Contemporary Priests of Privilege


Discussing the development of the modern state, M. Foucault says the following: “Raison d’etat must act on the consciousness of the people, not just to impose some true or false beliefs on them, as when, for example, sovereigns want to create a belief in their own legitimacy or in the illegitimacy of their rival, but in such a way that their opinion is modified, of course, and along with their opinion, their way of doing things, their way of acting, their behavior as economic subjects and as political subjects…” Security, p. 275.

This connects to and expands my last entry, where I presented a grand narrative of history, supported more or less by both F. Nietzsche and O. Spengler, that explains societal change resulting from the power-machinations of priestly class. In most contemporary, Western societies, the priesthood is not organized around a single, homogeneous set of beliefs.  This is not novel for the West: in its pre-Christian, polytheistic days, this was also the case.  Thanks in large part to the Protestant reformation of the church and society, which developed into a policy of separating the church and the state, we have two rather distinct sets of priests: private priests and public priests.  The private priests espouse Christianity (and other traditional religions), work out its doctrines, which provide subtle differences for the people to choose from, and perform the traditional, ceremonial roles of priests.  The public priesthood includes those who make a living developing and disseminating public truths.  The foot soldiers, if you will, of the public priesthood are public school teachers, who disseminate the ancient truths of the polity, constantly respun, of course, for contemporary consumption.  They mostly do not create knowledge: this is done primarily in universities and colleges.  …

There is, of course, no impenetrable boundary separating the spheres of the public from the private priesthood.  And the two are not (always) in direct opposition.  There is as much difference of opinion within the two areas as without, residing in both the choice(s) characteristic of liberal democratic society.  One might suppose that the priests residing in the public realm hold always that public truths are primary and binding for all, while religious beliefs held by groups and individuals must support, or at least be subservient to, public truths.  But that is clearly not the case.  Due in no small part to the capitalist nature of the production of knowledge and truth, all sorts of ideas are produced and consumed in the sacred truth marketplace.

Truth is rarely produced for truth’s sake alone.  It is caught up in a variety of practices, institutions, wants, needs, goals, etc.  And drawing from the opening passage, the truths that arise within our market-based democracy are, like the pronouncements of ancient princes, not meant to stand alone as truth.  They are produced to be sold on the marketplace of ideas.  (Prince’s refusal to release his later music to the general public is a recognized but rare counterexample that shines a light on the norm.)  This is the practice of both the public and private priesthood. Both seek followers (consumers) and expect to be paid for their production of truths.  For most, the compensation comes as a paycheck from the state itself (public) or from the remnant of what, in earlier days, provided the sociopolitical backbone: the church.  The knowledge created and/or transmitted by each group is meant to be consumed in such a way that the customers alter not only what they think, but how they think and how they behave as economic subjects and political subjects.

Of course the dissemination of knowledge does not always (indeed usually does not) take the form the marketplace, whereby one rational agent sells and another buys.  There are choices available, but many of the priests would prefer their flock not know that.  Or, to the same effect, that they know that there are other choices available, but also know that those other choices are, to the degree that they differ from the message provided by the priest,  erroneous – and likely both immoral and dangerous for the individual soul and collective society.

That this is especially the case for the primary group peddling the doctrine of white privilege is made clear when considered within the narrative of social change discussed earlier whereby the priests are understood to wield and challenge power indirectly by indoctrinating through the education system – at the collegiate, and to a lesser degree due to the more conservative perspective of teachers, at K12 level.  Rather than rise up and challenge the privileged martially, the priests attempt to subvert the existing power group by sapping their souls and having the traditional power group believe that they are not favored by the gods (morality) but that the priests are instead.

Of course, the question remains as to who is actually in power.


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