The Cult You're In
Headlines vs. Bottom Line
Mickey Mouse with a Message
Cyberjamming With aXle
Spoof Ad Contest
What does it mean when a whole culture dreams the same dream?
A long time ago, without even realizing it, you were recruited into a cult. At some indeterminate moment, maybe when you were feeling particularly adrift or vulnerable, a cult member showed up and made a beautiful presentation. "I believe we have something to ease your pain." She made you feel welcome. You understood she was offering something to give your life meaning. She was wearing Nikes and a Planet Hollywood cap.
Funnily enough, most cult members - yes, they got me too - don't feel like they're in a cult. We're free to roam and recreate. No one seems to be forcing us to do anything we don't want to do. In fact, we feel privileged to be here. The rules don't feel oppressive. But make no mistake, there are rules.
By consensus, cult members speak a kind of corporate esperanto: words and ideas hoovered up from TV and advertising. We wear uniforms - not white robes but, say, Tommy Hilfiger jackets or Air Walk sneakers. It depends on the particular subsect we're in. We have been recruited into roles and behavior patterns we did not consciously choose.
Quite a few members have ended up in the slacker camp. They're bunkered in spartan huts on the periphery, well away from the masses. There's no mistaking cult slackers for "downshifters" - those folks who have voluntarily cashed out of their high-paying jobs and simplified their lives. Slackers are downshifters by necessity. They live frugally because they are poor. (Underemployed and often overeducated, they may never get out of the rent-and-loan repayment cycle. And they don't ever expect to draw a pension). They've paid tithes since birth to the cult's charismatic leaders, the media moguls, the marketers, the trendoids. They have generously given their cash and energy and time and opinions and creativity. They have surrendered their most priceless inheritances - the forests, the fish, the air - and received in return virtual scenery for games you can download on the Net. They've paid heavy dues, but those dues are just a fraction of what their children will pay.
There's really not much for the slackers to do from day to day. They hang out, checking out what everyone else is doing. Never asking, never telling, just offering intermittent wry observations. They are post-politics and post-religion. They don't define themselves by who they vote for or who they pray to (these things are pretty much prescribed by the cult anyway). They set themselves apart by what they choose to wear and drive and listen to. The only touchstones, the only little anchors to be absolutely sure of, are things other people have scouted, deemed worthy and embraced.
Cult members aren't really citizens. The notions of citizenship and nationhood make little sense in this paradigm. We're not fathers and mothers and brothers. We're consumers. We don't care about civics; we care about music, sneakers and jeans. The only Life, Freedom, Wonder and Joy in our lives are the brands on our supermarket shelves.
Are we happy? Not really. Cults promise a kind of boundless contentment - punctuated by moments of bliss - but they never quite deliver. They always fill the void, but only with a different kind of void. Disillusionment eventually sets in. Hence the first commandment of a cult: thou shalt not think. Free thinking breaks the trance. It introduces new perspectives, which leads to doubt.
The bulk of the population is dreaming the same dream: wealth, power, fame, plenty of sex and exciting recreational opportunities. Dreams, almost by definition, are supposed to be individualistic and imaginative.
But what does it mean when a whole culture dreams the same dream?