The Labyrinth of Disjoint Symbology

Pronunciation: sim-'bä-l&-jE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -gies
Etymology: symbol + -logy
Date: 1840
1 : the art of expression by symbols
2 : the study or interpretation of symbols
3 : a system of symbols

Modern society exists almost wholly in a vacuum, distant from any possibility of meaning, and governed by a succession of symbols, gestures, and images - few of which have any relation to reality, and many of which are mapped to their opposites in reality. As a result, most adults live the whole of their lives playing in a dream world with the symbols, gestures, and images handed to them, never aware of the illusion that both contains them and is the action of their perpetuation. Consequently they exist in a pre-fabricated reality and never touch anything real.

Before the media age took hold, our primary symbology was in the use of language to express thoughts and feelings. The symbols employed in the language had a shared meaning known by those using the language, correlating directly with reality and facilitating communication. Today an additional layer of symbols rests on top of our use of language, consisting of a lexicon based primarily around social creations of the media age and the popular culture it supports. The problem with this recent addition to symbology is that it disconnects the use of language from meaning in reality - instead existing primarily in its own fictional and self-referential world, though this goes unnoticed by the majority of people who use and accept the validity of the symbols, gestures, and images they have been given to play with.

Perception is Reality

As the nihilism of the 20th century emerged in full blossom after the second world war, the ideas of truth, meaning, and value were discarded as anachronistic and elitist. In its place was the democratic refrain that whatever people believed was considered true. Similarly, the valuation of "good" no longer was related to its place in reality, but rather was decided as positive based on feelings of kindness, duty, obligation, and mercy. The great triumph of democratic thinking was that feeling overcame thought and reality - and feeling is eminently manipulable.

"Suffering itself becomes contagious through pity; sometimes it can bring about a collective loss of life and life-energy which stands in an absurd relation to the quantum of its cause (- the case of the death of the Nazarene)."
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ

Symbology succeeds through its method of "dumbing down" and oversimplification which removes resistance and thought, thus making it the easiest choice. Just as the complexity of polytheism and its culture lost to the simplicity of monotheism, society increasingly discards meaning, subtleties, and complexity in order to give a simple democratic answer that the masses eagerly consume.

Symbol Manipulation

People who profit from creating images were shrewd enough to notice the potential that this new approach offered for their efforts and offered it their support because of its great effectiveness in manipulating the masses. The societal results that followed from its use were considered less important than than the successful use of the method, but were also worthy of support because they helped to maintain the whole of the illusion.

It was quickly recognized that people would feel intense dissatisfaction with a life that was manipulated and pre-determined, even though most people would never figure out what was wrong, but would instead jump between pre-made remedies in futile search for a way out. In conjunction with the introduction of a symbolic reality was the need to force a discharge of energy and tension. Revealing brilliance within the architecture of media symbolism is an overload of icons creating its own internal language disconnected from reality. This allows people to expend their energy operating with any of these symbols but never being able to achieve any results because the symbols do not interact with reality, thus rendering all actions in the symbolic world to be completely ineffectual and devoid of potential for harming the symbolic structure.

Here a paradox emerges: if one values the symbols used in modern society, they remain distanced from reality and will never be able to achieve anything that has meaning or value. But if one does not believe in the symbols and instead insists on connections to reality, their values and behavior will be bewildering and misunderstood by nearly all people.

Social Values and Politics Through Illusion

A reality encased in symbology is inevitably one in which the symbols have been detached from their original meaning and worshiped as mere symbols. These symbols have been inflated, misdirected, and repurposed such that the symbol by itself and as a whole no longer makes sense, yet it remains in existence out of tradition, though the original meaning of the symbol, if there was one, has been long forgotten. In other cases, the original meaning of the symbol may have been entirely fabricated or based on an error in judgment or perception, of which awareness has since arisen but without the revocation of the symbol.

A prism of illusion is cast over all things for which a public symbol has been established. Consider for example the social image and symbols related to a political organization which consists of three aspects, only the first of which is reality but the latter two which have the greatest weight in social valuations.

  1. What the organization really is, i.e. why it came into existence, what it stands for, what it aspires to achieve
  2. How the organization depicts itself, i.e. the public image it creates to be more palatable to whatever media values and social opportunities have become recently popular
  3. How society and the organization's opponents depict it, i.e. the symbols attached to mentions of the organization and its members, the moral judgments made of the organization, the imagery used by outsiders to communicate their thoughts about the organization, and the popular media and cultural valuations made about the organization

In more common and more subtle cases, we find the results of collective illusion all around us. Cashiers everywhere are taught to ask how we are doing as if they care and to offer a smile that shows they are pleased to spend their time serving our need to consume. We are not only supposed to believe that they are enthralled by our choice to purchase from the store at which they are employed, but we are supposed to feel cheated, offended, and insulted when someone doesn't put on a fake smile for our shopping experience.

A similar illusion exists in how advertising succeeds in selling us images that we then accept and buy to show our desired place in the symbolic structure that advertisers have invented. There is no point in this which is real - it is entirely faked and arbitrary at every level. Though flashy advertisements can claim a soft drink or clothing style is exciting or classy, this has no relation to reality, but is only an attempt to introduce a new symbolic value into a fictional set of relations.

Thoughtless Morality and Chains of Duty

We are given rules but without explanation of the underlying thought behind them, thus assuring that we are disconnected from their purpose and will remain ignorant about them but yet compliant. For example, most people are trained to stop and wait patiently at traffic lights, even at 3am when there are no other cars on the road. Such behavior exists everywhere and demonstrates that moral rules without a logical foundation in reality are always only the method of offering the comfortable assurance of fetters to make slaves and zombies of all.

There should be no question that by adhering thoughtlessly to symbology that we are the monkeys in the cage. But if we stop to look around we can see a way out to a world that is forever open and rich with possibility. It is within our grasp, but we must desire for meaning in our lives instead of accepting the complacency of routine that we are offered. Most of all we need to believe in ourselves and others so we are not bound by the weight of these valueless symbols that perpetually offer confusion and burdens that are intended to prevent us from going anywhere so we feel obligated to serve their structure.

July 2, 2000