Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters. President Grover Cleveland, State of the Union Address, December 3, 1888
We live in a corporatized world. Most of us either own stocks, have an IRA account, are a member of a union or church, live in an incorporated city, work for an NGO, own or work for a small, medium size business or a transnational corporation. These are different types of corporations. Some are non-profit (501c3), like unions, churches, NGOs, etc, and other are for profit corporations. The non-profit bodies are organized for public good and don’t have earnings as an ultimate concern, whereas moneyed corporations are comprised of shareholders who have an interest in profit oriented enterprises. That being said, moneyed corporate power has increased consistently ever since court challenges brought into question the nature of a human being, a natural person, versus that of a corporation, an artificial person. This began during the era of the robber barons with legal battles that have created a favorable environment for corporations eventually leading to the emergence of the Investor State. An outcome made possible by promoting an ambiguous understanding of the term person.
Many of the legal challenges began in the nineteenth century by lawyers who filed successive legal challenges on behalf of dominant railroad corporations, arguing that a corporation is a legitimate person with similar Fourteenth Amendment rights that were granted to former slaves. Since then, moneyed corporate influence has increased in proportion to its economic power as evidenced by successive Supreme Court victories in favor of corporate rights. These victories were matched with the successful corporate lobbying of congress. All of this has led to a corporate doctrine that has permeated our cultural mindset and changed the social, religious and political landscape of power.
Keep in mind that a corporation is invisible, immortal and in the case of the body of the transnational corporations, it is omnipresent and omnipotent. These attributes endowed this emerging power as a quasi-religion, making the transnational corporations the most powerful economic body in the world. As a result it functions like a subliminal deity. In that capacity it has replaced institutionlized religions as the major purveyor of mediated doctrine settings the standard for human models of behavior. Role models that were typically managed by traditional religious institutions.
The following is a brief interpretation of how it happened.
Prior to his nomination as Supreme Court Chief Justice in1874, Morrison Remick Waite was a successful attorney representing large corporations and railroads companies. In 1886 he presided over the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company supreme court case involving unpaid property taxes by the Southern Railroad Company. The case was ruled in favor of the defendant based on the argument that the Santa Clara county had no jurisdiction including the value of fences siding the tracks in its tax assessment of property value levied on the railroad company.
Nothing about this ruling is remarkable in itself and would have been lost in the annals of jurisprudence, except for a controversial comment made by Chief Justice Waite which has been used as legal justification in favor of moneyed corporations ever since. The statement was not part of a ruling, nor part of the opinion of a majority or minority of the Court; nonetheless it’s been accepted as quasi-legal precedent. Keep in mind that the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company case was not about a ruling on the meaning that any person, including a corporation, had equal rights protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The chief legal adviser for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company was a lawyer and former judge named S. W. Sanderson. He was know for his view that a corporation was a person under the Constitution and should be treated the same as natural person ̶ a human being. He used this argument to prove that the provisions of the Constitution and laws of California are in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, an opinion that was most likely shared by the Chief Supreme Court Justice who made this comment in the case:
The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.
The lead lawyer for the Santa Clara County was a man named Delphin M. Delmas, also known as the silver-tongued orator of the west. He made a passionate plea against the fallacy put forth by the defense:
To my mind, the fallacy, if I may be permitted so to term it, of the argument lies in the assumption that corporations are entitled to be governed by the laws that are applicable to natural persons. That, it is said, results from the fact that corporations are [artificial] persons, and that the last clause of the of the Fourteenth Amendment refers to all persons without distinction.
One of the reasons the quote by Chief Justice Waite gained accepted legal status is because it was recorded by a court reporter named J. C. Bancroft Davies as a head note and published in a collection of Supreme Courts Reports (1885-1886). Davies held several jobs throughout his career. Among them he was a journalist, an assistant secretary of State and a US diplomat. He was also the president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company. In 1883 he became the Reporter of Decision of the Supreme Court of the United Sates. In his capacity of recorder he published and interpreted Waite’s statement above as follows:
The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
To this day the non-ruling head note of corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment has been inadvertently accepted as a matter-of-fact.
I leave it to the reader to interpret Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment and make his or her own mind as to the meaning of any person which is believed here to refer to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In order to redress what is considered to be a misinterpretation of the meaning of any person, various semantic and literary analogies are used to help clarify essential differences between a natural and artificial person.
Dr. Frankenstein and the creation of a person in his own image
In Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, the author recounts the story of a science student named Victor Frankenstein who creates a person in his own image; an Adam of his labors. This creation turns out to be a vindictive killer responsible for the murders of Victor’s brother and his childhood friend. The killings were committed by the creature as an act of revenge for being lonely and rejected by society because of his hideous looks. As a result the monster demands that Victor create a female companion to cure his loneliness and to enable him to procreate like a human being. Feeling threatened, Victor at first agrees and proceeds to create a mate, but then relents and destroys the female companion out of fear that they will procreate and create havoc in society. The monster finds out the doctor’s action. In retaliation he murders Victor’s newly wed wife Elisabeth. The story ends with Dr. Frankenstein in pursuit of the monster in order to destroy his wretched creation. After a long chase Victor dies in the North Pole without completing his mission. Upon finding out of his creator’s death, the creature wanders in the freezing wilderness seeking death.
Shelley’s book is a literary creation and the creature is a fictional person. In a similar fashion a corporation is a literary creation, more precisely a juridical artifact described as an artificial person. Both of these creations are fictional and are made in the image of man. The term man here does not relate to gender but to the creative properties of an individual being.
There is an essential distinction between a naturally born being and an artificial person, a creature of the law. The first is a unique individual while the second consists of two or more individuals, referred to as a body which is synonymous with corporation.
The original meaning of person -persona- is a mask used by an actor playing a role in a drama or in life. Hence, it is a guise played by a character in a play or movie. This sense has somehow changed since the nineteenth century when the term person came to be understood as a human being. The period corresponds to the growth of moneyed corporations during the Industrial Revolution exemplified by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company legal case.
The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person called the corporation. They differ in the purpose for which they are created, in the strength which they posses, and in the restraints under which they act.
Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry out a Divine purpose; the corporation is the handiwork of man and created to carry out a money-making policy. William Jennings Bryan
What relevance does a quote from a congressman who lived in an era when it was acceptable to make Christian references to God to a world that is overwhelmingly secularized? Foremost, it shows how far secularization has unfolded in our cultures today.
Secondly, a corporation is man’s creation. In this sense it is a legally modified organism that is challenging the premise of creation described in Genesis that God created Adam and Eve in his image. He created them male and female in order that they procreate the divine essence of life to reproduce, multiply and take dominion over the world. The argument here is that although the corporation is comprised of human beings, and as such is a body, it is not an individual and does not have the biological capacity to reproduce.
For the purpose of this analysis, I rely on basic functions of religion as they are appear in our cultures. They relate to the Roman experience of religio centered on a dynamic attribute of the sacred that establishes a separation, a buffer zone if you will, between beings and things that are sacred from beings and things that are common and ordinary. The word religion has many definitions and varies with various religious perspectives and experiences. The function of separation between the sacred and the profane is nonetheless found in most religions past and present. As a parenthesis, there are several examples of separation between the chosen/holy/sacred, and the common/unclean/impure in the Jewish holy scriptures, but there is no Hebrew word for religion. Whereas, in the New Testament the term is used as the scriptures were written in Greek by people who lived under the influence and control of the Roman empire.
Let’s steer away from a Judeo-Christian concept of procreation and use a more pagan example of fertility. We owe the Romans the terms for religion, person, corporation and Genius. The meaning of soul ̶ animous/anima ̶ is closely related to the word Genius, meaning to cause to be born. Genius is a specific attribute of male fertility distinct from the female property of giving birth represented by the goddess of childbirth Juno/Lucina. Genius is a unique personality, a physical and moral sum each one of us embodies at birth. According to the Romans, this essence of life has a divine origin. Hence, Genius signifies two converging principles, life common to all human beings and the unique aspect of life each individual incarnates when we are born. Every human being is unique yet part of the whole mystery of life. The essence of life is immortal. And although the individual dies, life goes on after his or her death through the natural and human capacity to procreate.
In a more related context, the Declaration of Independence is considered a sacred text. It is sacred precisely because it is set apart from other ordinary documents on the grounds that it outlines the creation and the historical foundation of the United States of America. In similar fashion to our analogies of religion, the text describes the act of Separation from the Political Bands of the king and corporations that have abused and usurped the rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness of We the People. More to the point the document was signed by the Founding Fathers. In terms of literary criticism the term Fathers is a metonymy. A figure of speech that refers to procreating fathers and mothers having children born in the United States constituting the people.
A metonymy is a figure of speech that uses one word of one thing for another of which it is an attribute; like, the White House for the people working in the oval office; or, church as the physical building referring to the worshipers in the temple.
Before we go any further, the meaning of secularization needs clarification. It is commonly understood as a decrease in church attendance and a declining role played by institutionalized religion in society. This idea about secularism is somewhat misleading and is the result of an assimilation of religion with Christianity, the consequence of Christendom having dominated the western cultures for many centuries. However, secularization does not mean that the secular world is devoid of any religious dimension or that contemporary culture has rejected the sacred. What the term implies is that the core function of religion has morphed elsewhere. In periods of cultural change the sacred inconspicuously metamorphoses in other hierarchical power schemes.
The Surfing Madona Mural – Incinitas, CA
The following are some examples of the sacred from one religious/sphere to another. They show how corporate empowerment was made possible by the conversion of language. Words and symbols that are the creative endeavor and human heritage are being converted into highly protected logos and corporate trademarks that are legally protected with unlimited financial resources.
The first Olympiads were essentially a religious ceremony created in honor of Zeus, the dominant god of the Greek pantheon. Today the Olympiad is an international sporting event involving most countries on the planet. They have been taken over by official sponsors consisting of the biggest transnational corporations in the world. The games have the same function as they did originally; namely celebrating competition, victory, and instituting order and hierarchy. This is accomplished by not only separating the contestants from the audience, the victors from the competition, but also separating the special status of the gods and winners from the masses. Mainly, the Games were a ritual to commemorate the status of the gods. Today the separation consists in elevating corporate trademarks and logos from the masses of ordinary words and symbols. Nike for instance, who was the Greek god of victory, is today the name of a powerful transnational corporation.
December 25th was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. It later became the date of the celebration of the birth of Christ, although there is no historical data to support that Jesus was born on that day. Now Christmas has reverted back to a period of consumerism. The change shows that the sacred dedication of a holiday switches back and forth between different religious belief systems. It is not the intrinsic nature of certain beings and things or their representations that are sacred, it is the underlying incursion of power established by hierarchy that proceeds to separate and confer different levels of status of sacredness on beings and things.
The word economy has evolved from its original theological meaning of the divine government of the world to the art of managing the resources of the people and of its government. The conversion is attributed to renowned anti-clerics like Voltaire and his contemporaries who were successful business men. Following the aftermath of the Reformation and the development of the Renaissance, a wave of freethinkers and monarchs from various countries challenged the moral and political power of the Church in Rome. During the declining power of the Holy See, kings felt justified in confiscating the Church’s vast property in order to finance their conquests and wars. Hence, the original meaning of secularization was the confiscation of Church property by potentates or worldly powers for monetary ends. This confiscation also applies to religious language, symbols and icons.
In most minds Santa Claus is an American Icon. This notion overshadows the fact that Santa is a conversion of Saint-Nicholas. The result of fictional alterations of an historical figure created by advertising, framing the image of the Santa as we know him today. Only since 1773 has been known as Santa Claus and perceived as a secular figure rather than a saint. The transformation of Saint-Nicholas was made possible with the help of various media; newspaper articles, poems, books, postcards, sketches and advertising. Santa became a mythical icon conjured from a patchwork of different sources no longer Saint-Nicholas or Sinterklaas. He is an entirely different person transformed into a venerated icon by the media. His mission is no longer to help children in distress but to be a consecrated agent of marketable goods.
From its early settlement and until the nineteen sixties, the US was a predominantly Christian nation. Sunday was still observed as a day of prayer, of church going and of rest. The Lord’s Day was considered a religious holy-day. Like the Sabbath, it was set apart by God for a time of worship and rest, separate from the other ordinary days. With the spread of TVs in people’s living rooms the sacred attribute of Sunday would slowly change and be phased out of the religious framework of the nation. The day of rest was converted into a day of business as usual, enabling an additional day of consumer spending. A change was taking place in the religious fabric of America. Market forces and secularism was shifting the sacred allocation of time and worship elsewhere.
In Kanye West’s song I am a god. It is not West who is a god but the media that consecrates the singer as god.
The decline of institutional religious influence over the population was made possible by the advent of TV. The preaching of the Word shifted from the clergyman in church to the medium in people’s living rooms or the temple referred to as the theater/cinema. This event promoted a proliferation of new religious movements (NRM). Some examples include, the Hollywood star system, the pop-rock stars phenomenon and the professional sports system. These NRMs are endorsed by a consumer oriented culture propagated by the media. The important thing to remember is the function of the sacred to separate and establish a boundary between the sacred sphere of the promoters/idols/stage and the followers/fans/audience.
Marshall McLuhan explained;
The “content” of any medium is always another medium;… the “medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and forms of human association and action.
The content of mass-media is a myriad of moneyed corporations. Its message shapes human association that eventually evolved into the Investor State. Although a new comer, the Investor State is the result of consistent legal battles, political lobbying and media promotion of the artificial person impersonating a human being. The corporate empowerment has currently assumed a dominant function in the economy and in politics as evidenced by the involvement of the Investor State in trade agreements with countries around the world.
As we conclude we as citizens have a civic duty to question the incursion of transnational corporations in the public sphere and inquire about the impending challenges posed by the Investor State. Among the questions we need to ask is: What legitimacy does this Investor State have? A state is by definition an organized political community living under a single system of government. On whose authority did the Investor State become a state? Who are the members of this corporate body and who are its financial backers?
It is important to stress that transnational corporations are indispensable and have an essential role to play in the world economy. However, their role is to be the servant of the people not the people’s masters. A public debate is needed in order to clarify the function and limits of the Investor State in respect to elected governments to establish a balanced and healthy relationship between the rights of human beings and those of artificial persons.
We have come a long way since the first Olympic Games were held in ancient Greece. The original Olympiads were essentially a religious ceremony created in honor of Zeus, the dominant god of the Greek pantheon. Today the Olympics have become an international sporting event involving most countries on the planet and is perceived as a secular athletic competition, no longer a religious festival. But a closer look at the global celebration suggests otherwise. Analogical evidence reveals that the Olympics have retained some of their religious function from the past.
* * *
The first official Olympiads were held in 776 BC in the sacred plains of Olympia. Later events were also celebrated in Delphi and Corinth. The original festivity were in honor of Zeus. Successive games were dedicated to the Apollo and Poseidon, each god representing a specific location. Like today they took place every four years.
According to Greek mythology, Olympia is where Pelops inaugurated the Olympic Games. A sacred site where religious ceremonies and symposiums took place as early as the 10th century BC. The location was dominated by the great temples of Zeus and Hera. It included sacred shrines mixed with sporting facilities, all surrounded by natural beauty. The festivities consisted of rituals, processions and banquets dedicated for religious purposes.
The first Olympics consisted only of running. By the15th Olympiad several sporting events were added; wrestling, boxing, pentathlon, chariot racing and a variety of long distance running. Athletes competed nude, reflecting Greek’s fascination with human anatomy, amply represented in art, especially sculptures depicting the gods and goddesses in perfect human form. The Games were more than a celebration of human physical beauty. They centered on competition and performance. Competition was a feature of Greek culture from its earliest times. And the Olympiads were an occasion to foster good relationship between rival city-states within Greece.
Women, foreigners and slaves could not participate. Married women could only watch the chariot race. In the 6th century women held their own games called the Heraea at Argos in honor of the goddess Hera, the wife and sister of Zeus.
Competition involved individuals rather than teams. Each participant represented his locality or city-state. The winner was viewed as a national idol, regarded more highly than a war hero. The award ceremony took place on the last day of the Olympiads in front of the monumental temple of Zeus inside which stood a 42 feet gold statue of the god, considered one of 7 the wonders of the world. The names of the winner and of the athletes’ father, as well as the athlete’s hometown were announced. And finally the sacred olive tree wreath, or kotinos, was placed on the winner’s head.
The Olympiads were celebrated for nearly 12 centuries until Emperor Theodosius I of Rome banned the Games in 393 AD. He decried the spectacle as a pagan cult. Although Emperor Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, it is Theodosius I that decreed Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. Following his decree, he encouraged the destruction of the temple of Apollo at Delphi and the Vestal Virgins in Rome. The latter was occupied by priestesses who studied the correct observance of state rituals known as religio.
During the development of the Empire, Romans had adopted many of the gods of the Greek pantheon and gave them different names. Greek’s primary deities consisted of Zeus, Hera and Poseidon. They were renamed Jupiter, Juno and Neptune in Rome. They were also honored at the Olympiads. Zeus was described as king and father of all gods and men. So was Jupiter, who was depicted as an elderly man with a long beard sitting on a throne. With the decree, Theodosius I supplanted the dominant Roman triad. Henceforth the divinity became known as God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit in Christendom.
What happened in Rome at the end of the 4th century reveals that sacred devotion transmigrated from one set of deities to another. Upholding the same religious function in society but with different names. The lower set of gods and goddesses of the pantheons were replaced by a veneration of the Virgin Mary and a growing number of Saints. What was once the sacred location of Roman temples, its gods and the Empire morphed into the Roman Catholic Church.
It took close to 15 centuries before the Olympic Games were celebrated again. Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat, was one of the leading players behind the reinstatement of the Olympics held in Athens in 1896. It happened at the end of the century that fostered the industrial revolution, urbanism, modernism and the apotheosis of the nation-state. The rebirth of the Olympiads took place 7 years after the Paris World Fair and the completion of the Eiffel tower, the architectural representation of modernism. Pierre de Coubertin embodied a period in which France’s influence in art and culture was predominant. The country was a champion of universal principles of competition. This was epitomized a few years later by the Olympic Games.
With the rebirth of the Olympics, the religious significance of the ancient Olympiads was not completely lost. To this day, weeks prior to the opening of the Olympic Games, a ceremony is performed by priestesses at the ancient site of Olympia in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera. The reenactment consists of dances mixed with chants in honor of the gods. A central role is played by the high priestess who performs the ritual of capturing the fire from the sun by using a mirror to direct the sunlight into a bowl to ignite a flame. For the ancient Greeks fire was believed to be sacred since it had been stolen from the gods by Prometheus. The sacred fire is then used to light the torch for the relay to the selected city. The Games officially begin once the flame reaches the giant torch inside the stadium. Contrary to popular belief, the relay did not originate in ancient Greece but began during the 1936 Olympic games in Germany. It was created to promote Nazi cultural legitimacy and used for propaganda purposes.
A Sporting Competition and a Media Event
Today the Olympics are the occasion for the finest athletes from all over the planet to congregate and compete, mingling in an atmosphere of international jubilation. The selected city is temporarily filled with athletes who have dedicated years to hard training. Many are animated by an unquenchable drive to win.
The whole organization of the Games begins with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). A vast commercial enterprise dominated by a small group of sport executives and representatives from major corporations. The IOC’s responsibilities consist in the selection of the city where the Games are held. It is in charge of allocating broadcasting rights given to the highest bidder among major American TV networks. And it selects the official sponsors among the biggest multinational corporations in the world.
The mediated event is a giant commercial enterprise designed to reach the largest audience possible. The location for the Olympic games is picked to match a favorable time zone for prime-time TV. To reach the most economically dominant countries like the US and Europe. The goal is to generate the highest corporate visibility and monetary returns. The sporting events are carefully selected to gratify national pride. Showing local athletes most favored to win in order to produce the highest possible ratings. Winning athletes who are meant to inspire national pride are but mediated images that display corporate control over the Games. The broadcast in effect becomes a tool that sanctions a veiled model of globalization.
The premise that sports constitute a form of popular religion is an acknowledged yet unpublicized aphorism. Sports today play an unintended yet similar function as religion. Namely, to establish order, provide meaning, integrate individuals to a group and create a separate space and time dedicated to a special experience. This separate space/time is considered sacred, a suspension from ordinary space and time.
Games are held in stadiums purposely designed for their specific functions. The fans are separated from the field where only players are allowed to play. Games are played with a unique set of rules. Unfolding in its own time frame and regulation pauses. Foremost the play integrates the individual to a group, wrapped around the team’s identity that is dramatically enhanced by the competition of opposing sides. Every game begins with the singing of the national anthem consecrating the event as a civil ritual. One has only to observe the fans’ adulation for a sport star or a favorite team to acknowledge the level of devotion they inspire.
Baseball and football fans typically support their local teams. When the games reach the finals like the World Series or the Super Bowl the rivalry spreads to the entire nation with fans of each opposing team intermingled all over the country. The dynamic of competition and the interaction between the fans produce a form of cultural homeostasis that reinforces a sense of national identity. The European Cup works in the same manner with national teams competing within Europe promoting the integration of the European Union. Sport establishes a well orchestrated order, manages rivalry and conflict, provides meaning and creates a consensus that is not readily perceptible.
I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all of the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan.
I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me.
I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring…
“I’ve tried ‘em all, I really have. And the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is the Church of Baseball.” *
Annie Savoy, in Bull Durham
A distinction is made between religion and quasi-religion. The first is defined as being grasped by an ultimate concern. One that supersedes all other concerns. The term religion is typically used to describe institutional religions and is recognized by its followers as religious. Whereas quasi-religion shares basic characteristics with religion although it is not perceived as being religious by its devotees. Sport aficionados more likely than not will decry any connection between their favorite sport and quasi-religion.
For the competing athlete winning a game or a gold medal is the ultimate concern. There is no other concern than victory. To stand on the podium to receive the highest prize and praise, while the event is recorded and rendered immortal by the medium. Among the benefits of winning is media visibility and the corporate endorsement that will assure the winner’s economic future long after the games are over and perhaps the underlying ultimate concern. As it happens, athletes today no longer compete in honor of gods, but in honor of the corporate sponsors.
Nike, the Goddess of Victory
In Greek mythology Nike was depicted as the winged goddess of victory in battle as well as in peaceful competition. The goddess was renamed Victoria by the Romans, hence the word victory. Nike was Zeus’ charioteer. She was also described as a guard standing beside his throne. Today the name represents a multinational corporation. The religious cultural legacy of ancient Greece having been corporatized. Its religious meaning eclipsed by the conversion. The brand name and its logo commanding more instant recognition than its original mythological representation.
Logos are a postmodern version of emblems. The term is short for logogram −Greek; logos + gram− meaning a letter, symbol or sign used to represent an entire word or a brand. A logo is a graphic symbol commonly used by corporations and organizations to promote instant public recognition. For corporations the logo can have a substantial financial value called goodwill. It can either be a graphic representation or made up of the name of the organization. Logos of the biggest corporations are registered trademarks highly protected by law. They are sheltered from misuse and abuse and share a similar sacred quality previously reserved for religious symbols.
The Greek term logos originally meant a word, speech, an account, a plea, an opinion, etc. In philosophy it evolved into a concept representing a principle of order and knowledge. For Christians Logos has a specific religious meaning, it signifies the Word of God. In the Gospel of John Logos is identified with Jesus Christ. Although both terms don’t share the same pronunciation, one can nonetheless debate the significance of the conversion of logos into logo(s).
The pantheon of Mount Olympus consisted of the twelve deities. The current makeup of the Worldwide Olympic Partners is one shy of twelve corporations. The deities of ancient Greece and Rome played different functions in society including; sovereignty, childbirth, healing, celebration, war, messenger, growth, security, etc. Whereas the biggest corporations who have control over their respective market share have different functions in the economy like; food, drink, security, defense, technology, health, etc.
Furthermore, the corporation is defined by law as an artificial person. It is invisible, intangible and immortal. As such it supersedes ordinary human attributes. This artificial person is larger than its constituent parts, with a power greater than the individuals comprising it. Although corporations are identified with a variety of brands they nonetheless share a similar legal definition, structure and accounting standard. The body of corporations as we know it today surpasses many countries in power and wealth.
This artificial person is endowed with qualities above and beyond the ordinary qualities found in a human being. It has attributes that are typically associated with supernatural beings. In our so-called secularized world, this supernatural person shares similar functions and powers as did deities in the management of the world.
The Olympics of 1896 were not only a display of international cooperation but also the coming of age of the nation-state in Europe and elsewhere. The nation-state was viewed as a welcome development in respect to city-states, empires, Christendom and revolutions. Later nationalist outbursts that erupted in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy somehow tarnished these ideals. In the second half of the twentieth century a new supra-national system emerged that began to erode the sovereignty of the nation-state. The new system was implemented with the help of international agreements like NAFTA that favored non-state corporate entities. In time this supra-national body evolved into a global corporate system of which the Worldwide Official Olympic Sponsors is an example.
The opening and closing parades are the only events seen by world viewers in a seemingly uniform fashion. Whereas the sporting events are broadcasted in a fragmented and mediated way, substituting internationalism and competition among nations into a quasi-religious consecration of globalization.
When Michael Moore’s publisher wanted him to re-write nearly 50% of his book entitled Stupid White Men or they would not publish the book, the author balked. This was only a few days after 9/11 and the nation was still reeling from the chock the attack. On September 26th, presidential spokesman Ari Fleisher made this comment on national TV (later retracted) that “all Americans…need to watch what they say, watch what they do.”
The warning had some cooling effect on the author. Fearing that the publisher would not publish his book Moore kept quiet and stayed away from the media for two months so not to upset News Corp (Harper Collins’ parent company).
On December 1st the author gave a speech to a private event hosted by a New Jersey Citizen’s Action knowing there would be no media present. He also discussed with a crowd of 100 people in attendance his struggle with his publisher about Stupid White Men. He read passages of his book concerned that:
“It may be the only time it’s ever heard by anybody,”…”As far as I knew, there wasn’t any press there, so I told people what had happened. They asked, ‘What do you want us to do?’ I said, ‘Don’t call the publisher, don’t call the press. Let me deal with it.'”
Among the attendees was Ann Sparanese, a librarian at Englewood Library in New Jersey and a board member of the American Library Association (ALA). Ignoring Moore’s request, she posted a message on several ALA list-servers as soon as she returned to work the following Monday, detailing Moore’s problems with his publisher.
Sparanese explained: “I thought these particular librarians would be especially concerned. This is NOT a question of the CIA or the government demanding that a publisher stop publication for national security or some other well-known reason. The publisher just decided to walk away from the money −the book’s ALREADY printed and sitting in a warehouse− because of the current war-inspired, anti-dissent atmosphere. Even satire is biting the dust, by the publisher’s own hand.”
A few days after the ALA event, publishing insiders pick up the story. On December 4th Steven Zeitchik of the publishing trade magazine Publisher’s Weekly published an article relating Moore’s struggle with HarperCollins. The next day New York Post followed up on the story. On December 14th, Sparanese’s message was quoted extensively in “Holt Uncensored”, an e-mail newsletter published by Pat Holt.
Within days one of the list servers’ posting and the Publishers Weekly article, a HarperCollins editor informed Moore they were receiving a lot of email from angry librarians about Stupid White Men. As it happens libraries represent big money to publishers, spending over $2 billion a year for books and electronic information.
Moore did not know Sparanese had attended the Citizen’s Action event. Yet he’s thankful to her. He partly attributes the publisher’s change of heart to the lone librarian’s posting on the Net her concerns about free speech. “Librarians see themselves as the guardians of the First Amendment…You got a thousand Mother Joneses at the barricades! I love the librarians, and I am grateful for them!”
A sole unknown lost in a crowd who decides to take whatever action she could against what appeared to be corporate intimidation and censure. The simple posting on the internet by a quiet librarian perhaps helped to save Moore’s book. Pushing the author to greater things with his Fahrenheit 9/11. As far as we are concerned Sparanese’s activism is a perfect example of what we refer here as interactivism.
The underlying influence of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit can be seen in the way we interpret the human thought process. In his book Hegel introduced the idea of “the Spirit”. A life-force that is constantly regenerating itself through dialectics initiated by a thesis ─idea─, interacting with its opposite, antithesis, resulting in a symbiotic thought defined as synthesis. Hegel’s work will remain an enduring contribution to philosophy and social sciences. Some of his influence can be recognized in our analysis of ideology, culture and religion. This is outlined in the mythical process described in the thematic sequence in which the hero is inevitably confronted by a foe whose actions find some kind of resolution in the outcome of the story.
the setting the hero the quest the obstacle the mentor the outcome
We have quoted the following excerpt by Claude Lévi-Strauss elsewhere in this web page. We will quote it again because it’s an important statement about the evolutionary nature of myth in our contemporary societies:
But what gives the myth an operational value is that the specific pattern described is timeless; it explains the present and the past as well as the future. This can be made clear through a comparison between myth and what appears to have largely replaced it in modern societies, namely, politics.
In the inauguration of the Washington National Monument, the idyllic side of the hero was emphasized and the timeless aspect of his being was promoted, creating in the process an icon of mythical proportions. In retrospect, the mythologizing campaign of the nineteenth century became the cornerstone of a true “Americanism”. As a result, the Founding Father was consecrated as a prototype of the American mythos as well as its ethos. Both are enshrined in the giant obelisk that points to the heavens. This myth-making consecration shows how important and significant role the mythical process plays in the creation of a collective identity and ideology.
Other mythical processes have been efficient in ideology. Marxism is another case in point. It is well known that Marxism is based on the antagonism between the classes, promoting the quest for an idyllic classless society as its ends.
the bourgeois class vs the working class
Marxist-Leninists have used a compelling propaganda tool to replace the bourgeoisie by the dictatorship of the proletariat. The end result is that one an oppressive hierarchy is simply replaced by another. In the end, the everlasting hierarchy survives with a different set of agents.
Ideology merely uses myth’s seductive powers to propagate its own political ends. Nazism, fascism, nationalism and to a certain extent, patriotism, typify the seductive powers decreed in national myths. The propagation of these myths take hold of the “masses”. They end up subverting the rights of the individual and drag the “people” into patriotic frenzies.
Think of the impact that the myth of the superiority of the Aryan race had on Germans in the nineteen-thirties. The people of Germany overwhelmingly subscribed to the idea they were superior to other people. They blindly believed in the illusion promoted by their leader, with disastrous consequences. This resulted in the slaughter of millions of innocent people, and the invasion and destruction of vulnerable countries.
Such tribal exaltations are detrimental to our world. The nuclear arms race that resulted from the blind opposition between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. can still destroy our world many times over. This dynamic, is now seen at work in the war between Christian and Muslim Fundamentalists, which is detrimental to the majority of the population whose tax money is diverted to an expansive war industry rather than economic development.
As we look around our world, the mythologization seems to have overwhelmed the cultural and political process. Especially since a greater number of people have become fragmented, and in some cases denigrated, by the prevailing power of the mass-media. TV has now become the new opium of the people.
Like mythical super-heroes, the stars of cinema and TV are beings that are separated from ordinary life by the medium. The projected gods and goddesses on the silver screen are but creations of ethereal beings from an “other” world. Communication with these beings is impossible. These heroes live in a “world” inaccessible to the spectator. They exist according to a different set of rules, where everything is possible. Mass-media as a result has become the new vehicle for the supernatural. A prerogative formerly held by religion.
In the early nineteen-nineties, when we first introduced the idea that Superman and other superheroes were part of an American mythology, people were astonished by the idea. Yet they understood what we meant by the analogy. Today the mythologizing function of mass-media should not come as a surprise to most. But it might still come as a surprise to some if we say that science is heavily involved in the mythologizing process of our “western” culture.
Nothing bears more mythological analogy than theories about the big bang. The term embodies a vivid imagery of what happened in the genesis of our cosmos. The caption succeeds in igniting in our imagination a whole visionary explosion at the beginning of time. The physicists’ preoccupation with the origin of the world is nothing new to mythology. Most if not all mythologies have theories about the beginning of the world. And all the myths are believed to be true stories by the people who live by them. Mircea Eliade coined this passion for the beginning, regressus ad uterum: a longing for the origin.
Among the innumerable names found in the Old Testament, the one that represents the soul of Jewish identity is Israel. The etymology of the name is revealing. It signifies the struggle of “man” with God or its angel. As such, it is one of the more enlightening principles of the religious experience.
One of the most pervasive dynamics in politics has been the imperative of antagonism. In order to explain this dynamic we will use as an example the image of the pyramid as the symbol of a hierarchical system ─i.e., a country, a tribe, a church, a city, a company etc. Such a system relies on an echelon of command to maintain a certain level of order and harmony. If this system is threatened by some form of challenge or disintegration, it will spontaneously react to maintain its integrity by setting the stage for a conflict with an adversary. The real or fabricated appearance of a foe inevitably solidifies the stratified order within the system. Competition with an adversary in sports or business maximizes the identity of the performer and his performance. Likewise, when the hierarchy that holds the system together is threatened, an enemy is the remedy of choice to bolster its top-down control over the system. There is nothing more efficient to reinforce the pyramidal system than war.
One could hardly observe a woman wearing a chador in the US, or the rest of the non-Muslim world, before the illegal war on Iraq. Iraqi women were not constrained to wear the veil prior to the occupation. Today the chador is more popular than ever and has become a visible sign of religious resistance and radical Islam. It turns out that the war only helped to foster religious fundamentalism on both sides of the conflict: All in the name of God. This has had the unfortunate consequence of a polarization of the radical rightwing and leftwing ideologies all over the planet.
good vs evil
sacred vs profane
However, antagonism also sets the boundaries of identity and allows the possibility of openness. It is important to stress that it is not the dichotomy per se that is central but the dynamic interaction itself. Examples of duality between the sacred and the profane are used as a heuristic tool to help understand the process of spiritual identification and edification. The identity of the sacred or profane is merely relative. It is the dynamic itself that sets the identities apart. They can take any shape or form depending on the hierophany. Furthermore, the identity of the sacred is important only as a stage in the development of a true spiritual experience. It only becomes truly religious when it interacts with the profane and transcends into the “fuzzy” field of the wholly other.
Similarly, the sacred quality of being distinct, chosen, or to be set “apart”, is only one exclusive part of the “wholly other” experience, which by definition includes the “other” profane reality in the all inclusive whole. When the holy transforms itself strictly into the exclusive, as it happens in fanaticism displayed in all religions, it excludes the realm of the universal, the truly religious.
It is the dynamic opposition between the sacred and the profane that enhances the possibilities of openness toward the “whole” other. Specifically in the interaction between the exclusively other and what lies outside its seclusion. This opens the way to the “wholly other”, the all inclusive “other” spiritual reality. Keeping in mind that in English the word holy is related to whole and is synonym to godly and divine.
Yet only with the recognition of the profane reality, typified here by the “other”, could the spiritual experience be complete. Only with the “surrender” into the whole dynamic process of the “wholly other” can we live a spiritual experience. In other words, it is through this expansion of being of the sacred reaching out into an homeostasis with the profane reality, that makes a spiritual experience possible.
The truly religious is only possible through the whole dynamic interactive merging of the sacred and the profane into the wholly other, where the whole spiritual reality of the “other” is acknowledged. Only with the conscious realization of how this antagonism works can we overcome our futile addiction to an ideology of revenge. Only with this revelation we can we stand back and see the whole reality of division. To transcend the sacredness of self toward a genuine and wholesome spiritual experience of tolerance.
February 4th 2006 marks the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A remarkable German theologian. Bonhoeffer was involved in several clandestine missions to help Jewish people escape Nazi Germany. He also participated in failed plots to overthrow and assassinate the Fuhrer. His unpatriotic actions led him to the gallows. He was executed on April 9th 1945. A few weeks before Hitler committed suicide and the end of the war.
Bonhoeffer took part in a little known resistance movement against Hitler. He had been a spy and was determined to publicize to the world the existence of Nazi concentration camps and Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. Bonhoeffer’s had also worked with contacts in England, particularly Bishop George Bell. He had hoped that the British government would show support for the resistance of which he was a part. He also tried to convince his British contacts to participate in a military coup against Hitler. History reveals that due to their distrust of him and the Germans, England’s help never materialized.
What made Bonhoeffer exceptional is that he could have taken a cushy job teaching at good University or become a minister in an affluent parish. He could have blended in with the crowd like most of his countrymen and ignore Hitler’s folly. He could have stayed in the US after his latest visit instead of returning home. However, he could not leave his family and friends behind, or abandon his country at a crucial time.
He came from a good and affluent family. His father was a well respected professor of psychiatry and neurology. His mother had obtained a university degree. A rare feat for the time. She undertook to educate her children at home and explaining that: “Germans have their backbones broken twice in life: first in schools, then in the military”.
Bonhoeffer was torn between his passion for the Word of God and the love for his country. The German Church of the time was split between the emotional grips of patriotism and the commands of the Gospels. What made Bonhoeffer stand out from all other theologians of his era was his commitment to Christ. And to this day he remains an example of what it means to be an authentic “disciple” of Jesus Christ.
Like Jesus he stood up for the outcast. He was opposed to Antisemitism and expressed his views publicly against the racial policies of the Nazis. He stood against the predominant views of appeasement by the so-called Christian Church of his country. The Gestapo eventually caught up with him and forbid him to teach or preach. Before he finally was imprisoned he spent two years secretly teaching and supervising his students illegally in small parishes. He was arrested in April 1943. And until his death he remained a man of faith and stood steadfast against the delusion of tyranny and misplaced patriotism.
Germany was divided between a predominant German Evangelical Church and a religious right faction called the Deutsche Christen ─German Christians. The German Evangelical Church had a strong nationalist tradition and had a history of being subservient to state authority. Whereas, the German Christians became the more predominant voice of Nazi ideology. They even advocated the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible. With their help, Anti-Semitism became widespread and enthusiasm for Nazism took over Germany.
To this day many questions remain unanswered. How could a majority of Christians living in Germany not stand up to Hitler? How could they condone his racial policies? And how could they overlook the illegal invasion of other countries, justify hatred and war? The answer might lie in the art of casuistry!
Casuistry is the theological discourse that deals in resolving special moral cases of conscience especially in regards to matters of conflicting duty or responsibility. Mostly it appears in the form of sophistry: A justification of an act that is morally wrong making it appear to be morally right. For instance, the Church was able to morally justify acts violence during the Inquisition, contradicting the messages in the Gospels. It did this by diverting the issue away from the killing of innocent victims by demonizing them. The Nazi did the same thing with the Jewish people. Making them the victims and scapegoats of unresolved conflicts within their own German culture.
Bonhoeffer’s preoccupations were confronted by both theological and political issues. The racism of his country had finally convinced him that the religious traditions of his time were spiritually bankrupt. Disillusioned about his Christian contemporaries he described them as living a “religionless Christianity”. Where moral values were being replaced by cynicism and ideology. He realized that tribalism and patriotism had overtaken religion and the universal principles of true spirituality. Living the consequences of a religionless Christianity first hand from his embattled position, incarceration and execution.
In the face of his moral turmoil, Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship literally lays out his Christian position: To stand up morally against the tyranny of war, racism and hatred. Such a moral stand however has a cost. And since he was a man of his and God’s Word, he paid the price with the sacrifice of his life.
Most of all, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is among a few in history of Christianity who deserves to be called a Christian. To this day I cherish his memory, his moral example and character. He will remain an indisputable model of what is to be a “Christian”, especially amidst times of ethical and political morass.
Significant other refers to a gender blind way to name the Other partner in a relationship. The attribute significant implies having a meaningful and influential effect on the Other and onto oneself. Especially if it relates to a deep and liberating experience of love. In her seminal work of Le Deuxième Sexe, Simone de Beauvoir proposed her own analysis of alterity. The Introduction of the book is such a classic that it deserves to be reinterpreted in light of her invaluable contribution to the perception of the Other.
Although Simone de Beauvoir wrote her book in 1949 it is still a major treatise on feminism and phenomenology. The introduction of The Second Sex is based on her own philosophical analysis with references to scholars like Claude Lévi-Strauss, Dumézil, Granet and Hegel. As such she was a pioneer in using pluri-disciplinary fields like anthropology, mythography, mythology and sociology in her philosophical discourse. She brings up some original observations on the importance of myth in culture in light of her concept of the Other. And to this day it is hard to deny the caliber of her intellect.
De Beauvoir was brought up in a conservative bourgeois family in Paris. Her father was a lawyer and an agnostic. Her mother was a devout Catholic. She juggled the differing influences of her parents by becoming a devoted atheist. The existence of God did not matter as much to her as the existence of Other beings “there” in her life. Especially her life long companion Jean-Paul Sartre, the famed post-war existentialist.
Sartre and de Beauvoir first met in 1929 while taking their agrégation ─a test that rates students that enable them to teach in the best schools. Although Sartre failed the first time he took the test, he was nevertheless awarded first prize on his second attempt. Whereas de Beauvoir, who passed on her first attempt, was given second place. She nevertheless succeeded in being the youngest student to pass the agrégation and became the youngest philosophy teacher in France. Following the test, the president of the jury, professor Lalande, confessed to one of his colleagues that Sartre had marked intellectual qualities, but he added, the real philosopher is “her”.
Both were to remain “essential” lovers until Sartre’s death. They both agreed to an open relationship with a tacit agreement that they would reveal everything about their love affairs to each other. These “contingent” love affairs consisted mostly of Sartre’s ongoing womanizing including several ménage à trois involving de Beauvoir. Adding her own lesbian relationships along the way. Sartre and de Beauvoir’s personal letters published after their deaths, revealed that they were making fun of the Other lovers in their love triangles. They were typically being used to reinforce their own “essential” bond .
Following the second world war Jean-Paul Sartre became the intellectual star of France. Although de Beauvoir was Sartre’s intellectual equal, she never matched his fame and popularity. She became known ironically as Notre-Dame-de-Sartre and la Grande Sartreuse. Not until after her death in 1986 was she finally considered a philosopher in her own right.
French existentialism was a direct product of the liberation of France at the hands of the Nazis. Years of countless deaths, destruction and misery were quickly swept away by a moral and philosophical liberation. God and religion had been helpless to stop the Nazis and were replaced with a post-war moral freedom, spiritual skepticism and existentialism. Years of bloodshed unleashed a joie de vivre and free love that gave birth to the baby boomers. Sartre became the undisputed symbol of that liberation.
Sartre was the eminent French proponent of existentialism. Later on, he became an advocate of Marxism, even though revelations about the gulag’s atrocities committed by Stalin were being well documented. His Marxist’s leanings might appear as a typical French arrogance towards the Anglo allies who had liberated France. However, one must keep in mind that 17 million Russians died during the war. Russian troops under Stalin had advanced quickly into Germany ahead of the allies. And they had been instrumental in the fall of Berlin and the defeat of the Nazis. As such, Marxist Leninism had made a political incursion in the ideological make-up of most European countries.
Sartre was the undisputed star philosopher of the post-war era. His fame reached an unprecedented levels, despite his lack of personal glitter or physical glamour. He was short, crossed eyed and almost blind in one eye. A drab looking fellow that paid no attention to his exterior appearance. Simone de Beauvoir was the opposite: Proper, neat, severe and conservative looking. Despite his appearance Sartre was known to be a real charmer. He had a tendency of promising the world to his female conquest, all of them pretty women. A trait that annoyed the feminist de Beauvoir.
In 1946 Sartre decided to move in with his mother, although he had become well-off from his royalties. Most of the money he made from his publications was spent on sustaining his love affairs. Sartre confessed that the reason he began writing plays was to create acting jobs for his lovers, who had no means to support themselves. Overall he was known to be generous, intelligent and charming man. Not renowned for being a warm or attentive lover.
Despite the complexities of his philosophy, Sartre managed to make existentialism fashionable. Anybody could become an existentialist, especially the young. People might not have fully understood its philosophical intricacies but could readily identify with its unabashed free love and overall moral laxity. Jazz music, Paris night life, dancing, erotic euphoria were deemed the highest expression of a post-war existentialism. Nonetheless, existentialism also exposed a spiritual vacuum about the harsh reality of human existence.
In her Ethics of Ambiguity de Beauvoir described existentialism in clear terms and made it easier to understand ─her own interpretation and tribute to Being and Nothingness. Unlike Sartre, who had the propensity of being too analytical, dense and sometimes prone to lucubration. It was wrongly believed that de Beauvoir had no original ideas of her own. And the she was merely making Sartre’s existentialism more readily accessible to the reader.
Throughout her relationship with Sartre she was viewed as his philosophical apprentice, an intellectual second fiddle. After her death, as more of her personal correspondence was made public, a different portrait emerged. The letters show her as the more dominant partner in terms of exploring new sexual experiences and relationships. She was also more passionate and more emotionally daring than her companion. In retrospect, a reassessment of her life’s work does indeed prove that the real philosopher was “her”.
In her book Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter she undertakes to disclose the “enterprise of living” in which literature is substituted for life’s spiritual and religious needs. In this book, and a few others to follow, she reveals the intellectual journey of a twentieth century woman. Disclosing a moral disconnect with traditional religion and social conventions. On the one hand, she reveals the condition of women in light of post-war existentialism. On the other hand, her novels depict fictional accounts of her personal sexual experiences with varied partners of both sexes.
De Beauvoir proclaimed herself to be an atheist. Being an atheist however, does not mean being devoid of spirituality. In Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter she describes her relationship with her mother in this manner:
At every moment in the deepest of my heart she was my witness and I could not make any distinction between her gaze and that of God.
In retrospect, her life’s intellectual journey reveals a re-enactment of the twentieth century’s history of religious thought. She was raised a good Catholic and then grew up to embody a post-war secularization of established creeds, beliefs and practices. With a consequential reassessment of traditional religion, its sacred rituals and symbols.
De Beauvoir through her profane art of writing disclosed a preoccupation with the absolute: An absolute without God. Simultaneously denounced materialism and hedonism, as flawed and lewd. And objected to the idea that you needed to redeem yourself in this world in order to save yourself for the next in heaven. Her life and her writings reveal a search of the absolute through the living experience of the Other.
It is with the publication of The Second Sex that de Beauvoir’s analytical thinking is fully revealed. In it she states the premise of her book, “On ne naît pas femme: on le devient”. One is not born a woman: One becomes one. Explaining that a woman is a cultural label dependent on her identity only as a reference to “man”. An alterity in relation to the totality implied in the conceptual ideas like “mankind”. She exposes a patriarchal vision were the feminine is belittled, censured and negated. The book quickly became a manifesto for women’s liberation. Fans were grateful that a woman had finally understood their condition. For a growing number of them she became their “symbolic mother”.
Today, many of her ideas have become common knowledge and are now part of an acceptable way of thinking. But at the time of its original publication her observations were considered quite revolutionary. When the book came out she was branded by her male critics as an “existential Amazon” who has written “a manual of erotic egotism” full of “pornographic zeal”.
Her assessment of the Other begins with her own insights about her own status as a women. A bright, sexually emancipated and independent human being in a world of women economically dependent on an “absolute” patriarchal system. As she explains: the relationship between the sexes involves a duality and like any duality it gives rise to conflict. Inevitably, the dominant partner will assume the status of absolute.
Now, what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that she ─a free and autonomous being like all human creatures─ nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilize her as an object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and sovereign.
Liberation, according to de Beauvoir, is based on our mutual recognition that each partners is free and alternatively Other. Lovers view themselves ambiguously as subject and object of erotic desire. Rather than being confined and defined as a cultural or institutionalized man or woman. The concept of ambiguity, a fuzzy perception of self and Other, is in love identified as an essential step in the process of transcending the oppression of patriarchy.
The erotic experience is one that most poignantly discloses to human beings the ambiguity of the condition; in it they are aware of themselves as flesh and as spirit, as the other and as the subject.
At the time of the writing she introduced some ideas that might appear as self evident today but were shocking to the more conservative population of the time. As she explained, woman was defined as an incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other. But her analysis did not only limit itself to her feminist views of patriarchy but overlapped into the condition of the Other in culture in general. It is this contribution that we would like to emphasize here.
The category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself. In the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of a duality – that of the Self and the Other. This duality was not originally attached to the division of the sexes; it was not dependent on any empirical fact…The feminine element was at first no more involved in such pairs as Varuna-Mitra, Uranus-Zeus, Sun-Moon, and Day-Night than it was in the contrasts between Good and Evil, lucky and unlucky auspices, right and left, God and Lucifer. Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought.
In addition to her assessment on the condition of women she also describes the idea of alterity in varied aspects of culture. She brings up the example of racism as applied to Black people as well as with Jews and anti-Semitism. All are based on a culture of master and slave and a tribal division between us and them. The outcast ─Other─ being relegated outside our mental process banned from our network of contacts, belittled and excluded from our spiritual embrace.
De Beauvoir’s idea of “man” as absolute, must not be confused with a person defined by his gender, but as a symbol of a patriarchal system. An invisible hierarchy that is over-powering and omnipresent. A top down system of control that is covert and guarded. More often than not, this power structure has been confused with God. It is intangible, pervasive and so elusive that it is deemed to be non existent.
What is usually visible about the hierarchy is the violence and terror displayed by totalitarian regimes, the war industry, hate groups and terrorist organizations. All the while, the workings of these systems remain invisible, expanding with legal immunity and impunity. Such is the enduring power of the elusive hierarchy.
The paradox is that the Other is a decoy to help reinforce the echelons of power. The Other that lays outside the system is a reminder that the hierarchy is in need of a scapegoat to be viewed as a threat so to strengthen the system.
Anybody who has experienced being excluded from family, friends, a group, a club, from people of a foreign nation, unable to speak the language, knows the feeling of helplessness from being excluded, of being the Other. This segregating experience allows us to see how the system works from the outside. It enables a solitary view of the whole scheme of which one is excluded.
Different examples of the Otherness are represented here as: the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant, the Jew, the gentile, the black person, the Muslim, the infidel, the mad, the gay, the elderly, the poor, the homeless, the orphan, the sick, the unemployed, the prisoner, the handicapped…These groups signify varied aspects of human condition that are overshadowed by the majority in society. They become labeled as Other so to discount their value. Invariably distorting our mental perception of the whole human reality.
Cultural and racial boundaries between self and Other define who we are spiritually. The wider our level of affective and cultural openness towards the Other determines how developed we are spiritually. The more boundaries we raise, the narrower we become mentally. The greater denial of the Other, the more regressive and sectarian we become. These exclusions then activate a fanatical set of beliefs that are the basis for a cult: A perversion of true spirituality.
Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought
De Beauvoir’s assessment that Otherness is a fundamental principle of human thought is compelling and could easily be applied to other aspects of human perception of reality. The example of the Other as a profane reality revealed in the Catholic concept of God in the doctrine of the Trinity comes to mind.
God the Father
God the Son the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is Other in relation to the absolute implied in the patriarchal relationship between God the Father and God his Son. The gender component of the Mother is missing from the divine relationship between Father and Son. What makes pro-creation of either principles possible is “censured” and “negated”. The Holy Spirit is the Other, defined at the Giver of Life. A passive and overshadowed reality of the divine and sacred feminine. A principle that is nonetheless an essential and fundamental part of our spirituality’s dynamic.
In respect to her views about God and patriarchy, we can safely say that Simone de Beauvoir was not thrown out of the garden of Eden. She left voluntarily. Unafraid to leave behind the grip of a jealous Landlord and his overbearing generosity. A Lord who demands unconditional obedience in exchange for living in an environment of overwhelming security. She escaped with no regrets for having eaten from the fruit of the tree and revealed the secrets of the knowledge of good and evil.