Jim Carrey and The Pseudo-Spirituality Of Progressive Politics.
New Wave Spirituality: A spiritual identity grounded in an espoused cosmic perspective, often bolstered by dubious claims about the universe or the Self, rather than a diligent religious practice — that is almost always associated with progressive politics. As distinct from New Age Spirituality.
I wrote an article on the “spiritual awakening” of Jim Carrey that went quasi-viral last year. Since then, the illustrious Canadian-American actor has been amassing mainstream brownie points by drawing heinous caricatures of political leaders and showing off his fresh Nikes on ‘Real Time’ in honor of Colin Kaepernick’s recent NFL protest. That is, of course, when right-wing extremists are not threatening to send mail bombs to his house. I wrote the article defending Carrey from media pundits who were asserting the comedy legend had lost his proverbial marbles, personally believing his statements to be more than just the bewildered projections of a Hollywood burnout — possibly bearing more reflective substance than prevailing commentary had led on. I can’t help but feel mildly disappointed in Jim Carrey’s apparent metamorphosis from a dissenting cosmic iconoclast to a caustic Trump-bashing Leftist before our eyes, and his transformation is emblematic to me of the curious and unholy union between the progressive Left and what I’m calling new wave spirituality. This recent shift in Carrey’s public persona has given me the impetus to explore this dormant connection.
When I wrote the article on Jim Carrey’s apparent spiritual eclipse, I was creating content for a website whose mission statement was to bring together those working to create an enlightened society while coining the motto “to be of benefit”, a company that integrated an eclectic mixture of Buddhist principles, dietary protocols for healthy living, general life advice, and a greater vision of society grounded in an explicitly progressive political agenda. I suppose spirituality has always coincided with liberalism in some dormant corner of my subconscious mind, but this awkward liaison made itself conscious to me after having a few articles of mine which flirted with a more Centrist political vision, challenging the identity politics I was seeing on the Left (in the same way that I would be more than happy to challenge identity politics on the Right), either be heavily edited to the point of obscuring the essential message or simply be rejected altogether.
This came after stumbling upon Jordan Peterson and the Intellectual Dark Web on YouTube, in what could rightly be called my own crisis of masculinity that occurred after falling prey to a demoralizing chronic illness. In all fairness, the organization was more than willing to hear out my concerns and even published another article of mine based on a Jordan Peterson quote that became quite popular, but every time I tried to publish a piece that went against the current of mainstream progressivism we would inevitably go through the same rigamarole over again. I guess it was a little surprising to have an organization that was open to explore virtually every idea under the sun so readily acquiesce to the moral authority of progressive identity politics (short of castigating its odious relationship to corporate capitalism in cliche fashion). I’ve actually found this to be a pretty typical proclivity among the elite liberal circles.
Jim Carrey does not spoil the party. Although he will readily expound upon the surreality of the human ego and the fleeting nature of the material world — “There’s just a relative manifestation of consciousness appearing, and then somebody gave him a bunch of ideas; a name, a religion, and a nationality, and he clustered those together into something that is supposed to be a personality” — he does not apply the same radical lens to the disruptive rhetoric of progressive identity politics. Eric Kaufmann displayed in his recent piece for Quillette how alienating Republican voters only elicits more Right-Wing extremism, “labelling policy preferences you disapprove of as ‘racist’ increases support for these policies among some whites and chastising their supporters for being politically incorrect makes them more likely to vote for Trump, not less.”
Carrey did not hold back from this kind of egregious chastising when he sounded off in his Britannia Award acceptance speech: “Almost half of America at this moment believes there is a sinister deep state diabolically plotting.. To what? Give them healthcare?!” Though I would agree that a significant minority of the population harbor unproven and unprovable conspiracy theories, it would seem that it’s not only Trump voters that harbor such theories, as the Bernie constituency was no less conspiratorially minded with regard to the corporate elites diabolically plotting to STEAL our health care, whether we believe there is truth to any of these theories or not (and let’s not even talk about the much loftier conspiracy theories about the Patriarchy or Systemic Racism that are neatly peddled through the mainstream). All the while, the silent majority is dissuaded from entering the conversation.
It’s troubling that a popular figure like Carrey would espouse a spiritual perspective that claims to transcend identity, while at once succumbing to such a divisive political narrative — putting the spotlight solely on what makes us different rather than the same. This can only inflame the already dangerously flammable culture war. Those who embody the Social Justice Left often speak with this kind of moral certainty, a pseudo-enlightenment, preaching their views as though it were a religious sermon. Though, in the progressive doctrine, good and evil are viewed in the context of an absolute social morality, rather than a morality grounded in one’s individual efforts.
So, why does the progressive Left align with the new wave spirituality phenomenon?
Jordan Peterson has shed light on the varying spiritual beliefs held between those with psychologically Left-leaning vs. Right-leaning temperaments. Being that liberals are generally higher in trait openness and conservatives are generally higher in trait conscientiousness (largest difference in political temperament according to the Big Five Trait study), it seems within reason that those on the Left are more inclined towards mysticism (any spiritual practice grounded in transcendent experience) and those on the Right are more inclined towards theology (any spiritual practice grounded in a religious structure). Generally speaking, those on the Left find appeal to the direct existential quality of mystical experience (chemically induced or otherwise) and those on the Right find more appeal in the systematized hierarchical edifice of religion. As someone who stubbornly finds appeal in both modalities, this discrepancy seems to be only a surface phenomenon of a fundamental and ubiquitous quality in human beings. In other words, spirituality transcends our psychological temperament. The individual sensibilities that might preclude our political leanings do not inherently categorize our spiritual orientation, rather it only gives us a rough outline of what spiritual modality is more likely to resonate with our personality. Spirituality is a non-partisan issue. That’s my claim.
In a 2014 Pew poll on the religious landscape in the context of political ideology, Americans were clustered into the various political categories Conservative, Moderate, Liberal, and Undecided - before being asked various questions regarding their spiritual beliefs. Without much surprise, the conservative demographic was aligned with more classically organized religions that emphasize stratification and structure like Protestantism, Catholicism, and Mormonism, while Liberals were more likely to align with religions that incorporate a mystical or interpersonal element into their spiritual practice like Buddhism and Hinduism. Judaism was the big exception, an often strict religious doctrine with a predominantly Liberal demographic. Conservatives were more likely to believe in God and attend religious services, while Liberals were more likely to intuit moral decisions without relying on a religious doctrine, being far more skeptical of absolute standards of right and wrong.
What stood out most to me was the astounding variability that arose across the spectrum of religious attitudes. There was a great deal of unexpected overlap between Liberals and Conservatives in their religious views and practices, particularly on the questions regarding one’s frequency of prayer and frequency of meditation — which were remarkably even. Often in areas where a disparity existed between Liberals and Conservatives in their religious habits, such as the consistency of reading and interpreting religious scripture, the Moderates and Undecideds filled in the gaps quite nicely. The most optimistic similarity amongst the political groups was the shared feeling of wonder about the universe, which was virtually the same across the board. Of course, there are factors this study cannot account for, such as what people mean by “God” and what cultural forces propel us towards certain religious beliefs, but the overall message is quite clear: Spiritually speaking, we have more in common than we have different.
Once we come to terms with that idea, it becomes increasingly more difficult to trace the roots of the apparent conjunction of progressive politics and this New Wave Spirituality we see expounded by the likes of Jim Carrey (though I maintain the belief that the Hollywood pressure cooker cracked through the shell of his ego and allowed him to connect with something beyond himself), and still further why those who identify with the progressive left are more likely to find appeal in this sort of cosmic spirituality. I can’t imagine that Right-wingers are any less naive when it comes to a quick spiritual fix, though the study above does seem to convey that conservatives are more diligent in their religious practice. Personally, I think the dormant connection lies in the undying emphasis on compassion and empathy as a necessary political utility.
In a video I posted on YouTube a few months ago (that has subsequently gone viral) of a conversation between Jordan Peterson and Russell Brand, the two go back and forth on the nature of Christianity and the fundamental message of Jesus’ teachings. Brand is patently skeptical of Jordan’s insistence of Christ as a judge, a figure of authority demanding more of us than we are often willing to give, while giving credence solely to the benevolent and compassionate figure of Christ; God is love, so to speak. Russell Brand is another person who I greatly respect and admire much like Jim Carrey who has also found himself aligning with identity progressivism, at moments seeming almost out of sheer convenience. The idea that empathy is not only the quintessential human value but must also be seamlessly (or not so seamlessly) incorporated into the political system is shared by progressives and new wave spiritualists alike. In the previously mentioned acceptance speech, Jim Carrey said in regards to his role in the new ShowTime series, “Without empathy like that, this character wouldn’t have existed. Without empathy, we won’t either!”
Many like Peterson have remarked upon the limited use of empathy as a grounding principle for a political doctrine, or more accurately how easily the implementation of empathy in explicitly political terms can transform into a chaotic (and often bloody) power vacuum, so I need not expand that idea much further. The trouble is, the clamoring for empathy, whether in political or spiritual terms, evokes a reactionary impulse within a large segment of the public when vindictively declared from the elite chateau of a liberal bubble, and quite frankly doesn’t come across as being very empathetic at all. Maybe it would be more conducive to place the spotlight on our similarities instead of differences — which would appear to be the essence of authentic spirituality after all.
When we moralize the political landscape, viewing political disagreement through the lens of good and evil, we inevitably alienate the other side by presuming their position to be morally reprehensible. A recent Pew poll helps clarify this idea, which found an upswing in the amount of people saying it’s “stressful” to speak with those whom they disagree with politically. Significantly more Democrats found these conversations to be stressful, though Right-leaning Republicans found them more stressful than Moderate Republicans and the same was found to be the case on the other side. This would suggest that more Liberals than Conservatives have trouble conversing with political opponents, though the more extreme ends of the political spectrum have a more stressful time conversing than those leaning more towards the Center. The study also showed that “the majority of Democrats and Republicans say talking politics with those whose views differ does not lead to more common ground.” In taking our views more personally, seeing opposing ideas as being morally reprehensible and a direct assault on our personal identity, we moralize the political landscape and make disagreements more stressful — leading to further polarization.
So, when we take into account the Left’s natural tilt toward spiritual mysticism, the prioritization of empathy as a social benchmark, and the dogmatic moralization of the political landscape — we can begin to grasp the strange association between progressive politics and New Wave Spirituality, but this only fraction of the story. The bigger picture is that the most important things in life are non-partisan. Although we all have our own bias, whether political or otherwise, rooted in our particular disposition, it is act of faith to lean towards the center — the only place where consensus can be met and solutions can be found. I find it ironic that the dictionary has two definitions of the term “middle-way”, as both a political axiom for avoiding extremes and a Buddhist precept as a key to liberation.. But not that ironic.