. My advice? When Morpheus visits you, take the red pill......