the empty self as the open door to rule by propaganda

A recent piece at Dissident Voice entitled The Global Crisis of Legitimacy and Liberation of the Empty Self’ caught my eye, mainly because I tend to believe that too many in our society are largely unaware that they even have inner lives, psycho-spiritual  inner selves, meaning that they haven’t actually examined their values and choices, residual emotional issues, etc., leading them to reflexively accept what this society has determined for them is ‘a successful life’, rather than a richly satisfying one; one that might lead to dying well, which is my personal measure of ‘a life well-lived’.  Many in that state often fill their personal void spaces with shopping, the newest gadgets, this year’s fashions, and other temporary fixes, the fullness only lasting so long, of course, since their true unrequited hungers may be wholly psycho-spiritual in origin.

In extreme form, those unexamined needs can pave the way to addictive behaviors underpinning wealth and property accumulation, power-seeking just for the thrill of it, even though, again, there are no permanently satisfying levels for those acquisitions that call off the hunt automatically once reached.  As: how much is enough?  Studies conclude that ‘enough for a relatively secure future’ is more than enough; no matter, the addicted can’t internalize that measurement, can they?

It doesn’t take much sensitivity to feel that there is an increasing background hum of dissatisfaction in the air, but my sense of it is that so much of it is a free-floating anxiety that folks may have chosen the wrong road, and are feeling isolated, lonely, often angry and fearful, and sense that something’s just not right.  My sense is also that they may go back and forth about their own part in the wrongness, but still are conditioned to cast blame outward, railing at the same authoritarian institutions they actually see as the authors of possible solutions to their discomforts.  Yes, a serious disconnect it is.  Many citizens alleviate their discomforts through joining a team, one that reinforces their personal beliefs or credos, not realizing that those often have cultural roots that have been thrust upon them.  To wit: think what schools have taught us: loads of American mythology and jingoism that amply demonstrated what part or parts we would need to play in an Exceptional capitalist society: work hard, make a lotta money, become President!  Might is right!

The author, Nozomi Hayase, has a different, but related, reason for hooking her essay to the empty self, rather by way of answering Ted Rall’s question about American passivity in the face of all that’s afoot these days in a dozen different fascist and unjust directions.  She begins her unraveling of the question with observations about the normalization and easy acceptance of manufactured perceptions of the current zeitgeist, the acceptance of ‘brands’ rather than substance, feel-good faux-political Blue v. Red team sports aided by phony media horse races and staged political drama.

She references the recent dramatic shifts within the various political labels, and the normalization of inhumane ideas and actions that were roundly condemned (say by ‘Liberals’) not long ago.   She reminds readers of Shock Doctrine fears and vulnerabilities leading to rather blithe acceptance of the overarching agendas that were the PTB’s agendas in any event.  All of those now-deadened senses coalesce into what she calls ‘a second skin’, blocking the pain from the heat as the Frogs Slowly Boil, i.e.: blocking out reality.  Not surprisingly, she sees this administration as the zenith of managed perceptions and extreme deadening gobbled up by the villagers on the teevee, popular music and movies, news as slick (often sick, I’d add) entertainment, etc.  That, writes Hayase, ‘creates a lukewarm feel-good political bath replacing real human experience with pseudo-reality. This artificially installed skin intermediates our experience of actual events’.

Zo, back to ‘the empty self’.  The term was coined by psychologist Philip Cushman in a book, and in this paper at the University of Texas (pdf, 13 pages) in which he theorized that a ‘self’s’ construction could only reasonably be examined within the context of the historical culture and milieus of the self’s time and place.  Hayase encapsulates the relevance of his work in her mind:

‘Psychoanalyst Phillip Cushman, in Constructing the Self, Constructing America, analyzed how in post-World War II United States, modern industrialization broke down the traditional social bonds (the pre-modern self having been one that is rooted in family, religious faith, tradition, and community: my addition from his writings) and restructured the reality of community and that out of this, a specific configuration of self emerged. He called it “the empty self”, “the bounded, masterful self” and described how it “has specific psychological boundaries, a sense of personal agency that is located within, and a wish to manipulate the external world for its own personal ends”. He characterized this empty self as one that “experiences a significant absence of community, tradition and shared meaning — a self that experiences these social absences and their consequences ‘interiority’ as a lack of personal conviction and worth; a self that embodies the absences, loneliness, and disappointments of life as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger”.

Cushman argued how this new configuration of self and its emotional hunger was indispensable to the development of US consumer culture.’

We can only assume that he’s speaking of a person’s unconscious desires, knowledge, and related derivations leading to external manipulation ‘for it’s own personal ends’.

She marches on to the relevance in postmodern USA:

‘Cushman argued how this new configuration of self and its emotional hunger was indispensable to the development of US consumer culture. Stuart Ewen, in his classic Captains of Consciousness, explored how modern advertising was used as a direct response to the needs of industrial capitalism through its functioning as an instrument for the “the creation of desires and habits”. “The vision of freedom which was being offered to Americans was one which continually relegated people to consumption, passivity and spectatorship”, Ewen saw this in the shift of economy from production to consumption and of personal identity from citizens to consumers.’

Yes, indeed, and she further quotes our old friend Edward Bernays, who parlayed his uncle Herr Doktor Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious into his book Propaganda, in which he states:

‘“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country”.

Hayase calls the work: “the executive arm of the invisible government.”  Good framing, isn’t it?

How do you sell propaganda, candidates, ideas, jingoist memes, or the need for unnecessary objects that will be tossed into the landfill six months later?  Easy, say Jung and his friend Marie-Louise von Franz: you play on unconscious archetypal drives and desires that can be easily projected externally.  Use this perfume: you’ll catch a husband; drive this car: watch da ladies flock to you; buy this huge house; go to this college; Need a new iPad? charge it!; need a facelift, breast augmentation to catch that special man?: 99 dollars down, sixty-three EZ payments! (don’t read the fine print); Vote for Hope and Change!  Drown government in a bathtub!  Well, you know it all…

The Commons are not Free Speech Zones!   Do not create intentional community with others.  Seek only what benefits you and yours since the economic shit is about to hit the fan again. We are Rugged Individualists.  Blue Team, Red Team means Choice!  Are you With Us, or Agin’ us?  Despondent?  Angry? There’s a Pill for that!  What the banks did may have been immoral, but it wasn’t illegal…Bomb for Democracy, Bomb for Peace; Don’t pay any attention to the man behind the curtain!  Keep the Homeland Secure!

And on and on the internalized allegiance to Product Authority goes, so few being able to resist with dulled senses and reasoned argument against the constant din of the consumer culture.  Those of the dissenting, creative, and rebel classes are crushed, jailed, and surveilled as ‘Terrorists’.

Manufactured propaganda is working very well in the current Government Shutdown ‘crisis’.  The R’s are behaving like such flagrant assholes that the D’s look benevolent in contrast.  But if you look more closely, as per David Dayen or Norman Pollack, you’ll see how false the framing really is, and what will happen as a result of Obomba’s sequestering.  No matter; the polls already show the R’s will be held culpable, as in Newtie Gingrich’s day.  The award-winning Obomba Brand has won (aided by the Crazy R’s of course).

But Hayase sees hope of course, as the wheels turn toward more and more global citizens acknowledging the illegitimacy of the institutions and governing bodies and that have sold out The People, and the abject perfidy of Ruling Elite whose crimes against humanity, both militarily and domestically should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  More and more of us are calling for true democracy, as we begin to pierce the Veil of Propaganda, creating new alternatives, manifestly proving that the need for our autonomy, our voices heard.  As more of us experience the horrors of the Planned Privations comin’ down the track soon, even the middle class citizens will feel more exposed, and will be forced to examine their beliefs and inner values.  Hayase again:

‘In this nakedness, therein lies the possibility for a true freedom. Only when our emptiness is fully confronted and accepted can we find our true autonomy. With emotions and desires that are truly our own can we guide the world into a future that springs from the depth of our imagination.

Who am I? Who are we? What do we want? The thirst for real democracy is a thirst to be free. It is the spirit that drives us to find our true aspirations within. Our self is empty. When society loses its grip and leaders become devoid of morals and compassion for humanity, we need to declare autonomy from all those outside that try to allure us and promise to fulfill our dreams. Through connecting with our own desires and passions we can fulfill the void of the empty self and transform empty slogans into real action. Only then will it be possible for us to become the authors of our own lives, transform history and take charge of our common destiny.’

From my own minuscule spot in the cosmos, it’s an article of faith that the positive changes that are occurring are part of the Revolution of Higher Consciousness foretold by many of the Indigenous prophets around the globe, calling for creating brotherhood among ourselves and with the planet in understanding that we are inextricably bound together both materially and spiritually.   They believe that there are ways to live in harmony, justice, and cooperation, knowing that we were meant to be creatures of cooperation, not competition.

Truth is coming, it will not stop.  You cannot kill an idea whose time has come.

What are your thoughts?  We’ve just skimmed the surface of managed perceptions and propaganda.  I know that many readers have developed able bullshit detectors, whether through my definition of a fuller self, through reading history, using analytical thought and reasoning.  Have you developed skills in aid of the Great Awakening in your communities?

But ya know what?  I suddenly feel like an idiot.  Having chosen this video accompaniment a couple weeks ago when I began researching for this piece (competing psychological theories, ontological (never mind the hardwired v. acquired arguments) and philosophical schools, and more), I’d forgotten that all I’d really needed to present was this John Trudell video.  His prose said it all, while I spent goodness knows how many words bending your ears (er…eyes).  Forgive me, please.

‘Trying to isolate us in a dimension called loneliness leading us into the trap believe in their power but not in ourselves piling us with guilt always taking the blame greed chasing out the balance trying to isolate us in a dimension called loneliness.’

Notes:  (After much reading, I find I don’t agree with Cushmam altogether, including his contention that modern psychotherapy promotes the ‘empty self’, but for this post, it’s of small matter.)

(Nazomi’s link to a longish Roar Magazine article on contrasting views on autonomy, revolutions against capitalism, the real democracy movement, fails now, oddly enough.  But in case you want to read it, I’m providing the link.)

(cross-posted at

24 responses to “the empty self as the open door to rule by propaganda

  1. My cat appears to be happy to see me attend to the regular cleaning of her litter box. Two pairs of thrift store, almost new blue jeans, one pair with a flannel lining, needing only slight attention on the sewing machine shorten the inseam two inches, under $5 total, for both of the pairs and a prayer for the departed soul who left them. Easy peasy. Frost sweetened baby spinach salad.

  2. lolololol!

    two prayerful actions in day? sublime!

    for me, one thing mr. wd taught me is to give thanks for the good tings that happened that day…before i sleep, and i do address the thanks to the god i scarcely care if i even believe in. but it gives me a chance to see which images are on my retinas (if that’s where they are; ‘mind’ seems too grand a location sometimes).

    spreading higher consciousness is more by ether than direct, at least for me. i keep wondering: how many more lessons do i need to learn before i die? plenty, i reckon.

    thank you, nonquixote. i’d bring ‘openings’ but it’s been deleted at youtube; odd.

  3. OR, having the wrong road FROZEN for us! InDeed, how does one save oneself from the so enthralled (individually and collectively, I’ve found , one “CANNAE” save them from themselves or one another)? Maybe a new Millenial MANTRA : “I have (had) enough; why would I want more?”
    The Time It Is Today may personify it; but Sometime epitomizes it (couldn’t link anything but the lyrics):

  4. Michael J Cavlan

    Wendy- Love as always- It seems that you are one of the few left at FDL that is worth a damn. Good work on this piece. Introspection and decolonizing of the mind. Fine way to build peaceful revolutionaries.

  5. ‘decolonizing the mind’! yes, how i’d forgotten the concept, michael cavlan. so glad ya liked it. it’s provoking some great discussion over yonder, which is great.

    i think most folks at fdl like quick read pieces, single comments abound, but some folks are willing to trudge through some of my long stuff, and i do appreciate it. (I hate other peoples’ long ones too often, and so many times i cannae even grasp them without a lotta googling; cassiodorus comes to mind: just too academic for my limited education.)

    and i will say that longer discussions happen far more often at my.fdl than at the mothership posts. and that’s cool, eh?

    the roar magazine piece is long, but about different ways to approach nonviolent revolution. i backed out of it halfway to save for later perusal. you might enjoy it.

    i saved a newish video on revolution, and if i can find it again, i’d like to piece it with some other themes and whatnot to make a post, but the timing ain’t quite right yet; so much other sturm and drang over staged political productions goin’ on iright now…

  6. hey, bruce.

    as far as persuasion goes, it’s tough to change a mind, lol. with folks seeking, timing is all, they say. but the main two ways to create a reset by breaking through strong defenses is either sliding softly under them (say, socratic dialogue, or similar psycho-spiritual questions, sharing our stories leading to epiphanies), or right between the eyes, lol.

    living by example, of course, and intentionally spreading goodwill and brotherhood into the noosphere, (jung’s collective consciousness is a bit different than what i’d remembered, really.)

    but i like your mantra. do you want me to embed the video if i can? i’m unfamiliar with the association, if ya remember ‘windy’, ya might guess why. ;)

  7. Good luck; the utube vid’s been supplanted by a Kennedy conspiracy link. But, beyond Windy, Jim Yester of The Association says Carl Jung’s animus archetype inspired his lyrics for (among others), Birthday Morning:

    All of their songs were not ear candy as Requiem for the Masses also demonstrated. In any case, we need to fulfill our otherwise empty selves.

  8. ‘ear candy’, lol. yeah, but even my continuing ed spanish teacher was kinda forced into calling me ‘vientosa’. (windbag?) ;)

    fulfill our selves until they disappear, perhaps? or am i doing too much reading. it’s kinda how i answered jaango, but on the other hand, told someone that enlightenment ain’t even a thing i’m striving for. i do get emails from different former fdl denizens asking me to only post my ethereal spiritual pieces, and telling me how horrid being angry over what punishment everday people are receiving courtesy of wall street aided by government, so…there’s that.

    ‘get rid of the ego, all will become clear’ messages. eeep. kinda shirley macclaine for me: ‘if you’re poor, it’s because you’re spiritually blocked’. okay, miz billionaire; tell that to the starving all over the planet…

    but isn’t this the video you wanted? at least it booted for me on youtube. let’s see.

    oh, and i took a quick refresher course in anima/animus. but jung was indeed more focused on the anima, perhaps because males didn’t seem to be in touch with their anima spirit as much, as i remember it. no, understood it, rather.

  9. Michael J Cavlan

  10. Michael J Cavlan

    Bernadette Devlin- A hero in my house. My mother (RIP) called her St Bernadette. Here is to uncolonized minds eh?

  11. Well, the Association is an all male group (whose “Sometime” was a cut off their ‘windy’ INSIGHT OUT 1967 album. But fulfilling ourselves in order to drain the gawdfersaken Sons of Bushs of their “compassionate conservatism” sounds correct (I’d NEVER Blame their victims)! Another relevant INSIGHT Off –

  12. sorry to leave a video and rush off, but i am starved for sleep again. thd left this over yonder; it’s:

    Henry A. Giroux: ‘ Hardened Cultures and the War on Youth’
    the themes he expounds on are very relevant to this discussion. That he says that any discussions of ‘The Culture of Cruelty’ are more pragmatic, not moralistic, might make sense for an academic, I reckon. but still… would that any Promoters of Social Cruelty of our youth be shamed into a serious reset.

    i shall return. (who said that? one of the kardashians, lol? or newtered gingrich? achmed chalabi?)

  13. isn’t that amazing? saint bernadette has yet another notion of the self, and its importance as a vehicle for justice for individuals whose voices have been subsumed into the collectives that she and the republicans find oppressive. well done, bernadette.

    oh: except for the ‘take up arms’ bits. michael, i know how far we differ on this, but while i would gladly die for a nonviolent revolution in this nation, i would not kill for it, nor would i call for others to do so.

  14. my goodness, bruce. were you a member of the band? (grin)

    i would like to believe i wouldn’t blame their victims, but i must say i am pretty peeved with second term obomba voters, especially the ones at fdl who knew exactly what he did, was doing, and would do more of. their wholesale swallowing of his brand’s propaganda made me sick to my stomach. One Love says i should accept them for their frailties, but it’s very hard for me. i will work on it. ;~)

  15. Per Giroux, thank you for the application of your scholarship to intellectual dispensation: The pen remains mightier …
    (And per the Oneders in ‘That Thing You Do’ [the movie], “Hey, wasn’t that our fan”? Re: free Association; I was their fan.

  16. Michael J Cavlan

    Wendy- Delighted that you got the point that St Bernie was making. stellar point that you make. I would never want you to.

  17. dunno ‘the thang you do’ movie, bruce. yes, words can move mountains, and his were stellar, if overly academized, imo. the band was fortunate in your fanship. mr.wd indicates that once was too, while wooing his high school sweetheart. ;~)

  18. then we are fine, michael cavlan; my best to you and miz michael cavlan. pleasant dreams.

  19. i just listened to the trudell ‘look at us’ video again, and was again thunderstruck about it’s brilliance. i’d told kurt sperry over yonder that my sole regret on the great thread was that not one soul had even mentioned it.

    my question to you is this: did you listen? if so, did it speak to you? if you clicked it on, but soon shut if off, was it because your ears did not allow you to hear past the sounds of the drums and native singing?

    feel free to answer honestly; i am curious.

  20. Michael J Cavlan

    Wendy- You truly are a beautiful soul. Go Raibh Maith Agat Mo Chara (My Thanks Goes With You My Comrade) Oh and Mrs Cavlan is my dream. LOL _ FYI- She is Ojibwe from the Lac Courte Oreilles Nation in Wisconsin. She laughs and says to me- Oh Mike- you are just with the Irish nation. Native women- can’t be beat.
    Love to you and your old man- grin.

  21. i do indeed remember that miz. michael cavlan is ojibway. very cool

    mr. wd grins back. but what about the trudell video, lol?

  22. Not finding the essay at fdl front and center where it should be, I have come to reply to your query why the Trudell wasn’t commented on. It’s a beautiful piece, positively aspecting the disparity between ‘full’ and empty and the promise of the latter. As such, I think I went astray in my own thought ramblings, should have gone back to my own part native grandmother’s depositing three (or younger) me under a tree in the bush, just to sit and listen to the bellbird while she was off maybe picking puha for dinner. Whether she did that purposefully or not – it is my earliest memory.

    I was gonna leave there this, but I’ll leave it here. I know the video jumps a bit, but it’s the best version I could find as far as authenticity and I like that it was recorded in Kenai.

  23. Casting off in another direction, wendye, I began to think of the Anasazi and Chaco Canyon. I’ve watched a few times the Redford piece on PBS, and I wish I had a better clue of how the Puebloans think of them. I have a definite feeling something was happening in that strange hub of commerce that took a sinister turn, priesthoods dabbling in darker arts, so that the Anasazi aren’t remembered entirely with veneration by their farming descendants today. But again, that is hard to discern; I don’t know at all well those things. Perhaps simply it was drought that caused their decline as in so many other places.

    Also, the experience of the Mexican Indians who came north with the Spanish into New Mexico – they had been an enslaved tribe under the Aztecs, and were not welcomed up north, so when the Spanish fled after the uprising, they left also.

    Also in New Zealand, before the white man, the powerful tribes did prey on the weaker ones. I am one-eighth native, from one of the kingly tribes. We were not angels. And we are not angels. We can, however, learn from our diverse better angels; we can indeed.

  24. thank you for the musical video, and yes: carefully taught. but the world teaches our children, too, and that’s a reality we’ve had to deal with, no?
    the dineh say that you don’t know whether or not you were a good parent until you know your grandchildren, but even that isn’t a good measure, imo.

    there’s a link at the end of the post on this page to the my.fdl version. the last several comments are me, jaango, and thd, attempting to talk about cultural variants to ‘Self’, or i guess the concept of ‘the empty self’. i’m not even sure thd or hayase quite got what cushman was saying, but then…how much can you put in one post? it’s always a hard choice, isn’t it?

    i’m not altogether up to speed, but the anasazi are now ‘the ancestral puebloans’, name change on accounta ‘anazasi’ being a slightly derogatory term given them by the navajo. but they puebloans know that they are the anasazi’s (heh) descendants. at least the zuni and hopi do.

    as far as chaco, hoo, doggies! for a long time a battle has raged over the fact that human bones have been discovered at certain sites with human teeth marks on them. oopsie, flame wars against the first archaeologists to conclude that they must be evidence of cannibalism. (i don’t remember which sites) but not very long ago human scat was discovered that actually had human dna in it, so that, and other finds, seemed to be pretty conclusive evidence.

    crow canyon archeological center has community outreach to the various pueblos, attempting to in effect, soften the blows, show the evidence, etc.
    but at chaco itself, some speculation has certainly gone on, as in this piece i found from 2005, couldn’t want to spend time for more recent articles, that discusses the possibility that dark forces from mexico came and used it as a too of subjugation. yes, that would work, eh?

    but yes, there is apparently evidence that some tribes in africa kept slaves, and even sold their vanquished enemies to slave traders, isn’t there? what a complicated world.

    thanks for your additional historical bits about nz, mexicans and the spanish.

care to comment? (no registration required)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s