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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

Jealous God (p. 301)

From chapter "The Cost of Power"

I wrote earlier that narcissistic individuals must ultimately be disappointed, and must then always displace onto others the blame for their disappointment. This is often, but not always, true. There is at least one condition—and, to be sure, this happens all the time—under which those who are narcissistic will accept blame, and in fact will act with all speed and diligence to correct their mistake.

The mistake, of course, is weakness, also known as empathy, compassion, communion, love, relationship, or humanity. More generally, the mistake that can be acknowledged and rectified is that of a failure to objectify. More generally, still, the mistake can be known as a failure to be narcissistic enough, the failure consisting of acknowledging the other’s uniqueness and existence as a subject. In practice, this weakness finds its way into the world as a lack of will sufficient to annihilate one’s enemies.

Failure to eradicate their enemies was, to go back to the cradle of our civilization, a huge problem among the Israelites. God warned them time and again not to make covenants with those He delivered unto them: those they were supposed to exterminate and whose land they were to take. The deal was pretty clear, and it’s just as clearly a deal we still adhere to: Give up your humanity and dissolve all interconnection with others, and you will receive power beyond your most insane dreams. Here’s God’s part of the bargain (and if you’re an atheist or otherwise a humanist, just substitute for God the Market, Science, Technology, Capitalism, Free Enterprise, Democracy, the United States, Progress, Civilization, or whatever other abstraction you want, and the bargain still holds): “I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation…. Behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.” Our God having long since dispatched these peoples, we can make the list more current by substituting Khoikhoi, Arawak, Pequot, U’wa, or Aborigine. In order to benefit from these marvels, the Chosen People had to promise never to “make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves.” The Israelites had to cut down the groves, just as today we have to deforest the planet, because otherwise it would be too tempting to enter into relationships with other gods, other humans, or the land where we live. And it simply won’t do to form those other relationships, because “the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,” and to enter into relationship with another is, as the book of Exodus so indelicately puts it, “whoring.” To make sure the Chosen People deeply internalized this message, it was drilled into them. We read, again and again, “I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods.” The reason? Always the same: If these others live, it might be too tempting to gain their ways: “They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me.” The message is repeated in Deuteronomy, Joshua, indeed, the entire Old Testament. The message is acted out to this day.

The message is an extension of the lesson of Noah, the lesson of Lestor Luborsky, with his electrodes attached to eyeballs, letting us know where we dare not look, of R. D. Laing, with his three rules of a dysfunctional family or society. Don’t. Don’t look. Don’t listen. Don’t love. Don’t let the other be. Don’t. The best way to guarantee you won’t be in a relationship with something is to not see it. The best way to make certain you won’t see some thing is to destroy it. And, completing this awful circle, it is easiest to destroy something you refuse to see. This, in a nutshell, is the key to our civilization’s ability to work its will on the world and on other cultures: Our power (individually and socially) derives from our steadfast refusal to enter into meaningful and mutual relationships.

This refusal—this key to power—was carried forward and used by slavers, Columbus, Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, Hitler. It is put forward today by politicians who send soldiers to kill at a distance, and by soldiers who do the killing. It is pushed by CEOs and others who wish to reap the benefits of our economic system, and by purveyors of porn who tell us it’s okay to represent women as objects to be “f

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ed in every hole” (or, judging by my Alta Vista search and the prevalence statistics, to be raped) but fail to mention any form of relationship at all. It is okay, we are told incessantly (for incessant repetition is necessary to make this painful and eventually numbing lesson stick) to utilize resources, whether the resources are trees, fish, gold, diamonds, land, labor, warm, wet vaginas, or oil. But one must never enter into relationship with this other who owns or is a resource. To do so would be to break the covenant with your God, whose name is Jealous, whose name is Power, because your power comes directly from your unwillingness (or, perhaps, in time, inability) to maintain relationship: It is much easier to exploit someone you do not consider a living being—a You, as Buber would have put it—much less a friend, a lover, a member of your family. This is the key to understanding the difference between indigenous and civilized warfare: Even in warfare the indigenous maintain relationships with their honored enemy. This is the key to understanding the difference between indigenous and civilized ways of living. This is only one of many things those we enslave could tell us, if only we asked: They, too, are alive, and present another way of living, a way of living that is not—in contradistinction to our God and our Science and our Capitalism and everything else in our lives—jealous. It is an inclusive way of living. They could tell us that things don’t have to be the way they are.

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I just walked home from my mother’s house. It’s dark, but not so dark that I needed a lantern. I couldn’t see my feet, but I know the path well enough to feel my way along. I know where the puddles are, and I know the places where I need to stretch my hands out to keep branches from my face. I walked in a canyon of redwoods, and at the midway point I finally looked up into the pale black sky to see the night’s first stars: clusters already, and constellations. I don’t know how I missed them before. Far before the opening where I live I could hear the singing of frogs. They’re back again, and I’m happy. When I reached the opening I saw ahead of me the slender crescent moon splitting the space between two tall trees, a bright star hanging near its full side. I heard in the distance the calling of an unknown—to me—night bird. The dogs had run far ahead, and were waiting for me at the opening, tails wagging, mouths open in wide smiles. They pushed against me, one from each side. I was once again, and still happy. What more comforts and elegancies could anyone want, I thought, than these relationships, to simply be in the world? The bargain offered to us by the jealous God is not such a bargain; not for those whom the covenant would have us ignore, and not for us.