A great number of Americans no longer live in the real world; they subscribe instead to a false reality, composed by a false creator I would describe as the "American demiurge". The American demiurge is a deliberate distortion of consensual reality, a false idol erected by marketers, lobbyists, editors, advertisers, public relations executives and “spin doctors”.
The ancient Gnostics were troubled by a dissonance between the reality we wish for and the world as it is. If God is good, why make a universe that includes childhood cancer and suffering innocents? They imagined a creature called the demiurge, a “false god”, who created this imperfect, indifferent reality. The true Creator, they believed, exists on a plane beyond the one we can perceive. Humanity worships a cruel deceiver, while the God of the Real languishes unseen, and weeps for our self-inflicted wounds.
Human dictators have always tried to construct a flattering version of reality as a means of social control. The oppressed may comply with the slogans and the rituals, but more than a few know they’re being lied to. Americans, of course, are free to flatter and lie to themselves, to embrace our self-made chains and customize them with charms and ring-tones, too. Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda and advertising, called this “engineered consent”, “crystallizing public opinion”. The techniques were used by Goebells to sell Hitler, and by Bernays to sell cigarettes. The heirs of Bernays and Goebbels, professional illusionists, now dominate our culture.
Imagine our perception of reality as a bead on a wire, with absolute truth represented by a mark at the center of the wire. We adjust the bead this way or that, but because our senses can never hold all the permutations of an event, the best we can hope for is to get the bead a little closer or a little further from the truth. Wander too far from the truth, and the bead slides off the end of the wire and falls to the ground.
Still, mundus vult decipi-- “the World wants to be deceived.” Americans have again and again elected administrations that shape reality by manipulating our perception of what is true. The opposition sputters like a straight man trying to out talk the Marx Brothers; serious men are made to look like fools, and fools elevated to the presidency. We have had eight years of a White House that mocked “the reality based community” and denied the existence of any truth that could not be altered with the proper mental framework. This is an ethic as old as making a lame horse look healthy, or gilding a leaden crown.
When reality catches up with us, when brute fact slaps down our mental constructs, the showmen shout down the dissidents until the rubes doubt the evidence of their own eyes. We have wandered far from objective reality and embraced what will sell. The mainstream rushes to the theatres, swallows the panaceas, votes for the best marketing campaign. The counterculture is likewise compromised; the rebel’s cri de coeur will be used tomorrow as an anthem to market clothing, cars, and retirement plans.
Self-delusion has attached itself to our commercial culture like a virus mimicking the genetic code of a cell. The Fourth Estate currently wallows in celebrity coverage and revels in shame like an alcoholic in the gutter. News executives can no more resist the latest frenzy than a fish can rebel against the sea it swims in.
Marketers and public relations executives, high priests of the demiurge, are as amoral as a weapons engineer who sees each murderous device as an interesting technical problem. They smile, they flatter, they insinuate, they distort, and take great
personal offense if someone calls them a liar. The logic of the marketplace convinces them of the virtue of almost any cause, whether selling toothpaste or a politician or a war.
If our culture has a dysfunctional relationship with reality, the first step would be to recognize that we have a problem. Our task is to insist that simple honesty is recognized as the essential policy in the marketplace of ideas, and warn our citizens that the American demiurge is a god of illusion.
An Irish bishop, George Berkeley, once “proved” that matter did not exist. Dr. Johnson refuted Bishop‘s notion by kicking a stone and saying, “I refute it thus”. The rock that Dr. Johnson kicked has been picked up by the fellaheen around the world, and they aim to put it through our front window and hit someone in the head.
© 2007 by Michael Fountain