Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Cult of Politics

I have spent the large part of my “adult life” (am I there yet?) realizing, acknowledging, and subscribing to ideas that have been part of a greater consciousness for a period of time that transcend certainly my worldview, and seemingly that of most of my peers. Indeed, John R. Searle asserts that philosophy is known as such only until we have enough empirical evidence to draw a semi-concrete, rather than abstract conclusion or hypothesis. It is at this critical juncture that what was once known as philosophy is renamed as science. But isn’t it that which we can’t see, touch, taste, or smell that moves man to second-guess the nature of his being? What is recognizable in the physical world doesn’t threaten the human psyche as much as what is unknowable, unseen and unheard. If we cannot bear any sort of witness to an event, then how do we know such phenomena truly exists? For example, think of floating alone in the sea. Which do you fear more: the creatures you know be lurking below or the other, possibly more dangerous creatures that you don’t know about?

I have recently chanced upon a book (for the second time) that, in an effort to reaffirm faith in one religion, systematically (and subjectively) disassembles the doctrines of others. In his book, Larson’s New Encyclopedia of Cults, author Bob Larson puts forth the notion that, through the annals and rigors of recruitment and initiation, ritualistic cults promote and instill a sense of “intellectual sterility” in its members. In various ways, Larson goes on to “disprove” the rhetoric of each “cult” with evidence offered in the passages of the King James Version of the bible. It is funny how one is so bold to refute one school of thought which lacks empirical basis with another equally questionable ideology.

What goes unaccounted for in this book and possibly so many other analyses of cultic sociology is the so-called cult of personality. Cults, by very definition often have a sort of ideological thread on which most of the pattern of belief/behavior is based. Having recently become enamored with the American partisan political system, I have come to find that each of the two major political parties in our country are fast becoming cults of personality. For evidence, one need look no further than the agenda respective to each party.

Democrats, easily denigrated as liberals, as are Republicans conservatives, operate on what is known as a platform that is generally homogenous across the board to all members. When one faction is so ideologically complete, a difference of opinion can be construed as a declaration of secession either intentionally or unintentionally by one of its constituents. In essence, someone with a dissenting view that differs from the stated position of the affiliated party to which they belong can often be viewed as an outsider or in extreme cases treasonous. The term heresy can very nearly be applied in these cases.

It is because of this intellectual sterility that the bi-partisan political system operating in the United States is becoming increasingly cultish. Never has the homogenization of ideas become so apparent than in the recent Presidential race, wherein no politician dare take a stand on an issue that could possibly delineate them from their political affiliation.

“This recent election was a very close one with hotly contested issues on the line.” This sentence could be applied to just about every Presidential race ever run in the history of the United States. But the lack of fresh ideas or at least the lack of knowledge of such ideas made for an increasingly polarized pool of voters in November 2004. The race was less about progress than it was about gaining or retaining control of the ideological juggernaut that is the United States government and consequentially, it’s two most influential entities worldwide – the foreign policy thereof and the popular culture that is a direct result of its domestic policies.

Life in Post-9/11 America is more hypothetical than real. People fear an ominous terrorist threat that is not and has not been immediately apparent since the events at ground zero. Focus has been placed on issues that do not even remotely pertain to the issue at hand - protecting Americans and American interests at home and abroad. Granted, plenty of attention was paid to Iraq, which is a black hole financially and in terms of human casualties.

The race was a war of morality. Many people claimed to have cast their vote for the candidate they felt most closely resembled traditional American values. The war in Iraq and the war on terrorism were at a close second. However, it is apparent that Americans are greatly concerned with being a moral majority. It is this way of thinking that is most disconcerting, that Americans don’t trust themselves or others enough to conduct their affairs in a morally justified manner, they feel that they have to vote morality into office. It is clear that Americans don’t think much of each other’s moral compass.

It can be safely said that the majority of moral sentiment in contemporary America is generated in any combination through one of the following three institutions: family, social environment and religion, specifically Christianity. It is then no surprise that a conservative Christian with strong family ties will be voted into office without fail most of the time, even one as morally suspect as George Bush. In a war of cults, a personality has been assigned to lead the collective ultimate cult of personality, the American voting constituency.

It is within this framework that intellectual sterility in terms of social and moral policy has its greatest affect. The policy directives within such an administration are confined to strict codes as dictated by the pre-designated aforementioned influences. Any “thinking outside the box” would be deemed in contradiction to said influences and would be quickly reduced, changed or re-thought to fit neatly in to the preset conventions. Therefore, progress becomes increasingly difficult and the forestalling or complete lack of intellectual ingenuity becomes inevitable. Change comes painstakingly slow and at a great price. Only those who are willing to risk ostracism dare question the ranks. The cycle of intellectual sterility becomes clear at this point as the veil of democratic politics is lifted to reveal the ugly face of the electorate and the cultish behavior that it perpetrates.

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