Via Gods & Radicals:
Priests aren’t all religious. The Media is also a kind of priesthood, foretelling the weather, telling us stories of other places, and fitting it all within a neat, Capitalist/Democratic narrative. In this way, politicians are also priests, as are other political groups, and the events after a trauma become a pitched battle for control of meaning.
There are several hammers that Authority can wield over people to control them. Direct violence is a bloody maul, but it’s hard to rule over people when you constantly have to break their arms. Economic violence is another: starving people are easier to control, but it’s also hard to extract taxes from those who have nothing. The third, and the one least addressed by any political theory I’ve yet seen, is to control Meaning.
Consider the Catholic Church’s stranglehold over the souls of the people. To disobey the Church was to lose one’s soul, to be exiled from ‘community’ (ex-communication), to lose access to the Divine, and to find yourself forever seared by eternal flames. Such control over the souls of people took various forms, but ‘belief’ was the primary bludgeon. Christianity controlled the meaning of the universe, the meaning of human love (through marriage), the meaning of death, and the pattern of the year–all things which shape the meaning of our lives.
The Roman Empire did something similar before them through the ‘interpretatio Romana’ and ‘evocatio’ (a ritual which convinced a god to leave their people and go over to the Roman side).
Capitalism and Modern ‘Democratic’ governments do the same thing. Capitalism does this by defining how humans relate to each other, shaping our views on poverty, on what we are worth, and what we should be doing with our lives (that is, work). Governments shape how we understand and identify ourselves (‘American,’ ‘French’), determining what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (trespassing is bad, hoarding lots of money is good), punishing those who oppose them (be they murderers or environmental activists), and claiming to be our ‘protectors.’