Empire of Illusion (4. Industrialization of self performing mythology)

We had the experience, but missed the meaning. (T. S. Eliot)

The old production-oriented culture demanded what the historian Warren Susman termed character. The new consumption-oriented culture demands what he called personality. The shift in values is a shift from a fixed morality to the artifice of presentation. The old cultural values of thrift and moderation honored hard working, integrity, and courage. The consumption-oriented culture honors charm, fascination, and likeability. “The social role demanded of all in the new culture of personality was that of a performer,” Susman wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self”.

The advances of technology and science, rather than obliterating the world of myth, have enhanced its power to deceive. We live in imaginary, virtual worlds created by corporations that profit from our deception. Products and experiences – indeed, experience as product – offered up for sale, sanctified by celebrities, are mirages. They promise us a new personality. They promise us success and fame. They promise to mend our brokenness. (…)

Blind faith in illusions is our culture’s secular version of being born again. These illusions assure us that happiness and success is our birthright. They tell us that our catastrophic collapse is not permanent. They promise that pain and suffering can always be overcome by tapping into our hidden, inner strengths.. They encourage us to bow down before the cult of the self. To confront these illusions, to puncture their mendacity by exposing the callousness and cruelty of the corporate state, signals a loss faith. It is to become an apostate. The culture of illusion, one happy thoughts, manipulated emotions, and trust in the beneficence of power, means we sing along with the chorus or are instantly disappeared from view like the losers on a reality show.

Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion. The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, p. 51, 52-53.

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