So far we’ve looked at several examples of egregores in culture and society. They can be found in religious experience, social deviancy, conspiracy theories, literature, and politics—among other places. Egregoric phenomena bring to mind philosophical questions about the nature of reality, belief, knowledge, and what constitutes “truth”.
Last week, the election gave me an opportunity to reprise a Facebook debate I had with some old high school friends back in 2016. Then, as now, we echoed the political talking points of our preferred media sources. This time our comments seemed less snarky and overtly partisan, but nothing about them suggested much accrued wisdom after four years—if anything, a growing mental and emotional fatigue. I was struck with the stability of our respective world views. Nothing much has changed, though everything around us has.
A focus of both discussions was the nature of reality and truth—unavoidable in the context of a presidential election. Who is really telling the truth? Is anybody? Both the 2016 and 2020 debates were similar in content, so I culled and consolidated key points. Some of the ideas have broader application than politics, and are relevant to the study of egregoric phenomena. After clarifying some thoughts on the nature of reality and truth, I will try to apply these notions to egregores in later posts.
What follows is a summary of this dialogue. I will only present my responses. Readers can use their imagination to reconstruct the comments of my opponents—what provoked my reactions.
●Thank you KG! All of us need reminders that we are still good people and fellow citizens, despite our differences of opinion, perspective and news media brand. Whatever the election result in November, the challenge for leadership (and the rest of us) will be to develop unity and a shared sense of reality and purpose, sadly lacking right now.
●Many of us—millions—will likely vote for candidates and policies that differ from the ones others might recommend. For me, it’s not an issue of good vs. evil so much as competing versions of reality, along with different political, social and economic goals. I agree with BN that “this election is fraught with fear”, and with GV that understanding of the other side is in short supply. What makes the whole business fearful is that, absent compromise, a shared reality seems less and less possible.
●BN feels that “compromise is impossible’ and this pretty much sums up the situation, leaving only a binary choice: win or lose. Very limiting, very sad, not likely to end well.
●Not sure that any political party, big or small, would put the needs of the country before its need to seek power for itself. There has to be a common interest, or at least a common threat. What I think could unite the country would be some grand goal that looks to our glorious future. What I would propose: get us off this planet! (The president gets my vote simply for establishing the U.S. Space Force.) Our nation has the means to become the first interplanetary empire, with economically prosperous colonies on the moon, Mars and perhaps further out. Let’s make the Red Planet the Red, White and Blue planet!
●Any unity we can achieve at this point would depend on a shared reality and good old fashioned trust. All of the issues you list above are hopelessly politicized, and with virtually no objective sources of information, no one “expert” is credible outside their particular partisan group. (That magazine story is suspicious given its reliance on unnamed sources, and the fact that the owner is a major contributor to the other campaign.)
●It would take at least two people to politicize anything—by having different perspectives on the same issue. Partisans on both sides have politicized the virus and many other issues in an effort to “control the narrative”, and this will likely intensify as the election gets nearer. But I can appreciate the cleverness and creativity that goes into these efforts—on both sides!
●But who needs facts? History is all about interpretation anyway, a job best left to the victorious. If morality, ethics and entire cultures can be “relative”, why not the facts as well? “What is truth?” as Pilate asks. For your sake you had better hope that our party does not win, as we will need a steady supply of your kind to throw into the gaping maw of Him Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken, (HWNMNBS). And by the way, those of us on this side do take our country seriously, indeed that’s why we want to “take it back”.
●Facts and data serve political beliefs, but aren’t inherently true or useful. It depends on who is collecting them and for what purpose. I don’t expect a politician to be truthful, nor would I fault them for only mentioning the “truths” that support their election. In my view, the obsession with facts and accuracy is preposterous. As pragmatists might say, what is true is only what is useful to believe—or to have others believe, (a little Machiavelli here). And to be fair I would not expect Breitbart or Fox or MSNBC or CNN to be absolutely honest, only effective at what they do.
●As for reality, well exactly what is that? We create it by what we attend to and how we interpret what we observe—facts certainly don’t determine reality by themselves. We pick the facts that are useful and discard the rest. Both political parties know this and are very skillful at it. My hunch is that reality, like history, is determined by the victors—political, economic, military, religious. I’m excited about the possibility of changing reality in this election, aren’t you?
●Do we believe in anything at all? Are we as fervent and willing as our enemies are to defend our way of life, our core beliefs—with our own lives and treasure? Or better, do we have the will—in a Nietzschean sense—to increase our power and extend the reach of our world view, our nationhood, our culture? This has nothing to do with reason, curiosity or a desire to understand. Combatants perceive the world in very different ways—as do political conservatives and progressives on a smaller, and for the moment, less violent scale. Mutual understanding is unlikely. It may not be possible or even desirable. Three options remain: victory, defeat, and relentless, unending struggle. The victorious get to determine “the facts” and what they might mean—get to say what reality is. (Plan B of course is “relentless and unending struggle”, and is the more likely outcome.)
●Not sure that I am easily conned. Being a Calvinist-sympathizer, I tend to view the entire human race as totally depraved and deserving of damnation, were it not for the occasional and unpredictable grace of God. Certainly we are incapable of saving ourselves through science, technology, socialism, positive thinking or whatever. (I’ll leave art alone—you may be on to something there.)
●Your memory is still sound; I was indeed raised a Catholic, but later defected to a denomination in the Calvinist tradition. Honestly, I miss the idolatry, mysticism and sacramental traditions for which horror and fantasy are only a partial substitute. On the other hand, absolute truth, omnipotence and predestination are attractive concepts. But they aren’t for everybody. (In fact, they are only for The Elect.)
●Aren’t all political parties based on “greed, lies, evil, oppression, racism, and so much that is dark”? Without fear and deceit, who would encourage any of these jokers by voting for them or paying attention to them or supporting them with money?
●I definitely support “acts of love and kindness, empathy and compassion”, since these are evidence of our connection to the divine, but they don’t come naturally in a fallen world. I also agree that “people can do great things and great things indeed happen that make the world a better place.” But it doesn’t take much—a few invocations, a few blood sacrifices—to bring the Old Ones back, whether you conceive of them as monstrous entities from another dimension or perennial social evils like political oppression, racism, or war.
●I agree with you that cynicism may be incapable of creating a better world, but it certainly prevents the creation of a worse one. Brick by brick, cynicism undoes that road to hell that the good intentions of others are hell-bent on paving. Certainly “there are truths, there is reality…”, but yours are not the same as mine, and those of our enemies are even more different. You labor under the delusion that humanity can perfect itself with just the right amount of social engineering and thought control. But we have already had aeons to accomplish this!
●Certainly I appreciate irony—driven by how far short our actions fall before our ideals, a function of our original sin, our depravity. “Horrid, evil people and ideas” inhabit both parties and all human endeavor to some degree—how could it be otherwise? I don’t expect a candidate to be perfect, only effective. As for good and evil, don’t they seem almost inextricably mixed together in this election?
●The skeptic in me questions all authority and any media or so-called experts—scientific or otherwise—who would presume to have the last word on any subject. The post-fact world is the real world, (it always has been). Pragmatically, it makes more sense to evaluate the intent, rather than the factuality of some group’s message, especially if politically or economically motivated. Consider the source. Follow the money. Science and perceptions of reality are inextricably linked to politics. (The decision to fund or promulgate scientific research is ultimately a political decision.) What then is truth in a post-fact world? Truth is only what is useful to believe.
●I can see that you believe sincerely and passionately in your particular world view, and in the implications that flow from that world view. Beliefs, values, ethics, and a sense of reality—what little we can actually perceive of it—are connected to this world view. But my perspective is different from yours, and understanding is limited without a shared reality. Trying to explain, much less debate, will likely not be fruitful. But understanding and agreement are not necessary to move forward. Eventually deals will be made all over to heal our fractured society, so that our country can get back to business. I’m optimistic.