Why does the movie car chase; the movie tough guy like de Niro and Statham; the guy or girl who stays cool and gives as good as they get; all this; why does it draw us to it; what is at work here?
Why do warplanes and large weaponry like aircraft carriers and strike jets; assualt rifles and armoured cars all carry a glamorous sheen of attraction to men in particular? For women (maybe) why do curvy pencil thin models and luridly named perfumes like Mandate and Lust; like Sin and Abandon; draw in the shoppers? What is going on?
All this appeals; this is not to say it is an instinctual appeal; one stamped into human nature – whatever human nature might be – like a coin is minted with a hammered image of its source indented, imprinted, embossed, in relief upon it.
Even certain items made or created by men and women – like cars and fast machines – stage shows and festivals – certain looks and styles – appear to be able to draw merely by their mention to their affictionadoes.
Now as I wrote in a piece I made lately, there are native South American indigenous peoples who have not had extensive contact with what we know as the world; and who have consequently no conception of number beyond the numbers two or three. These native peoples live their lives and manage pretty well in their environs without needing or missing and longing for any further than a very basic limited sense of number. Now this being the case, hard for us to understand how it is so, then certainly something like the buzzes of adrenalin surges stimulated in us by the crazy activities and products I mention above; surely our responses to these things are to a huge degree learned behaviours; and as such are behaviours which we have no innate and inalienable necessity to do and to experience them; and they are thus nothing at all to do with say human evolutionary advantage and selective adaptation in terms of the natural world.
Of this I am pretty sure. Much of the anthropological and biological science; as well as the examples of persons to whom all these thrills and spills are the mere distractions of smokes and mirrors from what they see as their main business of life; represent the evidence which leads me to a conclusion that our lusts for sports and racing; for glamorous clothes and persons and products; and for the thrills and spills of movies; all of this is learned behaviour; and this learned aspect of it implies that somewhere there are teachers who or which reinforce the behaviours in us.
Take the way we respond like magic to the mention of our name in company. We turn as if on a pinhead when someone behind us mentions our name; as if instinctual but yet our name is a given name and is learned by us to be our name. This is how second nature learning and reinforcement can be and become in us.
The tinpot psychology has it that these pastimes and recreational occupations are needed by us; that they are our vents and our means of letting off hot air; and the implication in this approach is that without such vents to blow from, we people would be even more at one another’s throats than we are right now.
Indeed in a mass society which needs mass production and mass direction of workers and populations in order for our society to provide for us all well enough; it may well be the case that we need some respite spaces in which we can feel free and unrestricted; and so able to air our pent up feelings of frustration and angst. Our society does impose upon us quite a lot of external constraint – traffic regulations; shift-work; rules of conduct; set hours in which one must be available or at work and so on; besides the pressures of family life, especially when it is with young children to look after. We can say we need a pint in the pub or to walk the dog take it easily and feel free; to get one’s hair styled or to go out for a meal.
The questions arise however:
1. Is this need for relaxation and for recreation time anything more than a natural animal response to imposed constraints; would a creature in a cage in a zoo feel much the same way from time to time; is our civilization and its constraints in this regard an unnatural state in fact?
2. Do those things which we do or partake in, and by which we as individuals discretely choose to blow off hot air in their doing; are these things, which are different for different individuals, necessarily the things essentially required for us to get some leisure time spent well upon? Would instead of a soccer match , and in different circumstances, a nail polish and varnish do for him otherwise? And instead of a hair job for her would some weightlifting or some tag wrestling do instead?
3. And were we living lives less organised from authority above us, and so instead feeling rather freer most of the time than urban modern life allows us to feel; would a need still be so great in us for such mad and extravagant indulgence to get our heads cleared out for the next round of imposed restraints?
My own view is pretty sure that our recreations, hobbies, pastimes, work-outs, whatever; are all conditioned and might easily have been or else become different at different times under different circumstances. My own view says that many such workouts etc and recreations of ours are conditioned largely, in many cases massively, by media and by commercial interests; into which many, maybe most of us buy, so that we can be carried along by and on a wave of stimuli which include responses to peer pressures; to adverts; to class and social aspirations; by feeling one is joining-up and joining-in; that in the safety of numbers, by being within the crowd, we may feel more secure and less haunted by our individual ghosts and by our general existential fears and disquiets.
Insofar as this assessment of mine is accurate; then what we are acquiescing in here are routes to escape the pressures of life and of lingering awareness of the human existential condition. In short we are seeking deliberately to avoid Plato’s recommendation, to turn it on its head, which says ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’. We are voting with our feet that ‘The examined life is too onerous to bear’.
Hence we acquiesce in our being helped off to ‘sleep’; and we acquiesce out of a blind choice deliberately made by us; blind because it turns its head away from any alternative; choice because it is selected in at least latent awareness that the choice being made is at bottom a diversion, a temporary fix, to a problem which will inevitably arise again for us at some point in our lives. We prefer the back of Plato’s cave or else the ‘incubator’ in The Matrix over and above taking hold on our lives and seeing them as something more than Theme Park rides to forgetfulness.
Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey landed on the Isle of The Lotos Eaters, where the people feed on the Lotos plants which stupefy them into a permanent drugged and languid haze. Tennyson wrote about this Island that:
“In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.”
The Island is a place in the mind whereabouts many people choose to dwell rather than ‘go out into the world’ and at our Lord’s behest ‘make disciples of all nations’; – ironically many persons opted into The Matrix or into The Back of the Cave for living their lives within, will say when asked that followers of Christ are the escapists; are that set of persons who cannot face up to the ‘facts’ of life and so they hide behind ‘dreams and fancies’. However the reverse it true and i come to this later, but for now I want to say that the upshot for living a life ‘asleep’ in The Matrix is that one experiences life as if life were a reflection in a mirror of what actual life might really be. Tennyson again, this time from his poem The Lady of Shalott:
There she weaves both night and day A magic web with colours gay. She has heard a whisper say, A curse is on her if she stay To look down to Camelot. She knows not what the curse may be, And so she weaveth steadily, And little other care hath she, The Lady of Shalott. And moving through a mirror clear That hangs before her all the year, Shadows of the world appear. There she sees the highway near Winding down to Camelot:
‘Camelot’ might be considered in the context I want to place it in, as a realisation of actual ‘awakened’ life lived; and The Lady able only or allowed only to view ‘Camelot’ through the medium of her mirror. She is incarcerated in a tower and carries on a life of pretty steady and grinding routine ‘under a curse’ until she revolts from the confinements she lives under and breaks the mirror and so breaks free also. Of course Tennyson has The Lady die once she has broken free – a consequence of that curse upon her one presumes – and this demise indeed represents a popular view of what happens to a person when a person chooses to ‘awaken’ and so to exit the Matrix or The Cave. The prophet Isaiah tells us how of he himself fared when he first saw his vision of God which became his own personal ‘awakening’ from ‘sleep’ into prophethood:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah is dismayed at his first sight of God amongst The Cherubim; and he fears he is doomed to die, he having looked on the form of God himself; just as The Lady of Shalott dies upon her own ‘awakening’. But Isaiah instead is purged of committing sin in the words he speaks, by way of a hot coal from the holy fires being plucked up and touched upon his lips so as to purge them holy and clean. Then next he volunteers himself to be God’s messenger, a prophet, upon God asking a general and non-coercive question ‘Who will go for us?’ Isaiah volunteers ‘Here I am. Send me’, and thus he is commissioned by God. And this story in The Book of Isaiah is one which is a general model for those ‘awakened’ to God and Christ; rather than the general model being that popular fear and superstition that impending death awaits those who would ‘awaken’. This fear and superstition is generated in many of us I believe by a fear of the unknown and by the perceived level of risk and threat involved in facing up to this unknown place; a fear which haunts any consideration of theirs for attempting ‘awakening’. Coleridge gets this morbid fear of adventuring upon the unknown just right:
“Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turn’d round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.”
Another more up to date guy, Paul Simon sings resignedly:
“A man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest”
And so, back to The Seductions of Power, which in the main I contend comprise those media and commercial interests and their lures and temptations which they set before us, so as to divert us willing volunteers from what I want more honestly to call the actual business of life; that is, from the examined life. The fare of daily thrills and spills, onscreen ghastliness and dreadful grotesque reality programmes and the drab soaps; along with the bees in the bonnets pursued by the sordid news media, which sells itself like a whore for money and for notoriety, and to gagging-for-it, led-by-the-nose readerships – so that anything goes, no limit to upping-the-antes – churning out fairy stories for adult children. Coleridge again:
“The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.”
Every choice a person makes s/he makes to the exclusion of all other choices available on any matter of concern. With life-choices, which are those fundamental commitments one makes in one’s lifetime; such as to a spouse; or to The Lord Jesus; or to oneself and one’s own benefit; such life-choices are high level choices and as such what their making and taking by us excludes, as now being quashed alternatives, are high level exclusions and broad-ranging denials of possibilities for one’s chosen path. High level exclusions are often non-reversible and concatenatory; their repercussions continue on in our lives exponentially; so that a high level choice regretted by a person is often one s/he finds s/he has to live with regardless. Here we have Shakespeare’s Macbeth on such a bad high level choice he made:
““I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er”
Choosing ‘sleep’ over ‘wakefulness’ is such a high-level life choice. Choosing ‘wakefulness’ over ‘sleep’ is also the same level and type of choice.
Allowing the hypes and the adrenaline and the lures and temptations, the mantraps and mantras, the snares, the disingenuous misleading and deceitfulness of catching you, a rabbit in their headlights, and every time selling you a pup – to mix the metaphors – to allow all such meddlesome interference into one’s consciousness as one’s substitute for life, and instead of ‘life in abundance’, is not the hardy, courageous, and robust act or choice, nor is it an acceptance of ‘like it is’; or of ‘getting real’ or whatever. On the contrary, getting oneself into the service of God and ever finding oneself failing or else not living up to the extremely high standard Christ asks (The Perfect Model) of us; this is the business and the challenge of our lives, and so it ought to be the challenge of our lives; and it is no game for slouches or for weak willed shy away from life defeatist escapists.
To attempt to follow Christ is a contest between self and self; a fight between ‘the world the flesh and the devil’ and one’s striving for a better nature and a better world – one’s evangelical task.
It is said several times in The New Testament that Jesus ‘did not depend on the word of men’ ‘because he knew men and knew what was in them’. The seductions of hype, of ‘the crowd’ and of social media, shindigs and general losings of oneself for a while in a flurry of exchange of trivia and of inconsequence; of drinking or drugging until one’s troubles seem obliterated; of taking the expedient easy and safe options and routes, even when these are demeaning and even harmful and unjust to others; all these things we are encouraged to be and to do; and to approve by what we read, watch, hear and are generally exposed to daily 24/7 through our captive lives inside The Matrix.
We are being lied to; and we are lying to ourselves also. We say there is nothing for life but to ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’ and that this death is an annihilation; and we infer from all this that there are no grounds for, no justification of, our better behaviours and our improved outlooks; that nothing really matters and so to hell with it, anything goes. Hamlet says in his anger to his betrothed Ophelia:
“You make your wantonness your ignorance”
And indeed this is what those of us who believe, to our convenience, as a means to eschew a responsibility and to abjure love’s claim and command and primacy over us and upon us, as its being the be all and end all of life, existence, being; we who choose to shelter under such a grovelling creed of nihilist opt-out shying-away are indeed making our wantonness our ignorance; we are indeed passing the buck, our soul, and avoiding the issues of life wholly.
So the life-choice, the primary life-choice appears to me to be either for one to buy into the diversions of Life as Theme Park, and into conspicuous consumption as the Toy Shop and The Sweetshop syndrome; to relegate anything finer for life to a place downstairs with the servants (whom our Lord commanded us to be) and thus to ‘live it up’ and in the words of Jack Sparrow and Mister Gibbs, see life as a venture in which one is able to and should:
“Take what you can
Give nothing back”
Or else as the definitive choice one becomes privileged to be able to surrender all and by surrendering all one is able to find oneself and to feel one’s reason for being.
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
I feel I had better wrap this one up now – it has gone on rather longer than I was anticipating. Here then, to end, is TS Eliot, 20th century American/British poet and Anglo Catholic with his take on that journey we call ‘our lives’;
Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual”