Disembodied Americans and the Crucifixion of the World

“The existent, the body, disappears. We live within a spectacle of empty clothes and unworn masks….Nobodies and no Necessity – for Necessity is the condition of the existent. It is what makes reality real.” – John Berger, “Steps Toward a Small Theory of the Visible”
“The real body. To be real, it must be bodily; and to be a body is to be eaten. The humiliation in incarnation; to become bread. To be eaten: to be consumed by sorrow, sickness, and death. – Norman O. Brown, Love’s Body
“If Marx were functioning today he would have been hard put to avoid saying that imaginary sex is the opiate of the people.” – John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards

Why are so many Americans indifferent to the savage slaughter of millions of people around the world carried out by their own government under a long string of presidents? Why were they stone-cold silent during eight years of Obama’s many wars and drone killings of which he boasted? Why are they silent in the face of the Trump administration’s continuation and expansion of those wars and its push for a nuclear war with Russia? Why this incestuous turning in and away from the bloody havoc their government keeps inflicting on the world?

And why all this denial while focusing on the pornographic media spectacles of Stormy Daniels (the porn queen turned “Adult Film Actress”), Monica Lewinsky, and a host of others paraded before the cameras to distract and entertain a population of spectators?

I, like many people, wonder why. What follows is an attempt at an answer, with the focus of my thinking being primarily on middle to upper class Americans, for the poor and working classes have a hard enough time making ends meet and keeping alive themselves, since they are the victims of a domestic war waged by the same heartless ruling class that kills so many overseas.

For when people lose touch with the physicality of life and embrace spectral images, mediated reality, and abstractions as real, they have stepped into a totally nihilistic world. A disembodied world. When this is joined to a narcissistic self-preoccupation with one’s own well-being and comfort, indifference to the suffering of others becomes the norm. This is the world of unreality populated today by so many Americans, who have grown progressively indifferent to the slaughter by their own government of people throughout the world – heaps of millions of dead bodies, blood, and body-parts everywhere. In “Song in the Blood” the French poet Jacques Prevert says:

There are great puddles of blood on the world

where’s it going all this spilled blood….

murder’s blood…war’s blood

misery’s blood…

and the blood of men tortured in prison….

Where’s it going all this spilled blood

the earth that turns and turns and turns

with its great streams of blood.

To the bodiless bloodless insouciant ones, however, the blood of “others” is invisible. It is our lives that matter. What is being done to these “others” is of little consequence because it is experienced as an abstraction – unreal – as if it weren’t happening, even as it is. And in a twist of fate straight from Greek tragedy, those who embrace this delusion are in denial of the very real possibility that they too will be “disappeared” by a nuclear war being provoked in their names. Having turned their backs on nature and the corporeal reality of all living beings, having denied the passion play that is life on earth for all people, having denied that there are limits to American hubris and the West’s clearly insane and nihilistic push for nuclear war with Russia, they will pleasure themselves “until the atom too bursts into flames,” as Albert Camus warned, “and history ends in the triumph of reason and the death agony of the species.”

In an incisive article, “It is Us,” John Steppling recently asked a series of Tolstoyan questions about the ruling class (and by extension most Americans): “What does the ruling class want?” he asked. How much money do these people need? Is it power they are after with their mad quest to gobble up the world and slaughter as they go? Power for what? For more money? Why are they provoking a nuclear war with Russia? Are they simply crazy? Don’t they know they too will die? And what about all those affluent liberals and conservatives, the narcissistic bourgeoisie, the average person, are they all suicidal?

I believe they think in their delusional way that the coachman will pass them by. They are living in the unreality that has overtaken so much of the Western world. They believe they will pass. No failure for them. They won’t die. They will “pass on.” They are different, special, they live in a fantasy of bodiless abstractions, even as they work on their bodies to go on and on, exercise and diet, pill after pill, supplements, dreams of running marathons at 98, body parts replaced as they do yoga poses to dreamy ethereal music in the safe surround of a warless environment where bombs and missiles are for the others in bloody bodies over there far away. The pornography of war out of sight and thought; the screening of pornographic titillation in everyone’s face.

It is generally assumed that the United States is a materialist society where the voluptuous life of bodily existence is affirmed and celebrated. Big breasts and bigger butts, skinny jeans and streaming sex scandals to the contrary, I think this is not true. American society has joined its Puritan tradition to instrumental reasoning and its go-go-get-it-done practicality to create a culture where the human body has become, like everything and everyone else, a thing to be manipulated – an instrument to be masturbated, a thing to be pampered, paraded, and presented in a society of looking-glass selves. Selfies in flight from others and human encounters where care and communion of consciousness lead one to love the world as one’s body and to feel compassion for others far away in other lands who are being slaughtered by our guns and bombs. And to say No, not in my name, not over my dead body. To burst the bubble of the self. W. H. Auden put it this way in the poem Are You There?

Whatever view we hold, it must be shown

Why every lover has a wish to make

Some other kind of otherness his own:

Perhaps, in fact, we never are alone.

Yet Americans pursue loneliness as if their mirror images were the world. Or the things they so avidly buy reflect who they are: interior decorating for the soul. Souls divorced from their instrumental bodies. With packaged and commodified consciousnesses, so many “interact with products” these days, as they pursue constantly retreating phantoms; the social narcissism of images falling in love with their own images and reaching out to embrace their shadows.

This is as far from eroticism as one can get, if one grasps the true meaning of Eros, the god of love, life, joy, and becoming, whose growth was stunted until his mother Aphrodite was oracularly told that “Love cannot grow without Passion.” And passion is a reaching out for others, not for oneself, or one’s phantom image. The brilliant psychologist Rollo May summed up our situation by saying that when “eros has lost passion,” it has become “insipid, childish, and banal.” And when the cult of technique and technology becomes a social addiction, feeling, passion, and individual identity is blotted out and, “mirabile dictu, we discover that the myth [of Eros] proclaims exactly what we have seen happening in our own day, eros, then, even loses interest in sex.” Except on screens.

Once the human body becomes an object of narcissistic preoccupation – its maintenance, presentation, coddling, etc. – it has become an instrument to be used, as do other people. The body remains but the human disappears, and the remaining “instrumental” body is “disembodied.” Once the human body is reduced to a machine and human intercourse in its multiple meanings is accepted as a “mediated reality” through so-called smart devices, we know that the era of humanoids has arrived, as Howard Beale so famously announced in the film Network over forty years ago. Smart phones for dumb people; always in touch but never touching.

To be human is to be embodied, incarnated, to love and suffer passionately, body and soul. Sexual passion and tenderness in the service of life, not death. Eros, not Thanatos. Passion for a suffering world and victims everywhere. I think one important reason why so many Americans have turned their backs as their government crucifies the rest of the world is because they have lost their bodies not their minds, and in exchanging shadows on the wall for flesh and blood they have abandoned the world and embraced the unreality of things that a capitalist, consumer society proffers in lieu of life. And as so many great thinkers (Coleridge, Swift, Brown, et al) have pointed out, to try to rise above the body is ironically to equate the body with excrement. Norman O. Brown writes, “Thus the morbid attempt to get away from the body can only result in a morbid fascination in the death of the body.” From this flows the narcissistic focus on self-preservation and the spending of one’s life energies on the acquiring of dead things rather than the carefree letting go of one’s love and care into the whole world that is crying out for redemption from an orgy of violence.

Of course, the paradox of the disappearance of the living body into spectral images and things is the departure of the soul as well, the embodied soul. And a soulless country is a place where reality no longer exists and one can, for example, view Michelangelo’s Pietà and think, “What an amazing sculpture, how did he do it?” but fail to feel heartache and rage that so many mothers across this planet are now weeping and cradling the crushed and crucified bodies of their children, victims of American weapons of war. Our weapons. Our wars.

When will we dead awaken?

Educated in the classics, philosophy, literature, theology, and sociology, Ed Curtin teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His writing on varied topics has appeared widely over many years. He states: “I write as a public intellectual for the general public, not as a specialist for a narrow readership. I believe a non-committal sociology is an impossibility and therefore see all my work as an effort to enhance human freedom through understanding.” His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/ .

horiz-long grey

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Parting shot—a word from the editors
The Best Definition of Donald Trump We Have Found

In his zeal to prove to his antagonists in the War Party that he is as bloodthirsty as their champion, Hillary Clinton, and more manly than Barack Obama, Trump seems to have gone “play-crazy” — acting like an unpredictable maniac in order to terrorize the Russians into forcing some kind of dramatic concessions from their Syrian allies, or risk Armageddon.However, the “play-crazy” gambit can only work when the leader is, in real life, a disciplined and intelligent actor, who knows precisely what actual boundaries must not be crossed. That ain’t Donald Trump — a pitifully shallow and ill-disciplined man, emotionally handicapped by obscene privilege and cognitively crippled by white American chauvinism. By pushing Trump into a corner and demanding that he display his most bellicose self, or be ceaselessly mocked as a “puppet” and minion of Russia, a lesser power, the War Party and its media and clandestine services have created a perfect storm of mayhem that may consume us all. Glen Ford, Editor in Chief, Black Agenda Report


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6 thoughts on “Disembodied Americans and the Crucifixion of the World

  1. crucifixion is such an ugly word… it evokes the obsession of christanity with blood and torture… Isn’t it time to use language that is not linked to the whole violence prone, human supremacist, exclusivity of the semitic religious tradition… so that all the bloody myths can finally be laid to rest…. and progress for humanity will be possible.

  2. “Why are so many Americans indifferent to the savage slaughter of millions of people around the world carried out by their own government under a long string of presidents?” You may wonder but I can answer that. They did protest and fight against the Vietnam wars, but their protest was thoroughly assimilated and slowly killed. It has little to do with nihilism and other pseudo-psychological theories. This thinking is the anomie I commented on elsewhere which is a sort of bourgeois lassitude and despair. It is quite fashionable, but it leaves no room for revolt nor any hope for a change in human society and behavior. One must have lived through two wars, one the grand war of 1940-45 to learn that the human spirit survives and that hope truly is eternal, otherwise we may as well jump into the volcano. Sophisticated Europeans in general know and have seen and done that. Simply look at the movie Battle of Algiers to see how in the most difficult circumstances people survive and triumph. The trouble with US citizens is not that they are unfeeling or indifferent, but simply that they see no choice nor are any alternatives ever allowed to be presented to the masses and indeed it has deformed them. But it is elitism to condemn them ‘en masse’. What is pornographic is their conditioning by human engineering and that can and will surely sooner or later be lifted to expose the circumstances under which they live. As for that the author can only speak for the white upper-middle classes, because from experience I know that among the so-called third-world people and the workers there is much distrust and cynicism about what is being done in their name, ergo one finds them voting for an iconoclast like Trump who promises to bring down the whole elite mispocha (such a great word!). Enough with all the wailing about the deficiencies of a people who have been severely damaged and though the reasoning and erudition of Mr. Curtin is beyond reproach, the tone of his article is anti-revolutionary and very disheartening, something we certainly do not need within the present circumstances. Once again, I attach a quote from Lenin: “The most important thing when ill is to never lose heart”.

  3. The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it (KM)
    One may cynically ask “What could your solution be then?” I do not have a solution as I do not see the problem. The solution is to forge ahead and if rational, the people will follow. Melancholia is for elites. Besides which this kind of reasoning like that of Mr. Hall Is so old-fashioned. It reverts to the 1970’s and reminds one of Paul Goodman’s “Growing up absurd” and Herbert Marcuse’s ‘One-Dimensional man’. Far more brilliant analyses have been written by Theodor Adorno of the Frankfurt School and previously by Frantz Fanon about what psychological oppression and ‘gleichschaltung’ may do to the human mind. But that does not mean a collapse of the will (using Riefenstahl), on the contrary rebellion grows within. There is a lassitude among the ‘intelligentsia’ that takes no stance nor shows a grain of understanding about what the hoi polloi of real workers feels and thinks. This was smartly parodied in Westside Story: “Gee, Officer Krupke, We are sick, We are sick, We are sick sick sick Like we’re sociologically sick!

    1. To better understand the roots of psychological oppression – look to jesus, the most vindictive of demagogues. Every type of violence from murder, to pedophilia to spousal abuse to the mass destruction of non-believers… is forgiven. Here’s the catch: total adoration and worship of jesus, where disobedience is punishable by eternal damnation.

      Given this paradigm, white christian males, the enforcers of jesus, claim the same brutal authority… All disobedience, protest, rational questioning must be squelched, no matter the means.

      So long as the bloody tortured imager of christianity permeates the mainstream consciousness, all civil disobedience eventually succumbs to the reality that protest is futile. The response to this oppression is simple…. violence is not the answer… Simply ending all moral and financial support to religions rooted in exclusivity, human supremacy, violent myths designed to inspire fear… is the first step.

      It is not coincidental that almost all brutal dictatorships of the west act in alliance with christian leadership – for they are the masters of suppression.

  4. PS
    We live in remarkable times. The only suggestion I could make is to look at the ‘news’ on television and see the masses of demonstrators till now ineffective because they have not yet developed the most effective methods or even correct rationale for their actions. But the ‘damaged’ crowds know that there is something very wrong (Mr. Jones!) and they start acting on it. They tend to be careful because they have experienced the reactions of the by now totally militarized police. But the action is there and will become larger and more assertive (cf the large demonstrations about the shooting of Stephon Clark in Northern California and those are not insensitive and emotionally dead citizens). There is enough awry within the nation, not to be involved in what it does overseas, and once human endeavor has changed this nation within, the attacks on the outside world will cease.

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