The Will to Believe: Americans and their Divine Masters

“Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful.  Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style.”    – Albert Camus, The Fall

Propagandists are smart people. They begin their devious machinations with the premise that people need to believe in something rather than remaining suspended in doubt or forced to accept the existential courage of despair that leaves them temporarily lost and without answers or masters, suffering from free-floating anxiety.

Propagandists are like Mr. Death.  They know people are afraid of death and aloneness and so use that fear to manipulate them into believing their cover stories for comfort.

Propagandists are like the Candy Man, handing out fictive life savers to the shipwrecked desperadoes willing to grasp on to anything even if it has a big hole in its center.

Propagandists take this need for belief and use it to create different scenarios that they develop into full-scale social theater pieces that will give the public various options to believe, all of which are meant to satisfy the public’s yearning for something rather than nothing but which conceal the truth.

Facts don’t matter with these offerings since they are completely illusory narratives.

These staged plays usually contain their opposites; one can choose what has already been chosen for one, even seemingly contradictory scripts with opposing roles. Seemingly is the relevant word, for the opposites are not opposites but counterparts, flip sides of the same coin. But each choice is a choice of belief that satisfies the need to believe no matter how unbelievable. It’s the coin that’s counterfeit.

For the propagandists, facts are fictions used to entice the audience into double-binds so entrancing that there is no exit.  Or so they hope.

The French sociologist Jacques Ellul put it this way in his classic book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes:

For no citizen will believe he is unable to have opinions.  Public opinion surveys always reveal that people have opinions even on the most complicated questions, except for a small minority (usually the most informed and those who have reflected most).  The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing any opinion: this gives them the feeling of participation.  For they need simple thoughts, elementary explanations, a ‘key’ that will permit them to take a position, and even ready-made opinions.  As most people have the desire and at the same time the incapacity to participate [except to vote for and support  pre-selected candidates], they are ready to accept a propaganda that will permit them to participate, and which hides their incapacity beneath explanations, judgments, and news, enabling them to satisfy their desire without eliminating their incompetence….He realizes that he depends on decisions over which he has no control, and that realization drives him to despair.  Man cannot stay in this situation too long.  He needs an ideological veil to cover the harsh reality, some consolation, a raison d’être, a sense of values.  And only propaganda offers him a remedy for a basically intolerable situation.

Thus the need to choose a master, a prefabricated demigod. It is why the American presidents are presented and accepted by their followers as minor divinities. Yes, it is a civil religion, and yes, people will vehemently deny that they revere these figureheads.  But those denials ring false, as recent history and the pageantry associated with the installation of these demigods will attest.

Take the last three presidents, for example.

Barack Obama was considered by his followers and many others like a prayer come true, a black messiah come to redeem the country from its racist past and evil war-making deeds of his Muslim-hating, war-mongering predecessor George W. Bush.  That Obama then waged war on seven Muslim countries didn’t matter to his congregation. Not in the slightest. They revered him as strongly as they had denounced  Bush, the black-hatted white demon to their white-hatted black god,  for the western movie template underlies these political theater pieces. Obama was a dream come true and the dream factory went into overdrive. As the priestess Madonna prophesied with Like A Prayer in 1989:

Just like a dream
You are not what you seem
Just like a prayer, no choice
Your voice can take me there

Then the orange-halo-headed Trump was paraded in.  To his followers he was the savior who would re-redeem the country from the devilish divinity Obama, the false prophet.  He would drain the swamp. Desperate middle-Americans revered this NYC real-estate tycoon and reality TV star who for years was nothing but a running joke among those who actually knew who he was.  It didn’t matter to his congregation.  Not in the slightest. That he gave to the rich and screwed the middle-class and the poor, increased the military budget, waged secretive wars via drones and private mercenaries didn’t matter a bit.  He was a religious figure. To Hillary Clinton’s and Obama’s acolytes, he was Satan himself, and for four years the anti-pageant play was presented by the corporate mainstream media to exorbitant box office receipts and ratings. God and Satan fought in the ring for the ultimate fighting championship.

Now Joseph Biden – just as Ronald Reagan, another acting president, had the coffee brewing for “Morning in America” – is greeted by the same media filmmakers as the latest savior, an aging but still virile demi-god who will usher in “a new day” in America.  The pageantry surrounding his recent virtual inaugural, like all inaugurals, was a religious ceremony choreographed within an ironic circle of 20,000-armed palace guards and barbed wire fencing protecting the erection of the new king, one who, like Oedipus in Sophocles’ tragedy, is presented as the savior who will defeat the viral plague attacking the new Thebes.  Unlike Oedipus, however, one can be assured that Biden will not seek to discover the murderer of Laius  (JFK), the former king, whose assassination resulted in the plague devastating the country.  Oedipus’s search for the truth didn’t end well, and Biden’s long insider career bodes well for no truth-seeking.  And like his predecessors’ inaugural ceremonies, this one featured cultural idols such as Hunger Games Lady Gaga, Madonna 2.0, promoting herself as befits idols, and  Bruce Springsteen offering his evenings “small prayer for our country” – Land of Hopes and Dreams:

Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rollin’ down this track
Well, you don’t know where you’re goin’ now
But you know you won’t be back….

I said this train…
Dreams will not be thwarted
This train…
Faith will be rewarded

No, we won’t be back, unless you think Biden’s slogan – “Build Back Better” – which is also the slogan of the world’s rulings elites, means what it says.  Perhaps then your faith will be rewarded.

I’ll go with George Carlin when he said that to believe in the American Dream you have to be asleep.

My faith is that the corporate mass media hypnotists who work for the owners of the country will continue to pump out their religious spectacles and that the various congregations will support their masters as always. The will to believe runs very deep and hand-in-glove with the propaganda. Life’s hard and it’s tough to be without a master.  “Men don’t become slaves out of mere calculating self-interest,” writes Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death, “the slavishness is in the soul, as Gorky complained.”

Propagandists’ ability to mesmerize the faithful has increase exponentially as the technological life has increased and been promoted as de rigueur.  This on-line life is propagated as a new religion whose embrace is said to be inevitable and whose faith one must accept as the missionaries for its miraculous nature spread the word far and wide.

Propagandists are smart people.

They hate freedom.



24 thoughts on “The Will to Believe: Americans and their Divine Masters”

  1. Who said this doesn’t matter…., I’m sure a number of people have over the thousands of years…., “not only has man accepted his enslavement, he has even become proud of his enslavement…, and this is a terrible thing”

  2. “They hate freedom” (They = Carlin’s owner class)
    Why? Because “freedom” could mean that they no longer hold the power. Someone else would.

    (We live in an economic system based on food production and fossil-fuel-exosomatic energy, a system highly conducive, inevitably conducive to the formation of hierarchical social organisms.)

    Time to go back and review Sapolsky’s “Behave” and Varki et alia:
    A part of the general field of evolutionary psychology
    Brower’s idea was seminal, as discussed by Varki in this note:
    An alternative view to denial theory…mental modularity-compartmentalization:

    1. Thank you Avianthro…unfortunately I did not understand anything until I reached the word ‘reply’. Is it possible to summarize your comment? Thank you

  3. Everything’s “theater” these days. Everything. Has been for decades. Nothing ever changes – except becoming more transparent in its intensity.

    I prefer playing fetch with my cat to all the nonsense…

  4. “The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing any opinion: this gives them the feeling of participation.”

    I’ve noticed, that as humans relinquish ever-more control over ever-more aspects of their lives, surrendering to their Divine Masters, they seemingly lose their sense of relevance, of worth, of importance.
    Small business is dying, the total number of businesses is declining, as the pace of fewer but larger corporations is increasing.
    Leading to more corporate hierarchy, and lesser individual participation.
    Meaning even less sense of relevance, worth, importance. etc.

    The numbers of opinions, and the veracity with which those opinions are defended by those whom hold them, seem inversely proportional to those losses of senses of self worth & relevance.

    Thinking oneself is right is supplanting their losses of importance in the many other aspects of their lives.

    Charles Darwin was on the receiving end of much criticism of his personal observations of Nature (including his “discovery” of carnivorous plants, which was often rejected by those whom held strict beliefs in the “divine” hierarchy of species).
    But Darwin wrote that “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
    An observation that serves as a basis of the cognitive bias the Dunning Kruger effect.
    I.e. – people with lesser complete knowledge of a topic or subject tend to overstate their confidence in that subject or topic, thinking they know more than they truly do.
    Like sole reliance on theological teachings, rather than personal observations & experiments & such.

    It’s often the more intelligent & thoughtful people whom maintain the most doubt in what they believe.
    Being the least certain of anything.

    Certainty is often only considered a “strength” to those whom lack strength in other aspect of their lives.

    The “liberal” Writer, Philosopher, Mathematician and true Polymath Bertrand Russell wrote of the practice of Critical Thinking:
    • Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
    • Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
    • Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
    • Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
    • Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
    • Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter (note the use of the qualifier word “intelligent dissent”, i.e. don’t argue just to argue).
    • A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering. But at present, in most countries, education aims at preventing the growth of such a habit, and men who refuse to profess belief in some system of unfounded dogmas are not considered suitable as teachers of the young…

    That last point is what I call the Sliding-Scale of Belief.
    One can hold degrees of both belief and disbelief in anything at the same time, relying on best available evidence to determine those degrees of belief and disbelief, and constantly adjusting those degrees of belief and disbelief, based on any new evidence.

    To frame that idea in a current topic of debate – one can both believe in the virus called “covid” (aka coronavirus) but also disbelieve the larger official narratives being promulgated, rather than resorting to surety of extremes (i.e. it’s as bad as the Black Plague vs. it’s all a huge fraud – which are two of the main attitudes I’m most commonly seeing) based on incomplete and/or flawed or faulty data, of both extreme sides.

    True knowledge, like true science, is in not knowing (never being absolutely certain).
    Constantly seeking answers, but admitting you still never know for sure, thus continuing to look, to consider and evaluate new information & facts, even when that new info & facts contradict any currently held beliefs.

    The larger point being that if we remain absolutely certain of most anything, we largely stop growing intellectually.

    I suggest people seek & learn to gain back control of those other aspects of their lives, those they’ve surrendered, that have likely resulted in feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, unimportance, etc.
    And learn to engage in more thoughtful interpersonal engagement & conversation, and learning from others whom also hold opinions, even (and more importantly) opposing opinions.

    Propagandists are smart people.
    And they often know far better how to feed on everyone’s personal biases, prejudices, beliefs, etc., in more covert manners.

    Which is why we should all question our own thoughts, opinions, beliefs, biases & such first.
    Rather than immediately attacking those of other people first.

    But too many people are too certain they know how to identify, and overcome that propaganda.
    Because again, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”.

    1. Very well presented treatise Sean. Even though it probably goes well beyond the quintessential American’s will or ability to believe.

    2. Good morning Sean…you said; “Like sole reliance on theological teachings, rather than personal observations & experiments & such” And there you have it in one simple sentence which is why a God was used to create the common fear, the manipulation and control. The closer you are to authorities, the closer you are to god. Deny what you feel. Deny your own existence! When I was asked about the covid issue…, I cannot provide you with tangible evidence to prove the earth is not flat!

      1. Do we function entirely too much from our small brain? If so, why is this? Why do we have so many questions and do not SEE? Our memories enable everything but the truth. A plus B is always what the authorities tell us it is! Do our minds always follow the wrong paths of/to information? Is Wrong not the correct word? How in the world does a politician know the injection did not hurt Henry Aaron? As the man stated…”we are a ‘special’ kind of stupid”!

    3. “Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.” Just one tidbit of the sage advice offered in this comment, c/o Bertrand Russell and sean ryan. I wasn’t going to post this follow-up rejoinder to Ed’s plandemic position, though when I shared it with him he seemed to hope I would, given that he fully understands the danger alluded to in the above quote. So, in line with the gist of sean’s comment, here is my “eccentric opinion,” eccentric in the context of Ed’s framework of analysis, which is undoubtedly shared by most readers of this blog. “Ed, as usual, offers a crystal clear synopsis of recent American history and politics. There is little question about how to interpret the past, at least for those with eyes to see. There is, however, a crucial question IMHO about how to interpret the present. Are we simply experiencing another plutocratic plot–this time, a plandemic–to gain further ascendency for the elite by increasing immmiseration of the masses? Are we merely seeing an extension and intensification of the vise-grip of the malevolent powers behind the curtain, those which surely orchestrated the killing of JFK, the subsequent assassinations of political and social leaders, the inside job of Sept. 11, the resulting surveillance/police state, the waging of perpetual war, etc.? In other words, is what we’re seeing just more of the same, or is something new and unprecedented, something fraught with both peril and promise, suddenly at work in our midst? As the plutocrats feverishly exploit the pandemic, obscenely profit from it in the short run, is the game up even for them? Is there indeed a destiny/divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them though we will? Might the neoliberal shark, the pre-pandemic global economy hellbent on oppression, imperialism, and ecocide, find itself frozen in place again and again, as the virus returns in waves, mutates, develops immunities to new treatments, etc., always staying one step ahead of even the most draconian efforts to control it? Like some species of shark, does the neoliberal global economy need to swim to breathe–relentlessly move, expand, exploit more, consume more, in order to survive? If so, if we’re truly experiencing a pandemic, not a plandemic, could the upshot be that the neoliberal shark itself, the entire interconnected global economy, eventually, perhaps even sooner than expected, float belly up, taking with it the plutocrats who have been the nervous system pulling its strings? And finally, if all of this comes to pass in accord with that postulated destiny/divinity, will humanity finally be given an opening, an opportunity, a forced option, to get about the business of building a better, more beautiful world? Just something to ponder, at least for me and Ed and my other friends who visit this most friendly, most extraordinary blog.”

    4. Now that we have all these insights and knowledge…what do we do? Should we simply put on our masks and hide under the bed or in the dark basement. Should we try to interact with the frightened eyes appearing just above the mask. Should we throw out a jocular or warm comment to attempt to break down the invisible barriers of fear, distrust, skepticism. Although, even before we entered the military-bootcamp-masked-dehumanizing process I would frequently attempt to dissolve those barriers. Well, anyway…I think we have a gigantic problem and we can possibly share ideas, strategies, about how we can commune-communicate-become a humane community.

  5. Thank you Ed. You always provide a breath of much needed sanity. Sanity sadly having become a commodity now as equally exotic and rare in our public discourse as the sighting of an actually “progressive” Democratic Party politician.

  6. We do seriously have to consider the possibility or likelihood of humanity separating into different types, branches, “phylum”, class, race, or species. This is obviously not something we can actively either strive for nor prevent, but it may provide a little solace for the mental anguish of “distancing” or separation.

    1. If we separate ourselves into different categories, then they have won and we become their willing slaves. Strength is numbers, not separation. Why do you think they are enforcing social distancing. It is to weaken the 99%, so the 1% can stay in power.

  7. So, Ed, do you know anything, or do you have an opinion? Is the truth, is reality out there or in here or anywhere? What are you pushing?

    1. Hi BitinDawg… I am asking…, is the truth being aware of yourself and without all of the indoctrination into slavery, into buying stuff that is not healthy for the individual and not healthy for anything that supports life. The anthropologist stated by the time children are 12 years old, they know every aspect of their immediate world; every plant, every tree, every insect, birds, animals, the soil, the water. At 73 years old, I don’t know anything except I am not interested in marching in place in quicksand!

  8. Many Americans think it’s America’s high tech military weaponry that lets the country dominate the world. I beg to differ. What America does better than any other country is propaganda. From the news media to human rights NGOs to Netflix shows and Hollywood blockbusters, the United States saturates the world with clever propaganda that most people don’t even recognize as such. It’s actually not that difficult to spot, but you need to know what to look for and far too few people really want to know. They prefer comforting illusions, simple morality tales in which “their side” can do nothing wrong and the “other side” can be killed or canceled with impunity.

    I’ve never understood why so many people, who do everything they can to avoid thinking “scary” thoughts that might pull them out of their comfort zone, nonetheless are convinced that they are experts at understanding all kinds of things they never think about. After all, skimming a book on chemistry doesn’t make one an expert chemical engineer. But plenty of people whose “thinking” doesn’t go beyond the CNN or BBC website feel they are qualified to opine on the war in Syria, say, and other topics that can’t be understood just by skimming a website or watching the evening “news.”

    Americans are great small talkers and can talk at length about a plethora of superficial nonsense. But try to have a discussion about serious issues and, more often than not, you will be met with blank stares of incomprehension or treated to the embarrassing spectacle of someone making a fool of themselves by talking about things they know absolutely nothing about.

    Frankly, I don’t see this getting better any time soon. If anything, the internet and “social” media have made people even dumber and less able to think critically and independently. I fear we are entering a new dark age.

  9. We’re living in a freakshow Wrestlemania where everything is fake, but we pretend its real.

    1. Thanks Dennis – There is not one thing worth taking into tomorrow! I have publicly stated our town’s landfill is more attractive than the town itself. I’m serious! The landfill is void of proudly made ugliness, buildings, streets, 4 wheeled junk. It’s essentially a big soil covered mound. Oh yes, the landfill has toxins just like the town, but the landfill is free of toxic minds and ideas of the pathological liars and degenerates.

  10. “Ni dieu ni maitre” is a hard way of life, but the only honest way to live. Excellent piece of writing, Ed. Thanks.

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