Episode 10: American Culture Distorts Everything; It’s All Illusion

Episode 10: Lesson 2: American Culture Distorts Everything

Welcome to Episode 10 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. And today we’ll examine together Part I, Lesson 2 of The Course’s Workbook for Students.

As you can see from the previous nine episodes, I’m reading The Course with the following assumptions in mind:

  1. The Course does in fact represent the authentic voice of Jesus the Christ channeled in the 1970s through Helen Schucman, an atheistic clinical psychologist who worked for 20 years at Columbia University.
  2. That source along with The Course’s history, structure, and language indicate that its Jesus is specifically addressing North Americans and others living unconsciously in the belly of the imperial beast, the United States of America. The U.S. is today’s equivalent of the Roman Empire that executed the historical Jesus as an insurrectionist.
  3. Ignoring that specific audience, Americans typically interpret The Course in the spirit of the second century Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Like Aurelius, as seekers and would-be mystics, Course in Miracles students typically fail to see the contradiction between their recognition of the unity of all creation on the one hand and for example, the wars they support, fund, and fight on the other.
  4. The Course’s emphasis on illusion (or in its language that time, space, bodies, and history, and the rest of the external world do not really “exist”) recalls the insights of Plato’s “Parable of the Cave.” There, captives of Athenian culture are deceived into thinking that their ethnically circumscribed experiences represent reality. According to the parable (and The Course in Miracles), such conviction is entirely illusory. The fact is that within the cave we misperceive our bodies, the place where we live, our relationships with nature, other people, and our histories both personal and collective. None of these exist as our culture describes them. Instead, they are misshaped by the fact that we see them within a white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchy.  
  5. The point of the course is to free students from those misperceptions allowing them for the first time to recognize the unity of all creation and to live accordingly.

With all of that in mind, Lesson 2 of A Course in Miracles asks us to apply to our everyday world the following insight: “I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

As I suggested in Episode 6, it helps, for clarity’s sake, to preface, for instance, Lesson 2’s central statement with the following phrase, “As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

Let me say it again: “As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

And what is it that I see in my context? I see a normalized, deceptive world of illusory shadows.

  • The world I see is white. There is not a person of color in sight.
  • It is white supremacist. The lawn signs for next month’s election advertise candidates that are overwhelmingly white. In other words, the community I see from my window is run by white people for white people who typically value white countries of origin (typically European), along with white food, dress, language, economic organization, religion, art, history, education, and family structure (all the elements of culture) above those belonging to people of color.
  • What I see in the contents of my room and from my window are items and structures that have been sold and bought according to capitalist market laws. Those laws say that absolutely everything (including life itself) can be owned, sold, and bought. There is even such a thing as “intellectual property.” My context takes this for granted, without question.
  • There are also unquestioned national borders that keep people “out” and “in.”
  • I see in the labels of the very clothes I wear testimony of imperialism, where non-white inhabitants of former colonies (in Latin America, Africa, and Asia) furnish products “for us” at slave wages. (Few question the rightness of this arrangement.) 
  • I see in my very body as a man a human being who is sitting in his office while his wife is preparing supper for him, even though she’d rather be writing like me. I am a beneficiary of male privilege.    

Lesson 2 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students suggests that all of what I’ve just noted represents meaning that is entirely relative and arbitrary – entirely questionable and subject to change. None of it has to be.  It all comes from and is accepted by me because I reside in my culture’s particular cave.

“As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

“As an indoctrinated citizen of empire that is white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal, I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.”

Today, as many times as you can, repeat that sentence almost like a mantram. I’ll do the same. It’s what we’re asked to do in Lesson 2.

In the meantime, thank you for listening. Till tomorrow, this is Mike Rivage-Seul wishing you a good day and God’s blessing.

If you want to review the first eight episodes in this series, please go to my podcast site at acim for activists .com (acimforactivists.com)

Episode 9: Part I, Lesson I: As a prisoner in Plato’s Cave, Nothing I See Means Anything

Welcome to Episode 9 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul.  And today we’ll turn our attention to Part 1, Lesson 1 of The Course’s Workbook for Students.

Remember, we’re re-reading The Course from below – from the position occupied by Jesus of Nazareth whose words channeled specifically to North Americans represent the entire content of ACIM’s three volumes. Be reminded that the historical Jesus necessarily saw reality “from below.” He was poor, imperialized, working class, and stood in opposition to the Roman Empire and to temple authorities who lay in bed with the Roman occupiers.

As we saw in our last episode, the purpose of A Course in Miracles as described by Jesus in its Introduction is to help students “think differently” – to see the world as he saw it. Such adjustment of vision is necessary because as The Course insists, the world’s way of seeing things is completely skewed. Its world vision is 180 degrees opposed to God’s vision – to the vision of Jesus the Christ.

As The Course implies again and again, it’s like all of us are imprisoned in Plato’s Cave where everything we see as real is merely only a shadow of something completely artificial. It’s all illusion. In effect, we take for reality what are only shadows of statues projected for us by the frauds who control our world.

The course would have us escape the captivity of our culture’s cave. It would have us follow Socrates and Jesus.

To that end, the point of the first part of Book I – more than 200 lessons – is to help deconstruct the world we’ve been tricked into accepting as real.

So, buckle up. Open your book to the third page of your student workbook. Pause this recording and prayerfully read the chapter for yourself. Follow its directions as closely as possible. Then come back here.

The central thought of Lesson One reads: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.” “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.”

To make that thought clearer, I suggest reading it like this: As a prisoner in Plato’s Cave, I see nothing in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] that means anything. As a prisoner in Plato’s Cave, I see nothing in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] that means anything.”

Alternatively, you might read today’s central thought to say: “As one indoctrinated into the ideology of a white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist, patriarchy, I see nothing in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] that means anything.” Everything I see in this room, on this street, from this window, in this place is shadow; it’s illusion; it’s all unreal.

Let those thoughts sink in. Repeat them whenever you can throughout the day: “As a prisoner in Plato’s Cave, everything I see is meaningless. It’s all illusion, shadows, deception.”

Thank you for listening. Tomorrow we’ll move on to Lesson 2.

And by the way, if you want to review the first eight episodes in this series, please go to my podcast site at acim for activists .com (acimforactivists.com)

Episode 8: The World Will Call You Crazy for Embracing Jesus’ Truth

In the introduction to A Course in Miracles’ Workbook for Students, Jesus calls us to “see things differently” — so differently that our white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy will call us insane.

Previous episodes of this series, “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors,” may be found on my podcast site. Please visit it when you can.

Testing Chomsky’s Propaganda Model (6th in a series on critical thinking)

Propaganda Model

Last week in this series on critical thinking, I attempted to connect Plato’s Allegory of the Cave with the work of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Necessary Illusions. There they alleged that the function of the mainstream media (MSM) is and has always been the dissemination of propaganda. It’s purpose is to create a shadow world far removed from reality. In other words, President Trump is largely correct: fake news is the rule, not the exception. So, for instance, is fake history, fake economics, and fake religion.

Chomsky and Herman don’t expect readers of Necessary Illusions to simply accept their allegations. Instead, they propose testing the model’s predictions (enumerated in last week’s posting).  The first step in doing so identifies “paired examples.” These involve similar controversial actions, performed by the United States or its client states on the one hand, and by “designated enemies” on the other.

In Necessary Illusions many such pairings are provided – all of them, of course, taken from the 1980s, when the book was published. Then U.S. involvement in Central American wars (especially in Nicaragua) dominated the news. While historically “dated,” the examples still communicate what the authors mean by paired examples. In addition, even dated case studies can prove useful to research in order to broaden one’s historical knowledge, while at the same time testing the model’s predictions. (More current examples will be suggested below.) Those given by Chomsky and Herman include[1]:

  • Celebration of elections in (client state) El Salvador (widely criticized for their meaninglessness in Europe) vs. media adoption of the U.S. official account that the 1984 elections in (designated enemy) Nicaragua either never occurred or were hopelessly rigged, even though the Nicaraguan elections were praised internationally for their freedom and fairness (66-67).
  • The defense and rationalization of the U.S. downing of the Iranian air bus in 1988, vs. the furor over the earlier Soviet destruction of KAL 007 (34).
  • The lack of comment on Indochinese injuries and fatalities caused by U.S. mines left behind after the Vietnam war, and on the refusal of the United States to supply minefield maps to civilian mine-deactivation squads, vs. the denunciation of the Soviet Union for the civilian casualties caused by their mines in Afghanistan, where they did provide maps to assist mine clearing units (35).
  • Media indignation aroused in 1988 over alleged plans to build chemical weapons factories in Libya, vs. the media’s lack of concern for the extensive civilian casualties in Indochina caused by U.S. chemical warfare there through its use of Agent Orange (38-39).
  • The sympathetic support given Israel for its repeated invasions and bombings in Lebanon even in the absence of immediate provocation, vs. the identification of Nicaraguan “hot pursuit” of Contras across its unmarked border with Honduras as an “invasion” of a sovereign state (54-55).
  • The press position that Soviet provision of MIG fighter planes to Nicaragua would legitimate a U.S. invasion of that country, vs. media acceptance of the threat posed to Nicaragua by U.S. shipment of F-5 fighter planes to neighboring Honduras (55-6).
  • Portrayal of the World Court as the culprit, when the United States was condemned for its support of the Nicaraguan Contras in 1986, vs. press astonishment over Iran’s lawlessness when it refused to recognize the Court’s adverse decision during the hostage crisis of 1979 (82).
  • Portrayal of the World Court as the culprit, when the United States was condemned for its support of the Nicaraguan Contras in 1986, vs. press astonishment over Saddam Hussein’s lawlessness when he refused to recognize the Court’s jurisdiction, when it ordered him to cease his occupation of Kuwait in 1990.
  • Press outcry over the genocide of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, vs. its silence about the proportionately larger-scale slaughter in East Timor at the hands of U.S.-backed Indonesian invaders (156).
  • Criticism of Soviet failure to pay its U.N. dues, vs. silence about U.S. debts in the world body (222).
  • Focus on Nicaragua’s alleged failures to live up to the Esquipulas II accords, vs. relative silence about the much worse records of client states, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala (239).
  • The extensive media coverage given the 1984 murder of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko in (designated enemy) Poland by policemen who were quickly apprehended, tried, and jailed, vs. the comparatively little space given the murder of 100 prominent Latin American religious martyrs, including the Archbishop of San Salvador and four raped American churchwomen, victims of the U.S.-backed security forces (137, 146-47).

Paired examples with more contemporary relevance might include:

  • The San Bernardino shooting on December 2, 2015 by Muslim, Rizuan Farook and Tashfeen Malik vs. the January 29th, 2017 shooting in a Quebec City mosque by white nationalist and supporter of Donald Trump, Alexandre Bissonette.
  • The U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program announced by President Obama vs. suspicions that Iran might have initiated a program to acquire nuclear weapons.
  • Iran’s nuclear weapons program vs. Israel’s.
  • Monroe Doctrine justifications for U.S. attempts to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua during the 1980s vs. Russian justifications for its invasion of the Ukraine beginning in 2014.
  • Russian and Syrian atrocities in the Battle for Aleppo in 2016 vs. similar acts by the U.S. and Iraq in the Battle for Mosul that same year.
  • Stories on Cuban political prisoners vs. stories on U.S. political prisoners.
  • Islam as an inherently violent religion vs. Christianity as an inherently violent religion.
  • The Jewish Holocaust at the hands of Germans vs. the Native American Holocaust at the hands of European settlers.
  • Alexander Putin as a “murderer” vs. Barack Obama as a “murderer.”

Testing such paired examples involves

  • Locating news reports of both incidents in the mainstream media, e.g. The New York Times.
  • Counting the number of articles devoted to each incident.
  • Measuring the column inches devoted to each
  • Comparing the reporting of each incident, noting:
    • The source-bases of the articles in question and whether they conform to Chomsky’s predictions as earlier described.
    • Whether there are significant language differences in the reports of the “paired examples.”
    • The significance of the differences.
    • How the quality of evidence advanced or demanded in each case differs. (E.g. Is a “smoking gun” required for alleged U.S. crimes, while something less is tolerated as proving the crimes of designated enemies?)
    • Whether conclusions are drawn or implied about evil intent on the part of “designated enemy” leaders, while similar actions by the U.S. or its clients are excused or rationalized.
    • Whether conclusions are drawn or implied about the corruption and unworkability of the “designated enemy’s” system, while similar actions by the U.S. or its clients are explained in terms of exceptional crimes by officials at the lowest level possible.
    • Whether arrests, trials or convictions are accepted as indications that the system in question does work or that it doesn’t.

Conclusion:

Both Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Chomsky’s propaganda model suggest that the problem of fake news has been with us for a long time. Even more importantly: critiquing it goes much deeper than merely analyzing what appears in the newspapers, on television or online. Instead, critical thinking often challenges its practitioners to make a 180 degree turn away from accepting what we’ve been told by beloved parents, teachers, priests, ministers, politicians, other public figures and friends.

No wonder it’s so intimidating to walk through our prison’s open cell door!

(Next week: My own journey from egocentrism towards Cosmo-centrism)

[1] Here all page references are to Chomsky, Noam. Necessary illusions. Toronto, ON: CBC Enterprises, 1990.

Noam Chomsky & Plato’s Allegory: It’s All Fake News (5th in a series on critical thinking)

Plato TV

Last week I reviewed Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in an attempt to show that problems of “alternative fact” and “fake news” have been with us a long time.

In their book, Necessary Illusions, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in effect, connect Plato’s parable to contemporary controversy about truth in reporting. The authors do so by explaining what they call the Propaganda Model of information dissemination through ethnocentric political discourse, education, and especially the mainstream media.

For Chomsky and Herman, such information sources create for us an unreal shadow world that fails to take into account the realities of the world’s unseen majority whose lives are shaped by U.S. domination. Besides explaining that theory, the authors offer a way of testing its veracity. This week let me explain the propaganda model and its predictions. Next week I’ll show how to test both.

To begin with, the propaganda model holds that the mainstream media function as vehicles of propaganda intended to “manufacture consent” on the part of our culture’s majority – often described within the cave as “special interests.” The majority includes workers, labor unions, the indigenous, family farmers, women, youth, the elderly, the handicapped, ethnic minorities, environmentalists, etc. The MSM and those they represent seek to secure the latter’s consent for policies favoring what is termed “the national interest.” This, according to propagandists, is the province of corporations, financial institutions and other business elites. Such interests in turn are served not only by the media, but by elected officials, educational institutions, churches, and so on. These latter often represent resistant grassroots movements as threats, since such movements actually seek greater influence on national life.

To control such tendencies, the media in the United States defines the limits of national debate within boundaries set by a two party system of wealthy government officials, by unquestioned patriotism, support for the free market, vilification of designated enemies (e.g. ISIS, Russia, China, Cuba, Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea . . .) and support for official friends (e.g. Israel, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain . . .). Support for such “client states” ignores their objectionable actions that often parallel and even surpass similar acts committed by designated enemies.

None of this means that “liberal” criticism is excluded from the national media. On the contrary, such criticism of either government officials (like Donald Trump) or the corporate elite is common. However, the media never allow serious criticism of either the free enterprise system as such, nor of the American system of government.

Testing this model involves comparing its predictions with specific stories as reported, for instance, in the New York Times often referred to as the nation’s “paper of record.” The predictions include the following:

  • More articles will be devoted to the “atrocities” of designated enemies than to similar actions by the U.S. or its clients.
  • Less space (column inches) will be similarly allocated for reporting the alleged crimes of the U.S. or its clients.
  • In either case, story sources will tend to be American government officials and intellectuals (university professors, think tank experts, conservative churchmen) friendly to U.S. policy.
  • The reporting of “enemy” crimes will devote comparatively little space to the “official explanations” of the governments in question.
  • It will depend more heavily U.S. government spokespersons, on opposition groups within the offending countries concerned and on grassroots accounts.
  • The crimes and “atrocities” of designated enemies will be explained in terms of a corrupt and unworkable system.
  • On questionable evidence or with none at all, the crimes and atrocities of “designated enemies” will be attributed to the highest levels of government.
  • Meanwhile the crimes of the U.S. or its client states will be denied, rationalized or otherwise excused.
  • Incontrovertible proof (a “smoking gun”) will be demanded to prove the “crimes” of the U.S. or its friends.
  • If admitted, these crimes and atrocities will be explained as exceptional deviations by corrupt individuals (at the lowest level possible).
  • The ultimate conclusion drawn from the discovery of crimes along with any resulting trials and convictions will be that the “system works.”

This bias will be revealed not only in the ways noted above, but by differences in language (words, phrases, allusions) employed in writing the articles in question.

Again, next week I’ll show how Chomsky and Herman suggest testing this model and its predictions.