The Imperial Will: Our Linguistic Straightjacket

It is May Day and another extended holiday has arrived in this central Siberian region of Russia, going right on through to Victory Day on May 9th.  The rapidly advancing urban landscape gives way to primitive countryside villages, then to rolling steppe and finally to white birch forests. I am visiting my wife’s family’s dacha, enjoying the peace and plenty of the wilderness, and the unrefined naturalness of the surrounding terrain. The noise and commotion of the city is well behind me. The birds of spring are already singing, buds are in bloom, and a warm breeze considers delivering a seasonal rain.  The birch trees are standing tall against a cobalt blue sky, swaying gently in the wind.  The Ob River below the cliff is calm, the waters still and shallow.  Yet, even engulfed in this pristine surround, I still cannot forget the tumult of Barnaul, the demands of thinking and responding to the exigencies of life in the city, a life Westernizing more rapidly everyday – the commerce, the congestion, the commotion, the commodification, and of course, the communication.  Even the local advertising agency is in on the secret; it calls itself, unabashedly, Propaganda!

It seems almost anti-climactic after last week’s rather terse discussion for me to now say that language informs as well as articulates our taken-for-granted reality.  The world that appears to us, no less than the way we embrace it and are embraced by it, is intimately connected with our mother tongue. Yet, what informs this language that we speak, write and read?  As one of our contributors pointed out to me in a personal note last week, the specific architecture of a particular speaker’s language does not appear to be biologically determined.  In a reference to Daniel Everett’s work, Language: The Cultural Tool, she reminded me that there is no pre-determined linguistic syntax, no universal grammar, as Noam Chomsky would say, that is written into our genes.  Rather, the grammar, the structure of any human language is an artifact, specific to the culture within which it emerges.  Culture, then, both drives and is driven by the structure, shape and articulation of language – first in speech, and then in writing. A language (and culture) like ours, one that emerges by “persistence in distinction-making,” proceeds by cutting the world up into so many pieces for consumption, creating continuously emptier parts in larger institutional and/or linguistic hierarchies that lend themselves to increased levels of manipulation and control.

Yet, if our language as a cultural artifact locks us into a specific perceptual framework and mode of action, how can we hope to escape its demands, its laws?  Are we not stuck, as in quicksand, where the more we try to extricate ourselves the deeper we become entrenched in the hierarchies until we are hopelessly overwhelmed by them?  Is there no escape from the entombing capacity of these cultural biases, syntactic structures, the analytics and the hierarchies that they impose upon our perception and worldview?

The written word, particularly that of the Indo-European language family, demands conformity first to the unidirectional timeline, forcing thought constantly, relentlessly forward into the future. Remember that the elements in a basic syllogism (the logistic level) presuppose and are drawn upon unidirectional timeline: prior assumptions (called universals) are related to specific (present or past) facts which then entail a consequent or projected conclusion that is offered for purposes of explanation (of the past) or prediction (of the future).

I read this week that Aubrey McClendon, Chairman and Chief Executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp “was ‘deeply sorry’ for the turmoil caused by his [past] personal financial dealings.”1 It is interesting to note that in some languages, like that of the pre-literate Piraha tribe in the Amazon, there is no way to say “I’m sorry.” Conceptually it is just not in their verbal repertoire. Yet more important perhaps, as Everett pointed out in the work cited above, the Piraha language also appears to lack the grammatical element known to linguists as recursion. This means that there is no arrangement of phrases or clauses in dependent or subordinate relationships to a larger organizing (linguistic) structure; this is what Bram would call the hypotactic level of our grammar.  For example,

The Pirahãs would not say “Bring me the fish that Mary caught.” They would say “Bring me that fish. Mary caught that fish.” Two independent sentences are needed in Pirahã rather than the single English recursive one.2

There is no grammatical hierarchy here, if you will, no hypotactic subordination, as we find to be common to one degree or another among all modern languages.  Moreover, it may be fruitful to see that the hierarchy inhering within our Western linguistic structures is a model for and reflective of the same hierarchies that have become embedded within our social, political, religious and economic institutions. They are all cut from the same cloth.

Meanwhile, Chris Hedges took a sheet right out of our own playbook this week when he appealed to “rebuilding” the type of social and spiritual community that existed among the American Indian and other “primitive” populations that enjoyed sacred relations to their land.3 The Christian Science Monitor on the other hand applauded the fact that the US Empire is completing construction on the skeleton of the new and improved World Trade Center tower that will again claim its place as the tallest building in America. At the same time, The Atlantic Magazine celebrated the end of America’s War on Terror, the birth of a new détente, and the building of bridges between our former combatants (i.e., radical Islamists) and the US government.

Why détente, you ask? Is it an admission of guilt or of past misdeeds on our part; something like an apology?  No, of course it is not.  It is a requirement of the unrelenting logic (and language) that under girds our system, requiring the opening of new markets, the development of new sources of revenue, and unrestricted access to increasingly scarce natural resources in order to keep the parade alive and moving forever forward. Our vision is fixed by an inviolable logic of growth, progress, expansion, and pursuit of the high life.  Our thinking, our vocabulary, disallows us from even seeing a different world, despite Mr. Hedges tip of his hat to the forgotten and under-appreciated values of indigenous populations.  As a nation, we see only the opportunity for further exploitation and abuse; and we constantly set about drawing conclusions and making decisions that support our presuppositions and our expectations.  As Robert Scheer notes in his own column this week, the same attitude is evident in our faked concern for the masses of Chinese citizens.  As he says:

We do not care a whit now—nor have we ever cared—about their [Chinese] human rights or any other aspect of their lives as long as they satiate our unbridled appetites. To pretend otherwise is to deny centuries of exploitative history in which the West drugged the Middle Kingdom and plundered it for its resources and cheap labor while obliterating any sign of popular resistance to our imperial sway.4

Again, it is easy to understand our administration’s behavior once you uncover the underlying logic of its imperative – explanation and prediction; it is the same imperative that drives our economic and military adventures, in pursuit of global domination and control. These are the consequences born of an overriding commitment to distinction-making, hierarchy, and unidirectional temporality. Imperial will to power is the endgame, linked to our linguistic hierarchies and a lop-sided commitment to infinite progress and infinite expansion.

55 Responses to The Imperial Will: Our Linguistic Straightjacket

  1. Murph says:


    My own study of linguistics and use of language confirms your assertions. I would like to add a bit too it.

    I would assert that language is a human construct. Each person takes the words of the language and attaches a concept or discreet item to each word. Thus, as individuals we have a very difficult time to be assured we understand what the words used by another stand for, and all too often we do not understand what that person really means at all. Our communications with words is tenuous at best. It takes some time and effort by just two people (much less 8 billion) to exchange concepts and identifications to a sufficient degree such that true communication actually takes place.

    We do not have a consensus on definitions, or of their empirical meaning, or their emotional structure, or the complex conceptional notations we give to words. We also know that a society will invent words that deal with their specific society and are not found anywhere else, or visa versa, A society will not have a word for certain concepts that are taken for granted in most other societies. I ponder at times those that have complicated and made communication even more difficult then it used to be. I guess Bernays would be one at the top of the list.

    • relentless says:

      Your blogs continue to hack new paths, and open unending thoughts all along their perimeters and in these secret little caverns perhaps once hidden. It appears most of your posters have this extreme discomfort with the language that has been foisted upon us (as i love to mention: without my permission). As you may remember, my response personally is to contaminate the language whenever possible, throw the little men curves, confuse the bejesus out of ’em, even if it’s of a relatively small-scale enterprise. One of the unabridged dictionaries i have, quite old, also demonstrates many words no longer operable, disposed of by…? Like moonglade, a beautiful word ousted by twitterworld and newspeak. Another i saw last night: ‘ancient light,’ a window or other light-emitting opening that has been unobstructed for at least 20 years and protected by common law against having it light obstructed (i.e., by a tall building). So, i’ll begin using more of these obliterated words and terms, make up new ones, and why not ‘ancient sound?’ The cacophonies surrounding our soundspaces need to go (as a musician-composer they drive me batty!). The noises obstruct the wonderful silences, subtle nuances, and resonant ambiences i need to be a fully awakened human without having to resort to building an anechoic chamber. Start taking the language back by terminating the words coopted and misdefined, abused, by them. Offer beauty and grace. It’s one way to enliven our World. Why accept the language of the masters?

      • CK says:

        The old phrase less is more is in itself the doorway to taking back our connectedness, grace beauty and all that
        And of course in relationship to speaking it is in the(less) silence that much more is uncovered but it is an uncovering within each of us. And what might be discovered through acceptance appreciation of all our voices of silence. Silence is old, its ancient
        Clearing out the clutter, the artificial noise and bla from our cultural impressions will reintroduce us to that sometimes uncomfortable state of being.

        • relentless says:

          Yes, CK, YES! Silence IS the final frontier no matter what Star Trek indoctrinated all of us with, eh? Often, i find, with music, the silences are the missing links in the aural chain.

          • kulturcritic says:

            I would agree that silence has lost its power, along with the spoken word. Oral language today is empty, not because it is speech, but because it is the intonation of the univocity of the written word. Language has become emptied and trivialized in our modern world, stripped of its depth and power. Where words in pre-literate cultures were once experienced as rich, pregnant with signification (polysemy), in our finessed and fragmented vocabulary all that has changed. Now a strictly logistical principle holds sway, reducing words to mere symbols, simple placeholders having nominally single, unambiguously identifiable referents. Spoken discourse today in literate culture has itself become idle chatter. Such idle talk becomes a malicious sham, a clever inhibitor of more fundamental delight in both our aural and tactile sensibilities. So, I would not agree that speech is necessarily the problem, but rather that speech as an outcropping of literate culture is problematic.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Just remember, Murph, for it to be meaningful, language must also be a social construct (not individual), otherwise there is no communication.

  2. CK says:

    Speech…. it is the beginning of order, heirachy, miscommunicaton, and domination.
    The deeper question is what were human tribes, culture, communication like prior to spoken words

    • kulturcritic says:

      Well, CK, it is highly likely that Homo erectus had some facility with some verbal communication (or language) as early as 1.8 million years ago. And certainly, our great ape ancestors made some vocalizations as well. So I am not sure what it means to look for human culture prior to some form of verbal communication, nor what it would do for us. But, I agree that silence can be golden.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Speech is the beginning of community, not domination or hierarchy.

      • CK says:

        Maybe it’s the beginning of community with a sense of order and heiarchy. It is possible that there was community before languaging. Comuning with nature… inner and outer

  3. Malthus says:

    Now this is going to be interesting. How many words in this “civilization,” are absolutely unnecessary except to cage the wildness of our brains in the name of culture and to take the place of emotional action. Do we gum up the pictures we think in by putting labels on those pictures just out of hope to be able to communicate those feelings to another human? There are other communications going on much more subtle than words and their meaning and have the cause and effect a deeper attachment and understanding of each other. So is the question: are we losing those forms of communicating and preferring the mask of linguistic intelligence?

    • kulturcritic says:

      I don’t disagree, Malthus, that non verbal communication is an essential element of being human (if not of other non-human creatures as well). However, I would not easily dismiss the value of the spoken word or sound of the human voice in the articulation of presence. Linguistic intelligence should not be conflated with oral communication. However, I am not sure what you intend by the phrase ‘linguistic intelligence.’

      • Malthus says:

        How would I know? I could have easily used the word rhetorical as well. The definitions of intelligence is a much more interesting, usually defined by those that the definition will fit an agenda of some kind. What is interesting is that the sound of the human voice is considered by most important in communication. I hear sounds of the spoken word all of the time and with underlying feeling is that many times no one is home that is doing the speaking but are using contemporary or local phrases used by many copied without a thought of the mechanicalness of what is being said. Sometime it is interesting to turn off the sound of a speaker giving a speech and observe without the sound. In many instances it is quite easy to grasp the concepts the speaker is talking about. Just by noticing the subliminal cues. A fun game if anything else.

    • relentless says:

      Domesticated cultures. All masks masking direct perceptions. What are ‘we’ all so afraid of? Haven’t we lost so much with all the ones and zeros–Screen World? What happens when all the digits evaporate? Will any essence remain of the authentic being? Give me eye to eye any day. If i cannot see another’s eyes, the portal to one’s soul, am i really seeing this other? Masks! Why the masks?

  4. CK says:

    Yes Relentless. I tend to beleive that it is in the eyes, window to the soul/silence.. to the ancient.
    It’s in that depth, emensity, presence, of this vast uncharted territory that leaves many in awe or fear.
    Non verbal communication is a reality it is significant and powerful. it’s just too scarry for the general public to accept. Maybe it is a direct threat to all existing structure. Because structure needs linguistics

    • relentless says:

      Once more from the journal of m fana: “Surround yourself with beauty, the other option sucks.” Give me direct perception any day over words, for they can overcome any symbolic pretensions. Listen, for example, to Beethoven’s late string quartets, esp. C#m and Am…and the Grosse Fugue. Words truly pale in comparison. There are no lies and hidden agendas in such beauty.

      • kulturcritic says:

        And what about the polysemy you can feel (not only hear) in Bach solo violin partitas?

        • relentless says:

          Yes. Bach, Mozart, Wagner, etc. That synaesthesia thing acting out again. 😉 Bach assurdely transitioned (returned?) to an extreme polysemous tonal encounter within the confines of the bar lines and then more recent equal-tempered tonal system. Bach, for me, worked ‘within’ the system and created magnificent aural adventures, whereas for my ears, Beethoven was attempting to escape those confines, especially those aforementioned string quartets…i can hear the frustrations (which i don’t hear in Bach, and that is in no way derogatory!). i stopped listening to the late Beethoven Quartets for something like 40 years–for i sensed this beautiful frustration, attempt at erotic release and a being encountering the primal essence…though 40 years ago i didn’t comprehend it that way…i just released tears of absolute joy, couldn’t handle the overwhelming realization (that i can now ‘analyze’) that some other being felt what i was sensing. My core point in all of this, relating to your blog and all the posters, is simply, for me, there are multiple ways to see, breathe, hear outside the domesticated, indoctrinated prison bars, and more within the last 3 or 4 linear years. Words and the ever-declining language of heirarchy can’t touch these more direct senses. As you wrote: “Our thinking, our vocabulary, disallows us from even seeing a different world…” Amen! Music, art, and most other creative endeavors can and might open up these other senses, a means to, just maybe, escape the tyranny of the linearities, or at least not just go screaming into the wilderness. Do we separate ourselves from these other ‘methods’ at our peril? i telieve we
          do. The digital world isn’t The World. The written word isn’t the thing. i prefer the ambience of reality. Thanks for allowing the venting…later, i’ll imbibe in The Grosse Fugue again…and maybe some Bach!

          • kulturcritic says:

            And thank you, for being RELENTLESS!! But, try the solo violin partitas from Bach, the polysemy will jump out at you; remember it is one violinist, but the voices are many and overwhelming even in their simplicity. sandy

            • relentless says:

              i’ll listen again, haven’t for a while (Which violinist in particular? With the Beethoven String Quartets, my absolute favorites were the old 60s-?- versions by The Budapest String Quartet–AMAZINGINTENSITY–meant as one word). And, while we’re hearing Bach: a MUST..MUST..MUST listen to–Helene Grimaud performing the Bach Chaconne in Dm–a mindblower! On U-tube. She’s an inspired rebel with a clue, sounds like no other of recent vintage, plays by her rules. You’re gonna fall in love with Bach (and Grimaud 😉 ) all over again. Polysemous infinitum!

          • Malthus says:

            Really good Relentless. “escape the tyranny of the linearities,” Escaping is what most of us here express in our own way. Silence and meditation does attempt to be useful in that pursuit. Myself find that when I am on a rock wall with lots of exposure ones mind must be quite and allow the physical presence of the body and the mind do what is necessary to keep me on that wall which to me is an example of nonlinear thinking. One must allow the silence to lead. My body and mind know what to do without any thought necessary. Something that may be similar in listening to the music you refer to.

            • relentless says:

              Malthus: Though i don’t climb rock walls (at least not knowingly), there is surely an ‘art’ involved in such a silent pursuit. Again, words, like myself using the word ‘art.’ Far too confining for all of us who venture outside the matrix of that linear mindforeverset. i ‘converse’ with trees, plants and life itself in plant breeding without need of words whatsoever, and it enlivens me, like music and for you those rock walls. One and the same, eh, when you choose such ambience. “My body and mind know what to do without any thought necessary.” Exactly! Just like composing or engaging in love with a kindred being. Isn’t much difference is there? Climb on!

            • kulturcritic says:

              Absolutely Malthus!

            • cliffkrolick says:

              And Malthus when I’m flying thru the forest on a mountain bike twisting rhythmically back and forth thru the trees on a trail no wider then 36″ with both up and down hills it’s like suspended outside of time and space. Anyone care to join me some time?

          • Brutus says:

            I have always been more involved in the German symphonic tradition than with chamber music, but I stopped listening to Beethoven for similar reasons: he’s the most dramatically violent of composers. More than any other symphonist before or after, he embodies the struggle of power relationships (purely within the context of music) that are too dense and intense to be enjoyable if one is really tuned in. Just listen to the Egmont Overture ,for example. It’s not a symphony per se, but it exhibits the same explosive musical spirit in a compact form.

            • relentless says:

              For me Brutus, Beethoven embodied as close to the passionate necessity of life as any human being i have ever heard musically (though Wagner came close in his best operas). He surely did, and still does, embody that struggle of which you write, at times seeking the ultimate understanding of such conflicts, and in those late chamber pieces pierces the veneer of mediocrity, human pretentiousness (can any other species lay such claim?) and our failures, as he thoroughly disposes of it all that you have mentioned seeking in a past post. Must depart…maybe more later. Best, r

  5. Thought provoking… Like TAOB

  6. Brutus says:

    Sandy sez:

    Why détente, you ask? Is it an admission of guilt or of past misdeeds on our part; something like an apology? No, of course it is not. It is a requirement of the unrelenting logic (and language) that under girds our system, requiring the opening of new markets, the development of new sources of revenue, and unrestricted access to increasingly scarce natural resources in order to keep the parade alive and moving forever forward.

    Amidst the other points and discussion in the comments, this leaps out at me, as it points to how instrumental reality is constructed from verbal/mental metaphors (which find their roots mostly in the Enlightenment), meaning that instrumental reality is a particular kind of construct having less honorable relationships with the physical world than others it supplanted. We can never achieve true and objective relationships with reality because our perceptual systems inevitably have constraints and filters that mask or hide some facets in favor of others. However, at this blog, we’re all probably in agreement that the modern Curriculum has become a wholesale distortion of other, better approaches.

    As to language in the wider sense, there is a curious tension between the radically liberal usage of American English and the extremely conservative approach of, say, L’Académie française. American English has been especially debased by PoMo deconstructivism so that now we struggle to communicate effectively, as others have noted, not least because the preferred styles of written and electronic messaging are stripped of nonverbal cues, including eye contact. Yet language is still among the most powerful tools available to us when deployed with nuance and grace, and a rather conservative rigidity may actually help to retain meaning that is lost with the introduction of too much hip, slangy usage or too many neologisms. We used to have many writers and readers capable of encoding and decoding such language, but as we pass to media increasingly dominated by video, the written/spoken word languishes and atrophies.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Yes, Brutus, almost all becomes Instrumental reality in he negative sense, because the reality of the “objective” world is emptied of significance aside from that which we assign to it. It seems that this was not always the case.

  7. derekthered says:

    the dream of the pastoral paradise, every mad man’s dream, bungalow bill riding off into the sunset on your color tv screen. we’re slicing and dicing it pretty thin these days, especially contrasting it with the reality of people’s lives, and how dependent the population is on the monster we have created, said monster being the beast who eats energy to keep us all alive.

    despite the long term forecast being chilly, we may in the short term heat the planet enough to release the methane from the tundra, and mother russia will have lots of new farmland, maybe; and then the steppes may not be so uninhabited. i’ve read it’s the frozen methane that could really cook our goose, the undersea stuff,

    sure the scientists have got us all broke down to our constituent parts, what is mankind’s collective identity these days?, if you could take a snapshot? cellular? viral? wave or particle? no telling what they can come up with for the carnival, the state fair, the freak show, with the new gentech xna.

    ladies and gentlemen, step right up!!! she walks she talks!!! she crawls on her belly like a reptile!!! every conspiracy theorists wet dream.

    i don’t know what’s written in our genes, but someone writing new genes? pretty creepy.

  8. cliffkrolick says:

    Now that the genie(gene) /monster is out of the bottle. What else is new, What are we to do?
    if man can think he/she can to do. Consciousness is such a scarry,creative, energetic, beautiful what????? Let’s not limit it here. But wait, maybe thinking has really nothing to do with consciousness. How about a new gene to forget everything that has taken place for the past million years.. And we all get that replacement simultaneously.

  9. Hey, wait! I came here from JHK’s place, wanting to find out what Putin said today. Where did you post that?

  10. Our language is a reflection of our state of mind, and our collective psychosis. The empire has a fixation and obsession with conformity, progress, denial, externalization of side effects, etc…We have adopted this Fox-news brand of newspeak as a form of self-indoctrination, like speaking into a mirror for advice. Only by removing the ‘need’ or pressure, through something like a social upheaval or a change of consciousness, can silence or ambiguity reassert themselves because they again will be relevant.

    I’m a big fan of non-verbal communication like gestures and sign language, and when I write I try to abuse wordplays and pointless grammar fancies. I notice you use many words outside of the standard modern dictionary dialectic. We each do our part as verbal insurgents, I guess, to terrorize this behemoth. I think that last sentence just got me on a DHS watch list.

  11. javacat says:

    Language, written and spoken, is often seen as ‘man’s triumph’: it is, we’re told, what sets us apart from the dumb brutes of forest and field. Set aside for a moment what we know about animal language and other means of communication. Language allows us to share experience–although, of course, not a direct experience. All readers here, I’m sure have been moved by a work of literature, gleaned some ‘aha!’ from the insights laid out in prose or poem. The best of these reveal a common humanity and nurture understanding and compassion. At the other end of the spectrum, language reflects the worst of the culture and society. It creates hate, fear, and control.

    Last week, a friend told me of an unsettling experience while taking his 7-year-old son to the circus. Before the show began, the announcer asked the crowd to stand for the national anthem. As the crowd of 5000 rose to its feet and joined in the singing, my friend’s discomfort grew. Partly because he grew up in Europe, he found this scene strikingly nationalistic and a little frightening. He was also disturbed at how easily and eagerly his child joined in.

    In such situations, the individual voice is lost. I don’t sing the anthem, but I always stand. To stay seated seems too great a risk.

    Our public high school recites the Pledge of Allegiance each day. At 10:10 each day, a voice comes over the intercom, asking that we join them. Now, I don’t say the pledge, and I don’t require that students say it, or even stand. But over the years, I’ve noticed a greater participation: more students standing, more with hands over hearts, and more reciting. I don’t think I’ve had anyone not stand in years. Once the voice intones, the normally chatty room goes quiet, and attention shifts as we all face the flag.

    Language in both these instances becomes a kind of incantation. Not quite a nursery rhyme jumble, but still a string of syllables that stay at the surface of meaning for most, yet exert a control over the behavior and thoughts of many. The words come from outside of ourselves and our experience. Certainly, when we learn such language as children, whether nationalistic phrasings or church prayers, we are much less questioning and more vulnerable.To untangle the meanings and the intents is difficult –and a lot of work. To question the use of language and dig past the surface to expose hidden structures and machinations can create both intrapersonal and interpersonal tension, and alienation.

    • kulturcritic says:

      “To question the use of language and dig past the surface to expose hidden structures and machinations can create both intrapersonal and interpersonal tension, and alienation.”

      And I guess that is why we are here on this blog; yes, JC? We seek to create that tension, even though it exposes us to great risk at times. But, it can also serve to unmask the unquestioned presuppositions guiding our allegiance to anonymous authority. The situation you describe in the circus and the classroom is classic. Of course, group identity is an essential part of being human, but the group we are presented to identify with is neither one of mutual affinity, consanguinity or egalitarian relations. The group, the nation, is a uncertain mixture of anonymous persons forced together by socio-economic or political necessity. The cohesiveness of the group, the nation, is achieved through diverse systems of enculturation and inculcation to the legal norms and obligations imposed from above. The best we can hope to do if redefine our group in smaller, local terms, where we truly share common bonds and affinities. For the nation, the State… is the coldest of cold monsters; coldly it tells lies. (Nietzsche)

      • javacat says:

        The Nietzsche quote is chillingly true. The State lies to feed its hungers.

        And, yes, of course, the companion to the risk of exposure to ourselves is the experience of liberation by exposing the layers upon layers of inculcated muck that clogs our brains and our bodies. The allegiance often seems situational, temporary or superficial–or perhaps all three. The crowd leaves the arena, jumps in cars and trucks, and zooms off, the meanings and the actions that support the meanings of allegiance tossed with the old popcorn boxes on the floor.

        The great societal risk is that if people do not question the enculturation, if we do not pay attention to that strong or slight nagging that something just isn’t right, we run the personal risk of a lifetime of self-alienation, an inability to trust ourselves and form truly intimate relationships within the group. If everyone question, need, want, desire is addressed from without, our pleasure and our pain defined elsewhere, we have no self-knowledge. A nation with an entire group in such a state would become quite brittle, and, I imagine rather unpredictable when things break down.

  12. javacat says:

    Since imperial has its etymological roots in empire, I’m going to move into another aspect of that notion. Image as well as word can be imperialistic. It’s a bit of a leap, but what I’ve been reading so disturbs me that I have to write it here. Empire always implies dominance by force, imposed control and subjugation. Empire is violent and violating. Empire establishes clear hierarchy and within that structure, makes the higher echelons desirable, what one might strive for or aspire to, or connive to in order to gain access, opportunity and approval.

    In recent weeks, I’ve read several articles about what seems to me to be an imperialism of whiteness and misogyny. Lighter skin is better. More desirable. Sexier. The disturbing message to women in some countries is, bluntly, that if your pussy isn’t white enough, your man will be repulsed. No worries! Products to the rescue! You can bleach your mons and labia, please your man and save yourself from a life of loneliness and rejection. Here’s an article: . Add to that the growing number of cosmetic labiaplasties, and, well, how much farther do we need to go to demean and devalue? How much more do we distance self from self in the effort to meet a false standard of white (male) perfection?

    • kulturcritic says:

      WOW!! – You are going for the gold here, JC!! I have never heard of or seen anything like this. Incredible! And it is the case that cleanliness, the hallmark of civilization, has always been associated with whiteness. And of course, bleach is the perfect answer for a dark pussy (LOL), at least in a world run by chemicals and marketers. How crazy is this world becoming? Of course, some of us feel sex more viscerally, you know, in the intestines; and that of course is where our real dirty stuff comes from… so color makes no difference to the visceral (feral) kind… in fact, the darker the better. Just sayin! Be that as it may; false standards are what this world has become about. We create expectations through the convoluted logic of the language and the images they conjure up. Once again, JC… you hit a home run…. ps. And I love the Indian commercial. And we know they want to be just like us white and wealthy Americans. LOL sandy

      • javacat says:

        Glad you liked it. Everything you say is right on. The hyper-fixation with cleanliness–of body, soul and spirit–that usually belies a very dark underbelly of perversions: wealth, corruption, and sex.

        And since we’re talking about sex, let’s keep going. The big three of monotheism you mention in your latest post all have strict controls over sexuality, especially for women. That wonderful visceral power of sexuality, the deep feral pull of lust, is totally dissociated from the body. The most natural and important of connections is denied and distorted and allowed, by these religious hierarchies only under the most scripted of circumstances. Sex is so narrowly defined and its depictions so dictate our perceptions, that we’ve lost much of that power.

        Certainly, these were efforts to control wild, animal forces. I imagine as we become more ‘civilized’, leaders and the higher echelons of society tried to separate themselves from the habits of animals and the lower classes–as they did with eating more refined white flour and Southern girls staying out of the sun to keep their skin milky white.

        Whence this proscription against pleasure? As a people, we no longer know our own bodies. touch is near verboten, yet just as we are social creatures, we too are sensual beings.That sensuality is what allows us to explore and connect with the greater world that surrounds us. We have been so tainted with the fear of sin and punishment that we dare not explore ourselves, and without that knowledge, again, we cannot forge true intimacy–which would lead to the creation of community. When we are so bound within ourselves that we barely know that we breathe, how do we form any semblance of a true mutual affinity?
        From your readings, when do you think this shift took place? Is it when we began living more in our heads–our rational minds–that the disconnect occurred? What evidence is there for other religions that more wholly integrated these various aspects of ourselves?

        • kulturcritic says:


          Vajrayana Buddhism or Tantric Buddhism were much more focused on the psycho-sexual energy of the person, acknowledging the primacy of the body and human sexuality in achieving an ecstatic state of communion. A similar focus can be see in earlier Hindu texts dealing with the practice of Kundalini Yoga… and the raising of sexual energy in achieving expanded consciousness.

          With regard to the feminine and sex:

          “The most natural and important of connections is denied and distorted and allowed, by these religious hierarchies only under the most scripted of circumstances.” – correct, missionary position, and only for the benefit of procreation. What a waste! LOL

          The monotheistic faiths have always had an extremely negative view of the physical world, including, if not especially, the human body. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… And so naturally, women would be scorned and subdued because of their primal sexual appeal. These faiths strive for transcendent communion in a noncorporeal state with the divine. Obviously, this focus on the transcendent, arose with the earliest spiritual yearnings of the “sky-god” religions… He who is above and beyond. The focus was always UP to the “father” above; no longer DOWN to the earth and “mother” below. These transitions were tied as well to the Hebraic and ancient Near Eastern focus on liner historical movement, and its focus on a salvific future (Epic of Gilgamesh), rather than being grounded in cyclic regeneration tied to the earth and the cycles of mother nature and the wild feminine.

          Great discussion, JC!

          • javacat says:

            Wow, Sandy. Thanks for this awesome overview. You covered a lot of territory here.

            I’ve certainly heard, but not read much, about the Tantric and Kundalini traditions, though I wonder how much gets distorted here in the US, or just from translation from another culture. One can certainly appreciate how sexual energies could help one attain a state of bliss or ecstasy–dropping the veil that is boundary between beings and the wholeness of being.

            The denial of the flesh in monotheism puzzles me. I’ve read that during certain periods, at least, the Earthly life was so bleak and filled with suffering that the only salve was hope in an afterlife. The denial of the body and its appetites? Hmm. Scratch that last word. Appetites seems too ‘consuming’ . Let’s try the denial of the sensual, in its fullest sense. Much of fleshly denial is about control. Or, it is perceived as distraction from the essential divine questions. Or as just plain sin. Whatever the reasoning, that shift to the sky-god, the non-corporeal being shredded the connection between self and body. Self became other: an other to be ignored, denied, punished. What kind of psychosis comes from millenia of that experience?

            The recent, dangerous craziness in this country–the ‘war on women’–has me concerned and truly worried on many levels. From the verbal attacks on the Georgetown law student by Rush Limbaugh to the old men in Congress just getting off on talking about women’s reproductive rights and whether birth control should be covered by insurance: I just want to say, “What the fuck are you thinking??” But then I realize that I really don’t want to know. For to know would make me privy to what they’re really thinking. And I think those minds would reveal truly deep-seated, perverse prejudices about the relationships between men and women.

    • kulturcritic says:

      “See? It makes perfect sense. We just want our vaginas to reflect more lightis that so wrong? I mean, WHAT IF MY CAR BREAKS DOWN AT NIGHT AND I DON’T HAVE A REFLECTIVE ENOUGH VAGINA? Really, the ultimate one-vagina-to-rule-them-all would glow in the dark like one of those deep-sea fishes. I need my vagina to attract more krill so my husband will fuck me again! (My husband is a whale.)” – JC, I just can’t stop laughing at this piece….. (no pun intended)!!

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