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Resisting Power & the Curse of Greyface

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo http://www.strike-the-root.com/91/votlucka/votlucka3.html Resisting Power and the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 17, 2009
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Resisting Power and the Curse of Greyface
      by Marcel Votlucka
      Exclusive to STR
      June 15, 2009

      Money is not the root of all evil, power is – or at least, the desire
      for power. As an activist, I see that many of the injustices we face
      can be clearly traced back to that.

      A fat cat Wall Street banker can gamble away millions of people's
      financial futures, a racist pig can deny you a job, an insane President
      can murder Iraqi and Afghan children, your community can shun you or
      make you and your same-sex partner into second-class citizens, your
      spouse can betray you – all these things and more are examples of how we
      allow people much power over us in our lives. You might object, “But
      power can be used for good as well as evil! We just need to correct
      abuses of power!” Sorry to burst your bubble, but power tends to
      corrupt us and we cannot hold faith that it can somehow be “reformed.”
      The problem of power and its solution is a far deeper psychological and
      spiritual issue at its heart, rather than merely political.

      Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm defined power in two ways. The first is “a
      sadistic striving for domination” to compensate for one’s complete
      impotence and weaknesses. This means political, economic, and social
      power wielded by one person or party against others. His second meaning
      is potency; a person’s ability “to realize his potentialities on the
      basis of freedom and integrity of his self, where he does not need to
      dominate and is lacking the lust for power.” When I refer to “power”
      here I mean more along the lines of Fromm’s first definition – political
      or social domination, control, force, and the lust for it.

      Where does it come from? Fromm and his colleague Alfred Adler agreed
      that the wish for power is a rational response to one’s insecurities and
      inferiorities, among other factors. Power ultimately arises from desire
      – a desire to get what you want and to keep what you have, a desire to
      stay “on top” in relationships and in life itself, but also a desire to
      shape the world in a way that pleases and fits your ideals. We see
      things in terms of power especially when we talk of solving problems and
      effecting change through politics, elections, mandates, movements and so
      on. You can dilute power, try to channel it in a positive direction,
      but history is pregnant with story after story of power corrupting
      people and movements. We see the same privilege, exploitation, and New
      World Orders rising from the ashes of the old.

      How do we escape this brutal cycle?

      I’m reminded of a story in the Principia Discordia revolving around a
      fictional figure named Greyface who preached that we should preserve
      Serious Order and eradicate spontaneity and even play at any and all
      costs: “Greyface and his followers took the game of playing at life
      more seriously than they took life itself and were known even to destroy
      other living beings whose ways of life differed from their own.” The
      Discordian “Curse of Greyface” refers to a psychological and spiritual
      imbalance that results from these beliefs: “This imbalance causes
      frustration, and frustration causes fear. And fear makes for a bad
      trip. Man has been on a bad trip for a long time now.”

      While we do not function well in total chaos, our lives are punctuated
      by spontaneity, free will, and free thought. Even the most totalitarian
      institutions cannot kill them off, so this balance of order and disorder
      marks even the most rigidly controlled society. But orthodoxy, acts of
      oppression, other things that kill it off – all are fueled by power-lust
      so that some can fulfill their desires to stay “on top” in life, or in a
      political movement. This is all begat by the Curse.

      More importantly, the Curse ties into a poisonous social psychology that
      has seeped into all facets of our society and culture, like acid
      rainwater leaching into the soil. Question the Established Order and
      wait how long it takes for someone to call you “crazy” or “naïve” or
      “unrealistic.” Watch the ten o’clock news and its endless litany of
      bloodshed, depravity and woe that can magically be corrected by someone
      with power. Go to your polling place next election and watch people’s
      faces as they contemplate voting for the “lesser of two evils” as they
      approach the booth. Read history books or even the Scriptures and see
      the horrors and crimes and nastiness that arise out of raw power. We
      see a psychology of storm clouds and catastrophes, of complacency and
      passivity, of suspicion and helplessness in the face of the world’s
      challenges, of Lois Lane awaiting her Superman. We see blind faith and
      reliance in power and a fragile status quo imposed from above.

      But power is at its worst when we take it for granted. After a while,
      we grow used to the idea that some should wield power over the rest of
      us, that power itself should even exist. It makes us into monsters if
      we struggle for it, it makes us into pitiful robotic Greyfaces when we
      take it too seriously, and history shows that it backfires on us despite
      our noblest intentions.

      The Curse of Greyface, then, is a metaphor for this psychology that we
      have to reject in order to flee our physical and spiritual shackles.
      So, how do we save our souls?

      “Zen is discipline in enlightenment. Enlightenment means emancipation.
      And emancipation is no less than freedom. We talk very much these
      days about all kinds of freedom, political, economic, and otherwise, but
      these freedoms are not at all real. The real freedom is the outcome of
      enlightenment. When a man realizes this in whatever situation he may
      find himself, he is always free in his inner life, for that pursues its
      own way of action. Zen is the religion of self reliance and self being.”

      This passage by Daisetz T. Suzuki in Zen and Japanese Culture evokes the
      kind of mindset change we could all use. One needs an appropriate
      mindset to counter power and the Curse of Greyface before hoisting signs
      and writing propaganda and placing a ballot to deal with the systems
      fueled by it. I mean fostering a holistic, almost spiritual anarchism
      and not merely a political and economic one that people might find dull
      and irrelevant. If we treasure a vision of man without need for rulers
      or institutions of power, then it follows that the self-empowerment,
      self-reliance, and self-being Suzuki mentions, are elementary parts of
      what I would call a “libertarian mindset.”

      Suzuki continues, “Zen has no special doctrine or philosophy, no set of
      concepts or intellectual formulas, except to stress to release one from
      the bondage of birth and death. It is generally animated with a certain
      revolutionary spirit, and when things come to a deadlock – as they do
      when you are overloaded with conventionalism, formalism, and other
      cognate ‘isms’ – Zen asserts itself and proves to be a destructive force.”

      I think this Zen mindset has something to offer those of us who work for
      progressive, radical change. The simplicity and overall “stripped-down”
      nature of Zen complements the basic ethos of libertarian ideals: No one
      has the right to be anyone’s master and no one has the right to be
      anyone’s slave. Man should neither need nor desire rulers,
      unaccountable control or raw power. Liberty is his natural state of
      being. Think of the amount of factionalism among libertarians (and the
      Left in general), and the endless quarrels over strategy leading to
      increasingly obtuse theories that never seem to get us anywhere. We
      hardly know who “we” are anymore. And just who is winning in the end?
      The more we appreciate that ethos and the less we formalize it, the more
      willing we’ll be to listen to each other without confrontation and the
      more effective we’ll be.

      Zen, and Buddhism in general, emphasizes detachment from earthly desires
      and concerns and complications that tie down the spirit: the lust for
      power, the desire to succeed in a meaningless rat race, the need for
      someone to save us from all our problems, the hope for order and things
      being in their “proper place” to make us feel better and more secure in
      ourselves and the world. It emphasizes inner freedom. If we have free
      will, it means that we reinforce power-psychology with the internalized
      boss, policeman, and society within each of us. If you want to escape
      the Curse of Greyface then you can’t fight it on its own terms; instead
      you have to detach yourself from the desire and need for power and also
      stop taking it and everything that comes with it so seriously. Not even
      your own self.

      You could be hit by a bus tomorrow despite all the wealth and power and
      influence you have in the world. How important are any of these things
      in the end?

      You could say that life is a game where you end up being dominated by
      those with a hold over your life energies. If you take power too
      seriously and show too much deference to it, you’ll always be a loser, a
      pawn, and a sheep in the eyes you allow to be arbitrarily “on top.” If
      you take the game too seriously, you’ll lose sight of the values that
      are really enriching in life. Learn to detach yourself from “the game”;
      learn to laugh at it! Laugh at power itself! The comedians get it; the
      fools understand it implicitly. Some of my biggest influences have been
      people like George Carlin, Margaret Cho and Penn Jillette, and books
      like the Principia Discordia, all of which challenge and undermine
      power, institutions and authority figures by laughing at then, making
      them absurd, lowering their status in our minds.

      Of course we laugh with them on the TV or in the theater, but when we
      take their words seriously and honestly suggest that we could really do
      without the power-mongers, folks freak out incredulously.

      Kerry Thornley puts it best in his pamphlet Zenarchy: “The deeper
      fruits of this union, speaking at least with reference to the Anarchist,
      are yet to be realized. What Zen has most to offer Anarchism is freedom
      here and now. No longer need the Anarchist dream of a utopian
      millennium as he struggles to outwit the State – for he can find freedom
      in the contest, by simply knowing that freedom is everywhere for those
      who dance through life, rather than crawl, walk, or run.” Indeed, a
      sense of spiritual freedom “here and now” is what one should seek before
      thinking of any active strategy to counter or resist oppression, while
      pursuing alternatives to the State, Organized Religion, Capitalism, and
      so on.

      Psychological studies have shown that wealth doesn’t make people happy
      in the long term. So it is with power. Power relies on a negative and
      rotten psychology to sustain it, one that is hostile to liberty, goes
      against our better nature, and can snuff out one’s soul. But resisting
      the Curse of Greyface and prevailing over the temptations of power and
      the psychology sustaining it, involves a more subtle and introspective
      strategy than you’re likely to find in the literature –
      self-transformation. It means searching within and freeing ourselves
      from the desire for power over us and others; it means refusing to see
      people as tools or “the proletariat” or experimental subjects for policy
      and a pre-planned revolution, and instead seeing them as equals who have
      the same dignity and ability to govern their own lives as you. We do
      not wish to be ruled; we wish to rule nobody. We do not wish to serve;
      we do not wish for others to serve us.

      Is not the desire for power self-defeating for anyone who yearns for a
      free, fair and prosperous society? Free your mind and your spirit first
      and the political and cultural reality will follow. Only this can stop
      Greyface in his tracks.

      Marcel Votlucka writes from Brooklyn NY. His work focuses on the
      connections between psychology, culture, and anti-politics. Visit his
      new website at http://marcelvotlucka.wordpress.com/


      Dan Clore

      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      (Wait for the new edition: http://hplmythos.com/ )
      Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
      in charge on this island?
      Professor: Why, no one.
      Skipper: No one?
      Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
      -- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"
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