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New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Wednesday, August 3

manifest destiny III

there she stood in the doorway
I heard the mission bell
and I was thinking to myself
this could be heaven, this could be hell...

eagles

At the edge of the Pacific Ocean, in hot-tubs high above the surf of Big Sur, the new New Age was conceived. There was an older New Age to which the new one is connected in myriad ways, many of which will unfold as we proceed. Indeed, the idea of a New Age has been quite popular with human beings for... well, simply ages. For instance, though not going quite that far back, at the dawn of the 20th century there was a magazine called The New Age, edited for some time by one A.R. Orage, a longtime pal of G.I. Gurdjieff (in those days, people just went by their initials). As Paul Beekman Taylor writes in Gurdjieff and Orage: Brothers in Elysium (pp. 11-12):

The marvelous mix in The New Age of new writing, economical and political commentary, and cultural criticism... produced a journal his public appreciated as both "lively and eccentric." Orage had his doubters then, however, just as he has them now. There are three journalistic issues on which Orage has been questioned. The first is the anti-semitic strain in The New Age. A recent critic accuses Orage's vision of a "better world, an anti-semitic one" and adds that Orage himself is "known for anti-semitism" along with Yeats, Elliot, and Lawrence. Another commentator replies that, while Pound and [Clifford Hugh] Douglas drifted toward anti-semitism, Orage and The New Age stood against usury, not Jews.

Uh-huh. But of course this doesn't prove anything. I'm just saying... And while I'm at it, how about this?

separated at birth?
bob dylan ezra pound

Just a passing thought. Never mind that. We're getting ahead of our story already, which at this point involves what I think of as Manifest Destinies I through III.

Manifest Destiny I long preceded the western expansion of the United States. It manifested first in the form of an intuition of the Creator's plan for a pure white America...

It seems to me that God, with infinite wisdom and skill, is here training the Anglo-Saxon race for an hour sure to come in the World's future... The time is coming when the pressure of population on the means of subsistence will be felt here as it is now felt in Europe and Asia. Then will the world enter on a new stage of its history -- the final competition of races, for which the Anglo-Saxon is being schooled. Long before the thousand millions are here, the mighty centrifugal tendency inherent in this stock and strengthened in the United States will assert itself. Then this race of unequalled energy, with all the majesty of numbers and the might of wealth behind it -- the representative, let us hope, of the largest liberty, the purest Christianity, the highest civilization -- having developed peculiarly aggressive traits calculated to impress its institutions upon mankind, will spread itself over the earth. And can anyone doubt that the result of this competition of races will be the survival of the fittest? Is it not reasonable to believe that this race is destined to dispossess many weaker ones, assimilate others, and mould the remainder, until in a very true and important sense, it has Anglo-Saxonized mankind?

~from The New Era: Or, The Coming Kingdom
Josiah Strong, 1893, quoted in

A Religious History of the American People
Sydney E. Ahlstrom, Yale University Press, 1974, p. 849
(ellipsis and emphasis in original, but not the grafix)


Although that was written toward the close of the 19th century, the stance it reflects goes way back. And as Ahlstrom -- whose 1200 pages of American religious history won the National Book award in 1973 -- points out, these were not the sentiments of some street-corner punk. Strong was "the general secretary of the Evangelical Society... quoting in large part from Our Country, the book that had made him famous eight years before." Hold that thought.

The location of Esalen at the far Western reach of the North American continent is significant. The hidden motor of Manifest Destiny I, as expressed above, drove settlers and adventurers, bounty hunters and religious communitarians from sea to shining sea, as is said. Chicasaw, Choctaw, Blackfoot, Crow, Navaho, Kiowa, Comanche, Sioux -- anyone who got in the way of God's big plan for Anglo-Saxons got processed by this jingoistic fever until they either saw the Light or stopped blocking it. As GE's Jack Welch once said: lead, follow, or get out of the way.

That was Manifest Destiny II -- the one we usually associate with the phrase. Colonialism, pure and simple. Don't leave home without it.

And when this impulse could push men no further (the women were too busy cookin and shootin Injuns), when the ocean stopped further Western momentum, this quintessentially American influenza was bottled up in pathological frustration. All dressed up and nowhere left to go, it finally went psychedelically postal with a little help from the potent new neurochemical elixirs that started hitting the West Coast in the 1960s. It went, as Americans left to themselves always have: religious.

The colonial imperative that had driven Americans like droves of Lemmings toward the Western ocean, finally drove them out of... no, actually into their heads. Colonizing the mind -- Manifest Destiny III -- became, as one psycho-spiritually out-there '60s author called it without apparent irony, The Master Game. Any number can play -- long as you the right color, baby, and you got the bling.

Now hold that whole collection of thoughts for a minute, if you'd be so kind. The next part may seem oddly unrelated at first, but it's not. I'll bring us back around in a bit, you'll see. And this next part is what I like to refer to as...

So one evening a long time ago this insignificant two-bit psychologist named Maslow is driving along the coastal highway, going somewhere, don't ask, who knows. Suddenly, his head grows heavy and his sight grows dim -- he has to stop for the night. Nothing else being handy, he pulls into this place looks like maybe it might put him up. But as he's trying to check in -- turns out it's not exactly a lodging -- something funny happens. Some people who work there are unpacking these boxes of books, and as he looks closer he notices they're his books. "Hey," he says (or words to that effect), "I wrote those. What are you doing with so many copies of my books?" As it transpires, he's dropped in to Esalen Institute, and when they find out he's the great Abraham H. Maslow, well didn't they have a good time then. And what a time it was, oh yeah! Abe and Esalen, a perfect match. Livin it up at the Hotel California.

Now the thing about Abe is this. He was taken early on with alpha male Macaques -- those being apes of the sort you would find in, say, any decent primate research laboratory. One of his early promoters, Richard Lowry, says you could tell when Maslow talked about them that he really admired these dominant males. And how do I know this, you ask? By tracking down an out-of-print copy of this:

   Dominance, Self-esteem, Self-actualization:
   Germinal Papers of A. H. Maslow
   Richard J. Lowry, Editor
   Brooks/Cole Publishing Company (1973)
And another thing about Abe? It seems, as you can see from the above (though it's really only hinted at there), he equated -- as in x=y -- dominance with self-esteem. He got this exceeding strange notion in a primate research laboratory run by the deservedly famous, but not famous enough, Harry Harlow -- the guy who drove a stake into the heart of the then-ruling paradigm of behaviorism by proving that monkeys love their moms, and that it isn't about milk as reinforcement in some cockamamie operant conditioning scheme. In fact, the primate laboratory where Maslow picked up his odd idea about dominance equaling self-esteem was was one of the only (if not the only, I'll have to check) such labs in the U.S. at the time, where Maslow was Harlow's first graduate student.

And how do I know all that? By perusing in the first case, and actually reading in the second, these:

  1. The Right to Be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow by Edward Hoffman, of which Publishers Weekly says:
    Brandeis psychologist Maslow (1908-1970), a founder of humanistic psychology, was an uneasy hero of the 1960s counterculture. As spiritualistic fads swept the country, he scolded Esalen Institute instructors for their smugness and warned his followers that too much inwardness is not psychologically healthy. This apostle of self-actualization and creative "peak experiences" was an intensely private man who rarely discussed his own mystical highs.
    ...which is funny beyond words on a number of fronts, but precisely why will have to wait till a bit later.

    and...

  2. Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection by Deborah Blum -- a thoroughly wonderful book, of which Publishers Weekly says (far more credibly than above):
    In this surprisingly compelling book, Blum (The Monkey Wars) reveals that many of the child-rearing truths we now take for granted -- infants need parental attention; physical contact is related to emotional growth and cognitive development -- were shunned by the psychological community of the 1950s. As Blum shows, Freudian and behavioral psychologists argued for decades that babies were drawn to their mothers only as a source of milk, motivated by the instinctual drive for sustenance, and that children could be harmed by too much affection. Harry Harlow's experiments, Blum finds in this deeply sympathetic investigation of his life and work, changed all this, conclusively demonstrating that infant monkeys bond emotionally with a specific "mother" -- a dummy figure made of cloth even if it is not a source of food.

And now we're ready for the one more thing about Abe that'll wrap this puppy up, at least for tonight. It's this. In that book of Germinal Papers I cited above, Maslow has a piece dated 1942 (I think; this is from memory, so I'll need to dig the damn book out and make sure) called The Totalitarian Mind, or something close. In the first page or two, he says the big clue, you might say, about this mindset is that it likes to construct pyramidal hierarchies. Which is just too weirdly ironic, since Maslow's later "hierarchy of needs" is perhaps the most famous such pyramid in all of psychology.

But wait, it gets better. Only affluent cultures will be able to achieve "peak experiences" and "self-actualization" on any scale, Maslow says, for obvious reasons: poor people have no time for anything but filling their bellies. But then what happens is a pack of ne'er-do-well hippies go off in search of spiritual enlightenment -- to the very poorest of the poor living in remote regions of the globe where shamanism and drug abuse flourish, practiced by people who, if they're lucky, might just bag a parrot for supper!

So, did I bring you back around to Manifest Destiny III, like I promised? You bet I did. And that's it: colonizing the mind turns once again to the imperial appropriation of "primitive" culture for the edification and entertainment of the rich -- whom, as Aerosmith and P.J. O'Rourke suggest, we should eat.

~ affluent Anglo-Saxons actualizing their selfs ~
for the chapter: Manifest Destiny of the Third Kind



On the Edge of the Future: Esalen and the Evolution of American Culture


Brothers in Elysium


Religious Interpretations of American Destiny


your basic barbarians


God Is Not: Religious, Nice, One of Us, an American, a Capitalist


American Expansion and the Empire of Right


The Conquest of the New World


The Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences


one pill makes you larger...


Pathways to Higher Consciousness


Maslow on: Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences


Hotel California


The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the Human Potential Movement


A Biography of Abraham Maslow


Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection


Totalitarian Science and Technology


Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy


Shamanic Journey Drumming

I hope you have enjoyed this bookish little journey from the ridiculous to the sublime and back.

~the author


The subtitle of the book on the left is "The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism." The the book on the right takes a somewhat shallower cut at the problem. We'll encounter the unintentionally ironic Mr. Dyer again in the chapter on New Thought.



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