Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Victory of Persuasion Over Force

Years ago, I adopted the scheme of the Russian writer Dmitri Merejkowski (1865–1941), who believed all religions could be divided into two basic ones.

In the first, Luciferian one, Man sacrifices Man to Man. In the second, God sacrifices Himself to Man. I am far more familiar with the first, having expended years of thought upon it.

I do know the second archetype has been around for thousands of years. Think of Prometheus, who gave mankind not only fire, but brickwork, woodworking, telling the seasons by the stars, numbers, the alphabet (for remembering things), yoked oxen, carriages, saddles, ships and sails, healing drugs, the mining of precious metals, and art. He paid for his effrontery by being shackled to a rock, where an eagle tried to devour his liver every day, after which it grew back overnight.

The second archetype was fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus, which, according the French philosopher and theologian Rene Girard, author of Violence and the Sacred, and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, was supposed to finally put an end to the scapegoating and human sacrifice that was endemic in the pagan world, and so casually accepted. If anything, it would have truly put an end to evil, not the hallucinations of David Frum and Richard Perle, authors of the grossly misnamed An End to Evil.

Girard believed there were two functions to the scapegoat: social cohesion, and the attempt to renew society by doing violence to the scapegoat. The theologian Walter Wink, author of The Powers That Be, called the second function, "the Myth of Redemptive Violence." Both authors thought people, indeed entire societies, believed they could be made whole (a word with the same root as "healthy" and "hale") by projecting their own imperfections onto the scapegoat and eradicating it by violence.

Dostoevski, in The Brothers Karamazov, claimed that Jesus also gave people freedom, but that many more than anything else wanted to give up this "burden" for security, and to find someone to worship and provide for their every need. Their craving for a "community of worship" would lead to religious violence against scapegoats. Since it's the modern godlet State that is supposed to provide for these needs, Dostoevski's observations fit with the theories of Merejkowski, Wink and Girard. It also fits with what Chris Hedges wrote in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning: "The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living."

That carnage, that destruction, is always based on finding a scapegoat, on human sacrifice, on believing in an Absolute Good and an Absolute Evil that always dehumanizes and demonizes the opponent. A group created by such things is what Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn meant when he wrote, "'I' is from God and 'We' is from the Devil." Social cohesion, indeed.

The US used alcohol for a while as a scapegoat, and currently is using drugs (some drugs, but certainly not those money-makers approved by the FDA, the AMA and the pharmaceutical companies). The first attempt didn't work and neither will the second. The attempt at Utopia, Heaven on Earth, the return to the Garden of Eden, whatever you want to call it, has always been considered blasphemy, and for the best of reasons. It not only never works, it always backfires. The road to Hell is truly paved with good intentions, and naive idealists have caused more catastrophes in the world than the most evil of evil people.

That first archetype, Man sacrificing Man to Man, was the scourge of the 20th century. The Nazis and the Communists danced to that tune, which ended in the deaths of perhaps 200 million people. That danse macabre is best embodied in the story of Satan, who deluded himself he could be God.

It's also embodied in the story of the Garden of Eden, where Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent, a symbol of envy. In any case it points out the first defense of people is to oversimplify and blame their problems on others, whether they are guilty or not. It is always the first defense of a group.

The first archetype is best associated with political power, what Albert Jay Nock in Our Enemy, the State, called the Political Means of force and fraud: murder, lying, theft. After all, Satan did tempt Jesus with political power over the kingdoms of the world, an offer He refused, but one which no politician ever has. Does this mean that all politicians are in some degree Satanic? Of that I have no doubt.

That first archetype -- Man sacrificing Man to Man -- is almost always associated with the Political Means (remember the Nazis and the Communists?), is often based upon envy and the avoidance of it, and is always based on the grandiose and narcissistic belief in Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. Were it not based on the fairy tale of pure good and pure evil, the projection of evil onto others could not exist.

Only with the belief in pure good and pure evil can Man sacrifice Man to Man. It is based on the belief that Man is God, and being God, can only remain God by eradicating that which is defined as evil. Those who define themselves as good always have to project their imperfections elsewhere. That "elsewhere" will always be the object of attempted annihilation.

This sacrificing of Man to Man has been going on for a long time. In the Bible the best-known example is that of Moloch, who required an occasional baby or two to hold his malice and envy at bay. This type of sacrificing even exists in the libertarian tradition, with Ayn Rand, whose popular novel Atlas Shrugged was based on her god-like heroes projecting their imperfections onto her evil, malicious, envious subhuman "looters" and "parasites," who were then sacrificed to save the purity of her demigods.

If the first archetype of Man sacrificing Man to Man is based on the Political Means of force and fraud, then the second archetype, God sacrificing Himself to Man, is based on voluntary persuasion, what Nock called the Economic Means. Not only Jesus, but every legitimate spiritual teacher has claimed that people must voluntarily change their hearts and minds. A clockwork-orangian Ludovico's Technique to bash people into being good will never work.

Alfred North Whitehead, in his book, Adventures of Ideas, had this to say about the difference between persuasion and force: "The creation of the world -- said Plato -- is the victory of persuasion over force...Civilization is the maintenance of social order, by its own inherent persuasiveness as embodying the nobler alternative. The recourse to force, however unavoidable, is a disclosure of the failure of civilization, either in the general society or in a remnant of individuals...

"Now the intercourse between individuals and between social groups takes one of these two forms: force or persuasion. Commerce is the great example of intercourse by way of persuasion. War, slavery, and governmental compulsion exemplify the reign of force."

In two nutshells this is what we have:

* FORCE: The Political Means of force and fraud.
* The fairy tale of Pure Good and Pure Evil.
* Scapegoating and human sacrifice.
* Violence as redemptive.

* PERSUASION: The Economic Means of voluntary persuasion and liberty.
* Good and Evil as a continuum.
* The extinction of scapegoating and human sacrifice.
* Violence not as redemptive, but always destructive.

George Bush has claimed Jesus is his favorite philosopher, a concept that would be amusing if it weren't so tragic, since he is ignoring that comment about "Blessed are the peacemakers." Bush is also ignoring the comment, "What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?"

It is clear to me that a substantial part of Christianity has been perverted, especially by Jerry Falwell and his kind. When he claims that "God is pro war" he is in his dull-wittedness supporting scapegoating, human sacrifice, the belief in Absolute Good and Absolute Evil, and violence as redemptive. Unfortunately there are in this country enough people like him to activate that saying about the blind leading the blind over a cliff.

Of course, this will always happen when there are enough people who can't tell the difference between God and the Devil.


breezmister said...

That was one of the best blogs you have done in a long time !
Keep up the good work.

Unknown said...

People are blind and don't even know it.