Power, Ideology, and the Western Epistemology

Every movement driven by ideology of any kind will eventually massacre, maim, murder, torture, and terrorize in the name of its ideals, if it can get the means, acquire enough support, and evade eradication. It could be a movement for peace and lollipops led by Bambi and Mother Theresa, and it would shoot your family in the back of the head to hold onto power if it ever even accidentally got enough of it. The mistake is thinking that there are multiple organisms of power which can replace one another, leaving open the possibility that some can be good and some bad. That isn’t the case. There is only one organism, overlapping industry, commerce, finance, food, energy, governments, religious corporations, publishing, information, communications, education, and indeed all institutions.

One of the most famous Tabletop Games of all time, Call of CthulhuPower is a single living thing, And the power in Iran is no different than that in the US or in Stockholm or in Bank of America or in a university or in the cubicle farms or the jungles with machine guns. We only participate in it, not change it. You can swap out people and what they say they think, intend, or believe, but this is not an alternation in the thing itself. It is merely power’s inherent and essential operation of moving people in and out, of revolution, itself as a biological process like breathing that gives it enhanced vitality. I’ve come to the conclusion that all believers are just murderers who haven’t been promoted yet, but are on-call in case their turn falls within their lifetime. In the meantime, they’re just livestock, like the rest of us, for leviathan. We power it and make it go. Almost no one I know sees it this way, because it’s an answer about the world and the self’s place in it that is too objectionable to be faced. But it is, nonetheless, what I think is true.

I’ll go one worse – not only is all of that so, but even those of us who don’t believe in anything are merely awaiting our turn to believe. The guy at the door w. the Watchtower, the guy taking names for a petition outside the post office, the guy with the bumper sticker that says “vote this Tuesday” – we’re all waiting to be that guy, whenever we quote management theory, or mouth the standard interpretation of Descartes that we learned in school, or just sit down and watch an hour of television. We’re all just waiting for our turn to believe, for our rotation, our swapping in. And a minority of those will pilot the drones, put a sack over a prisoner’s head, shove around some kid at the mall bulging over the midriff from one too many donuts, take money at a liquor inspection, misrepresent funding to a client, or get elected, or whatever other role we play within the beast.

All the theories of power are too narrow. They deny this notion that it is rooted in the cosmos itself, and is as inescapable and intractable as death. It is, if you will, the order of human experience. That nice lady who bakes cookies and puts money in the offering plate – she may not turn away when the Mexican is beaten up by nightsticks and killed by the people sworn to protect and serve, and she may decry the secret prisons and the continual Tonkin Incidents, but somewhere there is someone that she’ll close her ears to. Nice people kill you with pretending you’re not there. They don’t maintenance the planes – that’s not their assignment. In our world, Bambi is a murderer. That stuff you see of cats playing with a live mouse, or the brutality of a cheetah taking down prey – that’s the entire story of human existence. The rest is waiting our turn.

What it’s now popular to call “liberal democracy” is the dominant Faith of our age, as Roman Catholicism was once the Western Faith, and Protestantism after that, each successively creating a cultural revolution and its own age of imperialism. Indeed, I view the entirety of Western history as an experiment in the heretical spinning away from a historical center, beginning with the departure of the See of Rome and its cultural embrace – the transforming of what was essentially a historical, visceral, ascetic, almost tribal reality into a theoretical belief-system.

After all, the West views it that way too, whether it has spoken of Fiore’s 3 ages, historicizing the Trinity into an age of the Father, age of the Son, and so on, or it’s the very notion of Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern eras based on that, a concept created in the alchemical world of the Western Middle Ages, or it’s Hegel’s historical process terminating in the Age of the Spirit, or it is the belief/ideology of the liberal democrats (be they Republican, Libertarian, Liberal, Progressive…) that, we’ve reached a belief system or ideology that is the consensus of the world and the ages, if often imposed non-consensually on both – what Fukuyama called “the End of History” – the ultimate or terminal ideological framework. That is, after all, a tenet of the framework itself – that this is it – this is the right, good, true, best, most free, whatever ideology. Hence its patronage, patriarchal imposition, and patronization of the world in much the fashion that previous imperialisms have done – whether in the Crusades of the Roman See, the “Age of Imperialism” to follow, or the march toward personalized, individualized “freedom” in the form of various representative Republics, as offered by the new religion. The dominant Faith has not achieved the full fruition of hegemony yet. But it is certainly getting there through cultural imperialism – Or if one doesn’t like words bandied about that are used by its opponents, then by cultural means. The difference here is, of course, that this particular church isn’t intent as the previous one on achieving a balance of power over wealth extraction from colonies and homelands, but instead a policy of perpetual warfare for said extraction. The question is not *if* we will fight, but who is next.

In any of the successive Faiths of the West, there was a terminal end condition proposed that is offered as paradisical. Sure not every adherent specialized in, cared about, or as ideologues want to put it “believed” in that eschatology. But it is nonetheless a core cultural component. For the Roman Catholics, it was a “Christianized” world, bowed to “the cross”, represented symbolically as well as tangibly in the conquest of Jerusalem. For the Protestants, it was the Millennial Age, the transformation of a metaphorical, typological reality into an actual historical period (which lent itself readily to any number of historical teologies – Marxism for instance, as easily as the horsemen of Billy Graham). For liberal democracy, it is the adoption of liberal democracy, the condition that both reaffirms their underlying belief, and is the terminal goal of it, the desired paradisical end condition. The premise is that the consensus of history and the world is being achieved, just as a previous era believed it was the “Christinianization” of history and the world that was being achieved.

I’m aware that the consensus premise is a tenet of the Faith, in other words. So much so that to question its obviousness among many believers (in the rightness and goodness of the new Rome, the new Jerusalem, the new Geneva, the new Soviet, whatever you wish to call the holy land of America), is to doubt the obvious, to be almost a fool, to challenge the fabric of history and culture and common sense itself, so ingrained is this notion of historical and cultural consensus. It is to challenge the essence of wisdom – to speak nonsense.

To me it’s still a cultural heresy, though – not because I’m a believer in any alternate ideology, but because I insist upon history itself, not the theoretical doctrines of it, on the tangible, visceral, almost tribal reality that the successive ideologies of the West have sought to transform into theory. People ask, aren’t you Orthodox? Sure, but this is not a theoretical church “based” on the teachings of Christ, but the actual Church that Christ built by gathering the apostles and instructing them – that very historical reality which has never ceased to continue existing. It took the departure of the Roman See to create, for the West, a “Christianity” in the form of ideology, a belief system in place of a fundamental asceticism, a “what we hold to be true” rather than a what we know, experience, and do.

Seems like a small shift, but the historical record demonstrates otherwise. We are here today, chatting away on the internet, precisely because of that apostasy, that revolution. We each have a combination of positive experience, psychological dysfunction, and political delusion with regard to our personal autonomy, liberty, or freedom. I simply can’t look at consensus in the liberal democratic Faith without remembering Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam, and we could fill all the whitespace with our list if we want to talk about the secret wars in Latin America in the 1980s.

Those hundreds of millions dead make it hard for me to join in the kum-ba-yah talk of consensus, which strikes me as the singing after the revolution, while Stalin disposes of 50 million Russians. Easy enough to sing if you’re still there. My people experience the dead as still living – we talk to them, we go to them, we are still connected to them. It’s not an ideology but a tangible and historical reality that we experience – something we do or that has happened to us, not something we “believe” in the same way a Protestant believes in sola scriptura or a patriot believes in the flag. We are not ‘constructing’ an ideology but simply continuing (which is why I used the word ‘tribal’) in a body of activity – an ekkumene/economy of experience.

It is hard, therefore, to see talk of consensus by those ideologies that have presumably silenced those who are still so loud in our ears, and remain so until we join them. So it’s not a matter of not liking – it’s that I’m aware of the tenets (such as that we’ve arrived at the most good for the most people, or the most widely accepted model, or some other form of consensus-based theory – i.e. the premise of liberal democracy itself) – I’m aware that they are believed (that they are tenets in one denominational variation or another) – and I don’t believe. It’s not a question of like but of credulity. I’m with the dead, and with my own people, and for myself, not for any theory.

Incidentally, it’s true that Orthodox use the words “I believe” at the beginning of our creed. However, this is almost universally misunderstood. In the West, believing takes on primarily positive value – it is a statement of ideology, of fealty to an abstraction or a theoretical concept, a tenet of religious philosophy. To believe is to take a position of asserting that a thing is true. So ingrained is the quality of positive belief, as the very concept of belief, that to say “I believe” can scarcely be understood any other way in the West. Indeed, it is for this reason that the West felt free to modify the creed as its philosophy evolved – the positive content of its belief changed, so the positive statement of its belief changed. On the other hand, the Orthodox who had written the creed in the first place, were willing to let the West go form a new religion, the Roman Catholic Church, rather than permit the transformation of their religion into an ideology or their community into a theoretical entity – an institution predicated on various hypothetical claims to ‘authority’.

That’s the level of resistance they had to this understanding of “I believe” – the level of resistance to ideology itself and to the hegemony of abstractions. For the Orthodox, the “I believe” is a statement with primarily negative value. The Orthodox did not author the Creed as a list of doctrinal distinctions of our religion, like a pamphlet offering the features of a religious product, with various market differentiators. Rather, the creed is a series of ritual statements, liturgical ones, that have the value of rejecting precisely various ideologies actively assaulting the community – by, in effect, replacing and supplanting their concepts, assertions, or methodologies. It was born out of the defense of its own against seduction by heresy, by ideological abstractions. In that sense, it is more of a renunciation than a profession. Vladimir Lossky has pointed this out in the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.

For us, the mind that says “I believe” is not listing abstractions which we think, suppose, or presume are true as an act of saying “here is the truth – it is contained in words – it is philosophical, theoretical, abstract – let us communicate it”, but rather the mind saying “I believe” is engaged in an active, militant rejection of assault by precisely the world of religious philosophers and their bid to transform faith and the Faith into ideology or religious philosophy. The Great Schism was not a tiff over a few words, but a schism over an entire cultural worldview and attitude toward reality, life, existence, meaning, the future (history), and identity.

It is for this reason that when the See of Rome finally tore down the silver shields from St. Peter’s Basilica, placed there by Pope St. Leo the Great, who we venerate to this day, on which the eternal and inviolable defense of the faith was written (that’s what the Creed is – a defense of the faith, not a speculative codification of it, a denial, not a list of exploratory hypotheses), and they ordered the West to begin uttering the new confession as precisely an ideological rubric – a set of positive philosophical speculations or utterances, we then also removed something – we removed (1014AD) the name of the Roman Patriarch from the dyptichs, the prayers that venerate Orthodox patriarchs as such. It was a recognition that they had torn down their inclusion in our community – indeed they had rent apart the world in their quest for an abstraction which they now termed “God”, thereby blaspheming the all-personal deity himself.

They had become ideologues, people with a theory of the church, an “ecclesiological claim to authority”, and were no longer simply continuously essential participants in the historical church that Christ had made. They transformed faith into “belief”, religion into religious philosophy, the creed into a doctrinal statement, and began the self-definition of the West as on a historical quest for abstract identity (e.g. “Europe” itself and “Christian Europe”) which ultimately was met in the antithesis of Protestantism (and “the New World”) and the synthesis of ‘liberal democracy’ (e.g. “the West”). They had been what we were but were now a new/novel and very different thing, and the world has suffered as much from what they have wreaked upon it (need we recount?) as from their absence as members of our community (resulting in the fall of New Rome in 1453. That initial change though, made the West essentially a philosophical/ideological phenomenon.

The essence of the West is ideology – the quest for abstraction. And that transformation – the removal of its roots in the universal ekkumene of a global community constituted in historical, tribal, visceral experience – the vacuum that removal created in the West – accelerated its ability to wed itself to other arms of abstraction and ideology – be it political philosophies and that sphere, economic theories and that sphere, even military, industrial-corporate, and social-cultural sciences. All of those things were utilized by the Orthodox, of course, but were distinct from the Faith. The anchor was still the tangible, historical community – the people. Indeed, it was rooted ultimately in the personal. In the West, the ascendance of idea over personality, abstraction over persons resulted in the history of the past 1000 years that really doesn’t need recounting, and even the idea of “the people” became fundamentally an abstraction – a theoretical component for modular use by various ideologies. The West even finally sent its Hegelian dialectic back, like a strapped on bomb, to the third Rome, Russia, in the form of Marx’s ideas, with results we’ve mentioned.

Ultimately, we are at the end, if this is the end (Fukuyama’s book is really worth reading), not because the current ideological consensus that gives us such “freedom” and comfort isn’t built on a vast expanse of skulls, like a shopping mall built on an Indian graveyard (ala Poltergeist, which is often misunderstood too – the point is our institutions are built on genocide – King has written about this stuff too – e.g. Pet Sematary and others). Rather, we are at an end of sorts, because the West can’t resolve its own dilemma of being essentially ahistorical, questing for an abstraction that isn’t there, by means of a dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) that drops it off exactly where we are now, inevitably, at a place that equips us with wonderful notions like “freedom” (an abstraction) but an ever increasing consolidation of power, control, and starvation of personality within those abstractions.

Micro-ideologies then, that draw upon the world as offered by this system of ideological abstraction, inevitably repeat its cycle in small – if they survive long enough. Along the way, they reach a place in the elevation of abstraction over person, and the corresponding reduction of person to abstraction (because of the Western assumption, every area of ideology has corresponding implications for all other areas – anthropology – the idea of what a person is – most significantly). The person becomes machine like, a part of the ideological process – supporters/allies, and opponents especially are reduced to the status of disposable (by being reduced to some form of abstraction (those liberals, those populists, those people) – and you can always dispose of an idea – it’s not a person anymore. They are villified and denounced, and, if the movement can get enough power, silenced or deprived in some form or another. Whatever else occurs, someone’s ideology ascends and some set of persons is trod down. When we talk of good or successful micro-ideologies, of their “benefits” (like features of a product), we skip over the people they’ve hurt, the voices that have been silenced. We speak only of the clean shopping mall on top of the graveyard. Power is the all-consuming Cthulu, and ideology is the incantation that continually calls it forth in various abominable incarnations.

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