I have a theory I call my Conquistadors Theory. It’s a hybrid of different strands of thinking and this is the first time I’ve attempted to write it down, so I hope it doesn’t come across as too muddled.
In a nutshell, conquistadors are beliefs, attitudes, opinions, morals, values, memes, inner voices, inner critic, inner parent, conscience, etc: ie, the conceptual data that inhabits our minds (if indeed thoughts reside, or are manufactured, in the mind – though that is the current orthodox belief, it hasn’t been proven to be so).
Psychologically, we are a mix of hard-wiring (ie, our raw humanity) and soft wiring (acquired knowledge, beliefs, habits, etc), right? The acquired stuff is foreign to our inherent natures, and we acquire it accidentally: by accident of birth, cultural environment, etc. This acquired data fuses with our inherent natures so that our natural functioning becomes inseparable from it and is expressed through it, eg: we all feel hunger (hard wiring) but we crave different foods to satisfy our hunger (soft wiring).
These acquired conceptual data have commandeered control of the system, and that’s why I call them conquistadors: alien immigrants who have assumed dominance, invaders, interlopers, conquerors. They govern our lives: our behaviour, our perceptions, our emotional responses, our interpretation of experiences, etc, in the same way that the conquistadors governed the lives of the native peoples of the lands they conquered. And just like conquistadors took a superior attitude towards the natives, subjugated them, were disgusted by them, considered them primitive relics of a lesser evolved form of human, so do those attitudes prevail in our mind about our raw humanity and its grisly (by civilized standards) demands.
But we let them do this. We have given these interlopers carte blanche to govern us. Most of us take these ideas extremely seriously. We give them sacred status. Some people even claim they come from divine sources! The rest behave as if they do, even when they claim they don’t (eg, most believe their beliefs represent the ‘truth’). Clifford Geertz said: ‘Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.’ These beliefs have meaning for us only because we give them meaning. We are beholden and besotted by them, bewitched, hypnotised, brain-washed. We believe in their veracity and that any contradiction to their authority is wrong – evil, even – so much so that a great many believe they are justified in persecuting people who hold different beliefs.
Together these concepts form a framework within which we navigate our way through the world. Making order out of chaos appears to be necessarily (or is it? have we merely been conditioned to believe in its necessity?), but it seems to me that our Western cultural framework is built on a set of negatives: ideas of what is forbidden, much of what is a negation of our basic natures that leads to frustration and misery for the masses. Gregory David Roberts, in his novel Shantaram, said civilization ‘is defined by what we forbid, more than what we permit.’ So this framework is a maze created from conceptual building blocks based on aversion: a series of conceptual corridors created by the closing of doors. What’s left is what we’re permitted, but only because those ideas failed to be classified as forbidden.
Ideally, our mind content would serve us in a beneficial way, helping us to achieve our aims (as requested, through desire, by our natural selves, our hard-wiring). Many do this, but others are malevolent, cruel jailers who imprison us in a world of inhibition of our natural self-expression, convincing us to hate ourselves or other people (in the name of rightness!). These ones are not conducive to the harmonious workings of the individual, or of society. Thoreau said: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ A large portion of Western ideals are a total fuck-up on a mass scale.
How do they and their agents (parents, peers, the education system, the media, etc) persuade us to conform to their pernicious ideas? They collude to indoctrinate us. They persuade us to believe that civilized society is good, right and just. They use shame, fear and humiliation to control us. We call this self-regulatory control centre our ‘conscience’. Many people believe that experiencing feelings of shame when they ‘step out of line’ is proof that they are ‘good’ people, proof that they have successfully learned right from wrong. Well, not necessarily.
It’s a barrage that impressionable young minds have no defence against. We are made to fear censure, to fear being ostracised, to fear humiliation. The system, and its agents, are subtle bullies. The result is a society of caged animals, some of who successfully manage to navigate the rules, others who fail. Those who fail fall into all sorts of traps: crime, substance abuse, ill health (physical as well as psychological) – just like the native peoples of the lands confiscated by the conquistadors. The ones who succeed seem to feel justified in persecuting the ones who fail. How has that come about? Because the system makes conformists believe they are right and that the non-conformists are not only wrong, but evil with it (and they know it!), rotten apples spoiling things for everyone else.
The relationship we have with these conquistadors is not unlike that of victims of Stockholm Syndrome, that is: beholden, loyal defenders of abusers.
Does it matter if most are blissfully unaware of their corruption? I think so. If these conceptual data are what constitute our personalities – our egos – it means that in our dealings with the world it’s the conquistadors who are acting on our behalf, and that includes relationships. When individuals’ conquistadors’ viewpoints are compatible, peace reigns and all is well. But when they clash, there’s war and misery. On one of my quotes page is a quote by Candace Pert about psychosomatic illness: ‘The body becomes the battleground for the war games of the mind.’ I think the same can be said of relationships. That is, the machinations of the conquistadors within individual minds is played out in relationships to the good or detriment of all involved. For example, if someone is possessed with an attitude that relationships are point-scoring battles of wills they’ll probably be doing a lot of face-spiting nose-cutting in their relationships in an effort to win points, thereby making themself as much of a victim of a self-punishing meme as the person they are mistreating.
The blissfully unaware are also miserably unaware.
I think these dudes that inhabit our minds are aptly described by Stephen Brody: viruses of the mind.
Is there a point to imaging these conceptual data as ‘conquistadors’ as opposed to viruses or memes or attitudes or opinions or beliefs? I think we would do well, for our psychological and emotional well-being, to question the wisdom of trusting these ideas with the aim of ejecting the ones that don’t work in our favour. It helps (me) to imagine them as characters rather than vague concepts. Then we can imagine ourselves talking to them, person to person. We can imagine ourselves standing up to them. We can imagine ourselves with the power we lacked as toddlers being forced, by various means, into compliance by our parents, which is the psychological environment that enabled these things to take root in the first place.
Distinguishing the good from the bad is no easy feat, however. If you believe there’s no such thing as absolute right or wrong, as I do, then, technically, they are all neutral, judged good or bad according to the attitudes within each individual mind, rather than from some external authority (which is why doctrinal texts are useful for the authorities to control the masses: imbue them divine status and – abracadabra! – no one can argue their authority). In other words, the conquistadors judge themselves! What a paradox! And a mind that has acquired conflicting beliefs will be in turmoil, forced to listen to the arguments in their heads. No wonder we’re all insane!
I think we should consider rebelling against our acquired thoughts, of forming a liberation movement against them.
We could start by making rational decisions, from the choices available to us, about what sort of conceptual framework we want to perceive the world from within, from which our personalities are to be shaped, from which we play ourselves out in relationships. Any attitude that doesn’t fit that model can be excommunicated. When an idea rears its head in the form of a pang of guilt, fear, self-recrimination, self-pity and all the other myriad self-deprecating emotions, we could ask ourselves whether the idea is reasonable within the context of our desired worldview, deserving of reverence and whether we want it to control the perception of our experiences. Is it friend or foe with regard to us fulfilling our personal world vision? What is it asking of us? For example, does it require us to hate ourselves or another? If so and we prefer the loving version of living in this world, I’d say it’s not being reasonable; it’s a foe. Put a bomb under the bastard.
I think that any idea that requires feelings of shame, fear and humiliation in order for it to accepted and acted out is itself unacceptable. Whenever your conscience causes you to feel such a way, challenge it.
We do not have to be slaves of the system. We do not have to be victims of the arbiters of thought; the chances are they’re talking bollocks. Most people acquire their opinions mindlessly; obediently, unquestioningly soaking up the opinions and beliefs of a society that requires little more than compliance from its Stepford-like zombies (John Lydon: ‘The fascist regime; they made you a moron’, God save the Queen). Do their opinions really warrant reverence?
Think about things, evaluate possibilities; don’t just repeat the system’s ideologies parrot-fashion. Your mind is capable of working things out, you know – you can make more of it than a mere recording of others’ opinions – do your own mixing – you don’t have to be a compilation album of others’ thoughts (yeah, I know: there are no original thoughts, only variations on themes, but you get my drift, unless you’re deliberately being obtuse).
Mind you, those who take the rebellious path do have to take the risk of being ostracised, ridiculed, even persecuted by those who conform to the voice of mainstream authority. I can think of someone who did that very thing and paid for it with his life (to no avail, it turns out), but it’s not popular among the (self-imposed) intelligensia to give this character credence, so dare I say it? JC.