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Saturday, June 9, 2012
Andrew On "Aspiring to Second-Rate Dreams"
Aspiring to Second-Rate Dreams
When you go to college, everyone has their first choice, and then a string of other colleges for safety. It’s more important to go to college, than to go to THE college you want to go to, so, if your first choice school rejects you, then you wind up spending four years at a “safety” school. That happened to me, so I know what it feels like. It feels like the world is telling you you’re actually something less than you hoped you were. But, on the other hand, no one is immune from having their dreams abridged by circumstances in one way or another.
Herbert Armstrong was born into 19th century Victorian society, a society whose values would persist until he was 22 years old, when the First World War would destroy everything. Nevertheless, Herbert would attempt to recreate that society and its values within all his spheres of influence for the rest of his life. Make no mistake, the European social order prevailed in America just as much as it did in any of the other European colonies around the world. But unlike the old world, because of the early independence of the United States, as long as you were white, membership in the new world’s social upper classes was up for grabs. Any man of the superior race who could make his fortune could make a case for his own elite status among the other American “nobility.” This appears to be the singular thing about which Herbert was most acutely aware.
Even as a young sales and advertising executive, Herbert always believed in his own aristocracy. He saw himself as someone who ought to belong to the most elite class of society. He dreamed of becoming a powerful businessman and rubbing shoulders with captains of industry, senators, and kings. However, one does not usually make the kind of fortune necessary to join the ranks of American aristocracy without being able to benefit financially from the efforts of others. Also, in order to be a card-carrying member of the elite club and gain the respect of other aristocrats, one generally needed to not only have money, but also to demonstrate his power and status. This means that one really ought to be able to boast that he has his own company when he goes out to mingle at the country and yacht clubs.
Unfortunately, Herbert would somehow manage to lose his fortunes as quickly as he could make them. Luckily for Herbert, he could avoid taking responsibility for his mismanagement by spinning it as no fault of his own, because it was god’s doing all along. The entire point of his autobiography is how, although Herbert wanted to be a captain of industry, god wanted to make him into his one-and-only end-time apostle, just like the story of Paul’s miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus. At least, that’s what Herbert wanted to sell to his followers. And sell it he did. Herbert was a born salesman.
Where Herbert failed to become a captain of industry, he succeeded in the non-profit sector, by building a Victorian-era church. Within this church, he reinvented the old social class order of the previous century, despite the fact that within broad society, all of these class structures were steadily being eroded. Nevertheless, he realized that either sector could be just as financially lucrative for him as an individual. As a non-profit, he could conscript an army of volunteers, and pay his employees below-market wages, leaving sufficient funds so that he could still manage lead his own personal “life of Riley.” It did not matter that those funds were donated, rather than earned, because at the end of the day, a dollar is a dollar and every dollar talks the same language. Herbert eventually used "god's money" to buy his way into elite circles and lived out his lifelong dream to rub shoulders with kings.
Unfortunately, this was not the original plan, but a strictly second-rate “safety” dream. I think Herbert was privately disappointed with himself that he didn't wind up as the CEO of his own advertising firm. Herbert wanted to be able to stand toe-to-toe on equal terms with the Kennedys and other members of the elite, but as a churchman, they would never quite take him completely seriously. It must have felt like the world was telling him he wasn’t quite as elite as he had hoped. Nothing could make up for this. I bet that upon his deathbed, he must have been secretly miserable.
One conclusion that can be drawn from a private “behind the scenes” viewpoint on Herbert’s life is that the only people he could ever have respect for were other members of the elite social class to which he aspired. By definition, anyone in his own organization, either as paid employees or as paying members of the volunteer army were merely among the "help," and I am sure he had nothing but private contempt for any of us. Our job was to keep his silver polished and shut the eff up. Maybe we were deserving of a certain amount of contempt for being such credulous fools, or maybe we weren’t, I am not sure. (It is not my point to here discuss how much contempt we ought to have for such hucksters as Herbert.) At any rate, the abuses within Armstrongism are easily explained by understanding that Herbert was committed to using all the tricks and tactics that the upper classes had always used - religion being chief among these - to keep the lower classes down in their "proper" place.
When you realize that this is the hard truth, it makes Dave Pack, Ron Weinland, Gerald Flurry, Rod Meredith, and all the other Herbert Armstrong wannabes seem totally ridiculous. If they really wanted to be another Herbert Armstrong, they ought to have aspired to Herbert’s first-choice dream by starting their own Fortune 500 company so they could mingle with other CEO's. Instead they have aspired only to Herbert’s second-rate “safety” dream. But even so, why would anyone want to be a carbon copy of someone else in the first place? Why don’t these overinflated minions of Herbert have dreams of their own? I guarantee that if Herbert were to rise from the grave today, he would have nothing but contempt for his many impersonators. On balance, that contempt would definitely be justified.