Culture, Society, Self & Nature

Ken Sanes

The books and essays in Transparency offer a general theory of human nature, representation and society, based on the idea that all of us have a basic desire to mature beyond the limitations imposed on us by four sources -- our own psychodynamics, the neurotic dynamics of culture, the misuse of power in society, and the limits imposed by the physical world. Put another way, the site is based on the idea that all of us have within us a primal awareness that we exist in a fallen state and in a state of exile from the better selves, society and world we know should exist.

Transparency describes the way the creations of culture express and disguise this awareness of the human condition. It examines the products of contemporary culture -- including TV news, political rhetoric, advertising, movies, situation comedies, science fiction, and theme parks -- to show how they reveal and conceal our desire to re-create our selves and society in the image of the unfallen world we intuitively know should exist.

The goal is to open all of these creations to our view and understanding so we can see all of this in undisguised form. Toward that end, the site offers a technique of interpretation that reveals as many elements of fiction and nonfiction as possible. It shows the way works of fiction and nonfiction are sensory and physical objects that often include simulations; it examines the meanings and narratives they contain; and exposes the way they include disguised expressions of psychodynamics, myth and ideology and disguised images of birth, mind, society and the world. It also shows the moral claims they make and the way all are forms of action and efforts to exert power.

Ultimately, what the site discovers is that all of these elements work together in fiction and nonfiction to tell some variation on the story related above. In other words, all works of fiction and nonfiction are chapters in the larger story we keep telling ourselves about our effort to undo our fallen state. And all use various techniques to evoke aesthetic and emotional responses that put us in touch with these desires for ethical transformation and give us a momentary sense of what it would be like if our desires were realized.

One of the most important ways they do this is by letting us identify with characters who re-create themselves and society, and bring about a happy ending. Over and over we keep telling ourselves stories like this in which dangers and obstacles are overcome and the anxiety of the characters -- and the audience -- is transformed into hope. The constantly repeated happy endings that result from these transformations is the true sigh of the oppressed creature, letting us dwell in a state of wholeness and satisfaction after experiencing what it would be like to bring about an ethical transformation. But what these works evoke in us, both through the happy ending and other techniques, is only temporary. Our task is to move beyond merely acting out these desires in the invented worlds of fiction, and find a way to bring about such an ethical transformation in this world.

The site also finds that the "governing classes" in society (and everyone else) manipulate these cultural creations to play on our desires, They do so to provide us with aesthetic experiences that put us in touch with all this, but also to sell us candidates, products, and ideas. They offer us escapes from the truth, substitute satisfactions, and true and false images of emancipation and transformation.  In making all these creations transparent, we thus end up revealing the way works of fiction and nonfiction are manipulated as a form of marketing, ideology and social control, and we see the ways they can lead us toward or away from our true identities.

But this also means that, in trying to make culture transparent, we have to stand up to two kinds of power and censorship -- the power of the mind to conceal its true motives, and the power of governing classes to conceal what they are doing. In so doing, we end up revealing the way those in power play on the power of the mind to conceal essential truths.

Much of the site is concerned with the way all of this has emerged into a new level now that art, technology, computers, and mass communications allow us to create advanced forms of simulation that make the realm of imagination seem to come to life. With these creations, we can reinvent the world in the form of our stories. And that is just what we are doing, immersing ourselves in a cultural environment of simulations that are disguised to look like something authentic, and that also take the warded-off contents of the mind and disguise them to make them safe for us to consciously experience. These two forms of disguise are designed to get us to act out what is on our minds while we believe we are responding to something separate from ourselves in the world. In a sense, they induce a kind of "psychosis", immersing us in narcissistically-saturated surroundings that are a projection of our own psychodynamics.

Although this writer hasn't seen it yet, an example (based on other information) is Disney's new nature park, which immerses us in a simulation in which nature appears to be innocent, pure, and unfallen, and a font of spiritual values. Even as the park does this, it tries to evoke parenting urges in us toward nature and to encourage us to think of ourselves as benevolent nature saviors who can protect innocent animals from malevolent environmental plunderers. Thus does the park try to get us to confuse emotions and experiences induced by the artfulness of the fiction for a true perception of nature. In place of nature, which is often mindless and brutal beyond imagining, as well as being a source of wonder; in place of complex environmental issues, full of conflicting moral and practical claims and the play of political forces; and in place of our own complex motivations, full of selfishness and aggression, as well as benevolence, we are drawn into a simplified story in which we are good heroes saving good nature from evildoers.

News, political rhetoric and staged pseudo-events, advertisements, documentaries, et al, do the same things, each in their own way. Even most avowed forms of fiction, such as movies or fictional series on television are full of forms of manipulation that routinely falsify our view of ourselves and the world.

But, as noted above, these creations also play on our desires for ethical transformation, offering us visions of ourselves, society and nature as we might be in a better world. Disney's new nature park once again offers a good example because it plays on our desire to be benevolent and re-create the world in the image of our better selves. It is a fraud that, like many contemporary cultural creations, draws us into a false utopia. But it is a fraud that succeeds by evoking authentic desires that could be an engine for change if we choose to understand and act on them.

The site also examines the way this culture of sensory and psychological illusions is evoking opposition, motivated by these same desires for ethical transformation, and the way it is articulating that opposition in many of its works of fiction. Here, it examines a growing body of work in movies, television, novels and short stories in which characters escape from virtual realities and fake paradises of simulation and technology to rediscover the world of nature and their own human nature. In the movie, The Electric Horseman, for example, we see a character who stands up to corporate manipulators who use images and entertainment to sell themselves and their products. Like many such characters, he escapes a prison of illusions even as he rediscovers his authentic self. With works of fiction such as this, we are warning ourselves that we are using these new powers to become immersed in an invented world that only masquerades as the better world we desire.

The site is thus an effort to contribute to the coming to consciousness and transformation that humanity has been trying to achieve throughout history. It interprets our cultural creations to reveal the way all of this is on our minds and the way we keep trying to put it out of our minds. Its goal is to make our psychology, contemporary culture and the operations of power transparent to our view and understanding, so we will understand ourselves, resist manipulation, and learn how to separate the illusions of the mind from our perceptions of the larger world. Ultimately, it is about helping to find ways for us to separate ourselves from our regressive symbiosis with the comforting illusions of the mind and culture, so we can grow, individually and collectively, to a new level of independence and freedom.

This effort is more urgent today than ever, given the awesome new power we are achieving with science and technology. As science fiction teaches us over and over, these new powers have made it essential that we overcome the limitations of our own personalities and societies, so we will correctly use our newfound abilities as we go about the task of overcoming the limitations of nature. Put in more commonsense terms, our wisdom will have to keep pace with our power -- at least to some degree -- or science and technology could be used to turn the world into a realm of slavery, madness and death.

That is some of what the site is about. Hopefully, it offers a degree of clarity that can help create an open space of freedom as humanity goes about trying to free itself from the limitations imposed by personality, myth, society, and nature. If it is successful, it will help demonstrate the way all of these are the medium of life and everything we know as good, as well as the prison in which we are exiled.

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1996-2012 Ken Sanes