Plato's The Republic is perhaps just the visceral sort of understanding of society most of us think of as "basic." It mentions rulers, slaves, and citizens, and goes about the business of defining their place in an idealized society. Of course, the idealization is all done by Plato from his lofty perch on one of Greek society's upper rungs. It was not dreamed up beneath the tattered blanket of a slave.
We could learn an important fact about human nature and the likelihood of social planners to content themselves and their peers with an equal place among fellow humans simply from Plato's notion of "Philosopher Kings" who would, "ideally," rule the ideal society. As we know, democracy was the farthest thing from Plato's mind. But then, democracy is a rare form of society.
Even Plato introduces the dialectic of a pseudo-natural hierarchy upon which his ideal society is to be built. Examining that hierarchy more closely, and eschewing the need for dialectics altogether, we can look to the human animal itself, complete with its instincts, drives, habits and propensity for behavioral conditioning in order to discover the psycho-physical basis of such a society's structure, including the symbolic relationships that are translated into actuality. Given the inclination of contemporary conservatives to harken back to western cultural "tradition" for solutions to our current social challenges, we should pay attention to the underlying premises used to justify the utopias of the past, as opposed to the liberal utopias of the future. In either case, neither has ever existed anywhere but within an intellectual dialectic, a social theory.
In simple terms, then, let me suggest a descriptive analysis of present industrial society as represented in North America by corporate capitalism, which in recent years has been forced more closely into the mold of an oligarchic republic ruled by men of wealth. I will refer to the jargon of economics and political theory sparingly and only as it touches the current discussion, because it is clear that by accepting current definitions of social structures we do not only come to "understand" them, we come to stand under them, as in being subjected to a mesmerizing spell.
For instance, the current use of the term entrepreneur has an overall positive connotation these days, suggesting the socio-economic realization of certain mythic images of pioneering founders of the American civilization, carving out a niche for freedom-loving individualists in a resource-rich wilderness. Interesting spin. But to accept the proposition suggested by the tendered definition, that capitalist ventures are each initiated by the modern mytho-moral equivalent of Daniel Boone is, to say the least, misleading. To say more, it is clear that the image-loaded term entrepreneur has been engineered as a shorthand glorification of a key tenet of American capitalism, namely that the entire economic system we call capitalism, and the resulting social structures that support and nurture it, are justified because they are founded on the heroic and selfless acts of rugged individuals who were bold enough to take a risk and thereby instigate a civilization.
Neat trick. The stuffing of semantic tags with emotive imagery is one of the most powerful tools of the rhetorician and propagandist. Unfortunately, they end up as toe tags on the body politic of a slowly poisoned democracy. The so-called "Reagan Revolution" of the eighties, and to a lesser extent the "Republican Revolution" of the mid nineties dusted off many such dry economic terms and consciously stuffed them to bursting with flag-raising innuendo and connotation.
I promised not to digress into the snares laid by such verbal traps, and I won't meander too far. But I want to point to a few of the mental mines planted across the political battlefield, so that they will eventually become more easily recognizable by their standard characteristics of deceit through attractiveness. They are very much like the booby-trapped toys used in the Vietnam War as anti-civilian personnel weapons. Deceitful, impersonal, and cruel. But after all, it's only business.
A more apt description of investment-lead venturing into capitalistic society might be one that compares the so-called entrepreneur to a hungry man. Now, hunger is an open drive that demands a certain action to satisfy it, and feeding is the internalization of elements of the external environment in order to sustain the regular life functions of the one who hungers. Because this is only an analogy, it would be a mistake to equate the natural hunger of an individual person with the drive of the entrepreneur to incorporate as much of the socio-economic environment as possible into a socially defined "body" or corpus. But although it is only an analogy, it describes social actions in human terms rather than as eidetic images that provoke abstract emotive connections meant to deflect rather than focus attention on the nature of the activity in question.
It is not only the material resources of the physical environment that are eaten by those who hunger for power. Human resources are especially tasty, and even more readily retrieved from the social environment than are material resources from the natural environment. But in the course of history certain counter-spells to the villainy of authoritarian rhetoric have somewhat spoiled that ease of access to human toil, and other potent phrases have had to be conjured to warp the sense of self-worth that would seem an innate part of human nature. Be that as it may, the battle for minds, lives, time and wealth continues apace. But with rituals and rules grown arcane and hard to follow. Hence the general non-recognition by most everyone that it is the same battle that raged eons ago, was tamed for a brief time by democracy, and now rages again. Dialectic but masks the simplicity of the contest: eat or be eaten!
In a social context wherein popular opinion has the power to alter history as it still does, unlike past eras ruled strictly by monarchies, pontiffs, caesars, and pharoes who dictated the parameters of popular belief in what is true, the hungriest of the hungry must hire middlemen, which in language stripped of the usual intermediating propaganda translates into henchmen. Modern political idioms, of course, say nothing of the sort, make no such references. They are way too subtle and genteel. Facts being facts, politics declines to deal with them. They are far too "hard line" to address openly as a basis for policy. Hence an ersatz reality remains the goal of power.
What is not too hard line to deal with as a matter of super quiet "diplomacy" and subterfuge is murder, extortion, bribery and corruption. The tools of power respond spontaneously to no real moral code, since all moral codes have historically been coopted not to act as a check against the impunity of unbridled power, and power seeks the shortest route around genuine morality, which would ideally check the devises of power itself. Cooption involves altering perceptions. In a society, perceptions are often altered by changing definitions, or conversely by changing the referent to which a word is permitted in common usage to refer. Hence, tax increases become revenue enhancement, and civilian casualties in a high tech battlefield become collateral damage. As Noam Chomsky noted years ago, such linguistic tampering by the powerful has the effect of altering not only our perceptions of reality, but the morality we accept as dictating just behavior.
Strategically, power often finds itself faced with some cloudy mind-field of opposition, and when it does it regularly devises clever means of overcoming such obstacles while all the while seeming to adopt the tenants and principles of the opposition. Such is the ground upon which cooption is established. Such is the nature of cultural colonialism. Propaganda and public relations are euphemisms for the tools of cultural genocide. Whatever destroys the inclination toward cultural self-preservation and a community's innate sense of fairness may be said to be an act of cooption and cultural genocide.
To describe how this appears in our current cultural hierarchy, this cooption of good intent, this stealing of morality for the bitter purpose of aggrandizing established power, the metaphor suggested by the title of this essay is called on for reference. The Hungry, we have indicated, if not defined, as the powerful. The Haunted, I will explain and define in terms that will seem immediately recognizable.
Proxy. Representative. Pinch Hitter...Any number of terms might be employed as a substitute for the social station of those who are paid by entrenched or established power to help that power, their social betters, bosses, superiors, clients, et al institute an aristocratic rule by fiat. By way of softening the hearts of their quarry, the proxies of power concede, reluctantly and only when they must, the barest modicum of social shame that they have become entangled in the web of power. But they serve it none-the-less by creating an atmosphere of false liberty and freedom in which we are constantly given the pseudo-choice between the lesser of two evils. Gradually then, election year after election year, we come to accept a greater degree of evil as the preferred alternative to the next worse one, which in the next election year we will embrace as our salvation from depth of corruption and depravity of the one to come. In steady increments we have surrendered our democratic preferences for dictated alternatives, all the time moving ourselves as if by choice toward tyranny.
Social perceptions are the target of powerful manipulation because from general perceptions spring political policy. Hence, expenditures on the channeling of public opinion via pollstering and advertising are not trivial investments but essential weapons in the battle to cower the masses by altering their ideas about their own best interests and their perceptions of the agendas and motivations of those above them in the social hierarchy who claim to be acting in the best interests of society as a whole. Reality can't even be found somewhere in the middle. It's usually buried among the victims of genocide, state executions, the unpublished facts about drug wars and crime prevention and immigration enforcement, in fact "law enforcement" in general. But in the spirit of abandoning the jingoism of the left and the right, let me get back to my original analysis, wherein there are the hungry and the haunted.
To be haunted, one must be full of things that are beyond being oneself. It would seem natural that self-preservation would dictate the innate revulsion of whatever imposes or proposes itself as a replacement of the self. However, huge caches of money have been set aside for the very purpose of paying certain unique individuals having very strong egos yet very weak self-images to act as powerful proxies for other strong egos who are themselves the focused repositories of concentrated power. Proxies of power are conditioned and educated to act on the as if premise that what they do is done by them in the name of some organic conglomeration of human will. Human will itself is conglomerated via just such education and conditioning of a selected Panjandrum class, but it is not organic nor supported on the "cellular" level of the individual. And yet the resultant culture fails to avoid being made up of, as I have suggested, the Hungry, the Haunted, and the Hunted. Now, let me explain a little more about the haunted.
Thoughts are sustained neural comparisons of current events and situations with stored experiences, which are coded biochemically and experienced upon recall as symbolic, for instance, as artifacts of language or as archetypal images, which are stored genetically and referred to by Jungian psychologists as our "racial memory." [See my article, "Talking To Ourselves" in Volume I, Issue 10, p. 2 of Groundswell for a discussion of the methodology of mental colonialization]. It is possible for societies with hegemonic control of their cultural organs of education to succeed in the project of tapping into the archetypal programming of their Panjandrum (as well as their subservient) class. By prescribing specific areas of social conditioning deemed valuable to the established hierarchy or regime, social reason and logic (as opposed to objective reason and logic) creates a programmed class of individuals who gain their sense of self-worth, as well as lucrative careers, from their conditioned desire and pride in serving the whims of the powerful. The key word to remember here, the operant fact of the truth about the creation of a haunted class of Panjandrums and proxies of power is its insidious nature. Insidiously, the agenda of power is translated into the project of society at-large by way of the infectious propaganda that professes to promote moral and righteous standards of behavior. Those who internalize these standards as behavioral programming are the very ones I refer to as the haunted. That they serve not God, but power, contradicts their programmed faith. And though facts contradict their faith, their faith supersedes facts. Power triumphs in the name of God and all that's holy. They argue from the heart that they serve God and country, when it is clear to anyone not programmed as are they that what they serve is established power.
Lawyers fit very well the definition of haunted humanity as it presents itself by late twentieth century cultural standards. Here is a singular group of people who speak no words that are not preordained by the social circumstance of expected payment in-kind for engineered rhetoric. No lawyer worth his or her salt will comment on the reality of a criminal social interaction that, by virtue of the semantics employed, will not potentially enhance the claims of the paying client. Certainly, those in a position to pay more will have at their disposal a whole arsenal of haunted lawyers, all committed to the truth of a bought proposition.
If lawyers are easy to come by, then the cheap commodity of Congressional representatives who surrender control of the public trust, including the monetary responsibility of overseeing the distribution of collected taxes, along with the future of the democracy to corporate carpet baggers, is yet another instance of a haunted class, who serve not themselves, and not society, but an autocratic master. As in all cases of betrayal of the hunted by the haunted, the haunted strut righteously across the social landscape, self assured and seemingly justified in their smug disregard for the general censure and derision thrown upon them from below. This is the hallmark of being haunted. Once so cursed, it is possible to live out the life sentence of a career devoted to the nuances of lies masked only by the most recent semantic and rhetorical trick. Rewards, perks, and adulation are generated by discovering the most clever and successful evasion of obvious truth.
Greatness comes from convincing others that the maneuvers themselves are the truth, and that the facts of any dispute are incidental to the more basic principles defined or dredged-up from dead precedent, including the precedent of lesser evilism. Perceptions are molded for the convenience of an appointed outcome. This is the art of the haunted, who may themselves haunt others with their delusions.
I should not speak of the hunted here. They know who they are, and public exposure would be painful. But it is the very fear of facing the truth of it that keeps them in thralldom, unhappy yet self convinced of their powerlessness. The only tools that have historically served the hunted are the rudiments of democracy. We are being trained to salute our devolution into plutocratic tyranny as if it were the ongoing evolution of democracy under the mantle of commerce at any social price. We must overthrow this lie or, haunted ourselves by the hiss of deceit, be eaten by it from within.