26 November 2010

Messiah and Antichrist in The New Yorker

The November 29 issue of The New Yorker is an intriguing juxtaposition of our tendency to demonize and canonize both the undeserving and the unsuspecting. "Far-Flung Correspondent" Lauren Collins reports on economist Raj Patel's dismayed reaction to his identification by fanatics and/or practical jokers as "Maitreya the World-Teacher," the messianic personage whose public appearance has been prophesied for decades by Benjamin Creme, one of our time's more persistent crackpots. You've probably seen some of his literature left in libraries, or some of his ads in The Nation or other magazines. It's a phenomenon of our decentralized info age that Creme himself did not anoint the unwitting and unwilling Patel. Instead, he was tagged by "MarcLA13," a YouTube poster who heard him talk on the Democracy Now! radio show. Creme himself remains ambivalent, even after meeting Patel, who elsewhere described the prophet as "bonkers" but harmless.

Collins's piece came after a "Talk of the Town" lead article by editor Hendrik Hertzberg defending George Soros from slurs cast by Glenn Beck, who recently portrayed the billionaire patron of liberal causes as a would-be world ruler and Jewish anti-Semite. From Hertzberg's ironically outraged perspective, it was Beck who revealed himself as the barely-veiled anti-Semite. Apparently, to accuse any Jew, even one also accused of being a self-hater (and enemy of Israel) of seeking to rule the world, is anti-Semitic. I don't buy this. I also don't doubt that Beck smeared Soros (though for now I can only take Hertzberg's word for it), but the anti-Semitism charge smears Beck.

Beck isn't the only person with a paranoid obsession with Soros. I don't think the obsession is inherently anti-Semitic, though I can see how hatred of Soros could become a kind of displaced, socially acceptable anti-Semitism for Americans who don't identify the state of Israel with the folk stereotypes of Jews. In the longer view, Soros is simply the latest person to play the role of the master oppressor, the man of wealth and power who simultaneously grinds the little guy under his heel as a greedy capitalist and also plots to retain power in times of revolutionary change by co-opting the revolution or instigating it in the first place, on his own terms. Beck, for instance, credits Soros not only with funding the Democratic party but with supporting uprisings throughout Eastern Europe. People need demon figures like Soros to help explain why so many revolutions end up oppressing ordinary people as badly as the systems the people revolted against. If people are going to be oppressed under both capitalism and communism, it may be natural for some people to assume that there must be a constant oppressor, an embodiment of evil dedicated to oppression as a way of life. Paranoids have felt the same way about the Rockefeller family; David Rockefeller still figures in conspiracy theories as an alleged advocate of forced population-reduction. Marxists might take solace from this persistent fantasy, since it seems to show that some people are willing to blame the crimes of communism on the rich, but it also tends to distort critical attitudes toward capitalism, blaming its crimes on a secret cabal committed to power rather than profit. It's a simplistic impulse to blame injustice on people rather than structure, just as the messianic fantasies cultivated by people like Benjamin Creme encourage people to depend on extraordinary leaders or "world teachers" instead of long-term structural change. The New Yorker's exposure of messianic and paranoiac outbreaks in November 2010, its proofs of our continued search for messiahs and antichrists, tells us either that we still have a long way to go toward civilization or, worse, that we're slipping back from our point of furthest progress.

7 comments:

d.eris said...

"the man of wealth and power who simultaneously grinds the little guy under his heel as a greedy capitalist and also plots to retain power in times of revolutionary change by co-opting the revolution or instigating it."

It seems like the Koch brothers have taken up this position in the minds of many liberals and Democrats. The ideology appropriate to each side of the duopoly divide becomes more and more indistinguishable from conspiracy theory, almost by the day.

Crhymethinc said...

What is alarming is that these same people (Beck's listeners) can't see that he is no different than those he smears.

The truth is, individual people are responsible for their actions. Not movements, not political philosophies or religious ideologies. Individuals who act out of complete self-interest; who act out of hatred or misanthropism or any number of negative reasons. The more we push towards a society that puts the "individual" over the "collective" of individuals (or society as a whole) the more oppressive things will become.

Share International Network said...

Sam wrote:" It's a simplistic impulse to blame injustice on people rather than structure, just as the messianic fantasies cultivated by people like Benjamin Creme encourage people to depend on extraordinary leaders or "world teachers" instead of long-term structural change."

Actually, Sam, Maitreya, the World Teacher you refer to, says, over and over, that he is just the architect of the plan for humanity's bright future, but that man must build it himself, brick by brick. If we we able to do this ourselves, how are we doing? People create injustice and people create and sustain (or not) the structures which no longer meet our needs. With wars and potential wars, with (according to Creme's information) 24 nations possessing the nuclear bomb (only 9 are recognized), with the world economy in chaos...so how are we doing? Will more competition, more corruption in governments, more pollution of the air, sea, ground through the "nuclear renaissance" solve our problems? Will you and I change the world? Yes we will. But a true leader is needed...Maitreya, perhaps? Rather than rehash gossip and spin, why not check out the primary source?

Samuel Wilson said...

d., I see your point to the extent that the Kochs are seen as co-opting a populist movement for corporate purposes, but it isn't quite the same thing as the Soros phobia. The crazy thing about that (and about similar manias regarding the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, etc.) is the idea that some cynical puppet master controls two contradictory forces, apparently just to be mean.


Cryhmethinc: People remain uncertain about whether Beck is a puppet or a master. Hertzberg seems to regard him as a puppet of Roger Ailes, while others see Beck himself as a power-seeking demagogue. As for individualism, I find it paradoxical that paranoids like Beck ultimately see individuals like Soros behind the "collectivist" movements they abhor. It's as if they honestly can't imagine such a thing as a self-governing collective, but must identify a puppet master behind the scenes.

Share International: I'd check out the "primary source" if Maitreya actually existed, identified himself publicly as Creme has predicted he would, and explicated his program in his own words. Meanwhile, you haven't refuted my point about your dependence upon a leader or, if you prefer, an architect. If the world's as bad off as you say, we can't wait on this person to stop his dithering and show up.

Share International Network said...

Sam wrote:"
Share International: I'd check out the "primary source" if Maitreya actually existed, identified himself publicly as Creme has predicted he would, and explicated his program in his own words."

There are letters to the Editor of Share International Magazine (www.share-international.org)published monthly from people all over the world who have met Maitreya. His words are published in the book: "Messages from Maitreya, the Christ" and revolve around the concept of Love as the organizing principle and energy of life, and sharing as the principle of social/economic justice which will transform the world.

Sam: "Meanwhile, you haven't refuted my point about your dependence upon a leader or, if you prefer, an architect. If the world's as bad off as you say, we can't wait on this person to stop his dithering and show up."

Sorry, am a bit confused. You say you are not and the world should not be dependent upon a leader, but then that we need a leader to show up right now. But I appreciate your question and agree that it is time for Maitreya to come forward publicly. He has shown up, 25 times to date, according to Creme, on major US television. He is still anonymous, so as not to infringe human free will, so that people may judge his ideas and suggestions rather than to react to his status and name. That will change as soon as enough people have heard these ideas and considered them. My point is that if you look at the world, as fractured and as multipolar as it is, there is no wonder as to why there are wars, large and small, military and economic, civil and religious. Maitreya teaches that in order to survive, man must realize that all are brothers and sisters, children of the one God, and must live accordingly, sharing the resources, given by God for all men and women, so that all may have the basic necessities of life: nourishing food, effective health care, safe shelter and all the education needed for self-sustainment. Such sharing, Maitreya says, will induce the trust necessary for lasting peace. Without peace, there will be no future for man, he says.

Crhymethinc said...

I think what Sam is saying, basically, is we don't need an architect to give us his blueprints. What we need is for good people to stand up to evil people and say "No more."

But how do we know who the evil people are? Aside from those who promote killing, destruction, misery as a way of making a profit. I'd guess we could add to that list those who exploit for personal gain. Those who seek to cause hatred and disaffection, to divide us into groups other than "human being".

Share International Network said...

Crhymethinc wrote: "But how do we know who the evil people are?"

Yes, that is a really good question. There is a simple guide to leading a "good" life, which would imply not being evil: honesty, sincerity, and detachment (detachment meaning acting not out of self interest).