Do you like this website? Please support Integral World!
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BLACK
Oil, Narcissism & The Future Shape Of An Empire's Deadly Addiction
David Jon Peckinpaugh
Oil. Black gold. Texas tea. Gonna move to Beverly… Hills that is. Swimming pools… and movie stars.
Oil, 'tis the stuff of which dreams are made of.
But what is oil? Isn't it just the rotted and decayed remains of organic life-forms, trapped untold miles beneath the earth's surface? Just a mass grave that has been covered up by layers upon layers of natural history's ash and dust? Isn't that what oil is: but decayed remains of the once living? Remains that we have dredged it up over the past century and a half or so… and then it's off to the Moon for us. Literally!
I am often surprised by the kinds of reactions that people give when it is suggested to them that oil is not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. One would think that by the reaction received that oil were itself the primary building block of Civilization—the cornerstone of things, if you will. So when I mention either the limitations or shortcomings of oil—which includes the fact that it is a finite source of energy—the general response is to look at me like I am some damn fool. And perhaps I am. Perhaps I am out of my friggin' mind. Be that as it may, however, I see no reason to remain mute on a subject that appears to be more and more pressing with every passing day: the peak of world oil production.
Let us ask if oil is an ingredient without which we would not be able to be a cultured people? Is oil the foundational element in terms of Civilization and Culture? Is oil necessary? Or is oil incidental?
My reason for asking these sorts of questions has to do with the wide-ranging fears that exist among many that apart from 'big oil' we are doomed to a life of barbaric primitivism. People tend to defend oil (and its wide-ranging use) because there is this haunting suspicion that without oil we would devolve into heathen masses. And it doesn't do any good to label such fears as irrational. It doesn't do any good to say, 'Oh nonsense.' People need to be reassured.
Reassured to what end, though? Reassured that the more positive attributes of Human Culture are enduring facets of the Total Human Experience, and are not… I repeat, are not… dependent upon oil. In other words, what we can be said to truly hold dear, in terms of the most exquisite developments of Human Culture are not the result of oil and our current civilizational dependence upon oil.
This is going to make you laugh when I say this. It is so obvious once you realize this—so obvious that you will perhaps wonder why it hasn't gotten more airplay, so profound in its simplicity is it. So what is it then? Well, it is the Renaissance. It is Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. It is Johan Sebastian Bach. It is Henry David Thoreau and Walden. It is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It is the Buddha. It is Mohammed and the Quran. It is the Copernican Revolution. It is the Cherokee Nation. It is the Dreamtime of the Australian Aborigines. It is Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is the American Constitution. It is the Bill of Rights. It is Mozart. It is Hegel and Kant. It is Padmasambhava and Patanjali. It is the Bodhisattva's Vow. It is Shakespeare. Yes, Shakespeare. And it is also you and I.
It is John Muir and St. John of the Cross. It is Plato and Plotinus. It is Rembrandt and Renoir. It is Karl Marx and Montaigne. It is, in other words, all of those enduring elements of Human Culture that happen to be representative of the Good, True, and Beautiful. It is Chartres Cathedral. It is Angkor Wat. It is Stonehenge. It is Canyon de Chelly. It is Love. It is Truth. It is Beauty. It is Goodness.
It is what we live for. It is also what we are ready and willing to die for. And it is all free and independent of oil.
One would suppose that all of Human Culture rode upon the back of big oil. The rhetoric we hear. The propaganda we are subject to. It all makes it seem as if everything that has come to be associated with Culture is the result of our instrumentalization of oil. And yet, it has just been pointed out that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, just the opposite has been pointed out: that the absence of oil as an instrumental tool of civilization has not barred the flowering and flourishing of Human Culture. Period.
The absence of oil didn't seem to adversely affect the more developed capacities of Humanity in the past, and there is no reason to suspect that it will do so in the future (and oh yes, there will be a future without oil… so prepare yourself and your children for that impending fact). This essentially means that the rhetoric that implies Oil and Culture walk hand in hand throughout Human History is a load of crap. And a big load at that! It is nothing but a lie—an irrational fear that posits a necessary relationship where only an incidental one even applies.
The rhetoric we are privy to would make it seem as if there is very much a necessary relationship between oil dependence and Culture. Yet, if this were true then there would be no evidence for the more evolved capacities that have allowed Humanity to give birth to express embodiments of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. If oil were that necessary then there would be no Bodhidharma or Dogen, no Meister Eckhart or Rumi, no Shankara or Socrates. If oil were vital to the Flowering of Spirit in all of its Human Glory then there would be little to nothing of what has come to be appreciated over the centuries as the greatest of all human gifts from one generation to the next.
Culture didn't start with the John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Even what some would call 'advanced culture' didn't commence with the petroleum revolution that took hold a century or so ago. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness have been with Humanity long before that. Art and architecture have flowered sans oil. Philosophy and the ongoing inquiry into Truth have done just as well, if not better, by light of a butter-lamp. The burning of candles was not an impediment to an appreciation of Beauty, nor the expression of Goodness.
All indications are that Humanity did quite fine without such a hyper-reliance on oil. Some would even make the argument that with this hyper-reliance upon oil there has come to be a devaluation and denigration of the Human Capacity for the express embodiment of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. That oil gave us Andy Warhol (nothing personal Andy), while the Renaissance gave us Michelangelo.
Have No Fear, The End Of Oil Is Near
Recently there has been a spade of books released proclaiming 'the end of an empire.' And how so the end of an empire? Well, the end of the empire is seen as being consequent upon the end of 'cheap oil.' After all, the rise of Modern Civilization has been so tied up with the presence of oil that the sense is that when all the world's oil reserves (and some say we are at the 90% mark right now—meaning, 90% of the total world oil reserves have already been exploited!) have been sufficiently depleted there will come about a great and tragic fall of an empire. This may be true. Then again, the 'end of an empire' may be grounds for celebration!
It should come as no surprise to suggest that the majourity of people alive on the Planet (somewhere between 6 and 7 billion) are not made to prosper directly from the presence of oil. Though some would argue this statement vociferously I stand by it: that the presence of oil has not made an appreciable difference—on the positive side of the ledger—for the majourity of sentient beings who inhabit this planet. Let me put it this way: quality of life indicators are not seen as rising significantly as people rely more and more upon oil in their day-to-day lives.
Part of why I go to great lengths to say this—to iterate this point again and again—is due to the irrational fears that are present surrounding oil as a vital resource. I feel like I need to say to so many people: Oil is not necessary for human health, well-being, and happiness. Nor is oil vital when it comes to the development of the higher gifts and talents that Humanity is capable of. Oil is just incidental. Oil is—in terms of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful—nothing other than inconsequential.
So where do all of the irrational fears come from surrounding this false ideology that human development is consequent upon a steady supply of oil? How come so many believe that we are headed for a new 'Dark Age' without oil (which may be true, provided people continue to believe irrationally in the salvific effects of oil)?
Addiction. That's what I get the sense of. I get the sense that over time Civilization proper has come to be so reliant upon a steady supply of oil that we—subjects within Civilization proper—tend to exhibit attitudes and behaviours like a 'crack-head.' In short, we absolutely believe that death and devastation are imminent if we are not able to secure our fix.
The irony is that the opposite tends to be true: which is that if we get our fix, and continue to get our fix, then death and devastation are very much imminent! The greater problem for the addict—contrary to what an addict suspects is the case—is getting and securing one's fix over time, not being unable to!
It is the addict who fears the loss—the absence, the end—of what is slowly robbing them of life, liberty, and happiness. Yet the addict misapprehends the situation and sees just the opposite: the addict sees a loss of life, liberty, and happiness by being deprived access to a substance that he or she happens to be in bondage to.
The feeling is this: 'I will absolutely die if I don't get my fix. I won't be able to make it. I just know it.'
The reality is more like this though: The addict will actually die that much faster if he or she does succeed in securing his or her fix.
That's the nature of addictions—both personal and collective: the feeling is that we won't be able to live with what is not necessary for living, and living happily and healthy at that. Our lives come to revolve around allegiance to a substance that we mistakenly apprehend as essential. The final twist is that all of the irrational fears that are projected onto our not being able to access the particular substance that we are addicted to is really the fated eventuality of our successful access to and acquisition of said substance.
Put it this way: there is a bigger problem looming from the successful acquisition of more oil than there is from the loss of that access. The loss of that access would throw us back upon ourselves and allow us to realize that none—I repeat, none!—of the higher capacities that Humanity has held dear over the millennia are dependent upon our access to cheap oil.
A really entrenched addict, though, has to hit bottom… rock bottom. Someone who irrationally believes that he or she needs a particular substance cannot be talked out of his or her irrational beliefs. They need to, more often than not, be shown. And about the only way that an addict can be shown that his or her fears are irrational is to confront circumstances and conditions that are beyond their control. One such set of circumstances is to have the world become exhausted of that precious substance one irrationally feels so desperate a need for: we are talking about the extinction of oil.
One thing is for sure, the addict doesn't understand—cannot digest the fact, cannot accept the truth of, cannot even tolerate the thought—that life goes on apart from the addictive substance. The irrational fears surrounding access to the 'precious substance' make it seem as if life itself depends upon a steady supply for us to use and abuse. We feel like we need so desperately. We feel like our very existence rides on whether or not we have a nice stash of crack/oil/heroin/money/pills to tide us over for some time. We don't yet know that life goes on without crack. And we certainly don't realize that many, many, many people live happily without ever having to shoot up.
Those who recover from an addiction—who have severed their allegiance to an inessential substance—often speak of the 'lost years' lived out in a haze. They may speak of 'seeing more clearly.' They may speak of 'feeling life more close to the bone.' They may speak of 'feeling more alive.' For them life has a renewed vibrancy: colours are crisper, sounds sharper, and tastes are that much more exquisite than they ever were before.
The recovered addict is able to appreciate so much that went unnoticed before. Not because there is a new life present, but, rather, because what was always already present to begin with is now seen for the first time. The preoccupation with maintaining one's addiction, and the central importance that doing so comes to have, well, that is no longer present any more. It allows the former addict—paraphrasing the great poet T.S. Eliot—to have as the end of their travels a knowing of the place where they started, as if for the first time.
The addiction was going to take us away—away from a life that we must have wanted to escape from. But now, now we have awakened. And having awakened from the stupor of insobriety we come to see that the life we wanted to escape from so badly… so desperately… is but a life that we now long to embrace. It is a life that we cherish; a life that we are so grateful has not been totally and completely lost.
Now is a time that we see… not dimly through the haze of a choked atmosphere… but clearly through the eyes of one who now realizes what is and is not essential. Now we understand that oil is not necessary for a Michelangelo or a Joan of Arc, a Declaration of Independence or a Gospel of Thomas, a Prajnaparamita Sutra or a Mozart, a Mona Lisa or David—not to mention a Lake Superiour or a Mississippi River, a Danube or a Nile, a Grand Canyon or a Yosemite, a Yellowstone or a Mauna Lea.
What if the addict doesn't get it; meaning, doesn't wake up to the nature and consequences of his or her addiction? What if the addict goes about his or her maniacal way? What if the addict reaches for rock-bottom?
Obviously, things can become awfully ugly. The addict can become a thief and liar, cheat and whore, deceiver and denier, degrader and disturber of the peace. If nothing means as much to the addict as securing a steady supply of the precious substance that one has become addicted to, then, quite literally, 'all hell will break loose!'
Suddenly the addict's problem is not just his or her own issue anymore. When things get really bad the addiction becomes a vampire that not only sucks the life-blood out of the addict, but also sucks the life-blood out of the community. Here is where the wider community comes to pay a price for the addiction that may appear to be someone else's problem. It is not someone else's problem. Just like a people's increasing reliance upon oil is not merely one nation's problem, an addicts increasing dependence upon meth, crack, heroin, barbiturates, cocaine, alcohol, or what have you, is not merely that person's issue, but is also a family matter, a relationship drain, a community wide dilemma.
Allow me, if you will, to explain this in some detail, using American reliance on foreign sources of oil as if this were evidence of some form of addictive behaviour (which, by the way, I happen to feel it is).
We know that an addict unwilling to confess a problem regarding his or her addiction cannot really be helped by others. Some form of confession is required. A form of surrender or letting go is needed. The addict—as 12 step programs have made increasingly clear—is required to confess their powerlessness in the face of one's addiction. Something like, 'I cannot help myself… I cannot stop myself… I need outside help and intervention' is required. For as long as the addict thinks that he or she is control (America as superpower?) then the addict, as well as everyone surrounding the addict, will continue to be adversely affected by the nature and consequences of addictive forms of behaviour. That's just how it is.
How this plays out in geo-political terms vis-à-vis oil can be evidenced by the use of military force and economic black-mail in the effort to try and secure the Texas tea, the black gold, the juice of industrial-chemical production. A nation can literally go around robbing and pillaging other countries and peoples in the aim of securing an ongoing supply of 'juice' from one's neighbours.
Let me go a bit deeper now:
If the addict has to sell his or her soul for some supply, then so be it. If the addict has to play 'tough-guy' and 'break some legs' to get somebody to fork over their goods, then so be it. If the addict needs to break-in and rob someone else in order to take their money so they can pay their supplier, then so be it. Whatever the addict has to do the addict will do. And the addict—as we all know—will continue to wreak havoc on the community and enact all sorts of criminal behaviour until there is an honest confession regarding one's addiction. Until this happens, there is simply no hope for the addict—nor any hope, in many ways, for the wider community being so adversely affected by the addict's insatiable need for that precious substance.
Addicts are capable of anything. The power that the precious substance holds over the consciousness of the addict in question cannot possibly be underestimated. It often takes a really hard fall for that hold to be broken. I mean… A REALLY HARD FALL!!
Sometimes the addict loses everything of real worth and value and still this is not enough to break the hold. I can throw a few famous names out there for you: Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, Layne Staley, and Jim Belushi are just a few known on a wide scale. And I am sure that closer to home we know friends and family members who wrestled with an addiction and were never able to totally break free from the precious substance (note Gollum from Lord of the Rings trilogy) that had such a hold on them… and they on it.
One would hope that the threat of destroying important friendships would mean something to the addict. One would hope that losing one's health and psychological well-being would matter to the addict. One would hope that one's social standing and reputation in the community would be enough to make a difference. One would hope that the threat of losing for good all of those truly valuable connections and worthwhile relationships might mean something to the addict.
Sometimes, though, nothing else matters. Sometimes the addict is so enthralled with securing his or her supply that the addict doesn't even see what is falling by the wayside until it is way too late.
Maybe like the character Gollum, from J.R.R.Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings trilogy, even one's own Humanity is slowly eroded over the course of a lifetime; as one's sole concern becomes 'my precious… oh my precious.' Nothing else matters but that one thing, and our having that one thing. We will do anything to have that one thing. We will do whatever we have to in order to secure our precious. We will 'pay any cost' and 'bear any burden.' We will 'spend all our capital' in order to secure an ongoing supply of 'our precious' substance.
Collective Addictions: Madness Run Amok?
If the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization—possibly the whole of mankind—have become 'neurotic?'
What might our collective madness, our communal forms of addiction look like? If an addict is prone to lying, cheating and stealing in order to get his or her fix then what might a culture, a nation, a society—a whole civilization even—do in order to secure its collective fix?
War? Colonialism? Imperialism?
Freud made one other point, in relation to the quote above. Freud suggested that the 'diagnosis of communal neuroses is faced with a special difficulty.' This is because if a whole society—a whole civilization is seen as being mad, deluded, neurotic, disturbed, and/or pathological—then to what can we compare such a civilization to as a standard of health or 'normality.' In other words, the privilege that we have as individuals rests in our being able to compare and contrast personal pathologies over and against personal health and well-being. There are, then, certain standards of functioning that are widely considered as indicators of personal health and well-being. Yet, what might these standards look like on a communal level? What does collective health and well-being look like? What tendencies might a vibrant body politic exhibit?
Even if we don't necessarily know what a healthy Global Civilization, for instance, will look like, I suspect that we all know collective pathology and communal madness when we see it. Nazi Germany—Hitler's Third Reich—is perhaps the most glaring example of collective madness that the world has seen in an overt way. Other examples come to mind: Jonestown, Waco, and Heaven's Gate on a small scale; the ongoing depletion of the World's Fisheries at present, along with the looming dilemma of 'climate change' and 'global warming' on a massive scale.
Sure we do, we know it when we see it. I know I sure do! I see numerous documentaries on TV, reporting on the consequences of collective madness across the globe. I also read journalistic appraisals of the potential for massive devastation that only the human species seems to be capable of at present, and all I can think is, 'This is not right! We must be out of our ever-lovin' minds! How can we be so stupid?'
But we may not even know this! Just as someone with an addiction may not be willing to admit that he or she has a problem, so too can a Civilization become so maladjusted that its own madness becomes effectively lost to itself—which means, that the forms of communal madness are not evident to the majourity of that Civilization's subjects.
For example, this can play out in the kinds of rationalizations and justifications that addicts are known for, such as 'I am in control… I know what I am doing… I can stop anytime I want… I am only doing this because I have to,' etcetera, etcetera. In other words, communally our leaders can give voice to our Civilization's favourite rationalizations and justifications for what may be our own collective forms of insanity and psychopathology. This, then, is but one way that a collective psychosis can effectively pass as 'normal,' as 'the way things are,' as 'right' even.
Think about it for just a moment. Please do. We know that individuals are capable of justifying what everyone but them knows is a form of pathology. We know how readily an addict unwilling to admit that he or she has a problem rationalizes his or her addictive behaviour. Addictions are so pervasive and come in so many varieties that I am certain that each one of us has had direct experience dealing with these sorts of rationalizations and justifications. Heck, they may have even come out of our own mouth at a certain point in our lives, i.e., we may have been the addict trying to justify the necessity of an ongoing addiction.
So, given what we know about personal addictions—such as the principles upon which addictions operate and are maintained upon the basis of—it seems only reasonable to surmise with Freud, as noted in the preceding quote, that collective addictions will tend to follow the same course as personal addictions, and be maintained upon the basis of the same principles: denial and rationalization.
You see the truth is that we really don't have a problem. We are just doing what needs to be done! That's all. We are not addicts. We are not exhibiting pathological behaviour. We are not a 'sick society.' We are just doing what we need to do in order to get by. It is just that simple.
The addict always sees—as long as they are addicted—that what they are led to do is really their only option. They have to rob and steal and cheat so that they can get what they have to have. It is not a matter of doing so or not. There is no freedom for the addict while they are under the grip of an addiction. One cannot decide to not enact criminal behaviour in order to try and secure that 'precious substance.' One has to become a criminal. If that is what is needed in order to get the crack, the heroin, the cocaine, the methamphetamine, the sex, the alcohol, the power—or the oil!—then so be it. That is just the price that has to be paid.
Besides, we are just protecting our 'national interests,' that's all. We are just doing what any other nation would do under the same circumstances. And it is vital that we do so. If it weren't vital—if it weren't at all necessary—then of course we wouldn't do what we absolutely must do.
What we can't do, and what is not necessary, is that we admit a problem and announce ourselves an addict. Sure, we can go to war over what are deemed as being vital national interests; just as a gang might feel compelled to go to war over a drug deal gone bad! All of that is ok. All of that is acceptable. That is just 'normal' collective behaviour. That is what nations do. That is what Civilization is about: protecting what is deemed as being a Civilization's vital interests—which are interests that we cannot afford to have threatened! And because we cannot afford to have those 'vital national interests' threatened, well, we will do whatever is necessary to take out those who threaten our 'precious supply.' We simply will not allow ourselves to be 'cut off.'
As you may know, an addict threatened with being 'cut off' can fly into a rage immediately. You might as well threaten the addict's very own existence (which is pretty much the same thing to the addict; that the addict's continued existence and their access to their 'precious substance' are one and the same thing, i.e., 'I'll die without it.').
My question is: Can a nation respond in the same way?
Is it possible for a nation to fly into a rage if there is a collective feeling in the air that their precious supply is being threatened? Hasn't this happened before when a nation—a community—has fought for the right to preserve their favourite forms of addiction, be these about coffee, tea, spices, gold, cocoa, or oil?
Isn't it obvious by now what is going on?
A Brief Look Into Nationalism & Narcissism
Greed. Selfishness. The rampaging desire to profit and make good, over and above any and all other concerns and interests. Narcissism. Self-inflation. Sweeping delusions of grandeur. Denial. Paranoia. Pre-emptive attacks at perceived threats.
The above noted matters share in common that status of their being antagonistic towards both a) psychological health and personal well-being, and b) spiritual realization and/or religious conversion. In other words, both the mental health establishment and the world's Wisdom Traditions see the above noted characteristics and qualities as desecrations of our innate potential. The above noted characteristics are either seen as maladaptive strategies for living with others—which is the widely accepted mental health view, or as spiritual faults in need of correction through measures that run the gamut from prayer to penance, forgiveness to fasting, honest self-examination to meditation, spiritual transmission to Grace, and insight to illumination.
What greed and selfishness, paranoia and self-inflation, narcissism and neurosis do not share in common is being designated as these desirable characteristics that are worth our cultivating. They are, in other words, never seen as being a friend of mental health and/or psycho-spiritual well-being. Instead, they are deemed as being poisons that pollute both the personal as well as the collective.
Now, let's imagine Freud is right and that the 'development of civilization has such a far reaching similarity to the development of the individual.' Provided that this is indeed the case, we could go so far as to suggest that nations and states—or whole civilizations even!—are prone to developing the same kinds of pathologies that individuals find themselves susceptible to. This would mean that national forms of narcissism are just as possible as the grandiose, self-inflation of a pompous movie star is.
So, what one might be able to see evidenced are certain collective manifestations of what might be noted as being examples of narcissistic behaviour. But if we see don't see any evidence for apparent narcissism at a national level? Well, then we can probably dismiss Freud's implications right at the start.
We can begin by noting the characteristics of narcissism that have been said to exist at the personal level, then we can proceed from there in order to see if any of these characteristics are evidenced collectively, in the form and manner of, say, a nation conducts its foreign policy.
Narcissism has widely been seen as being synonymous with overlapping characteristics such as the following: self-absorption, an overriding sense of personal significance, grandiosity and self-inflation, self-importance, unresponsiveness to others, and a veritable craving to be seen, admired, and worshipped—that is, to be the center of attention, no matter the cost. Now, provided that we are able to take these terms, which have originally realized their significance in relation to individuals, we may see in them some evidence for certain modes of nationalism as being the collective expression of narcissism. In fact, there may be no better claim for just this than the designation of a nation or a state as a 'superpower.' I mean, what more grandiose designation can one possibly think of than that… a super-superpower?!?
A narcissistically-inclined personality will tend to rub more well-adjusted persons the wrong way. One who has been arrested by the Myth of Narcissus, if you will, tends to be profoundly unresponsive to the offerings of real warmth, affection, and fellowship being extended by others. In geo-political terms, a narcissistic nation will tend to have a profoundly self-interested foreign policy; meaning, an uncompromising diplomatic agenda that will tend o result in a 'go it alone' mentality—all of which, by the way, simply feeds into one's narcissistic delusions of grandeur.
A nation that is unsuspectingly ruled by the Myth of Narcissus wants to show all other nations that it truly is a superpower, and does have superpowers—super-military-powers, that is! This is why narcissist's tend to become isolated personally, and why we should expect the same thing nationally regarding a particular nation's geo-politics.
It is no coincidence that in the ancient Greek myth Narcissus ended up all alone, gazing at his own self-image. Narcissus found himself unable to respond to Echo—to reciprocate in kind. Echo, broken-hearted retreated into the forest. Narcissus, self-absorbed became isolated from any and all forms of authentic relatedness.
As was suggested but a moment ago, a nation's diplomacy will tend to be uncompromising to the extent that that nation is governed by the archetypal implications of Narcissus. Narcissists are incapable of relationship. There is no real relationship with a narcissist. Likewise, there can be no true and effective diplomacy with a narcissistic nation. If only for the sole fact that a narcissistically-inclined nation or state will be unresponsive to another. Such a nation or a state—regardless of the rhetoric used—is completely incapable of being interested in anyone or anything other than their own interests. Period.
The narcissist—for any number of reasons—has such a tight hold on him- or herself. The narcissist cannot seem to let go. The 'self' needs to be protected. The 'self' needs to be seen by others and admired. And if not then the narcissist will find a way to demand attention, i.e., the narcissist will fly off into a rage, become more boisterous, show-off, brag, exaggerate the truth, etc. and so forth.
The narcissist, quite simply put, needs be an object of people's attention—the center of their attention! Somehow, someway… whatever it takes… the narcissist will find a way to capture people's attention. For the narcissist cannot bear to not be an object people attend to.
I feel like I am getting closer to the Collective Consciousness of America. I get this sense that America is full of once desperate people, who, for any number of reasons, were not attended to—paid homage to, noticed, taken into account—in their countries of origin. In a sense, then, everyone in America has come from an ancestry of dismissal. Everyone here is living in exile. Beginning with immigrants that had to leave Europe because they were living under derisive conditions.
And so, in some sense we have all come to America (Indigenous Americans and African-Americans notwithstanding) due to a deficit of some sort that it was our hope could be made up for in this new land. This continues to this very day. Immigrants come full of hope and promise for what might be. They come with a great sense of lack—hoping beyond hope that this lack will somehow be rectified in America.
Back to narcissism. Certain psychoanalytical theorists have suggested that narcissism may be the result of a child feeling a surfeit of attention and nurturing as infants. So, in some cases it becomes suggested that this 'deficit of being attended to' is precisely what the narcissist attempts to overcome for the rest of his or her adult life. In short, one needs to be seen and paid homage to because one was not seen enough as a child.
Another way of saying this is that one needs to be the 'center of attention' as an adult because one was deprived of being so as an infant.
America is not the land of dreams for no reason. It ought not be considered strange that America has become the country that both captures as well as demands the most attention on the World-Stage. Yes, America tries to hog the lime-light because we may very well be a country that is a collection of persons all trying to make up for a lack of respect and appreciation. Think about it, America has been the country of opportunity for the 'dispossessed,' for the 'huddled masses,' for those who have been run out of their country of birth and origin. So it should come as no surprise that America would become a nation with a 'chip on its shoulder,' a nation with 'something to prove'—a nation made up of those people who, for all sorts of reasons, have this need to impress upon the world that they are somebody… and that they will be respected.
The attitude is something along the lines of 'We'll show you!' We'll show you by being innovative, by building the biggest buildings, by our productivity and our efficiency. We'll show you by our talents and our gifts—by being entertaining and exciting, daring and adventurous. We'll show you. We'll impress upon you our greatness, our courage, our daring, our spirit, our ingenuity, our determination, our perseverance, our bravery, and our genius. We'll show you that you were wrong about us. We'll show you how great we can be.
The truth is that America, collectively speaking, does have a chip on its shoulder. We are a country of exiled people who have been driven out of Europe because of social, economic, and religious persecution. We are a country of exiled people who have been forced to come to these shores as slaves. Hell yeah we have a lot to prove. We have to prove that we are not a 'lesser peoples' because we are African, Jewish, Irish, Polish, or of the 'lowest class.' We have to prove that we are not stupid… that we are not ignorant… that we are not heretics… that we are not filthy creatures.
And don't think for a minute that we won't relish rubbing it in your face when we succeed. Don't think for a minute that we won't take some pleasure in proving to the world we are all that we know we can be, if but given the opportunity and the freedom to prove so.
Just imagine yourself being pushed out of a group, run out of a community, isolated socially and culturally. It would seem to me that in such an instance we have but one of two choices: either to be defeated by it, or to use that experience as fuel in order to fire our passion for success and achievement.
It should come as no surprise that many—if not most—of America's greatest achievements have come straight from the experience of immigrants, exiles, and outcasts. Those who were denied opportunities to explore and cultivate their unique talents and gifts elsewhere found sanctuary in America. A young country also as in need of this talent in order to emerge as a nation worthy of international respect and admiration. In many ways, this means that America as a young nation, and the immigrant experience of exile, represented a unique situation wherein a young nation received the influx of talent that it needed, while immigrants received the opportunities to gain respect through the use of their talents that was denied them elsewhere. It was truly a 'win-win situation.' America needed immigrants and exiles and outcasts. Outcasts and exiles and immigrants needed America.
Here Comes The Establishment
Let us presume that America was on the outside looking in for the better part of its cultural and geo-political history. As a young nation trying to prove itself this ought to be expected. America, for all intents and purposes, was not an imperialistic, colonizing power, one to be found in the same league as Britain, Spain, France, Denmark and Belgium. Rather, American began as a nation trying to establish itself. Note the phrase: 'trying to establish itself.' American had a lot to prove to established powers. America had to grow and mature. America had to evolve as a 'world-power,' one to be reckoned with.
After the fallout of the American Civil War American very much did begin to establish itself as a world power to be reckoned with. It is no coincidence that after the American Civil War America's imperialistic leanings began to take root. More and more America became involved on the World-Stage as a geo-political force in the same league as established colonizing powers (Britain, France, Denmark, Spain, and Belgium to name prominent few).
They say that 'When in Rome… do as the Romans do.' For America this meant that respect would come through imperialistic empire-building. Period. If America wanted to garner international respect then it was going to have to compete for territory and resources in the same colonizing fashion as the established European powers were already doing. After all, 'When in Rome…'
We can go on to make the argument—and a valid one at that—that America did not set the precedent for imperialism itself. What America is doing is just following in the footsteps of a well-trodden path established by other nations that tend to now accuse America of not playing nice. In other words, America is not responsible for creating imperialism—even if America is taking certain aspects of imperialism and empire-building to a whole new level!
History is a funny thing that way. Nations that have fallen from the height of their glory can come to accuse nations in an ascendant arc of not playing fair or nice. For such nations to do so is to deny the course of history and the particular seasons of a nation's ardent development. One day, perhaps, it will fall to America to accuse other nations of not playing fair or nice. Rest assured, America's day in the Sun of History will fade and another nation will rise up to take America's place as the one with everything to prove.
History just seems to work that way. A particular nation cannot possibly remain in the ascendant position indefinitely. It has never worked in the past and we ought not be so foolish as to dream that it will somehow work in the future. Nations, not unlike Nature, have their seasons. The brash, rebelliousness of a young nation bourne of revolution in time becomes a conservative establishment entrenched in a position of power and prestige… and doing everything it can think of to hang onto that position.
America's recent turn to the conservative-side of the ledger might be evidence for the prominence of the establishment that America has become. After all, bear in mind that America sought to become an established global power respected by other nations and peoples. If this has come to pass, then it is only a sensible argument to contend that America has become what it sought to be—which in many ways, is everything that America originally despised and fought against.
A dominant power. A coercive force. A military juggernaut. The establishment. The status quo. A conservative force that has accumulated great power, which then does everything it can to hang onto what it has accumulated.
If we chart the development of a nation we come across these eerie similarities that Freud himself reckoned were there—that is, similarities between individual development and collective development. The one glaring difference, though, is that of time. Whereas personal development unfolds over the course of a single lifetime, collective development spans generations and unfolds incrementally with each subsequent generation. Thus, one generation might represent a nation's infancy, while subsequent generations represent a nation's youth, adolescence, adulthood, blossoming maturity, creeping old age, the increasing loss of functions, senility, and then eventual death.
Of course these stages are generalizations—representing but a rough sketch of the overall development of a nation. At the same time, though, I do think there is a valid point to be made in contrasting personal development with collective development: that personal and collective development mirror each other in the similarity of their seasons.
My estimate—or best guess, if you prefer!—is that America has already matured as a nation. America has experienced its fullest flowering. America has peaked. America's ascendancy has reached a crescendo.
So now America is experiencing a state of collective neurosis regarding the fact that it has peaked as a nation. Once a sole superpower, then where the heck is there to go? Once the dominant military force on the planet, then what next? Once the chief economic player on the World-Stage, then what comes after that?
This is exactly what America now faces. This is also the very same crisis represented in America by the generation called the 'Baby Boomers.' The coincidence is that America collectively faces the same stage of development that the 'Baby Boomers' face personally, as distinct individuals who have had their day in the Sun—that is, those who have realized the peak of their worldly endeavours, and are now trying, for the life of them, to hang onto that pinnacle of achievement and maturation of powers, while Nature and History alike conspire against them daily.
The neurosis evidenced by the Boomers is evidenced by America as a nation. Boomers—though radical in their youth, and not unlike America once was—are now increasingly conservative. The liberal ideals and ardent striving of youth is a thing of the past. Thus, many Boomers have been accused of 'selling out to the establishment.' That is a valid accusation to make, because many Boomers have done so. The radicals and revolutionaries become the conservative establishment. Which means that those who fought so hard for great and lasting change—civil rights, environmentalism, feminism, unionization, equal opportunity—are not the very persons that obstruct further change and revolution.
Like I said, that is the strange and ironic twist to be noted here in America: that what America was founded in direct and overt opposition to—imperialistic control, religious conservatism, colonialism, empire-building, and the gross consumption of natural and native resources—is now precisely what America has come to stand for and represent to other nations around the world. Like the Boomers, then, America has become what it once fought so ardently against, what it once hated: the establishment, the deeply entrenched powers that be, the conservative strangle-hold on power itself.
If we are honest enough with ourselves—and this is especially crucial for Americans as a whole—then it ought not be all that difficult for us to recognize that the American Revolution has become the American Establishment. Like any established power, what holds as foremost is the capacity to 'hang onto the power' that one has acquired via revolution. The incentive is not to radically remake the world as in a revolution. The incentive is to maintain and preserve the 'status quo' over and above all else. This is yet another reason why we are seeing the sharp ascendance of conservative agendas in American politics at home and abroad. Conservatives maintain and preserve the establishment. That is the role that conservatives are given to play. Which means, for our time, the capacity to maintain and preserve the corporate structure of the State, maintain and preserve the military-industrial complex, maintain and preserve the steady-diet of oil imports, maintain the rampant consumerism and the corporate propaganda that makes such consumerism an inherent good to be sought out by all peoples.
Revolution is not in the interests of the American Establishment… any more than it was in the interests of King George at the time of the American Revolution! The established powers, rather, fend off revolution, fend off the remaking of relations; they fend off any overt change in the established program itself. Revolution is the enemy of the Establishment; it is the chief threat to the established and entrenched powers and special interests that daily engineer new ways to reinforce the status quo.
Even when we look at the root meaning of the words 'conservative' and 'liberal' we are able to get a sense of what sorts of sentiments lie behind these political designations. For instance, conservative denotes this concept of conserving, which is to say, 'maintaining,' which is to say, 'preserving.' But maintaining and preserving and conserving what, exactly? There can be no maintaining and preserving and conserving of what has not already been established. So, according to this analysis the conservative ideology can only come into play in relation to established powers and interests—i.e., oil, corporatism, consumerism, imperialism, empire-building, etc. and so forth.
In contrast, the term liberal suggests a 'setting free.' Liberalizing is to liberate, which is to say, 'unshackle' and 'unbind,' which is to say, 'open' and 'broaden' and 'bestow.' Someone who is liberal in their giving can be said to be more generous in doing so than someone who is conservative in their giving. All of which is to say that a conservative agenda will be more 'tight-fisted' and 'close-minded' than a liberal agenda. Conservatives constrain and lock-down; they secure. Liberals open and set free; they loosen.
How this plays into current American geo-politics can be seen in the attempt to hold onto several advantages that have been won over the past decade and a half. For instance, let us suppose that the 1990's were an era of 'liberalizing the market-place'—as evidenced through NAFTA and GATT, as well as trade agreements with China. This is what took place during the Clinton administration: there was an 'opening' of various markets that would allow for a more unrestrained 'market economy.' Once this opening—this liberalizing of the majourity of the global market-place—had occurred, it ended up resulting in distinct economic advantages for certain sectors of the American economy. Consequent to this development in the last decade of the 20th Century, it can be seen as being only fitting and proper that the first decade of the new millennium would be made up of a conservative attempt to secure the liberalized gains that were achieved in the decade of the 1990's.
Whereas the Clinton administration relied upon diplomacy and dialogue among nations as a way to achieve advantages for American corporate interests, it has been left to the Bush administration to secure those advantages by use of the military. Once the Global Market had been opened, American interests were staked out. Now what we are seeing (and this is only my suggestion about what is actually taking place) is the securing of those interests in regions of the world where American interests are under threat from nations that would also like to achieve their own economic advantages in the global market-place.
One has to guard and secure one's interests. This is especially the case with sources of energy. In other words, oil and gas reserves.
America itself is a net importer of oil. When it comes to oil America is nowhere near self-sufficient… and all indications are that America will never be able to produce enough oil to meet demand. After all, American oil production peaked in the 1970's and the importation of oil has been steadily increasing ever since that time. In other words, American production of oil is decreasing at the same time that American demand for oil is increasing. Hello? Does this spell trouble somewhere down the line?
For the importation of oil to become a factual reality there are but one of two different methods that can be employed. The first method tends to be the liberal method of diplomacy and trade agreements. This was the primary method used in the era of the 1990's. It is no secret that former President Bill Clinton was a smooth-talker… a real charmer, if you will. President Clinton even earned the nickname 'Slick Willy.' He could talk the panties off of young women and nation's perhaps, out of their own long-term best interests.
The second method used to secure the importation of vital oil reserves is the conservative method of militarism and force. What better example of this is there than the current Bush administration? Nothing more than this needs to be said.
If I could, for just a minute, I would like to mention rape here. My understanding is that rape is an aggressive action on the part of one person in order to take advantage of another person sexually. This need not always be the use of physical force. Rape can occur without aggressive physical force being used. Though this has not been mentioned to my knowledge, I would contend here that rape also occurs through the use of diplomacy. A naïve, trustworthy young women, for example, can be sweet-talked right out of her pants. In the same manner, one nation can strike a deal with another nation based upon false and misleading information. That deal can lead to the rape of a nation's resources by the party that has mislead, given a false impression, and said what they had to in order to get what they felt they needed to have.
A young man goes into a bar and ends up telling a young woman everything that she wants to hear. She trusts that young man. She believes him. Yet, in his own mind he knows what he wants. He knows exactly what he wants! He wants a 'piece of ass!' And yet he will tell her that he wants more than that—that he wants a real relationship, that she is unlike any woman he has ever seen, that she is so beautiful, that she is everything that he has ever been after.
Little wonder, then, that the young lady will be swept off her feet by the seductions of the sweet-talking young man. Little wonder, then, that the young lady will open up her fields of vital resources and that the young man will be allowed to drill for oil there.
Bill Clinton has been long accused of using his power in order to take advantage of women. There can be no arguing this fact. He has, on more than one occasion, confessed to doing such. And it is not just women that have fallen prey to 'Slick Willie.' Many, many people have expressed considerable awe at the charm that is exhibited by former President Clinton. He is, without question, seen as being something of a political genius. Even opposition party leader's found themselves convinced of the validity of ideas that ran directly counter to their own professed ideology. President Clinton certainly had a way about him.
What has not been said about President Clinton, though, is what I am about to state here: namely, that his charm and charisma, not only opened ladies legs, but also opened up markets for American interests; a) so that new pools of cheap labour and resources could be won, and b) so that new markets could be penetrated by American-corporate interests.
In other words, the Clinton administration's method of geo-political resource rape was diplomacy and sweet-talking.
The Bush administration's method of geo-political resource rape is militarism and overwhelming force. This is rape at the barrel of a gun. It is rape under threat of 'shock and awe.' It is rape by physical might.
Submission is the name of the game here. This is not the adrenalin rush of being able to talk someone into 'giving you what you want,' even if it goes against their better interest. Instead, it is the adrenalin rush of being able to 'do what you please,' simply because you are able to exert your will physically, so that the other party is forced to submit to your wishes.
The outcome is the same in both instances, though. One party/nation/person is able to secure one's own self-interest by taking advantage of another's vulnerability or naiveté, trust or innocence. Yet rape is rape. Whether one is misled and only appears to be consenting to a sexual relationship, or one is aggressively forced to submit by threat of force, or an actual physical showing of that force, seems to matter little in the end. Like I said, the outcome in both instances is precisely the same.
From a strictly economic perspective, if we are going to grow strong economically then as a nation we are going to have to have access to both resources and markets. The raw materials needed are pools of labour and resources alike. Access to these is essential. No economic power can exist without and apart from such access.
The other form of access required is access to markets where produced goods and commodities can be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The availability of large pools of consumers is an essential ingredient to a strong economy—just as necessary to the 'wealth of nations' as are large pools of available labour and resources.
How this all fits together in terms of the economic output of a particular nation is pretty easy to see.
The Supply-Side Imbalance
It seems apparent that the majourity of economic concerns evidenced of late by the leaders of the United States of America (which includes both corporate and political interests) have clearly been weighted to the side of supply. If we look at the recent history of American economic policy what we see is a concerted effort to increase the available supply of both resources and labour. 'Where is our supply going to come from?' 'How do we ensure a steady and available supply of resources, and of labour?' These are the sorts of questions that are being asked by those in policy-making positions at the highest reaches of government and industry. It is evidenced both in terms of the trade agreements struck between America and other nations, as well as in the direct military intervention into sovereign nations in the effort to secure supply.
In preceding sections we explored the possibility of 'oil dependence' being a very real form of addiction—the addiction of a nation, of a Civilization. If this argument bears any weight and merit whatsoever (which I happen to think that it does, else this piece would not have even been a passing thought, let alone written), then we have to consider how it is that the addict's primary concern is concern with supply. Supply… as well as securing a steady and available supply… of the precious substance in question is all that matters!
The addict's fixation on supply leaves questions of demand utterly moot. We can see this in America (as well, I am sure, in other nations) in how issues of conservation and cutting back on our consumption are never raised in the political arena. No one mentions it! It was not even a part of the recent Presidential election campaign! The addict doesn't question the nature of his or her demand. The addict just wants to know where the next fix is going to be coming from: is it secure? is it a done deal? will it be available?
As long as the addict exclusively focuses upon supply and fails to question demand, then it is a pretty safe bet to assume that the addict is within the grips of the addiction to the point that a certain sort of narrowed awareness becomes primary. Hope for the addict—and all those affected either directly or indirectly by the addict's presence—only arises once demand begins to come under some sort of scrutiny. This doesn't mean scrutiny from the outside—i.e., scrutiny from others around the addict, affected by the addict, touched by the addict's chronic re-enactments—but, rather, scrutiny that comes from the addict him- or herself.
In short, the addict has to say, 'Whoa… wait a minute. I have a problem here! My need for a fix has become totally overwhelming; up to the point where I rarely think of anything else other than maintaining a secure supply.'
Maintaining a secure supply. The No. 1 priority of the addicted.
If we look at American geo-politics around the world—especially the pervasive military presence—of both covert and overt operations—in nations throughout the world with known reserves of oil, then we have to draw the conclusion that a) America's primary addiction has to be about oil; because b) the direct military intervention into nation-states with known oil reserves is clearly evidence for the 'big stick' aspect of America's geo-political strategy for securing an ongoing supply of oil. For a nation-state, security tends to be a military issue.
Ever since the turn of the 20th Century and American President Theodore Roosevelt there has been a 'big stick' aspect to American foreign policy. If diplomacy fails—if 'speak softly' doesn't get the job done—the 'big stick' of American military might will get waved around a bit. And if that fails to work in convincing other nation-states that America means business, then that 'big stick' is more than waved around a bit: that 'big stick' does some damage and inflicts some losses.
There is evidence for a quasi-Crime Syndicate flavour to American foreign policy. American foreign policy interests come across as benign as long as other nation-states comply with stated American interests. Mob bosses have often been noted for their charm. Yet, if charm doesn't get the job done, then the Mob boss has no problem calling in the 'heavies' to do a little convincing of their own. The way that such behaviour parallels the stance of recent American foreign policy, though hard to swallow for some who have overly idealized and romanticized American interests abroad, is hard to overlook. The presence of 'American heavies' in regions of the globe where known oil reserves exist, speaks volumes about the real nature of American foreign policy interests… as well as the real nature of the cover-story that mouths words like 'freedom,' 'liberty' and 'democracy.'
Growing Demand, Diminishing Supply
What if the addict is not able to meet his or her own demands? What if the addict's capacity to supply enough to meet the demands of his or her own addiction is far less than what his or her demand actually is? Won't the addict have to look elsewhere for supply?
It is well-documented that America reached peak-oil production in the early 1970's. America's peak capacity for supplying oil to itself—meeting the demands of its growing addiction—occurred then. Ever since that time, America has had to increasingly look elsewhere for those who would be able to supply the substance of its growing addiction.
The two factors to be noted here are 1) that American production of oil peaked more than 20 years ago, while 2) American demand for oil has increased precipitously over the last 20 years… and is still growing!
A third factor also has come into play—and is perhaps the straw that will end up breaking the camel's proverbial back! The final, calamitous factor in all of this is that world demand for oil is increasing at the same time that American capacity is in decline and American demand is growing.
Now, ask yourself why American military presence has been increasing in strategic areas that hold the greatest supplies of oil reserves in the entire world? Aren't things beginning to make sense now? Aren't some apparent inconsistencies in political rhetoric and double-speak beginning to shine through? That America's deadly addiction is reaching a 'turning point.' That this is a moment of crisis for America—and because it is a moment of crisis for America it is both a moment of crisis for the rest of the world, as well as an opportunity. For while America goes about making a strategic play for the few remaining reserves of oil on the planet, other nations can face the 'energy dilemma' by confronting it directly through innovation and evolutionary advance.
For the most part, America cannot do so: the oil-addiction is just far too entrenched in the 'American way of life' that the honourable George W. Bush has already made known to the world is non-negotiable.
In other words, the addict is unrepentant! This addiction is non-negotiable. Therefore, the addict is merciless when it comes to continuing to be able to secure his or her precious substance (in this case, oil). The addict is simply not willing to negotiate the lifestyle that is based upon the cycle of addiction. And if that lifestyle is non-negotiable then the addict is saying that the addiction itself will not be scrutinized, will not be examined, will not be exposed as an addiction. Which leads me to wonder how many people disagree with the motto that a life lived unexamined is not worth living.
The Underlying Basis Of All Dysfunction
Radical psychoanalyst, the late R.D. Laing, made the point that the first rule of a dysfunctional family lies in one word: that word is don't. Don't tell, don't speak, don't examine, don't notice, don't pay attention, don't observe.
The effort made to ensure that dysfunction continues unabated—that is, unchallenged—rests upon the ability to diminish awareness to the point that dysfunction is not seen as dysfunction. The implicit commandment 'don't' is so reinforced that one becomes trained not to notice dysfunction where it is. What becomes so easy for someone outside the system of dysfunctionality to notice becomes damn near impossible for those inside the system to even acknowledge the existence of. Those inside the system are used to the dysfunction; it is normal for them. And we all know that 'normal' is not dysfunction, right?
When we grow up within a particular system, and we have not had an experience of anything outside of that system, then we may not really know the precise nature of that system. If we have no experience to compare a system of relations to, then we may not be capable of knowing just how dysfunctional a system is… or can be.
For example, take a child who grows up in an abusive family with a drunken father and a mother who enables the father's alcoholism. This child may think that this is how everyone else lives, unless or until that child has direct experience of a different system. Say, that this child is invited over to a friend's house in his early years of school. Say, also, that this child spends the night at his friend's house and suddenly gains experience of what it is like to live within a different system of relations. Suddenly the child of dysfunction might begin to see just how great a difference there is between the presumed 'normality' of his own home and what his friend is experiencing. It can be nothing short of shocking! For the child of the abusive home it can create a great longing—a longing for the life of his friend, a longing for a different system, a longing for a different order of relations; it is a longing that compels a wondering as well—i.e., why is my family the way they are? why is my family not like my friend's family?
In time the child from the dysfunctional family may begin to feel, more and more, that something is not quite right where they live. And something not being quite right—not being optimal—is itself evidence for some form of dysfunctionalism.
In order for the dysfunction to be addressed there needs to be acknowledgement of the dysfunction as dysfunction. Just as a physical injury cannot be treated if there is no acknowledgement that the injury does in fact exist, so, too, does a form of dysfunctionalism need to be acknowledged as a less than optimal system of relationship. Short of any sort of penetrating awareness (prajna, jnana, insight) there can be no effective dealing with the dysfunction itself (which is perhaps why the chief rule of all dysfunction is, once again, don't).
Really, then, the first and final battle against dysfunction is the battle over awareness itself. Whereas, dysfunctionalism conspires against awareness, it is the optimizing of relations that conspires with awareness. Here we can trade in our don'ts for a steady diet of dos: do notice, do speak, do see, do be mindful, do pay attention, do observe, do examine, do scrutinize, do wonder, do feel… do be aware.
Yet, this is not as easy as it first may seem. There are deeply ingrained taboos against knowing that we have to overcome if we have developed psychologically within a dysfunctional system. We may have to face the threat of social isolation—of being ostracized from a community based upon a concerted 'lack of awareness.' We may even be reminded, on occasion, that we are not supposed to notice certain things, i.e., that it is better for us if we don't pay attention! Paying attention, after all, can get you into trouble. Noticing certain things that we are supposed to be blind—if not indifferent to—can get you in a world of hurt.
People around us, within the dysfunctional system, can be heard saying, 'Shhhhh… they might hear you.'
Ignorance is prized by the dysfunctional—both by the participants and by the system. This is why those who have found a way to see—to honour awareness as such—and then give voice to that which is disclosed via awareness have found themselves, time and again, attacked by the dysfunctional state of affairs that passes for 'normal.' Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy, Gandhi, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Giordano Bruno, Martin Luther, Leonard Pelletier, Socrates, Galileo, and untold others whose names history has forgotten—and yet, who also can be said to have spoken on behalf of awareness, by decrying the ignorance that was passing for knowledge and understanding. Which is an ignorance that still passes for knowledge and understanding, by reminding us to don't: don't be aware, but be ever un-mindful of what is going on around you. Because to be aware is to threaten what is taking place around you right now! For awareness is the 'Great Satan;' awareness is the 'terrorist threat;' awareness is the 'axis of evil.'
Awareness itself is the sworn, unstated enemy of the American way of life. The so-called 'American way of life' that George W. Bush has informed the rest of the world is 'not negotiable' is as much based upon collective blindness and mass denial as it is anything else. We are, as citizens, not supposed to know of the connections between our seeming prosperity and the covert military presence on the ground in countries like Nigeria and Colombia. We are not supposed to know the high, human cost of 'cheap oil.' We are not supposed to know that American oil production reached a peak in 1970 and has been in decline ever since. We are not supposed to know that continued reliance upon oil, in order to fuel the transport of goods around the globe, is an eventual zero-sum game, i.e., it is a collective dead-end. We are not supposed to know these things, or bear mention of these things. Instead, we are just supposed to go blindly along the path of increasing consumption, and defend the ignorance of doing so as if we are defending the 'Gospel Truth.'
We are not supposed to know. We are not supposed to bear mention of these things.
Let us assume that the Global Peak of Oil has indeed been reached (or is at least imminent). If this were actually the case, then one ought to assume that the nation that happens to be the largest net importer of oil would make some sort of strategic play to secure so vital a resource to the economic interests of that nation. In short, one would expect a military presence in those regions where the largest oil reserves are to be found. Short of a military presence, in an overt way, one would also tend to expect the presence of covert military operations in nations where the instigation of some kind of internal conflict would prove beneficial to that nation's ability to secure the resources in question.
These are, of course, ugly scenarios for many Americans—not to mention fellow planetary citizens around the world—to consider. The idealistic image of America is threatened by the possibility of disclosures such as these. Yet, look and examine thoroughly we must.
Some may consider that direct American military presence on the ground, in nations with the largest reserves of oil and natural gas, is merely a coincidence. The fact that Iraq is reported to have the second largest reserves of oil (11%), next to Saudi Arabia (25%), well, that is seen as being inconsequential relative to the cover-story of Iraq as an 'imminent and mounting terrorist threat.' It is just coincidence that Iraq happens to have the world's second largest recoverable reserves of oil!
History tells us something quite different though. History informs us that an Empire knows no bounds in the effort to secure vital resources needed to sustain the Empire at home. A strong military presence abroad is a vital requirement in order to ensure the sanctity of the Empire at home—just as it always has been. Without a 'big stick' the Empire cannot assure itself of the vital resources needed to maintain the Empire, if not grow it.
History also reveals other startling facts about the nature, the course, and the dynamics of Empires. History has forewarned us all about the total lack of self-restraint exhibited by Empires. Archaeological evidence has reported back to us about the excesses of Empires. Written records have spoken of the rapacious nature of Empires and the ravenous hunger that is required in order to sustain them. What we know from History is this: that it is in the nature of an Empire to overwhelm the capacity of the surrounding world to sustain the Empire indefinitely. And what I am suggesting here—based upon the mounting evidence—is that there is a large likelihood that something similar is happening right now, in our midst, as we speak. The capacity to sustain the hunger of the American Empire is growing greater than the world's capacity to meet the increasing need.
The current American administration has said just as much itself. The following quote is from the National Energy Policy, as taken right off the official White House website.
America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970's… we produce 39 percent less oil today than we did in 1970, leaving us ever more reliant on foreign suppliers.
That same website also goes on to inform the reader that, according to their own statistics, America contains but 5% of the total world population, yet uses upwards of 25% of the world's total supply of available energy resources at any one time.
Now my question is this: What more definitive expression of an Empire is there than those glaring statistics? Isn't the pattern exhibited by Empires throughout History that of taking and using more resources than what can be given back? Aren't resource wars and a strong military presence part of the heritage of Empires from Genghis Khan to the Romans, from the Nazi regime under Hitler to Great Britain? I think that the answer on that one speaks for itself, don't you?
Karl Marx made the argument that one cannot simply look at what a particular Culture/Civilization says about itself in order to discover the fundamental truth of that Civilization… or Culture. Instead, one has to look at two factors, and then weigh these in the balance. First, one has to understand the 'productive forces' that are employed by the Civilization in question, and then see these vis-à-vis the 'relations of production.' In simple English, this means that the 'primary forces of production' speak volumes about the kinds of relationships that will exist in and amongst persons. Industrial-era relationships are much different from agrarian-era relationships. The primary manner in which a society produces—i.e., works!—will have a sweeping effect on the nature and manner of the types of relationships that will be fostered amongst persons, as well as the types and kinds of relationships that will be obstructed, if not outright denied, by those same productive forces.
The reason I dare to mention all of this here—and at the risk of confusion!—is due to the fact that oil is the really the juice on which present-day Civilization runs. Without oil, the 'primary modes of production' (the ways in which goods are produced) that are currently employed by Civilization would not continue to exist. Oil fuels Civilization's current productive forces. It is as simple as that! So, according to Marx, this oil dependence will tend to have a monumental effect on the nature and types of relationships that will not only exist between persons, but also between sovereign nation-states.
Look at the process of Globalization. Contrary to popular belief the greatest indicator of Globalization is not information technology and the Internet. These are meaningless without the actual existence of durable goods capable of being shipped from one corner of the planet to the other. Globalization is really more about transportation than it is anything else. And what fuels the process of transportation? Yup, you guessed it. Oil does.
It is oil that has made Globalization possible. Without oil there would be no capacity to ship goods from China to Europe, from Europe to India, from India to Japan, and from Japan to America. Without oil the shipping industry would sink in a New York minute and without the shipping industry there would be no mass importing/exporting of durable goods, and without any mass importing/exporting of durable goods the communications network would be without any foundation for existing.
Like I said, the Communications Revolution has not made Globalization. Take away oil and there is not this process we have been calling Globalization!
Just listen to these statistics from Richard Duncan, PhD, who discovered in 1999 that approximately 95 percent of all transportation was powered by oil; and that 50 percent of all oil was used for transportation purposes. We could even leave these glaring statistics aside and understand a large portion of what is going on around us by simply observing the fact that transportation is hugely oil-dependent. It is like our transportation stock-portfolio is profoundly weighted to one-side. All of our transportation eggs are still one basket, and one basket alone.
That is a recipe for disaster! Any sane economic adviser would point out that having all of one's transportation reliant upon one source of fuel is to court inevitable disaster. Diversification would be strongly recommended.
But that is not what we are seeing. In a previous essay, The Morning After: Reflections on the Election of a Lifetime, I spoke of the utter lack of leadership that is currently being portrayed by the present American administration. I did so with the added caveat that this lack of American leadership, on vital issues of Global Import, is an opportunity for the leadership and administrations of other nation-states. My sense was that if America failed to lead—and instead sought to secure its own vital national-interests, and did so to the detriment of future generations throughout the world—then perhaps other nation-states would take the reins of innovation and ingenuity and run with them.
The Stages Of A Dying Empire
It just doesn't seem to be in the cards for an Empire—any Empire—to go quietly into the night. There is struggle. There is a hanging on desperately; clinging to the power, prestige and privilege that History, Destiny, Fate, or just plain ol' Dumb Luck, has brought the Empire in waning. No. The death throes of an Empire are not at all pretty.
Maybe the Empire feels that time is running out on its reign of international supremacy. Maybe the Empire becomes a cult of paranoia. Maybe the Empire starts to pre-emptively strike out at other nations, peoples, or states because there is this unconscious impression of a changing of the tide—that the Empire's day in the sun is drawing to a close.
Like someone who is dying, an Empire may experience its own 'stages of death and dying,' ala the renowned work of the late psychiatrist, authour and activist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
What if the quote we have been working on the basis of, the one borrowed from Freud's work Civilization and Its Discontents, is indeed true? Namely, that the 'development of civilization has such a far reaching similarity to the development of the individual.' If this does follow ,then Civilizations will experience the exact same stages of death and dying that individuals are said to go through. This means that an Empire that has reached its apex in time will have only one way to go… and that is down. As the Buddha sought to remind one and all, 'that which has a beginning in time will have an end in time as well.'
Yet, accepting this end in time is not so easy. There is, as we know, not only personal resistance to death and dying, there is also collective resistance to death and dying; made of the sum total of a particular peoples clinging to the forms of their social relations and national identity. 'God save the Queen' is but one expression of this.
The American Empire will have its own inevitable expressions of clinging to the forms of its social relations, its productive forces, and its sense of national-self on the international scene. Time will likely tell what these will consist of. Where will the Empire make its stand? Where will the Empire draw the line? Will it be in the sands of Saudi Arabia or Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan? Where will the American Empire confront the fact of its own death and dissolution as an Empire?
Conclusion: A Eulogy For Empire
I am under no illusion that America will disappear in the near-term. Nor do I think that America ought to, or should. My argument is not against America, per se. I am not a native-born American preaching with unconscious Oedipal rage against the existence of his own father-land. Rather, I am not at all unlike you; just a citizen of this-shared-world: a citizen who knows the perils of Empire-making and maintaining—whether that Empire is American, British, Ottoman, Soviet, Persian, Roman, or Chinese.
Oh… but its not so bad for you if you are on the right-side of the Empire-making business. If you are, then maybe you have a certain sense of your own economic-interests being tied up in the continuation of the Empire. Maybe defending the 'status quo' becomes a full-time occupation.
In other words, if I am one who is profiting greatly—whether materially, financially, or socially—from the ongoing existence of certain imperialistic stances evidenced around the world by an Empire that I am an included part of, then why would I dare speak up. It would be foolish to do so, right? That is, unless there is some other imperative driving me to question the capacity I may personally have by being an included member of the Empire.
Maybe I cannot bear to remain silent, watching the collective insanity manifested by the Empire's own unconscious strivings for some form of nationalized immortality and/or omnipotence. Maybe I cannot bear to sit idly by and know that somewhere—many-wheres, in fact!—the Empire is both overtly and covertly seeking to ensure its own primary interests above the common health, well-being, and dignity of my fellow brothers and sisters around the world.
My feeling is that those of us who are privileged with a life of leisure can investigate the workings of their own culture enough to expose certain strains of ignorance; such that these can be brought to the table for discussion and potential resolution. I think that Freud is right on the money when he suggests that there are indeed similarities between individual development and the development of civilization. This would mean that a stages-model conception of the ideal development of the individual (as well as the potential pathologies that occur in a stage-dependent manner), ala Ken Wilber, would apply to Civilization's roughly in the same way that it does to individuals. Civilizations could be seen as evidencing narcissistic tendencies. Civilizations could be seen as evidencing paranoid delusions. Civilizations could be seen as exhibiting pathologies along the exact same lines of development that the people who make up those Civilizations do.
This would mean that Civilizations are subject to analysis. This would mean that an Empire could be put on the couch, could be diagnosed, could be observed for narcissistic traits and paranoid defense mechanisms. This would mean that the unconsciousness of an Empire could be explored by tracing that Empire's dreams.
Furthermore, as I have already pointed out earlier, a nation-state's foreign policy is evidence of how that nation-state relates to others. Does that nation-state play well with others? Is that nation-state a brute or a bully? Does that nation-state exhibit narcissistic, my-way-or-the-highway tendencies towards others? Does that nation-state seek to ensure the overall health and well-being of its fellow nation-states, or is there evidence for attempts to take advantage of other nation-states by using one's superiour economic and/or military power? All in all, the question here is: What are the socialization skills—or lack thereof!—of a nation-state as evidenced in, and expressed through, its foreign policy initiatives?
Finally, we can also glean the level of maturity that a specific nation-state expresses. Here is where I think that the age of European nations like Britain, France, and Germany… Italy, Spain, and Belgium… Greece, Hungary, and Poland… can play a crucial role in tempering a potential American crisis—an American crisis that will have global implications if it does indeed come to pass.
America is young in relation to a more wizened Europe—not to mention Russia, China, and India. I suspect that America's recent Imperialism is partly owed to the factors I mentioned earlier—in concert with a certain degree of brashness and arrogance that is very much the folly of youth. For all intents and purposes America as a singular nation has not experienced the crises that nations like Germany, France, and Russia have. America… in other words… has not discovered the limitations of its power. Previous incarnations of imperialism have discovered the limits to a nation's global reach: Russia is the most recent example, with Britain, Spain and France being other nations that have had that harsh lesson brought home to them.
The trouble with America at present is that just like a brash, young teenager, other nations will not be able to convince America of her over-reaching… of the over-extension of her powers… of the limitations that exist (limitations that other nations have discovered quite directly). America has to suffer her wound of initiation. I suspect that this is going to be the case. And if America was a nation-state whose pinnacle of economic and military might was reached through the seeming infinite availability of cheap oil, then maybe it will be oil that will bring American to her knees… maybe it will be oil that precipitates an American metanoia—a change of heart, a transformation of consciousness, a crisis that is also an opportunity for the emergence of a more mature and less hubristic stance towards the rest of the world.
Wiser nations, more mature nation-states and cultures like those that exist in Europe and Asia, will have to exhibit a fair amount of patience with current American tactics. For those of you in such nations who already have this history of having encountered limitations on a nation-state's reach outside of its own borders—and into the affairs of other nation-states in both an overt and covert manner—I beg you to please look upon America not as an Empire that will surround the globe in the spirit of sheer geo-economic and political self-interest, but as a nation-state that will come to experience the harsh realities of not consciously acknowledging that there are limitations on the power of one nation-state in the midst of its relations with all other nation-states.
Look at America as a body at the peak of its powers. See the military dominance. And also know that the American psyche is still immature, therefore, not able to reign in that body of power. Know that America must suffer an initiation regarding her limitations—and pray that this initiation is not too ugly.
Also know that we need you ol' Europe. Know that we need you ancient Indo-China… we need you Russia. We need the wisdom and maturity of those people who have already confronted the nature of imperialism at home and abroad. Just as we desperately need the wisdom contained with the oral history of the Native Americans, who fully understood the healthy extent of a tribe's reach, and how over-extending the tribe abroad was death to the tribe at home.
And know that there are Americans who see that their own nation-state is currently in the midst of repeating the mistakes of imperial over-reaching that other nation-states have already been wounded by. It is… we all pray… that wound that will work its way into wisdom for America in the same way that it has done so for more mature nation-states, who have transcended the immaturity of their collective adolescence.
Special acknowledgement for this essay goes to Kitaj, aka 'Zen Lunatic,' for poking and prodding me in the right direction. My humble thanks to him for his tenacity in doing so.
 See www.peakoil.net as well as www.hubbertpeak.com for more information on so underreported a topic.
 Freud, Sigmund, Civilization and Its Discontents. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1961.
 Europeans ought to give some consideration to the fact that accusations of current American imperialism are very much the result of precedents set by European nations. America became imperialistic because it had to in order to compete with other imperial powers—European political powers.
 My own guess is that this will be China. China will end up taking America's place and Americans—along with other nations—will find themselves accusing the Chinese of not playing fair or nice on the World-Stage.
 See www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/102302_campbell.html. Also, Ruppert, Michael C. Crossing The Rubicon, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2004.
 National Energy Policy. www.whitehouse.gov/energy/Overview.pdf
 National Energy Policy. www.whitehouse.gov/energy/Chapter8.pdf
 Duncan, Richard C. The Peak of World Oil Production and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge, www.hubbertpeak.com/Duncan/olduvai2000.htm
 See, for instance, Wilber, Ken, Integral Psychology, Boston: Shambhala, 2000.
 In this light, we could ask what are the dreams of the neo-conservative movement, which is presently centered within the current Bush administration? Does the PNAC (Policy for a New American Century) suggest something about the grandiose dreams, of what is perhaps an hyper-inflated sense of nationalistic-egotism and pride, hubris and arrogance, greed and chauvinism?
 In other words, might we read into the geo-strategic aims of an Empire's policy as if they were dreams being gleaned for subterranean signs, symbols, and symptoms?
About The Authour
David Jon Peckinpaugh is of German, Irish, English, and Cherokee descent. He is also the authour of Buddha & Shakespeare: Eastern Dharma, Western Drama (2004); Naked Guide To Life And Death: Experts, Extremism, Evolution, Education (2002); and the e-book Framing The Postmodern: Language, Culture, Commerce, Consciousness (2000).