Monday, 21 April 2008
Manqué business: personality cults and the retreat into mysticism
"My dad's bigger than your dad and he's gonna do you, sunshine!"
"Yo mama so fugly, we gonna kill the lot of you."
"Yo Dalai so feudal he gotta suck Amurkin dick fo dollahs!"
"Yo side so oppressive we gotta give special dispensation for violence. Om!"
So what are we to make of the current tsunami of lunacy rolling around the world? It's crashing on my beach and I don't like it one little bit.
The end of the dream of China being a genuine socialist state was tragic. The last great hope. Elsewhere, political dregs that identify as socialist fight like rats in a sack. We've given up on the ingenuity of the human mind and retreated into mysticism while the social and cultural superstructure collapses into the base like the melting tiers of a soggy wedding cake. (Or, to quote replicant Roy Batty at the end of Blade Runner, "Like tiers in reign".) Prophets and demigods and their MiniMees supplant Marx and Darwin. We're expected to be in thrall to the deities' earthly representatives, uncritically swallow their lip-service to Peace and be very, very respectful indeed ... or get bashed up or worse for our irreverent offences.
"Like tiers in reign" Roy Batty, Bladerunner
Having been raised on one personality cult, I've been pretty effectively immunised against all others. Full credit to Mao for leading the communists to victory against all odds in 1949. But if the sight of weeping 'n' wailing Red Guards in Tien An Men Square while the Great Helmsman beamed down from the Emperors' old heavenly throne set alarm bells ringing, the Book of Revelations written by his doctor, describing all his earthly excess in putrid detail, made you want to call in the emergency services.
That was faith dressed up in politics. We now have the real thing; The Return of Religion: This Time It's Personal. One of the most powerful and pernicious myths of our time, welcome to the cult of the Dalai Lama. He ticks all the boxes that spiritually impoverished westerners could ever desire (and there's me thinking desire was a no-no). He's an earth-bound deity. A god king. Kind and wise granter of redemption - unless you're a Tibetan serf. Coz it's all illusion, see?
But question the old fraud and suddenly you are met with some very un-Buddhist howls of protest and a plethora of "How dare you?"s. Don't they know it's the revolutionary's duty to give a kicking to a myth when they see one?
The search for the ideal benevolent father figure is a universal. Coca-Cola knew this when they created the modern image of Santa Claus. Add to that the muscle wielded when the other kids knock over your sandcastle or teecher won't acknowledge your true worth, and the result is intoxicating.
Do I want to believe? You betcha! In a disintegrating world, I crave certainties as avidly as the next sistah. I, too, seek comfort. The reassurance that, somewhere out there, lies a sea of love in which I can immerse myself and wash away all pain. Perhaps it's the siren call to my innate hunger for spiritual parenting that makes me kick up when I see the seductive powers of the image. I happen to like my capacity for original thought, and anything that threatens to turn my brain into jelly can expect a rough ride.
As a schoolgirl I was relieved not to have been kept in China for my education during the Cultural Revolution, as my gobby character flaws would have made kneeling on broken glass an inevitability. But I saw enough of it to recognise the Red Guard types: bellowing bullies tasting power for the first time, high on self-righteousness and confident of a strong daddy behind them. Lacking in imagination themselves, they whacked anyone who didn't conform to their tramline minds. They scared me sumfink rotten.
Many of these Red Guards are now middle-aged depressives: self-loathing, guilt-ridden, unemployable or suicidal. That's a post-party hangover to beat all hangovers.
The specific conditions may have changed but the type remains. I'm sure you've spotted the phenomenon already and I hope, in the spirit of comradeship and siblinghood, you are not one yourself: those brittle sticks who think they are mighty oaks marking out the boundaries of what is allowed, making landgrabs in a shrinking thinking space.
What can we do but piss up against these fences?
So, in the Mean Time, I'll continue to batter my head against these walls even if it means signing them with splattered blood and brain matter. Don't worry — you can hose it down afterwards and obliterate all memory.
I am the lone dog pacing your purlieus; the barbarian at the gate. I am the carapace-free lungfish trapped where the sea has drained, gulping down the poisoned air and staring at the stars.
If you're one also, I'll shake you by the hand. If not, I'll probably want to shake you by the throat.
"Religion is the new social evil" Joseph Rowntree Foundation report