a quasi-religious cult of individualism, success and competition, in all its forms

I use Facebook to find thoughtful people. Valery Mescheryakoff’s remarks are worth remembering, so I copy them from the Facebook stream with his permission and post here. Enjoy!

Valery Mescheryakoff writes:

From my observations, as a foreigner, I got a feeling that the whole ideology of US elites, which is further dispatched to society through mass-media and education, got significant changes after Russian revolution, which became the first large-scale practical experiment of implementing communist theories of transferring the power to the working people.

Such revolution was deadly for the traditional ruling classes of aristocracy and bourgeoisie, and US, as a biggest/strongest bourgeois capitalist country, along with Britain, a stronghold of aristocratic traditions and capitalist ideology, were forced to set up a global ideological counterbalance to the communism.

Communism, as an atheist/progressist society, was strong enough to fight, discredit and defeat most versions of traditional religions that existed at the moment, so there was a need in a stronger, more passionate and stubborn system of beliefs, that can succesfully oppose communist ideas on a grass-root social level.

In European national states it resulted in development of agressive nationalist theories that further evolved into fascism/nazism, while in US, as a multi-national country, there was a need to invent something different.

As there is no strong and single religion in US, most of the religious branches were too weak/ too peaceful to counterweigh communist ideology. So, uniting the society around religion was not possible, but there was a need in a strong cult to consolidate the people.

And, through some natural/artificial evolution, it was constructed as a nearly-religious cult of success and economic might, based on individualism and technical progress.

Important (if not critical) input was made by Ayn Rand, an angry emigrant from Soviet Russia, who was very passionate and smart enough to understand the ideologic needs of the western societies. It was crucial to invent ‘a dream’ which will be able to annihilate a communists’ ‘dream’, or at least to keep it as far as possible.

So she gradually constructed a raw/loose/primitive, but very passionate erzatz-ideology, which enforced sacralization of heroic tycoons, as a type of people who counterstand global chaos, generated by stupid, jealous, corrupt and beastly sub-people, followers of the socialist theories.

It worked best to consolidate the elite (and wannabe-elite) around these ideas (everyone wants to be a hero), and further dispatch this ideology to the whole society through education and media.

The cult mainly excluded morals, so all the possible means were nice, if they brought success and superior economic positions. What was wrong in traditional morals, mostly became a norm (or an allowed option) in a new cult. However, the society can not exist without morals at all – so there was left some castrated, one-sided version of morality, like ‘What is good for us, is good, what is bad for us, is bad’ – fully conforming to historical ‘Hottentot morality’.

For many people, it was an ideal reflection of their subconscious inner wishes of wealth and power, and clear direction sign – where they should go,what shuld they do to reach success. So all the further social activities were permanent competition in ‘King of the Hill’ as a process, and consumerism as a prize for victory.

People, groups of people, cultures and countries who were not involved in this type of social games, or rejected them, were mostly labelled and treated as losers, discredited, marginalized and their voice rights / access to media was gradually reduced.

These games were constantly bringing huge profits, as they focused all the human energy and passions on hard-working and consumerism, at expense of morals, family values, ecology, global peace and many other things.

The most successful game players (temporary ‘Kings of the Hill’) were sacralized, hence the cult of ‘winners’ – like industry tycoons, VIPs, celebrities, etc. The political opponents, like all shades of socialists/collectivists, were demonized and discredited by all means, including obvious lies.

So, I think that current religion in US is a quasi-religious cult of individualism, success and competition, in all its forms, as opposed to collectivism, equality and cooperation.

It does not correspond to the interests of majority of the people, but it is good to make people reach higher results in their activities. It also drains out the souls and diminishes the traditional values of humanity. In fact, most of the truly religious people are against this game, even while they are tempted/forced to participate.

The cult is dangerous, as it totally dehumanizes its most active followers, and, being broadcasted globally, it creates or provokes majority of the disasters that we are witnessing today. It’s spoiling all the useful global resources, instead of preserving them.

Of course, it is much more complex in reality – this is only one facet of the whole. But the subject is very interesting. I think we all can write a kind of a book about it together.

Valery posted that comment after my musing here:

Religion is not the only thing that’s “manipulated so perversely it leads to justification of murder and theft”. Many Americans, including me, have been in the military and participated in such things, and we did so not from religious motivation, but because of some other set of beliefs that we’re taught, not by traditional religion but through some other thing that rightly should be called some new kind of “religion”.

I’m non-“religious” and have been my whole life. But in the 80s, there I was in the US Navy, in the Persian Gulf, doing whatever it was we were doing, pulling oil out of Kuwait, assisting Iraq in carrying on a war that the US wanted with Iran, and whatever.

Are American wars religious wars? Not in the usual way. That is, in some ways yes, but more importantly, it’s something else.

It’s not one of the ancient religions and not one of the modern off-shoots. This “something-else” religion is not communicated to us in churches. Churches have been left behind by history.

Where do we go to receive our instructions now? To receive our received beliefs. Not church.

TV news, media. That’s where we’re taught what to think, what to believe. We’re taught by media to believe in the religion of American oligarchy, though it’s couched in pretty words, meaningless words that are not worth repeating.

(In the great tradition of non-believers, why can’t serious people today — not — believe in this new religion? Why do they all believe? Where is their famous skepticism?)

It’s an insidious religion because we’re taught that it’s not religion. That it’s rather, rationality, justice, defense of human rights… This makes it some kind of super religion, a religion on steroids. The amount of self-righteousness that one can embody through this perverse non-religion truly takes your breathe away.

A perverse insidious religion that takes your breath away and shrinks your testicles while it hollows out your soul and turns you into a morally and intellectually depraved empty shell

Rob Snyder You confirmed a thought I had. Long time ago I told some Germans I knew that I thought Russia had changed more than any other country, more than once, and that this is remarkable. They seemed a little offended, thought that Germany should be the most and the best at everything (including most changing). Well marinated in the competitive ideology!
Valery Mescheryakoff I think.. the intensity of changes in Germany and Russia was nearly equal, but ours were deeper and more succesful, in many terms. Germany kept more traditions intact, because the people are more ordered and their society and culture has more ‘sacred cows’ they adore and try to keep intact, no matter what. Our people had nothing serious to lose, so they got much deeper into the experiments, got more faults, and gained more prizes.

I think it’s a general difference between Russian people and Europeans. And, from what I know/feel – Americans and Russians are much closer to each other in many aspects, than to Europeans. I think it depends on the size of the country, people of big/small countries have different thinking. It’s like an aquarium – if it’s small, so are the fishes. If there is more free space – fishes can grow bigger. It does not mean that big or small fishes are any better/worse – they have the same brains, but bigger fishes in a bigger space usually have more freedom/choice/available options. It changes the way of thinking.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Foster says:

    Very interesting, gentlemen. Especially the last observation, about big vs little countries. Or little countries that are temporarily ‘big’ – like 1800-1870 England made very ‘big’ and innovative by its empire.

    I agree with the ‘quasi-religious cult of individualism, success and competition, in all its forms’.

    But first, to point out that this is not the only quasi-religion by which the world is dominated – there is also Scientism, which is the fundamentally enlightened ethos of Science, but turned into a conformist religion of true-believers and heathens, priests and rabble – which corruptly serves the cult that you’re both talking about.

    Back to the ‘quasi-religious cult of individualism, success and competition, in all its forms’.
    IMHO, it wasn’t invented in America in response to the Russian Revolution.and soicialism.
    It was invented and sanctified in 19C England,
    ran there with great success until about 1870
    until adoption of same by America (whole-heartedly) and Germany (partially) and others started to leave legacy-technology England behind.
    The old-style European empires-of-occupation crumbled and America began to build a new-style empire-of-cultural-invasion and native-regime-installation.

    The great divide came after WW2 – Russia a ‘socialist’ superpower, America the capitalist ditto,
    but the returning veterans of devastated Europe idealistically tired of both,
    for example shock-landslide-voting in a Labour government which was not exactly ‘socialist’ but in just a few years created a popular British Welfare State in Education, Health and Social Security and nationalised the major industries.
    Europe followed the same ‘Social Democrat’ line. The counter-nationalist EU was born.

    Whereas war-unscathed still-innocent/unwise America, I agree, developed your ‘cult’ to new heights, eventually re-exporting Friedman theory back to Thatcherite UK (and Maggie it was who convinced Ronnie Reagan).
    The old-style Russian empire-of-occupation in turn crumbled
    and the whole West united in your winner-takes-all ‘cult’ – the winner now being America – for a while, PNAC notwithstanding.

    Liberalism (in its old sense – of liberty to exploit and disrupt) was born in England, with the 18C/early 19C philosopher-pioneers of ‘enlightened self-interest’ Economics
    (and so was Marxist Economics, at the same time/place, interpreting from the same ‘data-set’, the experience of early industrialism).
    Both were sanctified by Darwinism, which seemed to say ‘The Law of the Jungle is Survival of the Fittest’ and dealt a death-blow to notions of God-given good behaviour.
    Which provided, by all sorts of pseudo-scientific extension-theories, sanction for self-serving beliefs in racial/national/class superiority and right, culminating not least in Nazi Germany.

    Walter E Houghton’s (Yale Press) ‘The Victorian Frame of Mind’ is an eye-opening detailed insight into those times.
    Manly ‘Might is Right’ was a powerful and respectable philosophic idea in Victorian England – ‘human nature’ is as it is (or appears to be); all else being fantasy.

    Your ‘quasi-religious cult of individualism, success and competition, in all its forms’ was the backbone of English hegemony for 100 years before the Russian Revolution.
    I’d say that it was only fully adopted by America, as counter to Russia and ‘socialism’, after WW2.

    You say that conventional religion was not a tool that America could use in this. I disagree.
    Whereas English (and European) Christianity disapproved of the new heartlessness (although sanctioning the ‘saving of souls’ by destruction of ‘heathen’ social structure throughout the Empire),
    the characteristically American Fundamentalist brand of Christianity was and very much still is a main-stay of the ‘cult’ you describe – which for a huge grass-roots is not a quasi-religious parallel, but is integral to their traditional religious belief.

    Europe remains as sceptical as ever about that, but weakly allows itself to be dragged along by the monster it created – the American ‘right’ to manipulate.
    Polanski’s ‘The Ghost Writer’ is worth watching, to its final punch-line.

  2. Tom, Thank you. You proved my point about finding thoughtful people. I’m grateful.

    About American fundamentalism, I guess what bewilders some of us now is that it’s the other group that’s done so much damage. The Democratic Party, the party of Clinton, Obama, Clinton, (which I voted for through 2008) has out-Friedmaned Milton Friedman on economic policy since 1993, out-Cheneyed Dick Cheney on war-mongering since 2011, and out-McCarthyed Joe McCarthy on Russia demonization, since last year.

    Steering clear of religious fundamentalism hasn’t done much, apparently, to blunt extremist thought.

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