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Ciekawy February 18, 2011 Midterm 2 Question A: Organizations, states, and religions dominate the lives of individuals in almost every society. The peculiar aspect of the power they hold lies in the fact that, at least in the material world, they do not really exist. A social organization can only maintain itself based on the extent to which its members recognize its legitimacy. Ever since the dawn of tribal hierarchies and shamanic priesthoods dating back to humanity¶s infancy, cultural institutions have worked tirelessly to solidify their existence. Legitimacy is inherently elusive for these abstract systems in that they have no µface¶ for individuals to identify and interact with. As David Kertzer points out, social organizations have developed elaborate symbols and rituals to deal with their problem of only existing in an unsubstantial realm. Kertzer uses the elaborate identity constructed by the Ku Klux Klan as a prime example of an organization seeking to obtain legitimacy and respect from its members. Chapter two of Ritual, Politics, and Power opens on a group of initiates being welcomed into the Klan via an elaborate ceremony in 1946. Kertzer describes a multitude of white robed and hooded figures being led by a central individual in green. In the light of a giant flaming cross, initiates came forward with military precision in order to pledge an oath to their new affiliation. Bowing to two Klansmen holding an American flag and the cross of Christianity, the new members swore an oath to protect the sacred words and symbols of the Ku Klux Klan. After swearing their allegiance, the new members rose belonging to a social body they believed bigger than
themselves. The sanctity with which the ritual was treated expressed that the organization, an entity with no material existence, now held priority over the individuals themselves. A number of symbols can be noted in the example above that give the ritual a sense of significance. The primary ingredient to any functional group is some extent emphasizing the insignificance of the individual in comparison to the group. Most groups incorporate this attribute lightly, such as states stressing patriotism and nationalism while still allowing their citizens to possess their own personal views. The Ku Klux Klan, however, radically undermines the importance of the individual. Members of the Klan are expected to where white sheets and hoods during all events pertaining to the group; this uniform strips the individual of even their biological variety. The genetic characteristics of a person¶s face and body are overshadowed by the unity of the group; every lay member is equal in their lack of identity. The aesthetic unification of the Klansmen also reinforces the concept that this social group, above all others, is more important. Whether they be politicians, lawyers, merchants, or farmers; members are stripped of the rank they hold in general society. The badges of police officers and the expensive suits of wealthy businessmen are all covered by the robe. In continuance with the stressing of the groups importance, the only ranking system that now matters to group members is that which the clan uses. Regardless of his position in main stream society, the Grand Dragon holds supreme authority over the entire group. As can be gathered from the example, theatrics are highly important to Klan ritual. Fantastic titles such as ³Imperial Wizard´, ³Grand Dragon´, and ³Knight´ are all used to evoke images of power and domination. Most offices of authority do not rely solely on grandiose terms to legitimize their power, but the use of the office itself as a symbol of might is something the Klan put into practice regularly. While the use of such imaginative titles can be considered odd to outsiders, it
is hard to argue that the term ³President´ conjures a more emotional response than ³Imperial Wizard´. Other symbols are cleverly implemented by the Ku Klux Klan to heighten their authority and mystique. Leaders of the group almost always wear different colored robes as opposed to the traditional white of low ranking members. Differentiation between colors strengthens the separation between ranks within the clan quite directly. Another interesting tactic the Klan employs is the use of symbols that members have already been acclimated to by other social groups. The use of the American flag within the initiation ritual stresses the notion that what the Klan is doing is patriotic; members are doing right by their country when they aid the Klan in its agenda. By incorporating the cross, the Klan is not only stating that they have a ³Christian´ mission, but also making the act more sacred. Humans are encultured into their respective states and religions from an early age, other groups try to capitalize on this familiarity by depicting themselves as an extension of the culture the person is already a part of. The Ku Klux Klan, an organization regarded with much distain in mainstream society, was and is the product of human perspective. Formed by white Protestants hoping to keep their society racially and religiously ³pure´, the Klan was formed based on the concept of exceptionalism. Like many societies and organizations before them, the Klan capitalized on the similarities between its members and denounced those who were different from them ± a basic strategy for forming unity among a select assortment of people. Regardless of their agenda, the Klan is a very functional example of how a group solidifies their existence and importance. Symbols and rituals are not only important to social organizations that wield popular support and are already legitimized, they can also be central to those expressing dissidence and resistance towards the aforementioned groups. In some ways, revolutionary groups may invest
more interest is symbols and rituals than those in power, in order to build unity to become a considerable political force. Symbols of rebellion, from Che Guevara shirts to individuals lighting themselves on fire, play an important part in shaping political speech and expressing one¶s opinions within the culture as a whole. The symbols we present and identify with, whether they are rebellious or cooperative, shape the way we view the world and the way the world views us; this creates a constantly shifting set of cultural values. As Kertzer states when he quotes Burke: ³The so called µI¶ is merely a unique combination of partially conflicting µcorporate we¶s¶´ (Kertzer, 16). A patriotic, conservative Christian can live his life to the highest standards set by society. If that same individual was to imbibe marijuana regularly, however, he would be ritually committing a rebellious act in the eyes of the state. Thus, our lives are in a constant flux in regards to the degree which we conform and the degree which we rebel. Under more direct circumstances of rebellion, the emphasis on symbols and rituals becomes more apparent. Kertzer draws on the French Revolution to depict the importance of symbols of dissidence. From its very beginning, the leaders of the French Revolution staged many public spectacles designed to increase support for their agenda. Often centered on executions, these events became a focal point for the masses to rally around. A crowded square full of people demanding justice for the harsh life they suffered under the previous government is a scene one could easily be swept away in. The executions of monarchs and other officials symbolized the death of the old system, out of which the new would be born. The guillotine itself, the device used to behead the condemned, became an important symbol of the revolution. Widely depicted in modern society as an intimidating symbol of death; to the French people it was a symbol of justice being served. Holidays, such as Bastille Day, were formed by the new authorities in order to emphasize the glory of the revolutionary cause. The Enlightenment
schooled leaders of the revolution even went so far as to devise a new calendar, stating that the old one was corrupt because it was supported by the monarchy. The common link between all these features, ritualistic and symbolic, is that they served to unify the people and legitimize the cause of the French Revolution. In this respect, the revolutionary use of symbol and ritual is not unlike the way solidified governments use them. Both established and dissident groups behave as polities and social organizations usually do; they seek to legitimize their existence. The war between the two factions is literally a war of symbolic meaning: both groups produce symbols and counter-symbols in hopes that theirs will hold more weight with the populous.
Question B: Mystification refers to the ability of a group to present an ideology to the public that distorts the public¶s view on the way things actually are. Marx first presented the fundamentals of mystification by stating that the ruling class not only controls the means of production, but also the production of ideology. Ideology, according to Marx, had the function of obscuring our worldview so that it supported a certain type of society and denounced another. Throughout the history of civilization, people with power have used ideologies to support their legitimacy and make the people believe the continuity of their rule was in the best interests of the public. Kertzer defines two types of mystification: beliefs that reinforce the power of those in places of authority (which I will refer to as ³primary mystification´) and beliefs that de-emphasize the levels of inequality and disparity within a society (which I will call ³secondary mystification´). I refer to the first type of mystification as ³primary´ because it lays the foundation for the powerful to legitimize their authority, after which all other forms must follow. Primary mystification is of the utmost importance for those with authority; it has been and is currently used in nearly every form of society. As Kertzer discusses earlier in his book, power is not power unless it is legitimate. While polities can enforce their power through militaristic means, they stand a far better chance of success if they create a recognized cultural ideology that regards them as a legitimate authority. Indeed, even an army must regard their leaders with a certain ideology that enables them to accept their orders. The primary ideology can be established through religious means (e.g. ruling by divine right), social means (e.g. the acceptance of a caste system), and even political means (e.g. accepting a leader because he gained power through traditional networks). Once the ideology has been incorporated into the culture or has ³mystified´ the public, it then begins to reproduce itself through means of enculturation. The
parents of a child who have accepted a certain ideology will indoctrinate the child into the ideology, reproducing the mystification to pertain to the next generation as well. Once the primary ideology has been accepted by the public and the legitimacy of the leader¶s authority is recognized, the leader has a significant interest in maintain his legitimacy. Secondary mystification refers to controlling the public¶s perception of the state of the society. I call this type of mystification ³secondary´ in that it could not exist without the first; a society must have a leader before it can have opinions on the leader¶s regime. Like primary mystification, the secondary form can be established through religious, social, and political networks. States with an official religion can express the idea that things are as they should be through their churches; gods can be blamed for societal woes instead of the actions of the secular leader. Society itself can reinforce secondary mystification based on the perceptions of individuals. A family from the wealthy class would probably be much more supportive of the status quo than that of the lower class; since the wealthy wield more power, their opinion is of more import. Secondarily mystification is usually implemented politically through the guise of public participation. As in Renaissance Florence, labeled officially as a republic but ruled by a de facto consigliore, talk of the glory of democracy was ever present. By dismissing social ills as something that cannot be controlled, making empty promises that they will be fixed, or even ignoring them altogether; leaders continually attempt to bring praise to their regime regardless of how well a job they are actually doing. To provide an example of primary mystification, I would like to deviate from the political relationship between rulers and the ruled to focus on a more permanent concept in which we are all mystified into accepting. Economies, like social organization, are completely nonexistent in the material world. Every day, people interact with each other based on guidelines they have
been forced to accept their entire lives. If the economy were a form of mystification, then it follows that money would be its symbol and transactions with that money would be its ritual. Those who have more money would be the ³powerful´, those with less would be at a disadvantage. People with less money hold no interest in seeing the economy persist in its current form; they have nothing to gain from it and have repeatedly suffered from it, often for generations. However, those with a considerable sum of money have every interest in seeing the economy continue to flourish in its present state. We are generally told of two economic systems: capitalism and socialism. These systems are quite different from each other and a state¶s economy is usually defined by how inclined it is to support one or the other. Socialism and capitalism have been at odds since their inception, but the two systems are related in that they are both monetary. I feel that currency is the ultimate form of mystification in that it transforms a worthless piece of paper into the most coveted item on earth. An economy is defined as the means by which a society acquires its resources; with this in mind, there are many ways not involving money in which a society could allocate resources to all of its members. For people who have more money, a non-monetary system would be a disaster in that they would lose their advantage in society, thus, they reinforce the mystification of money every chance they get. We learn as children, mainly from example, that one can survive and function in society only if they have money. Because we are forced to acquire lifesustaining resources with money, we immediately accept it as natural and the monetary economy is reestablished with every generation. Attempts to undermine the significance of global inequality are present throughout the daily life of people in Western society. With the increase in globalization that has occurred since the mid-twentieth century, I find it more relevant to speak in terms of global secondary
mysticism rather than that which occurs within a nation. Many Americans, including myself, are faced with the reality of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Middle and working class people often complain about troubles related with money. What most westerners do not realize is that, if they have spare change in their possession, they are among the world¶s wealthiest twenty percent. Global disparity between the haves and have-nots is greater than it ever has been and is only continuing to grow. The majority of people live on less than two US dollars a day, and the vast majorities have no college education. Information on global disparity is readily available, but few go out of their way to research the issue. Political leaders, now more than ever, often talk of poverty and other social issues in an attempt to solve them, but they are usually directed at localities and do not look at solving the problem as a whole. Slogans like ³Put America Back to Work´ are often used instead of ³Put the World to Work´. In my opinion, the greatest form of the secondary mystification of global poverty lies in what Marx called the ³fetishism of commodities´. The products we use every day are isolated from the means by which they are produced. We are all perpetrators of downplaying the role of global inequality within our global society. Every time I put on a shirt to wear for the day, I take a moment to see how it feels and how it looks on me; I do not take a moment to acknowledge that it was made in Indonesia and way probably made by a worker earning cents by the hour. Once, during a high school soccer practice, my teammates and I took a moment to look at where are soccer balls were manufactured. My Nike ball was made in Pakistan. To my disgust now, I remember me and my teammates had a good laugh at how poor the worker¶s must have been who produced the balls; based on the countries from which they came. I believe we have been encultured to accept a passive indifference towards members of our species who have very little and this form of secondary mysticism is a huge impediment to solving the global poverty crisis.
Kertzer notes that that there is a process of mediating between contradictions within one¶s perception of the world and the world as it really is. If the ideology of our culture is not is perfect sync with the reality of our circumstances, we are bound to notice the incongruities eventually. How we reconcile our sociologically shaped view with the truth of the situation directly determines how the problem will be dealt with. When faced with a contradiction, the individual is forced to decide between two options. One option would be to simply dismiss the fact and attempt to explain it as a phenomenon within the context of our opinion. An example of this disintegration of the contradiction can be seen in the ³Birthers´; political activists who denied the legitimacy of Barack Obama¶s presidency based on the falsity that he was born outside the United States. It can also be seen among believers in creationism who dismiss fossils of dinosaurs as an intervention by a god to test the faith of man. The second option a person has when presented with an inconsistency is to adjust their worldview to accommodate reality. Acknowledging that one has been wrong seems to be a difficult thing for human beings to do; it has often led to dispute, violence, and even war. Inconvenient truths are harder to accept than comforting lies, and though the latter is often chosen, there is seems to be a virtue in accepting the former. Symbols and rituals are integral to the human experience, but enculturation can often lead to senseless ignorance. We can experience harsh truths about our conditions every day, but we have complete freedom in how we react to them.
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