The Age of Idolatry

Etymology and nomenclature

The word idolatry comes from the Greek word eidololatria (εἰδωλολατρία) which itself is a compound of two words: eidolon (εἴδωλον “image“) and latreia (λατρεία “worship“, related to λάτρις). The word eidololatria thus means “worship of idols”, which in Latin appears first as idololatria, then in Vulgar Latin as idolatria, therefrom it appears in 12th century Old French as idolatrie, which for the first time in mid 13th century English appears as “idolatry”.

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This etymology from Wiki says it all really, image worship. Humanity slips ever deeper into the illusion of image worship. We are in the age of idolatry and it fucks people up. Everyone must have an image and how we worship them. If ours isn’t good enough we suffer. If we are not attractive enough or sexy enough, we get anxious. And we must protect our image, imaginary though it is. Our image must further be idealized and photo-shopped. And when one image interacts with another image, is it any wonder things go wrong? We may even try to uphold our image in relationships. Not wanting to lose face, we do not back down. How far this lunacy will go, who can say? My guess is it has plenty of steam yet.

If you dare to suggest that an image isn’t accurate, woe betide you! The image police come out with riot gear and water cannons.

We may worship our idols on electronic media, and bow to them on TV. We must have the latest news on our idols, fake though they are. Deeper and deeper into illusion we sink. We may have business idols, science idols and political idols. They can become sacred cows like Jimmy Savile. We may watch TV programmes about every turd they lay, like the Kardashians. We may watch Celebrity Big Brother and even call it, get this, reality TV!

I’ll hypothesise that there is an ever increasing shortage of marbles and that many decks of cards now have well less than 52.

As an exercise:

Am I worried about my image?

If so, why?

Am I impressed and fascinated by the images of others?

If so, why?

Face and Self-image 2

In the limit of Buddhist thinking these are conditioned things, and unless you are a self-realised Buddha, a Pratyekabuddha as Siddhārtha was, it is unlikely you are in your final conflict with Mara. One could argue about the various “ranks” of being a Buddha if you are fond of classification. He is simply given The to go before. What follows are not definitions, nor classifications, nor exhaustive; they are illustrations only.

Face or social self-image.

This is what you present to the outer world, how you might like to be perceived, the qualities which you may or may not aspire to. It is by way of a public relations statement and one which you may go to some length to prop up and propagate. It has the in-depth veracity of something you might put on a dating site, in an author bio, in a corporate blurb, a job application or what you brag about to your mates down the pub. It is nearly always tending towards superhero and rarely balanced. It is a kind of sales pitch which you do not in fact embody. The less pleasant aspects are redacted. It is not consistent with the entirety or actuality of you.

Self-image.

This is how you perceive yourself to be. It may share some overlap with the above. Yet many have coruscating self-images. It has an often-distorted body image. One may be a superhero in own eyes though not entirely convinced. Or one may be a complete failure pretending to be a superhero. These can be both overly positive and overly negative. It is comprised of all the stories you tell yourself about yourself, good and bad. There are parts sensed but not addressed. It is propped up by the internal dialogue. “I am misunderstood”, “nobody loves me”, “why can’t these fools see?”, “I’ll never be good enough” etc. etc.

How we are perceived by others.

One never truly knows this, suffice it to say it is likely to be inconsistent with both of the above.

True nature

This is to be determined.

People will go to inordinate length to defend and protect their face or social self-image, even when they know it to be a pack of lies. In pretending to be what we are not, we introduce the fear of being found out anxiety. But this Face and social self-image has taken on a new significance in the last few decades or so, thanks to electronic and social media. Public relations are a booming business and even school children are doing bios. This outer hyped up presentation with photos, is everywhere. People photoshop their photos and photoshop their bios. This is a new phenomenon of our times. We are the architects of our own houses, the lifestyle of sales pitch living. If one was for example to put a comprehensive accurate bio on a dating site, I doubt you would get many dates. Guess what, the reality hits home soon enough if the relationship is to go past a quick knee trembler. Almost inevitably our words and our actions do not match. Until such time as they do there is fear, which is suffering.

I do not know of a way around this apparent need for self-promotion and hype if one wishes to partake of the world. People rely on what is written, even when they know that it is likely to be skewed. The shop window, does not match the goods inside. Yet we all do it, to an extent. We want to see other people’s bios. There is a strange disconnect, we read it, and kind of buy it. Subject to this we interact from our mythos with their mythos… It is a bit loony…but everyone does it.

In our bios we make some claims, which we may or may not be able to back up. This is our Face we show to the world. Hence, we have a whole book of Faces, Facebook. You can judge for yourself how imaginary some of the claims people make are.

Identity

This is how we identify ourselves. At the moment, I could say that I am an unemployed Welsh, ex-academic, who spends his time blogging and being a house-husband, for example. None of these claims are false. But this identity fails to provide an adequate description of my true nature. This thing, our identity, enables us to find a posture or a position via which we interact with the world. This sense of identity is important, it tells us how we might fit into the world, it gives us a sense of context. We can then, from it, assimilate our world-version. Without a sense of identity, we can feel all at sea. Loss of sense identity is known to cause psychological trauma. In the limit there might be no identity at all or we could take a face from the ancient gallery, as and when we need one. Redundancy, divorce and illness, can all change our identity. Shifting from I am married to I am divorced, freaks people out. It changes the whole outlook and the stories we tell others.

So, we have a Face or social self-image, an Identity, a self-image, how we are perceived by others and our True Nature. Getting to our True Nature ain’t easy. We are rarely what we claim ourselves to be.

Not Losing Face

Quite a while back I used to do a number of personal and team development workshops for Ph.D. students. During these I used to use MBTI, in the sometimes-vain hope of raising awareness. As a part of this I used to ask the participants the ill-defined question;

“In situations of conflict what is your worst fear?”

Around 30-40% of the grouping without fail used to say, “being wrong”, the secondary fear was “losing the argument” followed by the tertiary fear of “death”. All of these self-identified as “T” types. The other part of the audience used to say; “damaging the relationship” and “hurting feelings”. These were the “F” types. The question never mentioned arguments. One “half” was worried about losing face, the other “half” was worried about losing a relationship. Such a simple question split the participants if not down the middle, then at least in two.

I have come to the conclusion that fear of losing face is a major hindrance to learning, to relationship and to world peace. In order to save face people will bomb the shit out of each other. Out goes the chin, a posture is struck, and the button is pressed.

What then is Face? It is another way of saying social self-image. Which is of course yet another one of those conditioned things. The clue is in the name self- image. It isn’t real. Yet people will die for it. They will risk losing a relationship or a loved one over something imaginary. Pride gets in the way. Fear of loss of power that this imaginary face thing apparently confers, prevents them. It is a bit fucked up. But there you go. Many cannot ever admit they are wrong even when the “proof” is strong and high, they will try to brazen it out. Many will lie. If you ever watch one of these “Border Control” TV programmes you will see this in action.  “Why did you tick the no food box?” “I did not think it applied to the ten kilograms of noodles, the two kilograms of nuts etc…in my suitcase.”

This bizarre desire to want to win the “argument” is not uncommon. The fear of losing, isn’t rare. But sometimes in winning there is a much bigger loss than the argument. Is an entire relationship less important than one or more arguments? Discuss….

I am going to come back to Face in more depth tomorrow. But to kick off the thinking a little here are some questions as an excercise:

Am I afraid of losing face?

Have I ever done anything stupid in an attempt to preserve face?

How inventive am I in my efforts not to lose face?

What were the consequences?