“But most important, you gotta believe in yourself! Like I do!”
--- Bill O’Reilly, “The O’Reilly Factor,” Tip of The Day
Believe in himself, indeed O’Reilly does, in italics. Add Donald Trump, in spades. Quietly, humbly self confident they are not. Such chest-thumping self-belief assumes some sort of inner power, extraordinary inner power. This essay is a necessarily incomplete and scattered, and not altogether serious, review of mankind's most popular empowerments.
Of course, the idea goes way back to the beginning, to the Garden of Eden, when Satan seduced Eve into believing, despite her creator’s declaring otherwise, in her soul’s innate immortality, the king of empowerments. But the systemic study of empowerments as a philosophy goes back to and begins with, of course, the Greeks, topped off by Epictetus the stoic in the 1st century AD. Through Epictetusean stoicism (since everything, notably adversity, is fated, might as well be stoical about it), Admiral James Stockdale as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese was famously empowered to endure with élan 7 years of torture that made Guantanamo waterboarding look like loveplay. On record for dismissing prisoners of war as losers, how Donald Trump would hold up under such treatment is not known. Anyway, empowerments are more cherished for moving up than for bearing up.
The first such up-up-and-away power that broke upon my scene was The Power of Positive Thinking, made popular by Norman Vincent Peale, through his famous book published in 1952. Peale’s Power is the kind that 19th century Romantics called sublime. With such power anything is possible. You can fly like, with, the eagle.
Think positively, with max-plus determination, until you are blue in the face, that’ll do it! Not quite. Although Peal didn’t come right out and say so (the time wasn’t ripe yet) -- Pealean power requires at least a degree of self-hypnosis. But certain psychiatrists as well as clergy of his day – long ago -- detected and decried it because hypnosis whether administered by another or yourself is forfeiture of your own will if not consciousness, leaving you with less power than you started with, though with luck without the toothache. Nowadays hypnosis is endorsed (if “used correctly,” like guns) by seminars and seminaries alike, without batting an eye. Ducking the brickbats, I would insist, as an aside, that the submission required in hypnosis is not to be equated with that of marriage (“wives, submit yourselves…” Ephesians 5:22-23).
As another aside, Peale, an ordained minister but a pioneer progressive, was a religious legalist of the most outdated kind, of which I inform you only because of the pun it elicited. During the Eisenhower-Stevenson presidential campaign, Peale powerfully preached against voting for Stevenson because he was divorced, whereupon Stevenson replied, “St. Paul appeals but Peale appalls.” Being a devoted Eisenhowerean I was oblivious to anything Stevenson said. If I’d known of his pun, to me more powerful than Peale’s thinking if not Eisenhower’s grin (his patented Eisenhower Power), I might have voted for him.
Meanwhile in certain other circles, notably art school and art and flower clubs, inner power, then called “creativity,” was replacing old-time raw practice and hard study, sweat. Now spirituality is big. After science seemed to have dealt it a deadly wound, spirituality has revived and is a power whose time has come, again, as in ancient otherwise less informed times.
Spirituality is too nebulous to be confined to arty people or any earthly definition, but implies at least the conjuring of greater than human forces of various degrees of tangibility and evilness. The most tangible, this side of the witch of Endor of Biblical Times, were the spirits, most active in the 19th century, that rattled windows and raised tables off the floor and, as materializations of dead parents and loved ones, disclosed the future.
But more enduring is the kind of spirituality that, when institutionalized, even commercialized, is assisted- or self-propulsion, popularly known in some circles as “a journey,” in others “a trip,” into out-of-mindedness or even out-of-bodyness thus to merge with a disembodied preternatural bosom or segue into some other transcendent state.
This kind of power is generated by incantations, or endless repetition of a holy name (or big words), or kissing images, especially toes, bowing to the East, West, to Mecca or to the sun or moon or a frog, or costly seminars or secret, sometimes bloody or obscene induction or purifications ceremonies, or on a Freudian’s couch, among endless others. Whether by a pacing saffron-robed Buddhist or umber-hooded Catholic monk, or by a socialite or TV producer clad in deluxe spandex YogaWare meditating motionless as a lotus blossom on a mat, or by a naked aborigine decorated all over with painted keloids and dancing in a frenzy around a pole adorned with eagle feathers and sacrificial skulls, or a celebrity Scientologist being audited and "cleared" of all unwanted or toxic or traumatic mental things; whether by Yoga, Zen or Dianetics, by a witches brew or cyanide-flavored Kool Aid, by ritual or recreational psychedelics dispensed by shamans, street dealers, or CVS; whether “kat” fresh off the herb or “cat” (Methcathinone) fresh out of the lab – all these modalities, whether soundless or screaming, have in common the attainment of disembodied mindlessness (call it Nirvana if you are a guru or OTVIII if you are a practitioner wise in the curious vocabulary of Scientology) in quest of, or escape from, the unendurable pain here below or the unendurable bliss above, itself disembodied. .
But this is the 21st century and another source of pharmaceutically-induced power, “Neurophysiological communication enhancement,” as strictly scientific as court-empowered Evolution, is emerging, may I say re-emerging. “It will change humanity.” Thus proclaims, in a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper, Stephen Hawking, almost totally paralyzed and speaking via his one remaining functional phonetic muscle empowered by a speech generator, and seconded by none other than Bill Gates. Hawking and his speech generator have given witness that it has enhanced his own already renowned “cognitive brain function and neural connectivity, while strengthening the prefrontal cortex and boosting memory and recall.” “It” being a pharmaceutical sold as “Neurocell.” I’m afraid it’s simply another pill containing the familiar potpourri of ingredients including multiple multisyllable molecules you never heard of even in med school, plus caffeine, expensive and obtainable only by subscription, don’t miss out. Will you settle for a cup of coffee?
Being as credentialed as he is, or was – Awesome Professor of Theoretical Physics, Cambridge University, – Hawking’s Neurocell pill is high science, to be differentiated from Haight Ashbury polypointy-leafed flower power of the 1960s, administered famously, as everybody now rather admires, to empower hippies to stop the earth and drop out. Almost forgotten is that beat guru Dr. Timothy Leary, a highly credentialed psychologist and Harvard professor, claimed Hawking-like high-science enhancement of brain, reality, and even length of life for the signature hippy psychedelic, LSD (a laboratory derivative of psilocybin mushrooms crucial in religious rites of the Mazatec people of Mexico). The labels on the Leary’s and Hawking’s tonics read pretty much the same.
Besides mental powers the physical are being pharmaceutically enhanced. For the muscles, anabolic steroids and less identifiable chemicals are widely employed to great award- and prosecution-winning effect by Lance Armstrong and baseball celebrities, though, curiously, not in official favor yet. But as socially acceptable as yoga for spiritual power is Viagra for power in bed.
Besides drugs, just over the horizon are such cellular and subcellular enhancers as stem cell manipulations, cloning, and molecular genetic engineering (being resisted for food but less objectionable for human genes than the old eugenics), and chimerism, which, for the ancient Greeks gods, was merely the combination of human and whole animal parts, usually the head or paws, tails, to achieve, say, a satyr or, add a tail and horns, a devil. Now we have liver, kidney, heart transplants, even face implants, even gender changes. Meanwhile the eating by warriors of a particularly formidable adversary’s heart or testicles to import the giant’s powers, hasn’t come back in style yet, that I know of. More feasible are microchips implanted into the brain and titanium hip replacements.
And don’t forget to put some fire in your belly. Or unleash it. Or liberate it. Nowadays everything, especially if in earlier times incarcerated, is liberated.
Speaking of fire in the belly puts me in mind of the fiery furnace into which Nebuchadnezzar would throw those who refused to bow to his self-deified holiness, surely the ultimate form of self-elevation. Alexander the Great seems to have discovered his own deity in Persia or India as lesser personages continue to do, to some degree or other, to this day, India being perhaps the world’s largest exporter of spiritual power and prayer flags. Self-deifiers include the sundry fully deified Caesars, and, in my day, Japanese Emperors. Not a few Renaissance European monarchs settled for “the divine right of kings,” bestowed by holy oil, variably inferior or superior to the vicarious divinity of a line of medieval popes, who favored the fiery stake over the furnace. But now that God has been proclaimed dead, at least in Western society, and discarded, auto- or vicarious apotheosis has gone out of style among world leaders and wannabe presidents, in favor of virtual eminence and flaming forensics. And celebritihood, akin to canonization but not confined to saints, is de facto deification American Style.
But actual or virtual self-apotheosis is open only to the upper 1%. Available to the masses are falsies, football or tailored shoulder pads, masks, helmets, Green Beret camos and full dress uniforms, boots, Lugers and AK40s, and Harley Davidsons. Rich old men are helped out of their walkers and into their Lamborghini Veneno Roadsters to race over to have hair implants. To 98-pound weaklings gallons of latex are applied and – voilà! – superheros! Lacking latex, Photoshop works great, does for me and my selfies. And here's another personal secret: A good dictionary.
And how about gluten-free, alpha-gamma-fat-carbo-acid-radical-ion-free, meta-modroitin-free, calomel-caramel-free-karma-lized veganism? Or are we getting into things that are more hyped eccentricities or superstitions than bona fide uplifters? Just where is the tipping point? Has all this empowerment business gotten out of hand -- gotten ridiculous? It can't be serious, can it?
That’s the cue for a critique which any well organized, usually expensive but hopefully tax-deductible Self-Upsy Daisy Seminar always has at about this point. And being an old man with eyes glazed over from beholding so many jump-shots landing the player face down on the floor, and having taken so many belly flops myself, I’m qualified.
Some devices are better than others. Get a good dictionary is top advice; fire in your belly maybe not. Gender changes, that’s just wishful politically correct thinking. And some people are better at getting ahead than others. As an art (and empowerment device) critic, I’m world class. As my own wealth manager, I have a fool for a client.
Now all of this business about glowing high-potential energy Inner Power just awaiting the proper if expensive self-empowerment seminar would be fine if that were all there was, just simply Inner Power. It would be fine if it all fit into Evolution, the fittest surviving, thanks to Inner Power or some sort of unspecified power of the process. Which is exactly the premise that keeps the seminars and self-help books the money generators they are.
Wrong! Alas and alas, wrong! Your Inner Power, even capitalized, is in the absolute pretty feeble, and maybe even berserk, just as that equally vaunted Inner Eye of the artist is of value for producing only blotches and abstracts and not reality.
There is a higher power, an infinite power, beyond your feeble inner power
It is God. It is God who created you in the first place. You did not just evolve from a transparent plankter writhing out of the primal swamp to a, well, supremely self-confident Trump with some sort of mutation occurring some eons ago whereby that triumphant Inner Power somehow emerged from slime. You were created by God, and it was he who implanted whatever inner power you have, whereby you are able to comprehend that it is God who provides the Outer Power, His. He set it up that way -- that His (properly capitalized) Power is infinitely stronger than yours, and available to you, through salvation, not seminars.
I must say that essentially every last self-empowerment-belief formula reviewed above, rather cheekily I admit, is contradictory to the Biblical template, grounds for the cheeky review. If these formulas exalt anything successfully, it’s pride which goeth before a pratfall, and self-centeredness which is 180° in the wrong direction. For they all, even Epictetus’s philosophy, in one way or another, overtly or covertly, directly or indirectly, to a greater or lesser degree bank on man himself and himself alone, or, worse, satanic powers concealed or flaunted.
Only God is our strength. From start to finish, whether to achieve heaven or earth or take your next breath, only God is our power. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5). In yourself alone you are not to believe, cannot, any more than in any other graven image, whose impotency Isaiah is fond of mocking (Isa 44:9-15). Manmade enhancement is at best short term. God’s is eternal.
The way God empowers you is not by your going blank and merging with Him, the Great Grinning Prime Vapor. Using God-bestowed full consciousness and full intelligence, all dials of your frontal cortex lighting up, you interact with Him, the Omniscient.
And you not merely believe in Him (Satan believes, consummately, while he wants you not to), but you allow Him by your power of will, which above all else He enables, to take you over totally. Only then can you, should you, must you, will you believe in yourself. Because you first believe in Him whence all power, God empowers you to believe in yourself in a way none of mankind’s own formulas could dream of. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4: 13. Now that’s self-belief I can believe in.
YOU GOTTA BELIEVE IN … YOURSELF?
Or, At The Count Of Three: One-Two-Three….Upsy Daisy!
graphic partly by: Comic vector designed by Freepik
Revised: Saturday, March 4, 2017
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