Over the past few weeks by far the most popular entry on this site has been a post I wrote months ago on the Muse hit “Starlight.” I’m encouraged by the number of people who are finding this interpretation of the song on search engines and it has inspired me to analyze a different Muse song. “Uprising” is the first single off Muse’s latest album The Resistance. I hear it often in the transition background music on televised sporting events. The song is about oppression of the masses by political, business, and media elites by concealing and distorting the truth:
Paranoia is in bloom
The PR transmissions will resume
They’ll try to push drugs that keep us all dumbed down
And hope that we will never see the truth around
(So come on!)
Another promise, another seed
Another packaged lie to keep us trapped in greed
And all the green belts wrapped around our minds
And endless red tape to keep the truth confined
(So come on!)
In response to fear of public opinion, politicians saturate the public consciousness with “PR transmissions” to propagate a positive public image. The “drugs” mentioned here are not literal, but represent the mind-numbing, pleasure-satiating effects of mass media that dull our capacity for critical thinking and discerning truth from lies. The “packaged lie” may have a political meaning, but may also refer to the pervasive lie of mass marketing that we have to have the right car, clothes, make-up, deodorant, etc. to be satisfied and accepted by others. This lie “keeps us trapped in greed”: controlled by insatiable desires that are inflamed by the media.
The “endless red tape” obviously refers to complex political bureaucracy. The way convoluted legal bureaucracy “keeps the truth confined” is explained well in a book by lawyer Phillip Howard called The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America (1994). I read this book 14 years ago in college and it continues to illuminate for me the way governments maintain control over a population that fails to self-govern by passing more and more laws, making the legal system exhaustingly complex. Our legal system thus strips people of confidence in our judgment to act justly and sensibly based on common knowledge of truth and leaves us dependent on those who control and manipulate the law. (I am not sure what the “green belts” represents – please share your own insights!).
Awareness of how one is being controlled by deceptive, self-interested powers usually provokes a strong sense of injustice and stokes passion for revolt. Thus the refrain of “Uprising” calls out:
They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not enslave us
We will be victorious
I agree with Muse that there are oppressive forces at work in the world to “enslave” people and that these forces gain power by manipulating people’s minds with lies. I also resonate emotionally with this call to revolt against these forces and to fight for liberation. My question, though, for Muse and for others who feel this oppression and are stirred to revolt, is how do you know truth apart from what your culture or society tells you?
In our post-modern culture, it is en vogue to reject any notion of objective, mind-independent truth and to assert that truth is a matter of subjective perceptions shaped by our culture and society. Many would go so far as to say that since we cannot eliminate these influences on how we view the world, it is impossible to know absolute truth with any certainly. Thus, all knowledge claims are culturally conditioned and truth is relative to cultures and individuals.
On what does one base political or social revolt if all truth is relative? If truth is culturally conditioned, then we are dependent on the media, which shapes cultural values and beliefs, for our perception of reality. And thus we are vulnerable to manipulation and oppression. If we are to revolt we have to see past the lies of politicians and media moguls and have a vision of truth that stands above what “PR transmissions” feed us. Jesus Christ gives us such a vision. He famously said, “The truth will set you free.” Here is the context of that saying from the Gospel of John:
31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants[b] and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).
Here Jesus identifies the oppressor that should concern us most – sin. We tend to view oppression as external – an unjust consequence of others’ greed and lust for power. But Jesus locates oppression internally: “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Sin is a state of rebellion against God. Ironically, our quest for independence of God is what enslaves us. As we seek “freedom” from God’s reign over our lives we become enslaved both to our own desires and to those who promise to satisfy those desires. Jesus equates freedom with truth and promises knowledge of the truth to those who follow his teaching. We associate obedience with slavery but Jesus turns this relationship upside down: obeying his teaching is the path to freedom.
How does following Christ free us? The key to understanding this question is the contrast Jesus makes here between slaves and son. At the heart of Jesus’ teaching is that those who trust in him to save them from their sin become children of God. Believers in Christ are adopted into God’s family and relate to God as Father. This relationship brings us the security and confidence of acceptance that we crave, thus freeing us from having to have what the media says we need. This is a freedom ground in the truth about who God is, what we were made for, and therefore what is best for human flourishing. Having been set free from oppression within, only then can we subversively resist oppression from without.