By Roland Watson
To close this series, I want to return to values. As I have suggested, a major factor in our wide-ranging problems is our underlying set of values.
The question is, whose values do we follow? The answer: the values of our social institutions. And, where do we get them? Again, from the institutions themselves, meaning from our political and religious leaders, from schools, from companies, both in their role as producers and as employers, and from the media.
What's a value?
The concept of values is broad. From my earlier definition of culture, we can see that it includes our beliefs and motivations, our ethics and behavioral standards, and even our dreams and aspirations. Values also vary widely around the world, but the basic value, the first value, which holds everywhere, is that you should accept your place in the social order, that you must in fact submit to it. You must be obedient.
We also saw that you should reject your culture's values if they are barbaric, and as I will now demonstrate, many values in place around the world are very, very barbaric.
Oppression of women
Consider a young girl in a North African or Middle Eastern country. Her place is to accept her inferiority. Men in such nations are superior, as ordained by "God." The girl must be cloistered away from public view, or when in public covered head to toe so as not to be seen. She is also not to be educated. And, at puberty, her genitals are to be circumcised, to be cut off completely, so she receives no pleasure from sex. Sexual pleasure is reserved for men, and she is merely an object, a tool, a possession, that men use to achieve this pleasure.
Or, consider young girls throughout Asia. They are also inferior to boys. Their births are frowned upon, seen as ill omens. They are often killed at birth, or now, revealed as female by modern technology, prior to birth. In life, they are fed and educated less. And, it is considered entirely customary to sell them, like farm animals, into bondage: into hard labor or sexual slavery.
In the series on Fighting Form, I described the success of the women's liberation movement in the U.S. and Western Europe in defeating the harsh and brutal form of gender-based role definition. But, the value underlying this form lives on, it is stronger than ever, in many cultures worldwide. Also, if you ever doubt the power of form, this is proof of it. The women in the just described cultures accept this treatment, they accept their inferiority. Indeed, the circumcision of girls is performed by older women, who were themselves circumcised when they were young, and who see it as right and necessary, as an essential step in preserving the values of their culture. (I defy anyone to say that there is no such thing as brainwashing.)
There are also many values that are inherent in the modern social system, and I will list a number of the most noteworthy of them now. However, many of these values are actually only modern manifestations or restatements of traditional values. Little has really changed.
First, personal identity is a function of your role in society. Most importantly, it is associated with your employment. It is not seen as the outcome of your lifelong development into a unique individual.
Second, ideas have value only to the extent that they are acceptable to the system. Originality is anathema, unless it furthers the system's goals. In the modern context, this means that new ideas in science and technology are considered to be far more important than new philosophy, literature and art.
Similarly, entertainment, our modern tranquilizer, is much more important than education. Education, real education, is actually feared by society, since it leads to enlightenment, and hence rebellion.
Third, and following from this, you should seek to satisfy your senses, not your mind. Also, you should do it now. Do not deny yourself. When you are faced with a choice between gratifying yourself immediately, and working for the sake of some future, uncertain goal, you should always choose the former. Take the easy way out!
Interestingly, though, this value is actually the exception. It applies for the most part only to consumption. There is a subtle distinction here. The value that applies to life in general is: Live for the Future; Ignore the Present; Forget the Past.
Fourth, you should not seek to limit your personal selfishness in any way. You should always want more. And, you should always ask: "What's in it for me?"
Fifth, Nice guys finish last. It is acceptable to manipulate people to get what you want. It is acceptable to be unethical. It is even acceptable to commit crimes, especially if you can get away with them.
Sixth, rebellion, though, is not acceptable. Indeed, it is the highest crime. Here is a quote from Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.
"... no offense is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behavior. Murder kills only the individual - and, after all, what is an individual? Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at society itself."
Competition above all
The seventh value is that the ultimate good, and the fundamental basis of society, is competition. You must compete, and you must win. However you do it, you must find a way to be better than other people. If necessary, you must even sell yourself.
And - again - you must do it now. There is no time to waste. Traditionally, people had - they required - great patience. Think of hunting with a spear, or a bow and arrow. Now, there is no time for patience. Everyone is in a rush, all the time. There is not even a variation by season anymore. It is go go go, all year round.
In this competitive battle, society makes no allowance for losers. A loser is nothing! It is worth letting nine hundred and ninety-nine people fail, if the one remaining is a great success. We prize the winner, and ignore the rest.
In this way, modern values encourage hero worship and idolatry. This is another aspect of our social identity. We win vicariously. We identify with the few, socially prescribed victors.
Of course, you might say that this is too harsh a view. You might think I am wrong when I say that all but the chosen few fail, and believe instead that the majority of people do just fine. The issue, then, is when I say that one in one thousand succeed, what measure am I using?
Here, I will agree that it is not that of such measures as the traditional American Dream. Close to one thousand out of one thousand people have a job, a house or apartment, food, a car in the garage, etc., and in many cases the job is tolerable, the house and furnishings stylish, and the food and car of good quality.
The "value" of fame
But, this is not the measure to which I am referring. Social goals have evolved, and now set a far more exacting standard. Where formerly we were taught to seek comfort, security, good health, and some measure of control over our lives, now we are expected to aspire to great wealth, ideal beauty, and unlimited power.
More than anything, we are taught that the unequivocal social good is fame, and that you are only truly a success if you become a celebrity.
The great paradox, irony and tragedy of modern life is that we want equality, and are now quite possibly in a position to attain it, but instead we get winners.
We know we are, and we want to be, equal. But the system does not want equality. It wants great inequality, and the clearest, most easily conveyed example of this is not wealth, or beauty, or even power. Rather, it is fame.
But I am not talking about the fame that is based on selfless heroism, which is usually humbly, even regretfully, accepted. I am not referring to the ethic that to be heroic is at times a duty, and that it is never done to earn a reward. Instead, the fame that society exalts is based on comparison and competition, fame that assumes differences in human quality and value, fame that assumes we should try our hardest to be better than others.
Even this, though, as fundamentally divisive as it is, is not all. The fame that we are told to seek is in many cases not available to us, no matter how hard we strive or how much merit we exhibit. For us, it is a chimera; an illusion. Such fame is reserved for those people who have been given society's unfair advantages, starting with nepotism. The competition is slanted; rigged. The fix is in, and the winner - not us - is all but assured.
The objective is our surrender
Finally, all of this, this redefinition of values and purpose, has itself been accomplished as a means to another, deeper end. The ultimate goal of the system is to get us to give up, to recognize that we cannot and never will win. And, given that it sets the standards and judges the contest, insofar as we continue to play the game, its game, it is probably right.
Society wants us to accept our subjugation as inevitable; as fate. It wants us to accept determinism, and to believe that nothing, at least nothing of any importance, can ever be changed. Life - our lives - and the society in which we live them, are in this way fundamentally out of our control. But, and this is the point, while they may be out of our control, they are not out of theirs! The leaders of society, of our social institutions, have and will retain their own free will. They will be free, and will rule as the masters of our determinism.
Fortunately, many people grasp all of this and are refusing to play the game, and others reject it even though they do not fully understand it. For example, the average American's reflexive support for the underdog, can be seen as an unconscious defense against the cult of the winner.
The measures of subjugation
Since by definition most people cannot achieve fame, there has to be another measure, or measures, by which we can be distinguished, to ensure that equality never takes hold. For this reason, personal value is now presented as being a function of your wealth. The more money you have, the more important you are. And, personal value is also based on your appearance, specifically, how beautiful and youthful you are. Moreover, you are actually a success as your appearance is judged by others. Your own views are irrelevant.
You might wonder, after considering all of these "values," what sort of success this is, what standard of success we are now judged by? This is a quote from a young man, Spenser Somers, who died in 1990 at the age of eighteen, from cancer. He said:
"Success should not be measured by grades, or dollar signs, but by how often you laugh, and by how many people you can make smile in a day."
The modern world is a long way from such a measure.
This, then, is the history of homo sapiens. It is our route from a simple, traditional world, to the modern society I have just described. We have traveled from a world with limited and primitive institutions, to one where they are pervasive and all powerful. We have journeyed from a harsh and challenging setting, where we had to live and survive in nature, but where we were free, free to use our wits and resources in this task, to an in many ways much less challenging environment, divorced from nature, but where we have lost our freedom, where it has been taken away by form. The history of the human race is this progression: from freedom to form.
Where we will go now is anybody's guess. It is the subject of chance. But one thing is certain, things will change. As my next series of articles, on Social Breakdown, will make clear, our present circumstances can in no way be described as an equilibrium. And, as we have seen, when a system is out of equilibrium it seeks to establish one, no matter what might be involved in the process.
© Roland Watson 2014