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Announcing “Earth, Climate, Dreams”—the BOOK! 13 in-depth conversations with Depth Psychologists on how we address these critical topics in the Age of the Anthropocene.

Contributors include Jungian analyst Jerome Bernstein; climate scientist and Jungian, Jeffrey Kiehl; Jungian scholar, Susan Rowland; Depth educator/author Robert Romanyshyn; Depth educator Veronica Goodchild; plus other scholars, educators, or Jungian analysts including Steve Aizenstat, Sally Gillespie, Susannah Benson, Nancy Furlotti, Michael Conforti —co-edited by Jon Marshall and Bonnie Bright

ORDER NOW as a Kindle book or a print paperback

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ABOUT THE BOOK

Over time, humans in western cultures have undergone a profound restructuring of the psyche resulting in a traumatic sense of separation. In modern day, we face a growing set of challenges on ecological and social fronts, in part due to the significant impact of human activity on the planet, an era now informally called the Anthropocene.

If humans are going to deal with climate change, ecological destruction, and the recognition of an age in which humans are changing the very structures of our world, then we need both social and psychological change.

This crisis requires that we reflect on our situation from a depth psychological perspective, contemplating how we might tap into the underlying archetypal themes at work in the culture and begin to articulate them in ways that inspire and move us to personal and collective action.

Indeed, without some understanding of our psychological processes and our unconscious dynamics, it is unlikely that any social change we can generate will solve the problems we face. Our psychological drives will continue the crisis.

Yet, in this book, Jungian analysts, therapists, and academics with an interest in Depth Psychology discuss their approaches to these problems with Bonnie Bright, Ph.D., a certified transpersonal coach and the Founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, with hope and inspiration. Together, they contemplate psychological issues of ecological collapse, our conceptual separation from nature, the cultural complexes that drive us, and the importance of attending various Jungian, depth, and transpersonal modalities—including our dreams—for engaging with what may well be the challenge of our age and of ages to come.

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9142468067?profile=originalCONTENT

Facing Climate Change through a Jungian Lens

Jeffrey Kiehl in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright

 

Dionysus: Revisioning Psychology and Literature in Jung and Hillman

Susan Rowland in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright 

 

Dreams and the Animated Earth

Stephen Aizenstat in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright         

 

Navigating the Great Transition

Susannah Benson in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright          

 

Dominion Psyche, Reciprocity Psyche, Borderland Consciousness

Jerome Bernstein in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright         

 

We Need to Talk about Climate Change,
with Depth

Sally Gillespie in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright  

 

The Frankenstein Prophecies: The Untold Tale

Robert Romanyshyn in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright

The Human Soul in Transition at the Dawn
of a New Era

Erel Shalit in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright        

 

The Role of Primary Narcissism in the Ecological Crisis

Michael Conforti in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright

 

Complexity, Depth Ecology and Climate Change

Jonathan Marshall in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright

           

Dreams, Synchronicities and our Relationship
to the Earth

Veronica Goodchild in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright

 

Revisiting the Well at the Dawn of Life: Teachings of the Maya

Nancy Swift Furlotti in Dialogue with Bonnie Bright

 

Culture Collapse Disorder: What the Bees
Can Teach Us

Bonnie Bright Interviewed by Jonathan Marshall

 

Multi-logue on the Cultural Complex of the English-Speaking West

Group Discussion

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PRAISE FOR EARTH, CLIMATE, DREAMS

Depth psychologist Bonnie Bright and her colleagues help us understand that climate change is not just an environmental, economic, social or security challenge - although it is all of these - but a deeply psychological crisis that demands “a new psychological position and understanding.” A must-read for anyone wanting to better understand why we’re in our current mess and how to get out of it!”

—Linda Buzzell, Co-Editor, Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind

These interviews are, at one level, a fine tribute to Jung’s vision that the human psyche cannot be considered in isolation from the wider forces that govern life on Earth. But Bonnie Bright’s collection of dialogues also has a far more urgent relevance: the Anthropocene has now been unleashed and it remains an open question whether we can act in time to maintain a habitable planet. The answer will lie in a myriad of policy and behavioural decisions and underlying them all is the need for humankind to transform its notions of self-interest in the light of Earth consciousness. The interviews in this book are both signposts and beacons in that all-important journey.

—Adrian Tait, Co-Founder, Climate Psychology Alliance

 

Dreams open a portal to another way of seeing the world, offering access to the personal and collective unconscious. Dreams encourage the imagination to flourish. Sometimes, dreams can offer another way to approach seemingly insoluble problems. So this anthology arrives at the perfect moment, offering insights and inspiration in this time of climate chaos and global crisis, with contributions from leading thinkers in the field of depth psychology, science and education.

—Mary-Jayne Rust, Co-Editor, Vital Signs: Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis

 

 

“This work provides a unique perspective on the issue of climate disruption. Science has provided us with all the evidence necessary for immediate action, yet too little is being done too slowly to address this global threat. As Jung noted, in such times of deep disarray, perhaps we should ask the unconscious what to do. The dialogues in this work do just that. Here we are given an opportunity to listen to psyche’s concerns about our planet.”

—Jeffrey T. Kiehl. Climate Scientist, Jungian Analyst, Author of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future

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PUBLICATION DATA

Earth, Climate, Dreams: Dialogues with Depth Psychologists in the Age of the Anthropocene—A collection of interviews with Jungian analysts, psychotherapists, scientists, educators, and scholars in conversation with Bonnie Bright, Ph.D., edited by Bonnie Bright and Jonathan Paul Marshall. Published July 10, 2019, by Depth Insights; $14.95 trade paperback (ISBN#978-0-9979550-2-6), 450 pages; $9.99 Kindle. Available on Amazon.com.

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Part One

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them. –  Albert Einstein

What is now proved was once imagined.  – William Blake

The situation is so dire that we can’t afford the luxury of realism. – Caroline Casey

My book Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence first appeared in 2010. Since then I’ve taught several college-level courses, and I’ve done dozens of book talks and radio interviews. The two most common questions that people ask me – and usually quite early in the discussion – are, what will the new myths be? and when and how will we create them?

These terribly important questions imply the common understanding that the stories we have been telling ourselves about ourselves no longer feed us, no longer provide us with a sense of identity or meaning in this rapidly changing world. The more privileged among us may understand this on an abstract level. But younger, feminist, non-white and non-gender conforming people speak of how we all need to be “woke” to the urgency of our condition and how all our significant issues are related to each other. Often, if I discuss my book or simply mention “American innocence,” they respond with a knowing interest. They get it.

But those same questions – when, how – also carry with them a characteristic American impatience with “being” in favor of “doing.” We have always preferred to think of ourselves as practical, “can-do” people who value the heights and achievements of spirit over the depths and laments of soul. We’d rather act than think things out fully, or as poet Greg Kimura wrote, to “…sit with the pain in your heart.”

The impulse to leap quickly toward solutions, to “fix” things, to “heal” our wounds, or even to address the nation’s historic crimes may also reveal something else: an unwillingness to take enough time to truly acknowledge the suffering in our midst, the diminishment of our imagination, the darkness that surrounds us, the massive grief that lies just below the surface of our “have a nice day” greetings and New Age affirmations.

So I suggest: Stop. Slow down. Consider (“to be with the stars”) just how rough our predicament really is; sit quietly, listen to the soul’s lament. Be, in Theodore Roethke’s words, “…a lord of nature weeping to a tree.”  Otherwise, how different are we from Trump supporters who, correctly perceiving that their world of white, male supremacy is collapsing all around them, can only respond by trying to fix their condition and make America great again?

When we can actually feel the grief of what we have lost, it becomes clear that long-term sustainability requires changes in consciousness as fundamental as those that occurred in the long transition from the indigenous world to the modern. This is both bad news and good. Such changes took millennia in the First World to be completed, but only a few generations in the colonized Third World. Perhaps these more recent transitions can be altered in a relatively short time. The challenge is for Americans to take the initiative and create a sustainable world in this generation, before two billion Chinese and Indians become as hopelessly addicted to materialism as we are. We cannot ask the Third World to control its growth if we will not reverse ours.

Perhaps the proper response to a great ending – of a myth, of hopes for the future, of a national dream, of the deaths of species, of the collapse of the environment – is to enter into rituals of mourning,  even as we continue to agitate for renewal. Then, new language may arise, and new visions may come not from us but through us. The paradox grows deeper when we consider Wendell Berry’s words: “Be joyful even though you’ve considered all the facts.” The King – or the Wicked Witch – is dead. Long live the new story, if we can figure out what it is.

But myths – the pre-modern, pre-patriarchal narratives that provided meaning to our ancient ancestors – grew out of the indigenous Earth and the indigenous Soul. These stories were all inconceivably old, and no one person created them. They existed as the collective dreams of entire societies long before people like Homer first wrote them down.

Still, we have to confront the questions that began this essay, and here is our paradox. We desperately need new stories, yet, as Joseph Campbell said, we can’t predict what the new myths will be any more than we can know what we’ll dream tonight.

We can imagine, however, what the new myths won’t be. They won’t express what Jeremy Lent has termed our modern metaphors that have helped to form our collective reality: nature as a machine, dominion over nature, or God as the stern, divine lawgiver.  They won’t be local or tribal.

If we survive, our stories will not fit into any of the three major patterns that crushed the older stories and have dominated our thinking for centuries since. First, they will not be stories of original sin, patriarchy, dualism, monotheism, sacrifice of the children, disconnection from the Earth, or any other simplistic, all-purpose fundamentalism. Secondly, they will not consist of the movement of dead matter from the Big Bang through billions of arbitrary combinations of elements into a life that lacks any sense of purpose. And they will not express the third alternative, the cynical view that “it’s always been like this, it’s human nature.” So it follows that they will reject capitalism’s origin myths of individualism, ruthless competition and social Darwinism.

Campbell did predict that the only myths worth talking about would have to express change, the metamorphoses of the Earth and all living beings. They would construct a mesocosm that connects all individuals to each other and to the universal macrocosm of spirit, which will be living, interdependent Nature. We can take this idea as a jumping-off point and imagine that they would characterize human beings more through our relations with others and less as separate entities. They would speak of fluid boundaries rather than the rigid walls of the ego, the corporation or the nation-state. They would emphasize diversity rather than uniformity. Power would necessarily exist in these stories, but it would bring people together and actualize their essential gifts, rather than create hierarchies of domination. The macrocosm would exist in dynamic tension with a decentralized sense of place.

Like the Hindu deities, the actors in the new myths will be aware of existing within a story. They will ask not for belief, but to be entertained. Knowing their own darkness, they will be motivated not by self-restraint, but by what they love. Aesthetics – knowing something because we love it – will become important once again. “Aesthetic passion restrains war,” writes James Hillman in A Terrible Love of War. 

Heroes will, once again, emerge from community, find a blessing in the darkness and return with it, rather than restoring innocence to Eden and disappearing into the sunset. Our concepts of gender will change when storytellers teach that the male and female principles exist in everyone in varying degrees. Stories will still contain conflict, but listeners will know that it reflects the inner dynamics of the psyche. Tellers will learn that the most important stories will be best told in certain places, at certain times, to certain people.

It’s already happening. For fifty years, images of the Whole Earth have begun to focus this story for us. as17-148-22727_lrg.jpg?w=224&h=224&profile=RESIZE_710xScientific ideas such as the Gaia Hypothesis suggest that the planet’s natural systems reveal long-term self-regulation, like “the behavior of a single organism, even a living creature,” as biologist James Lovelock writes.

Another metaphor and set of images, the Web of Life, describes the interconnectedness of any living ecosystem or social grouping. When one strand is broken, the web starts to unravel. screen-shot-2016-03-18-at-12.23.34-pm-1024x975.png?w=168&h=160&profile=RESIZE_710xWhat affects one part of an ecosystem affects the whole in some way. Such thinking brings us back to old notions such as the Ubuntu philosophy of Southern Africa – “I am because we are” – or the anima mundi– the soul of the world – which speaks to us through the unconscious images of dreams and art.

Sometimes healing comes through memory, in the creative re-framing of one’s story. The ancient Greeks told of how memory herself, Mnemosyne, mated with Zeus and birthed the Muses, those nine goddesses who reverse the work of Father Time, Kronos, the god who eats his children.

Part Two

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination. – John Keats

The Virgin returns and the Golden Age begins anew. – Virgil

Be joyful even though you’ve considered all the facts. – Wendell Berry

Now we are called to remember immensely ancient things that we have never personally known – to remember what the land itself knows, that which has been concealed from us by our own mythologies, and those forgotten imaginal beings on the other side of the veil. As Martin Shaw writes,

Maybe this is how we seem to the gods now: that one day one of them gently reached over and turned down the volume…Maybe it’s not that we can’t hear the gods but that they can’t hear us.

We have the opportunity to remember who we are, and how our ancestors remembered, through art and ritual. Our task is unique: inviting something new, yet familiar, to re-enter the soul of the world.

Re-membering requires the re-emergence of cultural forms to counter our amnesia (“against Mnemosyne”), our forgetting that we have forgotten so much. Once these forms have arisen to create the containers – the sense that it is finally safe enough to feel and grieve what has been lost – then all the marginalized and split-off aspects of psyche and society may well return. Welcomed back rather than merely tolerated, the old gods may be more helpful than vengeful, appearing as guides rather than (as Jung wrote) as diseases.

As chronological time recedes back into cyclic time, remembering offers visions of the future as well as the past. It offers the possibility of resolution (“finding solutions again”). We may perceive that our crises as well as our solutions have a periodic, cyclic nature. We may find that we have faced disaster (“against the stars”) before and survived.

We may discover that the meanings of many of our religious symbols (such as the cross, the snake and the tree of life) have shifted radically over the centuries, from symbols of life and rebirth to symbols of death, and that we can change them back again. The new stories, seemingly fresh and original, will actually be a return to origins. We may then pay more attention to the words of our remaining indigenous elders and look backwards in order to see forward. Perhaps we will see the return of the Goddess, along with her son/consort.

Many origin myths begin in images of perfection and typically fall into a few basic scenarios. One is the decline from a pure, golden race to an era of strife and ignorance (the Greek version). A second is paradise lost, the fall from innocence into knowledge and sin (the Hebrew myth). Christianity extends the second to apocalyptic finality. Modernity has contributed myths of progress, from lower to higher (the technological utopia), from sin to salvation (the religious solution) or to the Marxist paradise of equality.

Other traditions, however, such as Astrology, Tantric Buddhism and Hindu cosmology, speak of vast cosmic cycles. mandala-kalachakra.jpg?w=182&h=182&profile=RESIZE_710xThey offer, among other things, the possibility of a (re-) emerging story, the myth of matricentric (not matriarchal) origin. This is a narrative of times when all genders lived in partnership, and it allows us to imagine our own myth of return, and the return of myth.

Skeptics might suggest that it simply re-tells Biblical myth, with the onset of patriarchy – women’s fall from grace – substituting for the departure from Eden. But the Goddess is not a mirror image of the omnipotent, omniscient, angry Heavenly Father. She is the inherent spiritual capacity in every individual, our most ancient image of the soul. She exists in all beings that paradoxically emerge from and return to her.a1wheelrealm-56a0c4133df78cafdaa4d32c.jpg?w=168&h=207&profile=RESIZE_710x In a non-linear story, remembering leads to the possibility of re-experiencing the past, both as pleasure and as suffering, and this can lead to releasing the binds that prevent people – and peoples – from moving on to the next turning of the wheel.

With both the remaining indigenous wisdom as well as the new tools of archetypal psychology available to us, we can – we have to – reconstruct the original power dynamic between male and female. If we en-storied a full psychic life in which good and bad, dark and light exist within everyone, the Other would become us, and our fear of him would diminish. Then other distinctions – race, class and nation – might wither away as well.

Myths change exceedingly slowly. After all, it took perhaps 5,000 years for the myths of patriarchy and monotheism to become fully constellated across the planet. And yet, these stories have begun to crack in our lifetimes. The growth of feminism (and spiritual feminism, as well as the mythopoetic men’s movement that arose in response to it) speaks of the return of the Goddess. This narrative is already approaching mythic proportions not simply because millions entertain its images of female (and black, brown, red, yellow and gay) empowerment, but because it pulls us away from linear history, towards the cyclic processes of nature. This story of equality between genders (not, I must repeat, as women ruling over men) invites us to ask: If it happened once, why can’t it happen again?

We all understand the bumper sticker: “She’s back, and she’s pissed!” Has She returned raging and inconsolable, or can She accept our tears of remorse? Can we welcome Her by remembering things deep in our bones, what the land itself knows, and how our ancestors remembered? It is still within the power of the human community to influence the nature of Her return, and the method is ritual.

We can invoke her in two ways. First, by restoring the creative imagination. To Federico Garcia Lorca, imagination “…fixes and gives clear life to fragments of the invisible reality…”  We can replicate the original processes of myth making – by telling as many alternative stories, as often as possible, until, perhaps, some of them coalesce into world stories.

Secondly, we must engage in the rituals – and do the arts – that allow us to bypass what I call the predatory and paranoid imaginations. We must become comfortable with poetry and metaphor. We must deliberately use sacred language, in the subjunctive mode: what ifperhaps, suppose, may it be so, make believe, let’s pretend – and play. Then, says Lorca, we move from dreaming to desiring. Now, all creative acts have political implications. Dianne Di Prima writes, “The only war that matters is the war against the imagination.”

Can we imagine a society like Bali – where people practice all the arts so universally, on such a daily basis, bali-dance-400x300.jpg?w=192&h=144&profile=RESIZE_710xthat they have no word for “art,” where communal creativity balances the worlds of the living and the unseen?

Many would argue that for 25 years the best – certainly the most popular – new American poetry has been disseminated orally, along with computers and video. Print – for the first time in 500 years – has lost its primacy in communication.  It is as if the smothering blandness of TV that birthed “couch potatoes” who no longer read also brought forth a compensating expression in the spoken word. Poets and storytellers counteract the flood of images being pounded into the brain by our electronic initiators. In a noisy time, the mouth begins to speak. It is no coincidence that the most vibrant language is coming not from the academy at the center of the culture, but from the periphery, from the streets, in Hip-Hop, in poetry “slams,” and from the young and disenfranchised who refused to be silenced. Lalo Delgado spoke from that place:

stupid america,

see that chicano

with a big knife

in his steady hand

he doesn’t want to knife you

he wants to sit on a bench

and carve christ figures

but you won’t let him.

stupid america, hear that chicano

shouting curses on the street

he is a poet

without paper and pencil

and since he cannot write

he will explode.

stupid america, remember that chicanito

flunking math and english

he is the picasso

of your western states

but he will die

with one thousand masterpieces

hanging only from his mind.

And movies: In the final scene of the brilliant 2018 film Blindspotting, a very angry African-American man has a chance to shoot a corrupt and murderous policeman, knowing that he won’t be caught. th-1-e1561757717755.jpg?w=183&h=134&profile=RESIZE_710xBut he chooses poetry over violence, the symbolic over the literal. It’s no coincidence, by the way, that Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, the writers and two main actors of this film, actually did spend their teenage years reciting poetry in the superb Youth Speaks program.

These voices from the margins offer white America the tremendous opportunity to welcome the Other, and in doing so, to discover that the path home is no straight and narrow superhighway. There are mixed messages everywhere. It is comforting to me to realize that some ancient languages were comfortable with ambiguity. The Greek word xenos (“stranger”) is the root of our modern – and all too common – word xenophobia (“fear of the stranger”). But, depending on its context in a sentence, xenos can also mean “guest.”

For four hundred years, white Americans have chosen to see black, red and brown people – and, for a very long time, women and gays – as unacceptably lesser than “we the people,” to carry the labels of unclean, unreliable, over-sexed, lazy and/or violent. But the new stories will remind us that we can choose to welcome the demonized Other and invite everything that America has forced outside the gates of the city back inside.

When we tell stories – myths – about how the Stranger becomes the Guest, when we agree that the darkness we’ve required him or her to hold is also part of us, that darkness becomes our blessing. The Muses, those daughters of Memory, collected the scattered limbs of dismembered bodies; it was they – art – who reassemble what the madness of the world, and the madmen who rule us, rip apart.

Part Three

Anything dead coming back to life hurts.  –  Toni Morrison

Breakdown is breakthrough. – Marshal McLuhan

The visionary is the only true realist. – Federico Fellini

Remember, and failing that, invent. – Monique Wittig

Reframing

 Our task is to do more than simply deconstruct outmoded belief systems. They hold us not merely because of generations of indoctrination, but because of their mythic content. They grab us, as all myths do, because they refer to profound truths at the core of things. If those truths have been corrupted to serve a culture of death, they still remain truths, and they remain accessible through the creative imagination.

We cannot simply drop myths by virtue of realizing that they are myths; perhaps we must go further into them. The methods for doing so are ritual, art and seeing through – de-literalizing – the predatory and paranoid imaginations back to their source in the creative imagination. It may mean telling the same stories but reframing them until we discover their essence. In Native American terms, we will need to search for our original medicine.

Americans have some advantages in our worship of change and our characteristic assumption that newer is better. Our fascination with the new masks our anxiety about the present, our grief at how diminished our lives have become and our fear of being erased in a demythologized future. But it also awakens the archetypal drive to slough off old skin and be reborn into a deeper (not higher) identity. We can cook down the cliché, “We want a better future for our children” to: “We want to be remembered as ancestors by those who come after us.” We can use this fascination with change to escape the myth of progress. As ceremonies of the status quo evolve into authentic ritual, change can become transformation.

New myths are attempting to manifest. The other world is offering help, but indigenous wisdom insists upon our full participation. As Caroline Casey says, ritual etiquette requires that we ask for help – “Cooperators are standing by!” We will develop that capacity as we build our willingness to imagine. This is why the renewal of the oral tradition is so important; poetry enables us to go beyond the literal and think metaphorically.

Re-imagining America’s Purpose

So myths, even deceitful political myths, stick with us for good reason. They grab us because their potency rests on a core of truth. America provides a unique challenge in the study of myth because, except for Native stories, none of our myths arise from this ground, nor do they offer us a path to the archetypal soul. Still, they have no less a hold on us because they are only ten or fifteen generations old. Understanding their contradictions will not make them go away. But if we assume the existence of telos – purpose – we must imagine that even the myths of American innocence and violent redemption can lead us to the universal archetypes. If we can hold the tension of these opposites (the myths and the realities) perhaps we can begin to re-articulate meaning in a world that is descending alternately into chaos and fascism. If we cannot disengage from our myths, then we need to look deeper into them.

To speculate on the deeper meaning of our civil religion is to risk falling into a morass of cliché. For 400 years, apologists, from evangelists and penny novelists to Radio Free Europe, Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones, have presented an America divinely ordained to defend freedom (read as: military coups), nurture democracy (repress self-determination), spread prosperity (steal resources) and inspire opportunity (enforce racial oppression). The purpose of this mythic language, however, is to tug at our emotions, and it remains surprisingly effective. Even when we know better, we want America to be what it claims to be – we want to believe – or disappointed, we go to the other extreme, give in to cynicism and disengage from public involvement. Indeed, cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophecy; as fewer vote, the rest are more easily manipulated.

But – stay with me for a moment – what if America really was born so that freedom could spread everywhere? What if our uniquely good fortune has been the container for a story that has not yet been told? As James Hillman would have asked, what does the symptom want from us? What if the lies of four centuries have been waiting for us to transform them into truths?

Our American cosmogony begins, as all do, with the original “deities” (the Pilgrims and, eventually the founding fathers) who created a world out of “nothing.” If we take a radical perspective, we acknowledge that from the start, their new world functioned to concentrate and perpetuate wealth through any means, including genocide. American history becomes a series of conquests, painful expansions of freedom and counter-measures to protect privilege, culminating in today’s bleak realities. The rich vs. the poor, or the predatory and paranoid imaginations vs. the return of the repressed.

Alternatively, we can take a philosophical approach. Jacob Needleman insists that the founding fathers were spiritual men, adherents of a timeless wisdom, who created a system to “allow men and women to seek their own higher principles within themselves.” The nation was formed of unique ideals and potentials, not from ethnicity; and this explains its universal appeal, even if those ideals have been perverted into their opposites by men far less mature than those founding fathers. The American Dream vs. the nightmare of dreams deferred.

Or we can muse poetically about what is approaching, if we could only recognize its song. Time/Kronos vs. Memory/Mnemosyne. From this perspective, we could read our history as a baffling, painful, contraction- and contradiction-filled birth passage in which the literal has always hinted at the symbolic. Or, as I wrote in Chapter Seven of my book: We must understand their genocidal projections on another level entirely, as a blundering and childish search for healing through re-connection to the Other. This process has occurred specifically through the influence of African-American music. Stephen Diggs has called it “America’s Alchemical history.” Also see Michael Ventura’s great essay, Hear That Long Snake Moan.

If America remembered its song as This Land Is Your Land rather than through “bombs bursting in air,” perhaps we would understand freedom as willing submission to the soul’s purpose. Woody Guthrie vs Francis Scott Key. woodyguthrie.gif?w=181&h=262&profile=RESIZE_710xPerhaps we would understand liberty as the social conditions that allow that inner, spiritual listening to happen. Acceptance of diversity and multiculturalism might reflect back to us the vast spaces of the polytheistic soul, and conflict would be about holding the tension of the opposites to create a third thing, something entirely new. We might remember that the purpose of “self-improvement” is service to the communal good, and that individualism points us toward our unique individuality. May it be so.

Remembering its true song, America would remember its body – Mother Earth – and this would mean the end of both Puritanism and its predatory shadow, those twin beasts that have ravaged the bodies of actual women. Connecting in this sacred manner to the land would naturally lead to rituals of atonement for the way we have treated her, and to a revival of the festivals that celebrate the decline of the old and birth of the new. New Year’s Day could become a national day of atonement – a Yom Kippur – to acknowledge our transgressions and our willingness to start anew. On Independence Day (now Interdependence Day), we would reaffirm that such a start requires the support of the larger community of spirits and ancestors.

Remembering America’s song would allow us to overcome our shameful and brutal contempt for our own children and to see them for who they are, rather than as projection screens for adult fantasies of innocence or retribution. Our national narratives with their deadly subtexts of child sacrifice would become stories of initiation, renewal and reunion with the Other. Then, unlike Pentheus (“Man of suffering”) in The Bacchae, America would have no need to taunt the immense force of repressed otherness by bellowing, as did George W. Bush, “Bring it on!”

And now the Other, in all its colors and genders, will have emerged from the darkness and responded, asking us to join the rest of humanity as a “nation of suffering.” If we saw ourselves in this light – not the direct sunshine of innocence, but the dim glow of an old campfire – we would understand our addiction to violence as a projection of that initiatory death (that we secretly desire) onto the world, and onto our children. We would withdraw those projections, putting them back where they belong, into the ritual containers of the community and the self. There we would meet the Stranger who has been inviting white America to dance; and we would know him as our self. This would open our imagination further; we would define ourselves in terms of what we are and not by what we aren’t.

It would be obvious that democracy is meaningless when restricted to a small elite who force scapegoats to suffer. Shared suffering is the great gift otherness offers us. We would realize that if we suffered together in a ritual container, democracy would invite a higher (in Christian terms, the Holy Spirit) or deeper (in pagan terms, the spirit of the land) intelligence that could resolve conflict. We would realize that an appropriate metaphor has already arisen out of this land: the spirit of Jazz improvisation. Here is what Wynton Marsalis told Ken Burns in the TV series Jazz:

… to play Jazz, you’ve got to listen (to each other). The music forces you at all times to address what other people are thinking, and for you to interact with them with empathy …it gives us a glimpse into what America is going to be when it becomes itself.

Comfortable with nuance, complexity and the vast gradations between black and white, we would realize that we had already dropped our fascination with evil. As in the Aramaic language, we would view destructive behavior as unripe, as a cry for help, and we would know compassion.

Finally, as an initiated nation, we could cook “innocence” down to its essence. Our own light would no longer blind us. We would drop our grandiosity and arrogance. We would no longer wonder, “Why do they hate us so?” Innocence would signify the most basic of all mythic ideas: the new start. Then America could offer the song that the world has always seen in us: not that of a consumer paradise, a destructive adolescent or a wrathful father, but of the ancient story about what makes us human, the rare and lucky opportunity to accomplish what we came here to do. The new start.

The new has been starting for some time already. In 2004, even as America was laying waste to Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Museum of the American Indian

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National Museum of the American Indian

opened on Washington’s National Mall. Richard West, its first Director, proclaimed at its dedication ceremony,“Welcome to Native America!…The Great Mystery…walks beside your work and touches all the good you attempt.”

Ultimately, we heal ourselves and the culture by re-membering what we came here to do. This is how we dream new myths, one person at a time. The old knowledge has never completely left us. The spirits could meet us halfway, but they need to know that we’re willing to work with them. Indeed, the point may not be the content of the new stories, but how we arrive at them. There is a great hunger, and a great opportunity. Long ago, the Persian poet Hafiz wrote:

The great religions are ships; poets are the lifeboats.

Every sane person I know has jumped overboard.

This is good for business, isn’t it, Hafiz?

Dionysus invites us to drop our outdated identities, emerge from the initiatory fires, announce our purpose and dance our way home, welcomed by people who have never forgotten our song. It’s a hell of a story. As Rumi says, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Read more…

Part One

Readers of this blog may recall that one of the basic aspects of the myth of American Innocence is what I have called the Paranoid Imagination. Previous essays on this subject include The Paranoid Imagination, Porn (Parts one and Two) and Sacrilicious! (Parts One and Two). Here, I’d like to review some of those thoughts and then show one of the ways the paranoid imagination expresses itself in our current political madness.

The paranoid imagination is rooted in the constant anxiety that our Puritan ancestors experienced. It combines rigid literalism, eternal vigilance, creative sadism, contempt for the erotic, obsessive voyeurism and an impenetrable wall of innocence.

Its practitioners put a fundamental – and fundamentalist – stamp on American consciousness with this simple statement: human nature was utterly corrupt, and the only escape was through grace.  Furthermore, the Calvinist doctrine of predestination declared that from the beginning all persons had been either condemned or saved. But who was in which category? Their anxiety arose from the fact that no one could ever be certain of their salvation. They were at war with the self yet unable to escape it.

Their only respite from the weight of original sin was to project their guilt onto others. Since they defined loss of self-control as the basis for all sins, their answer to the perceived disorder in the world was unrelenting discipline. Christianity’s hatred of the body (and the rage it engendered) reached its extreme among those Puritans who loathed sensuality and mistrusted (and – this is crucial – envied) those who couldn’t or wouldn’t “crucify their lusts.”

Let’s consider three basic assumptions of depth psychology. First: whatever consciously disgusts us by may well be something that we unconsciously desire. We repress unacceptable fantasies with fear and loathing.

Second: that which is repressed will eventually force its way into consciousness, and the more forceful the re-pression, the stronger – and potentially more destructive – the eventual ex-pression.

Third: as above, so below. These principles are true both for individuals and  large groups. And because the myth of America began in such a state of extreme psychological repression combined with an ideology of freedom, we can observe the effects more clearly in our society and history than anywhere else.

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Since Puritanism had decreed that propriety and cleanliness were external indications of a clean soul, bodily needs continually reminded them of their original, corrupt nature. Since they experienced constant fear – and fantasies – of pollution, they rigidly enforced moral standards. Calvinism’s “most urgent task,” wrote sociologist Max Weber, was “the destruction of spontaneous, impulsive enjoyment.”

This led directly to another aspect of the Paranoid Imagination: the fear and hatred of images. New England Puritanism (and most of America’s intellectuals and writers for several generations were Puritans) attempted to regulate the internal fantasies of all members of the community. Theologically astute but psychologically ignorant, they never seemed to realize that the more one tries to control or eliminate images, the more we are obsessed with them and the more they demand recognition (“to think about again”).

So it should be no surprise that one of the shadow aspects of puritanism has always been the obsession with those same images. The paranoid imagination seeks itself: it constantly projects its fantasies outward onto the Other and then proceeds to demonize it. It is not simply desire, but detailed images of desire, that they project upon the Other.

This is the only way that such a person can allow his fantasies into awareness, by seeing them on the projection screen of another person.

Theology and economics combined to create yet another source of their anxiety: Just as American Protestants were condemning the body and its lusts, they were also embodying the most radical form of individualism the world has ever seen. Even as they demonized those others (red natives and black slaves) upon whom they had projected the inability to control themselves, they were working out the details of a mythology that still speaks of unlimited, capitalistic opportunity and personal freedom, including the freedom to ignore centralized authority and (in its 21st-century form) all restrictions on personal behavior.

This is crazy-making. Americans value freedom of choice above all, and yet we often scorn or even hate people who make (or appear to make) personal lifestyle choices that we disapprove of. Consider, for example, those who despise big government’s potential to restrain their business opportunities, but would use its power to take abortion rights away from women. Such “libertarians” express the inherent hypocrisy of our myths.

In time, capitalism’s relentless logic transformed a religious, if flawed, impulse into the drive for conspicuous consumption. Over three centuries, Americans gradually shifted from being primarily producers to being primarily consumers. They began by enshrining gain without pleasure and ended with a wasteful and unsatisfying national addiction to “stuff.”

But this transition evoked tremendous guilt, so the con men of advertising were there every step of the way to assist the process. And they knew the power of images, especially the power of the return of the repressed.

(A quick digression: Take note at this point that after the 1960s, the Republican Party began to take great advantage of this power, directing its vast resources toward both the attractive imagery of “family values” and the fear-mongering of racial hatred. As elected Democrats – most of whom are law school graduates – appealed to rational self-interest, Republicans – most of whom attend business school and actually study human motivation – concentrated on divisive rhetoric and imagery.)

Long before, wrote Phillip Slater, civilization had invented artificial scarcity by restricting the availability of something that theoretically isn’t scarce – sexual gratification. Although most societies do this to some extent, capitalism takes it much further. Advertising attaches sexual interest to inaccessible, nonexistent or irrelevant objects and motivates people to work endlessly for rewards that may never come. Throughout the 20th century, the American genius of marketing has been to associate images of the unattainable female body with consumer products. Crazy-making.  Slater, however, wrote,

 …there is no way to gratify a desire with a symbol… an emotional long shot that will never pay off. They will work their lives away to achieve a love that is unattainable.

For centuries, the Inquisition – Catholicism’s ritual of purification – had produced a constant state of fear across Europe. A Protestant version took strong root in America, and it periodically re-surfaces in epidemics of scapegoating. Inquisitions are characterized by highly imaginative cruelty perpetrated for the good of the accused. As Blaise Pascal wrote, “Men never do evil so fully and cheerfully as when we do it out of conscience.” This idea of “therapeutic coercion” can be traced back to St. Augustine, who wrote of “forcibly returning the heretics to the real banquet of the Lord.” More recently, American officers in Viet Nam claimed that they had to “destroy the village in order to save it.”

So another aspect of the paranoid imagination, celebrated repeatedly in the Old Testament, is the idea of genocidal yet redemptive violence: “The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Note the complex imagery in the following examples:

Roman authorities claimed that Christians: “… burn with incestuous passions…with unspeakable lust they copulate in random unions…”

Medieval art depicts the Last Judgment with detailed scenes of naked bodies subjected to (almost) inconceivable torture. The blessed, however, will enjoy these scenes. Saint Thomas Aquinas declared that in Heaven, “…a perfect view is granted them of the tortures of the damned.”

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The greatest  work of medieval literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy, especially the Inferno, has dozens of examples of the most creative punishments. Here is one of my favorites:

 The tears of all these sinners down their backs

Were flowing, trickling through their buttocks’ crack.

But Catholics did have a rich tradition of liturgy, ritual, incense, stained-glass images, sculpture and music (for centuries their were no pews in churches; people dancedin church). There was a strong, if conflicted appreciation of the feminine principle in the worship of the Virgin Mary. And individuals were confidant of a first-rate afterlife if they followed the strictures of the church.

Protestantism uprooted almost all of this, including the feminine principle. Martin Luther preached, “Ye shall sing no more praises to Our Lady, only to our Lord.” It gave the individual worshipper a personal relationship to God, but it constricted his imagination. That is, in leaving him in the state of anxiety I have described, it took away all but his natural, erotic nature, which now had nowhere to go but toward his paranoid imagination, toward self-hatred.

We can perceive both the anxiety and the envy in Martin Luther’s 1543 treatise “On the Ineffable Name and the Generations of Christ,” where he imagines the Devil stuffing the Jews’ orifices with filth:

He stuffs and squirts them so full, that it overflows and swims out of every place, pure Devil’s filth, yes, it tastes so good to their hearts, and they guzzle it like sows…When Judas Iscariot hanged himself, so that his guts ripped, and as happens to those who are hanged, his bladder burst, then the Jews had their golden cans and silver bowls ready, to catch the Judas piss…and afterwards together they ate the shit.

Forty years later, the English Puritan Phillip Stubbs ranted on about old customs that would not go away:

All the young men and maids, old men and wives, run gadding over night to the woods…where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes; and in the morning they return, bringing with them…their May pole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus: they have twenty or forty yoke of oxen, every ox having a sweet nose-gay of flowers placed on the tip of his horns, and these oxen draw home this May pole (this stinking idol, rather) which is covered all over with flowers and herbs, bound round with strings, from the top to the bottom, and sometimes painted with variable colours, with three hundred men, women, and children following with great devotion. And thus being reared up…they fall to dance about it, like as the heathen people did at the dedication of the Idols….I have heard it credibly reported…that of forty, three-score, or a hundred maids going to the wood over night, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home again undefiled.

And there was no longer a place for images. Sixty years after that, Puritans under Oliver Cromwell were desecrating the artwork in thousands of English churches, continuing a tradition of iconoclasm dating back to Byzantium, Islam and the Biblical hatred of idolatry. This tradition would resurface in their twentieth century crusades against pornography and gay marriage – and in their obsession with the images that have always hidden just under the surface.

And the most basic characteristic that they projected onto the Other has been its Dionysian refusal to restrain its own animal – and human – impulses. “The Devil,” said John Milton, “has the best music.”

A hundred years later, when evangelist Jonathan Edwards continued the old fire-and-brimstone tradition (“The sight of hell-torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever…”), his audiences could both shiver in fright for themselves and also righteously condemn their neighbors.

In Part Two of this essay I will invite you to (carefully) enter the minds of some of our contemporary Puritans.

Part Two

The paranoid imagination seeks itself: it constantly projects its unacceptable fantasies outward. This is the only way some people can see (and potentially know) themselves: in the image of the demonized Other. In such a world of repressed desire, this is the only avenue open to healing.

Seventeenth-Century Protestants believed that both salvation and perdition fell on them as individuals. Yet paradoxically, the entire community might suffer for one person’s sins. So each person was responsible for upholding group morality. Individual sin polluted, with consequences for all New England. Ministers addressed condemned criminals (and by implication everyone else) with “execution sermons”:

You must be cut off by a violent and dreadful death. For indeed the anger of the Lord would fall upon this whole Country where your sin hath been committed, if you should be suffered to live.

They expressed their unending anxiety with this question: What will happen to us all if we allowed them to sin? What did the Puritans repress? How do we know our contemporary Puritans? As far back as 403 B.C., the Greek tragedian Euripides was already considering these themes in The Bacchae, where the hyper-puritan King Pentheus admits to his fantasy:

… if I climbed that towering fir…then I could see their shameless orgies better.

He climbs the tree, high up in the air of detached observation, far from the ground of being, the ground of the body, the humus; and so he calls forth his own humiliation, indeed, the destruction of his judgmental, puritan identity.

The most extreme of these gatekeepers of public morality take the voyeurism one important step further. It is not simply desire, but images of desire, that they project upon the Other. We find so many examples of such bizarre and intimately detailed moralizing that we must ask, what are they so afraid of? Indeed, what do they actually desire? Don’t those images come from their own fevered imaginations?

The clues to the real issues are in the Puritan’s own fantasies. In 1889, one firebrand ranted against babysitters who allegedly allowed children to masturbate: “…the crime could hardly have been worse had the nurse…cut the throats of those innocent children…” This person didn’t find that image; he invented it.

Why are we so obsessed not simply with defining smut and sin, but with describing it? And what are we so afraid of? James Hillman answers: “The free-flow of fantasy images. We don’t know where the fantasy might go.” It might take us out of our comfort zone, the zone of control. “After all,” writes John Jervis, “…sex represents the opposite of mastery of the body: an irrational subordination to the body…”

But the more images are controlled, the more we are obsessed with them and the more they demand recognition (“to think about again”). In 1991 the Supreme Court agreed that Indiana could close a private club that advertised nude dancing. Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion:

The purpose of Indiana’s nudity law would be violated…if sixty thousand fully consenting adults crowded into the Hoosier Dome to display their genitals to one another, even if there were not an offended innocent in the crowd.

Would Puritans be so disturbed by naked dancing if the act didn’t already exist in their imagination? Nobody prodded Scalia to visualize sixty thousand adults displaying their genitals. His imagination produced them. Similarly, Presidential contender Rick Santorum (don’t google “Santorum”!) muses:

If the Supreme Court says that you have a right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy…to polygamy… to incest…to adultery. You have the right to anything!..That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog…

Santorum doesn’t approve of gays in the military either, because “They’re in close quarters, they live with people, they obviously shower with people.

Indeed. Don’t they care so deeply about these images because they can’t stop thinking about them? homosexuality-is-an-abomination-to-god-almighty-never-misses-a-57448604-e1561073961300.png?w=298&h=348&profile=RESIZE_710xBut here is their dilemma: they can’t allow their desires into awareness with a clean conscience unless they have demonized them and displaced them onto someone else. Once they have done this, they can feel entitled to communicate them in public and invite the Grand Inquisitor back.

Now I’m not so innocent as to assume that such salesmen actually thought up these images. Very likely, their speechwriters and handlers invented them. But the principle remains: these rants go out, daily, to audiences of millions who willingly consume them. The real political issue – and the real target – is the huge swath of flyover state white males who share those fantasies, and the white females who succumb to the fear of rape. And I’m not so insensitive as to imply that more than a few women – or men – secretly fantasize about being raped. Still, it’s curious that “rape,” “raptor” and “rapture” share the same etymology.

I don’t think Antonin Scalia had a speechwriter. He may have been less a charlatan than a true believer. In another Supreme Court debate in which he defended hyper-violent video games (while simultaneously condemning sex in those same video games), he argued:

So what if children’s active minds are engaged in decisions in which people are…dismembered, decapitated, disemboweled, set on fire and chopped into little pieces…Disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.

Unless, of course, that disgust is about nudity. And – whoever actually writes this stuff – the paranoid imagination that secretly desires what it outwardly condemns appears to be nearly infinite.

How about Texas politician Cynthia Dunbar, who writes that that sending children to public schools would be like “throwing them into the enemy’s flames, even as the children of Israel threw their children to Moloch.”

The best of the fantasies coincide with the broader agenda of fear-mongering. Ted Cruz warns that Iran could set off an “Electro Magnetic Pulse” over the east coast, killing tens of millions. Mike Huckabee garnered more publicity with this one: Obama is “marching Israelis to the door of the oven” by agreeing to the Iran nuclear deal. (American Jewish supporters of Israel would do well to remember that Huckabee’s fantasy is absolutely consistent with the hugely popular “Christian Zionist” view that, come the Apocalypse, all Jews will either convert or be killed).

By 2015, as traditional forms and expressions of masculinity and white supremacy were being questioned as never before (think Caitlyn Jenner), the question of same-sex marriage was provoking both a profound fear and a major fundraising opportunity for those who troll those white males who feel powerless in this new world.

Texas senator John Cornyn argues, “It does not affect your daily life…if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right…” Cornyn’s imagination conjured pictures of inter-species marriage.

Pat Robertson wonders if a man who “likes to have sex with ducks” should be protected by hate crime legislation. Not to be outdone, Bill O’Reilly has mused about marrying ducks, goats and dolphins. Or threesomes:

Not only Lenny, but Squiggy too. All right? Or I walk in with the O’Brien twins from South Boston and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to marry me, because you’re allowing gays to get married.’

In a broken political system where most elected Democrats are too timid to criticize Israel, stand up for real gun control or defend the shrinking welfare state, the Republicans can run wild with hyperbole; their choir loves this stuff – for more reasons than they may suspect.

We could go on, and, since this is America, I will.

A disgusted South Dakota county clerk threatens to marry her dog if gay marriage passes. Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth: “I don’t mean to be absurd about it, but I guess I can make the point of absurdity with an absurd point — I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse.” Mike Huckabee again:

Now I wish that someone told me when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” Huckabee said. “I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’

Remember Anita Bryant? “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.” Even non-politician celebrities get involved. Actor Jeremy Irons regrets that same-sex marriage will lead to “fathers marrying sons.”

I will grant (thank God!) that the paranoid imagination can sometimes intend to be humorous. Pastor David Vaughn writes:

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that everyone has a constitutional right to marry anyone (or anything), I have come to a huge decision. I have decided to marry bacon… don’t criticize me or be intolerant. That would be ‘ham’aphobic!

The comments about interspecies marriage are jokes, and they potentially carry a sense of good-natured debating points. But when they evoke that old question of therapeutic coercion, it gets much darker, because now they twist the idea (or the fantasy) until they claim to be the victims. Michele Bachmann:

…the public school system, they will be required to learn that homosexuality is normal, equal and perhaps you should try it. And that will occur immediately, that all schools will begin teaching homosexuality.

Theologian (and lawyer) Mat Staver accuses Obama of backing “Forced Homosexuality,” while former Texas Congressman Tom DeLay “Knows Of Secret DOJ Memo To Legalize 12 New Perversions, Including Bestiality And Pedophilia.” Alex Jones: “I’m not anti-marriage equality, but it’s a plan to make us ‘asexual humanoids.’” Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: “We can’t stop ‘Real Evil’ if we accept transgender people.”

Chris Christie: “A women’s Viagra pill will only increase lesbianism.” Glenn Beck: Hillary Clinton will be “having sex with a woman on the White House desk if it becomes popular”.

Pat Robertson accuses gays of wearing special rings to intentionally spread HIV:

There are laws…that prohibit people from discussing this particular affliction, you can tell somebody you had a heart attack, you can tell them they’ve got high blood pressure, but you can’t tell anybody you’ve got AIDS. You know what they do in San Francisco, some in the gay community there they want to get people so if they got the stuff they’ll have a ring, you shake hands, and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger. Really. It’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.

Pastor Kevin Swanson, on what he’d do if his son married a man:

What would you do if that was the case? Here is what I would do: Sackcloth and ashes at the entrance to the church and I’d sit in cow manure and I’d spread it all over my body!…These are the people with the sores! The gaping sores! The sores that are pussy (sic) and gross and people are coming in and carving happy faces on the sores! That’s not a nice thing to do! Don’t you dare carve happy faces on open, pussy (sic) sores!

John Hagee (whose  programs are broadcast on 50 radio stations and 160 TV stations) calls For “Prosecuting women who say God’s name during intercourse” and suggests that “God made all lesbians flat so they could be identified by normal people easily.”

Pastor Rick Scarborough offers a unique theory: “God would cure breast cancer if our women stopped having dirty fantasies.” A leaked Mormon guidebook explains how masturbation leads to homosexuality and crime. Reverend James David Manning asserts that “…sodomites will carry babies in their testicles for nine months and then gestate them out of their assholes before this church is closed.”

Lest I be accused of hating exclusively on America, a prominent Iranian cleric teaches that men who fantasize about other women while impregnating their wives will cause their children to be gay.  It’s an interesting example, because as I have written elsewhere, there is a clear resemblance between the far-right warmongers and puritans in both Iran and the U.S.

Moving on: “Christians are being taken off the face of the earth,” radio host Rick Wiles warns. Michael Savage rants, “As they start throwing pastors in prison, you’ll see who’ll cheer them. Next we’ll get the arena and the lions…” Preacher Jack Graham says that 16 million Baptists are “prepared to go to jail” to fight the ruling. Sylvia Thompson blogs:

More and more Americans will be persecuted, prosecuted, and imprisoned as this Court ruling goes into effect…All of America will then grasp what homofascism truly means.

Another radio pastor, Tim Barton: “Yes, come out and have sex with us — have to participate. They’re going to force participation and that’s what we’re seeing around the country.”

Homofacism? Forced Homosexuality? Perhaps, in displacing leather-jacketed authoritarianism onto gays, these people (or their scriptwriters) are getting down to the real fantasies. Given half a chance, wouldn’t such men, and they are mostly men, enact the role of an angry, Old-Testament God who, unique in all of the world’s mythologies, created the entire world without a wife?

The ironies deepen: As recently as ten years ago, bestiality was legal in most of the states that banned same-sex marriage. Both the ignorance and the consequences deepen as well, writes Jordan Smith: 

The federal government began funding so-called Abstinence-Only Until Marriage programs in 1981 as a way to encourage “chastity” and “self-discipline.” Since then, the feds have poured more than $2 billion into this strategy — commonly known as “ab-only” — without any proven positive effects, like delaying sexual activity or avoiding unintended pregnancy. In recent years, that funding had been in decline, in part because research…shows that the programs do not work. But in an ironic twist, they’re now making a comeback. Trump…has asked that abstinence funding be increased. And…he got his wish, enough to bring total spending on abstinence up to $100 million for 2018.

Abstaining or not, residents of the Bible Belt consistently lean the nation in consumption of gay porn. 

————————————————————————-

What are they so afraid of? In 2002, Congress considered a bill to suppress the all-night dance parties, or raves, in which MDMA (“ecstasy”) is consumed. It was called  – wait for it – the RAVE bill: “Reducing America’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy.” This is a long way from tribal cultures that consider ecstasy both a fundamental right as well as insurance against violence, or from the rites of Dionysus, in which, writes Christine Downing, “Ritually sanctioned ‘raving’ protected against true insanity.”

All literalists of both the right (Christian, Jewish or Muslim) or left (feminist or communist) assume no difference between fantasy and action and believe that having “lust in one’s heart,” as Jimmy Carter confessed, is the same as enacting it. But the more we recognize the reality of the psyche, the less need we have for acting out; and the less need we have to project Aphroditic or Dionysian qualities onto others.

Hillman concluded that our fundamental liberty should be the right to fantasize (ideally, through producing one’s own images, but if not, by viewing or hearing those produced by others). And that right can potentially ignite an insurrection of the imagination “…for fomenting curiosity to pry into what is concealed.” That curiosity could in time disentangle our obscene violence from bodily images, because violence is the enemy, not sexuality.

Eventually, the Paranoid Imagination may dissolve itself back into its ancestral source, what I have called the Creative Imagination. Read the myth: Psyche marries Eros. He is Aphrodite’s favorite son, the beautiful, winged youth. The story tells us that the soul, Psyche, cannot mature without union with the erotic imagination, and their daughter, the product of their union, is Voluptos (voluptuousness). Here is Paganism’s alternative to Puritanism: The end-result of soul-making is not asceticism but voluptuousness!

Read more…

Part One

June 2019. Netflix releases When They See Us, Ava DuVerney’s superb miniseries on the Central Park Five case.190301-central-park-5-al-1256_15fefac610449b1d588e48c9c80c50ee.fit-760w.jpg?w=212&h=141&profile=RESIZE_710x

In the first two weeks of the month, the seventh African-American transgender woman is murdered this year. Another, Layleen Polanco, is found dead at Rikers Island Prison. A study reveals that twenty percent of cops post racist comments on Facebook. A Vallejo, California investigation concludes that cops who shot a black man 55 times in 3.5 seconds “acted reasonably.” A new book describes long-term torture policies of the Chicago police. At several high school graduations across the country, principals and superintendents shut off the microphones of black valedictorians who try to speak about racial issues.

A sixth immigrant child dies in U.S. custody, and the Trump Administration decides to hold such victims in a former World War II concentration camp for Japanese-Americans. Yes, let’s stop using the phrase “detention camp” to describe the current insanity and, like the Los Angeles Times, use the more appropriate term “concentration camp.” It’s more accurate in terms of the cruel and unusual conditions, and it reminds us of how the prison-industrial complex has contributed to the concentration of wealth in America.

The U.S., with 5% of the world’s population, holds 25% of all inmates, over 2 ½ million, of which 56% are black or brown. It has the largest incarceration rate in the world: 762 per 100,000 residents (as opposed to 152 in the U.K. and 102 in Canada). Fifty percent are incarcerated for mostly non-violent drug convictions. State prisons hold African Americans at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the white rate in five states. Large numbers of them, like Layleen Polanco, are dying there.

Conditions in private, for-profit prisons are worse. Most states have signed agreements with them guaranteeing to fill a certain number of beds in jail at any given point. The most common rate is 90%, though some prisons have extracted 100% promises. Because of these contracts, states are often obligated to keep prisons almost full at all times or pay for the beds anyway, so the incentive is to incarcerate more people and for longer in order to fill the quotas. The profits of the largest such company, Corrections Corporation of America, have increased by more than 500% in the past 20 years. The three largest such corporations have spent more than $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists.

Yes, there has been some good news. Bill De Blasio became mayor of New York City partially by promising to end its notorious “Stop-and-Frisk” program. The NYPD now reports about 10,000 stops per year, down from 700,000 (2,000 per day) in 2011, and crime in New York City has dropped significantly. 2018 recorded the lowest number of homicides in nearly 70 years. Still, young black and Latino males (five percent of the city’s population) make up 38% of reported stops, even though 93% result in no weapon being found. But let’s not quibble about good news.

The reforms, however, came too late for the millions (literally) of black and brown youth caught up over twenty years in the city’s brutal, wasteful, unconstitutional and quite useless program. It certainly came too late for the Central Park Five (who now call themselves the Exonerated Five).

…one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. – James Baldwin

Thirty years ago, the NYPD forced (some say tortured) these boys aged 14 to16 into confessing to the rape of a white, female jogger. None had legal representation. The city had a weak case against them, but the political climate dictated their fate as scapegoats th.jpg?w=275&h=405&profile=RESIZE_710xfor a blood-thirsty public egged on by Donald Trump, who had taken out full-page ads in several newspapers calling for their execution even before they were convicted.

They served between 7 and 13 years in prison under hideous conditions before the actual rapist confessed. They entered prison as children and left it as traumatized adults. Rochaun Meadows Fernandez writes:

There is immense power in DuVernay’s ability to tell a story that takes place during the period of boyhood…An obvious reason to tell the story that way is that they were young boys who were robbed of many of youth’s experiences by an anti-black and inherently corrupt criminal justice system. The other reason is to challenge the criminal justice dialogue. Black men are former black boys, and all too often they have that period of innocence stolen.

For me, that’s where much of the power of DuVernay’s depiction comes from. Each episode forces us to stop thinking of the abuses of the system as a black man’s problem, since doing so both desensitizes us and enables us to make excuses and place responsibility on the actions of an adult victim…Instead, we see a story told through the tear-filled eyes of five young black boys who were abused, coerced, and manipulated in a way that is unacceptable. They were children.

What exactly has changed in New York City? Lauren Cook writes:

While police are not allowed to use physical force during an interrogation, it is legal to deceive a person about the investigation. And if the tactic leads to a confession, it could be used as evidence in court…The use of deception during interrogations was a key factor in the Central Park Five… Since 1989, 365 people in the country have been exonerated through DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project. Of those cases, 70 % involved eyewitness misidentification and 42 percent of those cases included errors of cross-racial misidentification. Twenty-eight percent of the cases included false confessions, 33 percent of which were made by a person 18 years old or younger.

These children were used to propel certain powerful white people into positions of greater power, writes Margaret Kimberley:

 Trump was part of a very large and influential lynch mob. The tabloid media invented the phrase “wilding” and attached it to every black teenager in the country…the City of New York did not compensate the men until 2014, twelve years after they were exonerated…for the simple reason that mayor Michael Bloomberg…directed the city to delay and appeal and it was left to his successor to bring some measure of justice with a $41 million settlement. Bloomberg is as much a villain as Trump…Another unsung perpetrator is Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau (who was) lead prosecutor Linda Fairstein’s boss (and who) could have stopped the process at any time.

If Beale Street Could Talk, last year’s excellent film version of the James Baldwin novel, tells a similar story.beale.jpg?w=157&h=233&profile=RESIZE_710x

In Chapters Six and Ten of my book Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence, I place our historical contempt for our own children into a broader, mythological context. Going all the way back to the story of Abraham and Isaac, the myth of the Sacrifice of the Children is the basic narrative underlying all of Western – and especially American – history and culture.

…this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime. – James Baldwin

I suggest that, at some level, we are all aware of this historical trauma, because none of us have escaped its consequences. I submit further that almost all of our addictive, neurotic, distracting, self-serving, self-sabotaging and profoundly unsatisfying lifestyles, behavior patterns, religious views and political choices are nothing more than increasingly desperate attempts to remain innocent of what we all know. Don’t you know?

Part Two

In times like this I think of Sam Cooke’s great 1960 recording of “Chain Gang.”  I am always overwhelmed with deep feelings. sam-cooke-2.jpg?w=143&h=107&profile=RESIZE_710xThen I notice a whole train of associations. First, the singer himself: possibly the sweetest, most soulful voice of the twentieth century, a great talent who was snuffed out at age 34.

I hear somethin’ sayin’

(hooh! aah!) (hooh! aah!)
(hooh! aah!) (hooh! aah!)

(well, don’t you know)
that’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang
that’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang
All day long they’re singin’
(hooh! aah!) (hooh! aah!)
(hooh! aah!) (hooh! aah!)
(well, don’t you know)
that’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang
that’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang
All day long they work so hard
till the sun is goin’ down
working on the highways and byways
and wearing, wearing a frown
you hear them moanin’ their lives away
then you hear somebody say
That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang
that’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang
Can’t ya hear them singin’
mm, I’m goin’ home one of these days, I’m goin’ home,

see my woman whom I love so dear
but meanwhile I got to work right here
(well, don’t you know)
that’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang
that’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang
All day long they’re singin’, mm
my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my work is so hard
give me water, I’m thirsty
my work is so hard

Then I think of the terrible image of the chain gang itself, that astonishingly brutal system used throughout the South to punish rebellious Black men from the 1870s to the 1950s as part of the “Jim Crow” system of racial oppression. chain-gang-1.jpg?w=221&h=191&profile=RESIZE_710xIt perpetuated African-American servitude once the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution ended slavery outside of the context of punishment for a crime.

A chain gang was a group – sometimes a very long chain – of prisoners chained together at the ankles to perform “hard labor” such as repairing buildings, building roads, clearing land or even intrinsically pointless tasks (think “cruel and unusual punishment”) such as breaking up rocks to form gravel.

Falls could imperil several individuals at once. The effort required to avoid tripping while in leg irons was known as the convict shuffle. Convicts? Local police arrested very large numbers of these men for minor offenses, including “vagrancy,” and then contracted out their labor to private interests. parchman_prison_convict_labor_1911.jpg?w=262&h=194&profile=RESIZE_710xSome of the chains used in the Georgia system weighed 20 pounds. Prisoners suffered from ulcers and gangrene where the metal ground against their skin. Protests resulted in the end of system by the mid-1950s.

But then I remember – don’t you know? – that during the1990s a few states reintroduced it.  alabama-inmates-crushing-limestone-part-chain-gang.jpg?w=197&h=147&profile=RESIZE_710x Although lawsuits soon forced most of them to backtrack, the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio retained it in Arizona. Indeed, as recently as 2013, Arizona still had female chain gangs. maxresdefault.jpg?w=226&h=128&profile=RESIZE_710x The women were chained together at the ankles and carried out tasks such as weeding at the sides of highways and burying unclaimed bodies at a cemetery.

All this was happening before Donald Trump shamelessly instituted the cruel practices of separating Latino children from their parents and crowding them into cages. As I write in Chapter Ten of my book, this is how America continues to cling to its innocence: by scapegoating the Other, as minorities, as children, and most savagely, as the children of minorities.

You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And, furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin

Our society continues to brutalize people of color through a police system that lacks all accountability. In the six months after Trayvon Martin was killed, police murdered over eighty African Americans. Kali Akuno of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement writes:

As we dug deeper, and more grieving family members came forward, we found that every 36 hours…another Black child, man or woman dies at the hands of the police, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes.

Eighty percent of the victims are unarmed. In 2012, police in the U.S. killed over a thousand people. They were responsible for 10% of firearm-related homicides, and they injured (to the point of hospitalization) nearly 55,000 others.  Very few were punished. As I write here (Do Black Lives Really Matter?): 

So here, sadly, is the ultimate answer to the question of Black lives mattering: of course they matter, in the value they offer to this upsurge of hatred. Every time a cop kills an unarmed Black person – especially when the crime is recorded – and goes unpunished, the message goes out to the haters (those who hate themselves so profoundly that they must transfer that hate onto the Other) that they, the haters, can go out and do something similar without fear of reprisal or punishment. Representatives of the National Security State, from local courtrooms to the White House, will protect them.

But the prison-industrial complex has determined that black lives are more valuable live than dead. As always, we follow the money. Cui Bono? 

Sam Cooke wanted us to pay attention, and having done that, to drop some of our innocence. Listen again to the song. Just before he sings the refrain, “That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang…”, the bass man of his backup group sings, “Well don’t you know…” Musically, this is a statement that links the refrain to the stanzas, but it is much more than that. It is in fact a challenge to the listener: Are you asleep? Don’t you know what has been going on? Your soul, your moral well-being, your nation, your children all depend on this, on rising out of your ignorance, on becoming “woke.” You can no longer, says the bass man, pretend to be unaware of what the agents of authority claim to be doing in your name in order to maintain your own sense of innocence.

These innocent people are trapped in a history they do not understand, and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. – James Baldwin

I realize this essay is beginning to sound preachy (perhaps to honor Sam’s and James’ origins in the church), but I can’t help but think that there’s going to be a reckoning. Is there such a thing as national karma? Will our descendants suffer for our sins?

Then it occurs to me: aren’t we already living in the reckoning time? Aren’t almost all of us experiencing a diminished, de-mythologized, de-potentiated life, swinging between the unsatisfying harbors of addictions, fundamentalism, media-driven consumerism, violent patriotism and – most of all – fear of the Other (as Muslim terrorists, immigrants or black men)?

I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears to be able to achieve any visible, organic connection between his public stance and his private life…This failure of the private life has always had the most devastating effect on American public conduct, and on black-white relations. If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they never would have become so dependent on what they call ‘the Negro problem’. This problem, which they invented in order to safeguard their purity, has made of them criminals and monsters, and it is destroying them; and this not from anything blacks may or may not be doing but because of the role a guilty and constricted white imagination has assigned to the blacks. – James Baldwin

Then again, I don’t know if Sam could allow himself to fall into despair. His very last recording was A Change Is Gonna Come. It was released at a very significant moment, in December 1963, four months after Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, just after the Kennedy assassination, and two months before the arrival of the Beatles. A year later he was dead.

Earlier, in January of that year, Sam had recorded a live album – “One Night Stand! Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963” – on which he sang “Chain Gang” with an upbeat, danceable, celebratory rhythm to a wildly appreciatory, sing along crowd that was almost certainly exclusively black. What was going on in that room? How could they seem to be enjoying such a sad song?

This event was a ritual, and the high priest was leading the assembly in the multi-generational confession of extreme pain and grief that, once expressed – and received, in community – turns into its opposite, where the “Ooh! Aah!” has a very different meaning. This is the secret of the Blues, something all indigenous people know, that – in community – one can reach profound, even ecstatic levels of unity once all aspects of the truth, especially the dark aspects, have been brought into the light.

This was Sam’s gift to us, and his challenge. Imagine such a world. Indeed, we really have no choice but to imagine such a world. And now we really do know…

Here are some other essays of mine on the subject of race in America;

Hands up, Don’t Shoot: The Sacrifice of American Dionysus

Privilege 

The Race Card 

The Civil Rights Movement in American Myth

Did the South Win the Civil War? 

Read more…

Finding YOUR Way to Self Care

Ivanka Trump was widely panned for suggesting that busy mothers should get regular massages, because for many of us that’s just not realistic.

I myself, have never been into meditating. And if I don’t like something, I’m not going to end up doing it.

A friend says that people always tell her to slow down, but she’s a raging extrovert. Being around lots of people is what recharges her.

Self-care requires clarity about what we need. Not what others think, or what we’re “supposed” to do, or what experts prescribe. Good self-care requires an ongoing connection with what’s true for us.

At different times in your life, self-care is going to look different. At one time, self-care might be stepping up into leadership in your community. Sometimes, it might be about doing more. At another time, it might be letting go, shifting gears, or resting. For some of us, self-care may be about saying ‘no’ to the part of ourselves that wants to spend the day lounging. For others, it will be saying ‘yes’ to that desire.

And for many of us, self-care requires addressing that negative voice in your head that says you don’t have the training you need, or you’re too old, too poor, or too broken.

I worked with a client recently who knew she needed to stop and take a breather from all the intensive training programs she was involved in, but she was having a hard time shifting gears. She’d invested so much time, energy and resources going down this particular path. I have another client who’s been intensely trying to finish a book these past few months, and taking time out to address her own needs has gone out the window.

I don’t know why it is, but when when we’re most in need of self-care–when we’re most in need of slowing down and connecting with our own deep inner wisdom, when we’re most in need of feeling deep support–that’s often the time when it’s hardest to access. When we get tired, worn out and overwhelmed, or when we’re anxious about something, it’s harder to make that inner connection, and harder to do those things that would most serve us.

I’m offering a self-care tele-class with Depth Psychology Alliance, and I hope you will join us.

I’d especially love for you to join us if:

  • you’ve been feeling super disconnected…from yourself and Spirit
  • you need clarity and direction
  • you know you need to make a change, but you’re hesitating or resisting it
  • you feel anxious, scared or off-center about something
  • you’re struggling with depression
  • you have an addictive pattern you would like to change
  • you’re not sure what you need right now

We’ll be going deep into our own inner landscapes, discovering what Source energy wants to say to you right now. We will shift into a place where whatever it is that you’ve been struggling with is not present. In that space of deep clarity, you will know what you need.

Dates: Thursdays  June 13th and June 20th.

10 am – 12 pm PDT.

$75, includes class recordings, handouts and a private reading with me.

NOTE: If you can’t make it live, you can still sign up to receive the recording and work with me individually.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Click here for the event listing on Depth Psychology Alliance.

“Kim’s work is pioneering.”   ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, New York Times bestselling author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

“Kim’s work is powerful. A single session with her gave me a breakthrough on an obstacle I’d been struggling with. I recommend it to everyone.”  ~ Bonnie Bright, Ph.D., Founder of Depth Psychology Alliance

 

Kim Hermanson, PhD. is an author and transformative coach, known for her skill in quickly shifting people out of spiritual and psychological difficulties into a place of profound beauty, healing and creative flow. She serves as adjunct faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Read more…

Part One

I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 10/30/1940

In spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese were the ones to do this so that there should remain no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who were the aggressors. – Henry Stimson, Secretary of War under Roosevelt

I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.  – George H.W. Bush

This is a dangerous time of increased racism and militarism, demonization of immigrants, surveillance of private citizens and renewed warmongering against Russia. The government is provoking a military coup in Venezuela and threatening once again to attack Iran. Nazis actually march among us — why bother even calling them Neo-Nazis?  So it is important to take another look at both the willingness of politicians and the media to distort the truth as well as our uniquely American, innocent capacity to believe their lies. Myth is what holds it all together.

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt was already aiding Great Britain with materials and loans. But he was determined that the United States should fully enter the war in Europe. Why? I’m sure he had a combination of motives, perhaps including these:

1 – Countering Nazi racism and defending its aggression against the “liberal democracies” of Great Britain and France? But both countries were still colonial powers that had no intention of offering any freedom to their African and Asian possessions. Howard Zinn, in Chapter 16 of A People’s History of the United States, shows how the U.S. made it clear to both of them early in the war that it expected to restore their empires. It fought with a segregated army and incarcerated thousands of its own citizens.

2 – Protecting the Jews of Europe? I don’t think so. His government turned away thousands and refused to bomb Auschwitz.

3 – The New Deal economic reforms of the 1930s had been only marginally effective in putting Americans back to work. Millions were questioning both capitalism and the American Dream. Perhaps he reasoned that only military mobilization could pull the country out of the Great Depression.

4 – It was a clash of empires and colonial aggressors. Looking farther ahead, he may have been concerned with other economic/political issues related to American influence in a post-war world, including confronting the Soviet Union and grabbing oil resources in the Middle East. When we discuss history, we are also talking about myth. And in the context of capitalism, as in all of our inquiries, we will have to ask Cui bono? Who profits?

However, since 88% of Americans (down from 95% in the previous year) were still opposed to entering the war, Roosevelt needed to resort to subterfuge. On September 27, 1940 Germany inadvertently gave him a great gift. Hitler made a colossal mistake (second only to his decision to attack the USSR) when he signed a mutual defense treaty with Japan and Italy, promising to defend each other if any one of them was attacked by an outside party.

Roosevelt quickly saw his opportunity. Within two weeks, he set into motion a series of major policies designed to provoke Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor. The notion that he would do such a thing has remained a hugely contentious point of debate among historians, but journalist Robert Stinnett argues:

The latter question was answered in the affirmative on October 30, 2000, when President Bill Clinton signed into law…the National Defense Authorization Act…(which) reverses the findings of nine previous Pearl Harbor investigations and finds that both (Navy and Army commanders) Kimmel and Short were denied crucial military intelligence that tracked the Japanese forces toward Hawaii and obtained by the Roosevelt Administration in the weeks before the attack.

Events quickly fell into alignment after the December 7th attack. p17_12070181.jpg?w=350&h=258&profile=RESIZE_710xThe declaration of war against Japan triggered the Axis mutual defense treaty and forced Germany to declare war on the U.S. Roosevelt now had his European war. His price was a Pacific war. And in a scenario eerily similar to the 9-11 story, he quickly attained enormous public support. Eventually, the conflict became, in Zinn’s words, “the most popular war the United States had ever fought,” with the highest proportion of citizen participation – some 18 million men and women.

In this sense, the story of Pearl Harbor is less about Japan and more about Adolf Hitler. Indeed, it is more about our willingness to consume narratives that reinforce our American sense of innocence, good intentions and unique destiny. The good nation had been attacked by the minions of absolute evil, with no warning, for no reason.

Remember Pearl Harbor became both the war cry of American forces and the excuse to force all Japanese-Americans on the west coast into concentration camps (known in popular culture as internment camps) for the duration of the war. Overnight, these people became the new internal Other. Curiously, the military interned neither Italian-Americans nor German-Americans. Nor did it confine thousands of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii – physically much closer to Japan itself – since they were vital to the economy. It’s difficult to avoid concluding that the shameful treatment of the Japanese-Americans was about racial prejudice and little else.

Americans, once again, were told that they had been attacked for no reason. But this was a mythic motif as old as the nation, indeed much older. Pearl Harbor became the latest and greatest (until 2001) in a long line of iconic events in which Americans were told that they have been attacked without provocation by “the Other” (Indians, slaves, Barbary Pirates, Mexicans, Spanish, Cubans, Germans, Latin Americans, North Koreans, Chinese, North Vietnamese, Lebanese, Grenadians and, eventually, Muslims from a dozen countries).

Stinnett’s book Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor is an exhaustively-researched study of how Roosevelt provoked the Japanese. It proves conclusively that the U.S. had broken their military codes, knew of the impending attack and deliberately kept the military leadership in Hawaii unaware so as to maximize both the damage and the propaganda value. Stinnett also summarizes a half-century in which “revisionist” (a somewhat derogatory term) historians have argued against the orthodoxy.

But this is clear: the U.S. fought a race war in the Pacific. Mendacious posters of ape-like “Japs” raping white women helped mobilize bellicosity and led to a savagery by American soldiers against the Japanese that they rarely exhibited against the Germans. This behavior resulted from official policy. Years later, Robert McNamara, Defense Secretary during the Viet Nam War, spoke of his time during WW II when he had helped Curtis LeMay plan the firebombing of Tokyo. He admitted, “He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals.”

From the Japanese-American perspective, the war was bounded by two enormous lies. One was the Pearl Harbor narrative and their lost liberties, and the other was the atomic bomb attacks that ended the war. Although most historians and practically all politicians claim to believe that they were necessary, we do have this quote from Supreme Commander in Europe and future President Dwight Eisenhower: “…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

Many scholars now agree that the attacks were meant primarily to threaten the Soviets, that Hiroshima was the opening salvo of the Cold War. Indeed, that city was destroyed (with a uranium weapon) only two days before the Soviets were planning to declare war on Japan, and Nagasaki was hit (with a plutonium bomb) the next day, for no apparent reason. Zinn, however, asks, “Were the dead and irradiated of Nagasaki victims of a scientific experiment?”

By the way, the George H.W. Bush quote at the top of this essay reminds us that the Union Bank controlled by his father Prescott – as well as Ford and General Motors – continued to do business with Hitler long after the U.S. entered the war. Nearly a year after Pearl Harbor, the government finally seized the bank’s assets under the “Trading With the Enemies Act.” But after the war GM had the gall to sue the U.S. for having bombed one of their German factories, and actually collected damages. For much more on the multi-generational crimes of the Bush family, see Family of Secrets, by Russ Baker.

We are talking about history. But to really understand the mythic issues, we have to understand how many of the greatest names in the History profession have served as gatekeepers of the official stories of who we are. In Chapter Seven I write:

The “Dunning School” of racist historians dominated the writing of post-Civil War history well into the 1950s. William Dunning, founder of the American Historical Association, taught Columbia students that blacks were incapable of self-government. Yale’s Ulrich Phillips defended slaveholders and claimed they did much to civilize the slaves. Henry Commager and (Harvard’s) Samuel Morison’s The Growth of the American Republic, read by generations of college freshmen, perpetuated the myth of the plantation and claimed that slaves “suffered less than any other class in the South…The majority…were apparently happy.” Daniel Boorstin’s The Americans: The Colonial Experience doesn’t mention slavery at all. Similarly, Arthur Schlesinger’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Jackson never mentions the Trail of Tears.

But we are talking here about another one of our most deep-seated narratives about ourselves, how we as a nation never start wars but always come to the aid of deserving people, always with the most altruistic of motives. The nation of extreme individualism is an individual among nations, the exceptional one, chosen by Divine Providence to redeem the entire world. If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would still admit some adherence to this story, of which WW II is our most shining example. And studies have shown (despite popular impressions of the youth revolt of the 1960s) that the more educated we are, the more likely we are to hold such opinions.

Part Two

America is the exceptional nation, chosen by Divine Providence to defend freedom and redeem the entire world. To those outside our mythic bubble, however, this is a story that we regularly tell ourselves about ourselves in order to convince ourselves – to still our doubts – that our long-term patterns of long-distance murder and denying of self-determination to other people have moral meaning.

But if we were honest with ourselves, most Americans – at least most white Americans – would still admit some adherence to this story, of which WW II is our most shining example. And studies have shown (despite popular impressions of the youth revolt of the 1960s) that the more educated we are, the more likely we are to hold such opinions.

This helps explain why our gatekeepers – historians and journalists – speak with nearly one voice (as they do now, concerning Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning) to condemn anyone who might question any aspect of our myths, regardless of their popularity or stature in their profession. I’ve written about Howard Zinn, who blurbed my book, in this context.

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Howard Zinn, bombardier

But Zinn (who was a bombardier in World War Two, and became a pacifist afterwards) taught and published in more forgiving times. To really understand what the the gatekeepers can do, we have to learn about  what happened to Charles Beard.

But Zinn (who was a bombardier in World War Two, and became a pacifist afterwards) taught and published in more forgiving times. To really understand what the the gatekeepers can do, we have to learn about  what happened to Charles Beard.

Beard was the only scholar to ever serve as president of both the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association. Andrew Bacevich, an historian and retired officer, writes:

For several decades prior to World War II, Beard stood alone at the pinnacle of his profession. As a historian and public intellectual, he was prolific, influential, fiercely independent, and equally adept at writing for scholarly audiences or for the general public.

Beard wrote primarily outside the university context, disdaining the tenure track. So he didn’t have to toe the line of official dogma. Perhaps for that reason his books were both enormously popular and highly opinionated.

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Charles Beard

In 1947 the National Institute of Arts and Letters awarded him their gold medal for the best historical work published in the preceding decade.

But that same year he published President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941: Appearances and Realities, which blamed FDR for lying to the American people and tricking them into war. He also revealed (in an article entitled “Who’s to Write the History of the War?”) that the Rockefeller Foundation had generously subsidized the writing of an official history of how the war had come about. Yes, writes Gary North, Gary North,

…the victors always write the history books, but when the historians are actually policy-setting participants in the war, the words “court history” take on new meaning.

Indeed, those who did write such histories all attained high government positions, and many of them – including the above-mentioned Samuel Morison – savagely attacked Beard as at best an “isolationist” and at worst a senile old fool. They quickly and permanently destroyed his reputation because he had committed the grave sin – to this gatekeeping community – of questioning their heroic “Good War” narrative, or in current terms, of promoting a conspiracy theory.

Beard died in 1949. His book on Roosevelt went out of print almost immediately and was not reprinted until 2003. Today the public has forgotten him and his controversial charges. Even Zinn’s People’s History and the wildly popular Untold History of the United States, by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick (book and TV series), tiptoe delicately around the Pearl Harbor story. Within the profession, however, Beard remains a reviled and discredited figure. North writes:

This is why there are no tenured World War II revisionists who write in this still-taboo and well-policed field. The guild screened them out, beginning in the early 1950′s…What the guild did to…Beard (and others) posted a warning sign: Dead End.

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Hi everyone,
 
I wanted to let you know that my new book, Be Wise Now, officially launches today. 
 
What is Be Wise Now Be Wise Now is a guide to help you discover—and learn to use—your natural and acquired gifts and strengths so you can deal decisively with the obstacles that life delivers.
Here is what Bonnie Bright had to say about it:

"This book may well be the most important book you ever read! As a transformative, soul-centered coach, I will recommend it to everyone I know—peers and clients alike. With wisdom and warmth, Gael has transmuted her powerful personal experiences and decades-long passion for clinical work into a highly accessible blueprint for transformation that is not only easy to read, but chock full of interesting stories and tremendously valuable exercises that anyone can do to connect more deeply with who they really are." Bonnie Bright, PhD., Founder/Depth Psychology Alliance

 
 
 
Warmly,
Gael
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 My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally. ― John Dominic Crossan

Where were you (or your parents) on October 12th, 1944? If you were a teenage girl in the New York City area, you might have been in or, more likely, outside the Paramount Theater, 1940s-sinatra-on-train-70.jpg?w=139&h=139&profile=RESIZE_710xwhere some thirty to thirty-five thousand adolescent girls made such a commotion that authorities dubbed the event the “Columbus Day Riot.” These girls were in “a squealing ecstasy,” according to Time 1943-sinatra-fans-130.jpg?w=101&h=138&profile=RESIZE_710xmagazine – freaking out, as ta later generation would say – over the presence of the pop idol Frank Sinatra.

Ten years later, their daughters would act the same way over Elvis Presley, as I record in Chapter Eleven of my book Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence.  Here is the account by one of Elvis’ band members:

I heard feet like a thundering herd, and the next thing I knew I heard this voice from the shower area… th-2.jpg?w=104&h=130&profile=RESIZE_710xby the time we got there several hundred must have crawled in… Elvis was on top of one of the showers…his shirt was shredded and his coat was torn to pieces. Somebody had even gotten the belt and his socks…he was up there with nothing but his pants on and they were trying to pull at them up on the shower.

Ten years further on, their younger sisters reacted to the Beatles with similarly riotous behavior:

The same collective urge that gave rise to the Twist also propelled John Kennedy into office and invited idealism and new possibilities. Consequently, youth took his death particularly hard. It is no coincidence that a new form of maenadism – “Beatlemania” – erupted only two months later. Ehrenreich writes, “At no time during their U.S. tours was the group audible above the shrieking.” Susan Douglas argues that the resonance between Kennedy and the Beatles allowed for “a powerful and collective transfer of hope.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves and must also address the second myth. If you lived in Germany in 1944 hitlerjugend-hitler-ahckpd.jpg?w=215&h=148&profile=RESIZE_710xand you were a teenage boy, you may well have been a member of the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, the army of boy soldiers. You might have been one of the 600 survivors of a military unit that had numbered some 10,000 boys only months before. They had confronted the Allied invasion, often fighting to the last boy, and their brethren would continue to fanatically resist, dying in the thousands in the final battle for Berlin (while other thousands of slightly older Japanese men were committing suicide as kamikaze pilots in the Pacific).

Myths are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. More purely than in any other example I can cite, these two groups of teenagers were enacting the two great mythic narratives that came to fruition in the twentieth century, myths that western culture had literalized since long before the Greeks and Hebrews created stories to name them.

The American girls were either modern day maenads (from the same Greek root that gives us mania and manic), or they were bacchants. The bacchants willingly worshipped the god Dionysus in irrational, ecstatic trance. The maenads, by contrast, were the mythic women who went insane because they had refused to recognize him as divine. Chapter Two of my book delves into the differences between them, and the cultural significance of their choices. Chapter Twelve speculates about how this eruption of energy led directly to the politics of the 1960s and the feminist movement.

But the German boys, sadly, were enacting the myth of the Killing of the Children, which I address in Chapter Six. Most of them were sixteen or younger, having entered school in the early 1930s. They had been deluged with Nazi propaganda since early childhood and had been groomed by their elders to offer up their bodies in the great ritual sacrifice of modern, nationalistic war, to kill for the fatherland, or,ss_hitlerjugend_belgium_1945.jpg?w=190&h=148&profile=RESIZE_710xperhaps more importantly, to die for it.

Stripping away the superficial religious imagery, we can see that they were in no way different from the Iranian children who would proudly step on land mines in the Iran-Iraq war forty years later.

Many of my readers may be aware that I often recite two poems during our poetry salons and rituals. These poems speak to these two myths. The conflict between them has been at the center of western culture for two thousand years.

The first myth speaks of the explosive surge of erotic and creative energies – the meeting of the spiritual and the sexual – that each new generation offers to its community and the world. It is the cyclic renewal of the world, if the older generations are willing to honor it. The Invocation to Dionysus introduces us to it:

Be good to us, you girl-crazy goat!

We the poets begin and end our singing through you,

And it’s impossible without you.

Without remembering you, we cannot remember our sacred songs!

The second myth speaks of how western man lost both his knowledge of the old initiation rituals and his protective concern for his own children, how, instead of symbolically killing boys so that they might transition into authentic adults, he gradually made the choice to sacrifice them quite literally. The killing of the children is the great, unspoken (and therefore sacred) secret behind the myth of American innocence.

This myth was best given poetic expression by the other poem I often recite, by the World War One poet Wilfred Owen:

Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

and builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

And, to make things truly mythic, that is, truly complicated, consider that there is a point where these two narratives intersect, in Euripides’ Bacchae. After Dionysus drives the female disbelievers mad, they attack the king and slaughter him, led by his own mother.One way we can interpret this scene is that the release of repressed energy under patriarchy results in the slaughter of the innocent.

How do we see this enacted in the real world? Certainly, the political movements that emerged out of the 1960s, as well as their contemporary versions, express this eruptive, archetypal and necessary energy. But without a meaningful mythology and strong ritual containers, there can be no certainty that anything positive will result. The emergence of Donald Trump is such an example. 

We’ve lived in a “demythologized world” for centuries. When myths that once bound us together in worlds of meaning die, the soul – and the soul of the culture – find substitutes. Ritual conflict degenerates into literal violence. The fundamentalist religions and nationalist politics that convince the young to sacrifice themselves for some abstract idealare, along with addiction, our worst examples. The two came together in the great communal ideologies of the past century, most notably the Fascism that sent those Hitlerjugenders to their deaths.

But the demythologized world is also the genesis of the other myth. At one level, those crazed teenage girls in 1944 (and 1954 and 1964) became maenads for a few hours. No harm was done, and perhaps quite a lot of good resulted. But on another level, they were giving away – projecting – much of their innate nobility (noble is related to gnosis. A noble is someone who knows who she is) to public figures who could temporarily embody such characteristics. This is what we mean by the “culture of celebrity.” As I write in Chapter One,

Instead of developing relationships with Aphrodite or Zeus, we adore each in a succession of actresses or politicians, who inevitably betray us by proving to be all too human.

As the quote that begins this essay indicates, there is no reason to assume that ancient and indigenous people could not think mythologically. This means to constantly search for the archetypal significance in human events, to perceive meaning on several levels simultaneously, aware that the literal, psychological and symbolic dimensions of reality complement and interpenetrate each other to make a greater whole.

Actually, it is we who have, by and large, lost this capacity. This is why we worship celebrities. But it is also why we die in the tens of thousands of opioid abuse, and why we condemn millions to the furnaces of modern warfare and climate change. And this is why we have to regain this capacity.

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Western culture emphasizes individualism and, therefore, being authentic and true to who we are. Who we are, of course, is influenced by others, who also may be influenced by us. Social neuroscientists have posited that humans evolved through interactions, as each person, each group, and each region shared their stories with others. And, human evolution is still occurring, and what we say and do is one of the many factors that direct its trajectory.

 

The “I” and the “we” involved in identity formation are difficult to disentangle. Our sense of who we are starts in the family and the immediate community, where we inevitably gain our sense of what is real and how we should relate to it from what others tell us. In adolescence, we differentiate a bit, but often by identifying with a group that can form around what music the members like, who they follow on social media, or even what social media platform they use—or being in the popular crowd, the smart nerds, the athletes, the rebels, or the seeming misfits. Many in their adult years identify their “I” by their “we” as well, focusing on their class or ethnic identity, their race, the schools they went to, or what church or other religion they belong to. Increasingly, some also identify who they are with groups that share their ideas, including their political affiliations and the news sites they frequent.

 

Having boundaries helps protect such “we” identifications, especially if membership comes with some kind of status that differentiates us from others who we regard as alien, if not, by our lights, inferior. As individuals begin to feel confident enough that they have a self beyond such group identifications, they usually protect their boundaries by focusing on their differences from whatever we group they have been defined by. Some individuals today shock others when they question the assumption that everyone is either male or female. Identifying as non-binary or using a range of other terms that depart from traditional gender assumptions challenges any of us to view gender identity on a continuum. Such profound ways of differentiating can be liberating to those who do so and be part of their emerging sense of identity, which requires having a boundary that says, no, I’m not what you expect I should be. This can also be experienced as liberating by others through opening up new ways of thinking or, alternatively, as frightening, as if a fundamental sense of reality is being subverted, so that nothing seems certain anymore.

 

I remember when I was in my thirties working hard to develop better boundaries so that I could stand my ground. I was very involved in the feminist movement at a time of powerful backlash against these ideas, with people like me being described as compensating for being ugly and not being able to attract a man and/or lesbian (meant as an insult) as well as aggressive bitches, bra burners, and man haters. I needed to stand firm and resist the impulse to highlight the fact that I was married, a mom, decent enough looking, and loving. Plus, I also wanted not to give in to my desire to demonize those who were demonizing “us.” In fact, I needed to do this because my job was to be a women’s studies director in a major university. It was my responsibility to encourage the integration of research on women into the curriculum, which meant engaging with professors, most of whom were male and most of whom believed down deep in their souls that teaching what they considered to be inferior works and accomplishments would undermine the quality of the education they offered and render their lives and work meaningless.

 

Then I read a very useful piece of advice. I wish I remember where, but I don’t. Some wise person said that we do not have to jealously guard our boundaries if we know who we are. That means that if we have a firm enough center of identity, we will not feel a threat from those who think differently or want different things than we do. 

 

I’m now aware of how important this lesson is for living in a diverse society, where we all live and work with people whose identities are formed in different “we” affiliations than ours have been.

 

Expanding my vision to take in the big picture, I realize that right now the entire world is experiencing massive migrations, most pressingly of refugees fleeing political oppression, violent gangs, environmental catastrophes, and/or grinding poverty. Some groups fear what an influx such as this will do to their country’s collective “we” and what that means for their sense of identity and self-esteem. Here at home, some wonder whether such immigrants will adopt “American values” so that they fit in without undermining who we are as a people, while others simply want to keep them out.

 

Insular societies are hothouses for the development of their own unique values and traditions. The fear of refugees and immigrants in America and elsewhere is not new. Earlier generations in the U.S. reviled the influx of the Irish and Italians and made fun of the Swedes, the immigrant group my ancestors were part of.  

 

Yet, I know that, as individuals, the more we are centered in our own identities, the more open we can become to learning from others. I grew up in Houston when most everyone lived in homogeneous neighborhoods with their own ethnic groups. In my white, marginally middle-class neighborhood, most meals consisted of meat, potatoes, and a frozen vegetable; dances involved our feet, legs, and arms, definitely not shaking or swinging any part of our torsos; dressing nicely meant that our clothes had to match; and being a girl came with the requirement of wearing skirts or dresses to school, even in college. Yet, much of what I love in my country now comes from the influence of food, music, dance, fashion, and, over all, cultures resulting from our increased diversity and access to what these can offer to all of us.

 

In my conservative Christian family, major activities occurred in a sweet church where we were always contributing to support missionaries going off to save the souls of the “heathens” in Africa. As an adult, I fell in love with and married a wonderful man who is Jewish and from New York. We both initially found the other’s family alien to us, but now they are just family. One of my daughters-in-law is from Costa Rico and embodies much of the best of that culture in what she brings to our family.

 

What my country’s policies should be is beyond the theme of this blog. But what I know is that human evolution, and that of cultures that define who we are collectively, has always been fed by each learning from the beliefs and practices of others. And cultural mixing is caused by many different influences coming together to create something new. 

 

I recently studied the history of Christianity, learning that the rise of the imperialist Roman Empire brought together many diverse regions, resulting in cultural exchanges that previously had occurred mainly through trade. True, the Roman occupations were cruel and dehumanizing. Yet, the richness of intercultural knowledge of that time greatly influenced the initial development of the Christian faith and Hebrew ideas.  The cruelty of the Romans also caused the diaspora of the Hebrew people, spreading their wisdom throughout the world and requiring a shift from temple-based to a scriptural-focused practice. Christianity then ended up influencing Rome itself when it became its official religion. Of course, Christianity subsequently took on new forms to fit into Roman institutions, and so on, and so on, and so on. 

   

Cultures evolve through interconnection with others as a result of all kinds of human motivation, not all of it very pretty, though some is very well meant: one country invades another and conquers its people; one group captures people from another and enslaves them to exploit their labor; religious groups send their missionaries to try to help people in other countries and to proselytize for their faith; corporations open factories and other businesses where it makes financial sense to do so to enhance profits; refugees fleeing horrible circumstances emigrate to places where they hope to be safe and have chance for a better life; and now the Internet streams news and entertainment from one country into another as commerce helps bring great products to us that can enrich our lives. All these exchanges influence everyone involved in them. Even the missionaries sometimes go native, as it is called, adopting many of the practices of the people they went to save.

 

The richness of what is available to us in today’s global society can be overwhelming. However, the better we know who we are—as individuals, groups, and whole societies—the more open we can be to learning from others without being threatened by them. Every immigrant group coming to America tends to hold on to the traditions of its ancestors, but in a generation or two, this can come down to the token food served on special holidays and some values that are passed on, often unconsciously, through that heritage, except where prejudice limits access to assimilation. My own family’s tradition is honored with Swedish pancakes and, on Christmas Eve, meatballs and rice pudding, but also retained by some of us who may not even know that our belief that Americans should care for one another comes from the Caregiver values of Swedish culture.

 

So, the task for our major cultures and each of their subgroups mirrors the work cut out for each one of us as individuals. Right now, in my country, power dynamics are being worked out as historically underrepresented groups seek full equality. In response, some Americans of European ancestry support these efforts because of a belief in “liberty and justice for all,” while others oppose them, because of a fear that they will be displaced and aspects of their values and lifestyles will be undermined. 

Sure, these power dynamics doneed to be faced and worked out at the level of national policy. However, as individuals we can recognize that positive cultural evolution can be furthered if everyone concerned focuses on identifying what their own group has to offer to the whole and sharing it. Out of this conversation, a consensus about our shared national identity might emerge, powerful enough to include us all and to forge a slightly amended sense of our collective center.

And as individuals? I do not know what is true for you. However, I can share that, for me, my identity was formed initially in my parents’ home, but it has been enhanced by changing times and more diverse experiences. I see that much of who I am comes from the Christian injunction to “love your neighbor as yourself” from my upbringing and the love and care I received as a child. Some of it comes from rebelling as an adolescent, questioning the parts of this faith that seemed wrong to me. Other parts come from celebrating the Passover with my Jewish in-laws and embracing the idea that I should fight oppression in all its forms and also leave behind my own ill-advised habits and assumptions. 

As an academic, I learned to be comfortable in a secular and inclusive environment and care about getting my facts right and testing out my theories before subscribing to them. As someone who loves to dance as my preferred form of exercise, I am well aware that the freedom I can now express in my body comes from the influences of cultures different from the body-shaming one I was brought up in, including African-American and Latino-American forms.  As a busy contemporary professional who is somewhat driven, especially when a publishing deadline looms, I calm my stress utilizing meditation and mindfulness practices that have come to America from Asian and Indian cultures.

 

Part of who I am came from each of these “we's,” and none has to keep me defended against integrating something else that is wonderful into my identity just because “my kind” did not think of it.

 

Of course, boundaries are essential in support of a strong identity center, when we are tempted to do things that would harm us because others are doing them. When I was a child, we said the Lord’s prayer all the time, with its refrain of “lead us not into temptation.”  If we know who we are, we can learn and grow through interaction with the world without adopting behaviors and values that do not serve the development of our best selves. We can also share what we know and value with others without attachment, trusting that they have the same right to make decisions based on what is right for them as you or I do.

 

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I’ve been a sports fan my whole life. As an adult I coached little league and played softball and volleyball for 25 years. I used to love to go to baseball games. I don’t anymore. I used to have very good season tickets to major college basketball. I’ve given them up.

Oh, I still watch the Warriors and Red Sox on TV. Fortunately, I can mute the commercials and those horrible network announcers who never stop yacking. But even if I could afford decent tickets, I can’t go to live games any more.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but for most of my life standing during the playing of the National Anthem was a rote ritual that never seemed to be anything other than an uncomfortable prelude to the real business of the day: re-creating the ancient experience of rooting for your tribe, identifying with your heroes, fantasizing about being a player yourself, and drinking beer in the sun. The announcer would ask everyone to “please stand for the playing of the national anthem,” and everyone would do so, fidgeting, looking around, munching their hot dogs, waiting for the actual ritual announcement: “Play ball!”

Later, watching basketball at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, I could barely tolerate the noise level. The management had begun to play rock music during basketball timeouts, so loud that I couldn’t converse with the person next to me. The broader spectacle of entertainment had become more important than the game itself.

By those years, I had begun to remain in my seat during the national anthem, and I sometimes got in trouble for my refusal. To be honest, I enjoyed being a provocateur. Call me a curmudgeon, but I was there to watch sports, not for casual, sound-bite conversation – and certainly, as I sometimes had to explain, not to participate in nationalist rituals.

A few times, irritated Stanford alums would advise me to “show respect for the flag.” Had there been any break in the deafening music, I might have replied: “Show respect to whom? The flag, an inanimate object? To you? Show you that I’m a member of your tribe, so as to lower your discomfort?”

After 9/11/2001 those rituals became increasingly militaristic, as anyone who still endures the pre-game spectacles at pro football and basketball games – and the Superbowl – knows. 0-1.jpg?w=253&h=190&profile=RESIZE_710xThis is the period when the Defense Department was beginning to pay over $50 million to pro sports teams for patriotic displays and tributes to the troops.

Since that watershed event, as William Astore writes, “…sports and the military have become increasingly fused in this country:”

Professional athletes now consider it perfectly natural to don uniforms that feature camouflage patterns. (They do this, teams say, as a form of “military appreciation.”) Indeed, for only $39.99 you, too, can buy your own Major League Baseball-sanctioned camo cap at MLB’s official site. And then, of course, you can use that cap in any stadium to shade your eyes as you watch flyovers, parades, reunions of service members returning from our country’s war zones and their families, and a multitude of other increasingly militarized ceremonies that celebrate both veterans and troops in uniform at sports stadiums across what, in the post-9/11 years, has come to be known as “the homeland.” These days, you can hardly miss moments when, for instance, playing fields are covered with gigantic American flags, often unfurled and held either by scores of military personnel or civilian defense contractors.

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By 2008 the Maples PA announcer had upped the ante with very specific instructions: “Please stand and remove your hats to honor Americaduring the playing of the national anthem.” Dozens of people in the crowd would sing along, with hands over their hearts. This, mind you, was in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, not in a conservative Red state. They were showing respect – to each other.

At that point the discomfort level overcame both my enjoyment and my mythologist’s detachment. Call me judgmental, oversensitive. I’m guilty as charged: I can no longer compartmentalize my feelings in the America of drone bombings, police murders, mass incarceration, homeless vets, voter suppression, lead-filled water pipes and incarcerated infants.

Some friends tell me that they honor “what the flag stands for.” My response: Bullshit. The flag now symbolizes nothing more than the national security state and the absolute necessity of periodically sacrificing both its scapegoats on the streets and its own children on battlefields, as I wrote here.

I can still enjoy watching on TV, thanks to that precious mute button and the ability to get up and do other things when even the silenced images are too disturbing. Really, man, I just want a little entertainment after a long day.

You might be surprised to know that the custom of playing the national anthem began only during World War Two. Actually, it’s been even longer – eighty years – that fans have been singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in the seventh inning.  images-3.jpg?w=120&h=155&profile=RESIZE_710x Now that’s a happy custom, pure corn, with only the vaguest of nationalistic implications. (By the way, Americans, uniquely, call themselves “patriots” rather than “nationalists.” I prefer the more accurate term). People stood up and stretched because they wanted to, not because they didn’t want to look out of place.unknown-11.jpg?w=154&h=115&profile=RESIZE_710x

But, again, 9/11 served as a wakeup call – to the nation’s gatekeepers, who perceived the necessity of shoring up the cracks in the myth of American innocence wherever they might have been appearing, including sports venues. Some bastard had the bright idea of singing “America the Beautiful” in the first half of the seventh inning, ahead of “Take Me Out,” and he was copied everywhere.

Once a baseball tradition is modified, it is nearly impossible to remove the new addition. And so (for me) the seventh inning stretch has become as annoying as those “Please stand” directives, and implicitly an opportunity to go to the bathroom, or simply to stay home.

It’s all summed up in this post-9/11 phenomenon, which is rapidly being cemented as a permanent aspect of the baseball experience: images.jpg?w=640&profile=RESIZE_710xa uniformed policeman or service member, preferably disabled, singing the anthem. This is highly charged symbolic imagery, with multiple levels of meaning:

1 – First responders. Since 9/11 it has become customary to honor those public servants who do live up to their job titles, many of whom were themselves victims that day. These were true heroes who sacrificed themselves for the greater good in a time when neither politicians nor preachers seem trustworthy any more. And they continue to bear the brunt of that tragedy, as hundreds die early of toxic-induced diseases. And second responders: Thank you for your service, as we deny you decent health coverage.

2 – Public order and safety in a time of fear. For older generations, those most susceptible to the Republican fear-mongering, the police uniform is reassuring. And his singing talent humanizes him. He’s the old-fashioned (white) Irish-tenor beat cop – Officer O’Reilly – of a hundred films, who helps old ladies cross the street, brings cats down from tree limbs and never resorts to any weapon more lethal than his billy-club.

3 – The Hangman. Sadly, as I argued in my blog series Hands Up – Don’t Shoot: The Sacrifice of American Dionysus, he has become the sanctioned state executioner, given regular permission to terminate with extreme prejudice any African-American or Latino male he encounters. In dozens of Fergusons around the country he has been enacting the old rituals of human sacrifice.

Perhaps you think I exaggerate. Since I first wrote this series, I’ve come across two new links. If you choose to watch “Police Gone Wild: Domestic Terrorist Edition,” please understand that these men are enacting our myths for us. Then read “Whistleblower Cop: Fellow Officers Getting ‘Gang Tattoos’ To Celebrate Their Shooting Victims” and understand that they know full well how rarely we punish them, because we have asked them to behave the way they do.

Ask any African-American if this is something new. Ask yourself what sport in America is really about. Fifty-five years ago, in Soul On Ice, Eldridge Cleaver saw that when all Americans secretly subscribe to the notion of “every man for himself:”

…the weak are seen as the natural and just prey of the strong. But since this dark principle violates our democratic ideals…we force it underground …spectator sports are geared to disguise, while affording expression to, the acting out in elaborate pageantry of the myth of the fittest in the process of surviving.

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Goodbye, Great Barrier Reef


The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is the largest single structure on earth built by living organisms. A 2012 report showed that thirty percent of  it had already been killed off by ocean warming. Another 20 percent was lost in 2018. Half of the chain has disappeared into bleached, skeletal form, and this entire 2,600 kilometre chain of reefs off the northeast of Australia will all be dead within a decade. Eventually, (at least within this century) at least 90% of all coral reefs on earth will be dead. This is just one of many current signs that tell us how little time (if any) remains to avoid just some percentage of climate change's worst case scenarios.

A few days ago, I watched a video where the Swedish 'school strike' activist, Greta Thunberg, was asked what message she would give to other children and teenagers who might be watching. She said that her message would be (paraphrasing ...) 'Hope is not what is needed now. What's needed is action.' I have taken this fact about action over hope to heart, and this post is just one little way I feel I can take action, by sharing my grief and alarm with anyone who has ears to hear, whether they have come to the same realizations or not.

I recently saw Chris Hedges interviewing Dahr Jamail, the author of 'The End of Ice'. I believe this was the original catalyst which caused my understanding of "Climate Change" to switch -- from a somewhat abstract and amporphous intellectual knowledge of a very serious "problem" (amorphous, partly because I sensed it as a gradual worsening of effects) -- to a more grounded, embodied realization of what terms like "catastrophic" and "Abrupt Climate Disruption" actually mean for us all -- right now, and in the coming decade(s). This deeper realization, backed up by investigating other sources, has involved various stages of the process of grieving for what is being so quickly destroyed and lost, and at the scale of loss, and the potential chaos and suffering, that lies ahead -- that is, what lies ahead even if humanity were to immediately change course and stop burning fossil fuels within a decade. ( The chances of such a quick, thorough course change may seem to be practically nil. However, transformative revolutions do happen. For example, the complete overhaul of U.S. manufacturing towards the war effort in WWII. )

I will give links below to three videos:
(1) The interview mentioned above.

(2) A presentation given a year ago by Dahr Jamail just before "The End of Ice" was published. The first part of this talk presents a good, eye-opening account of some of the recent scientific research and reports he used for the book. It shows pretty convincingly, in my opinion, just how far the reality of what is actually happening now diverges from the common picture you get from main-stream media, and from the common perception that catastrophic change is something that "could" happen -- "sometime in the future." The second part shows how Jamail has personally chosen to act in the face of this, and then he takes some audience questions.

(3) A 'talking heads' documentary, but I found it quite good. The speakers are all identified at the end of the film. ( It begins with the intriguing possibility that the 'human experiment' of intelligent, conscious life may actually be unique, or extremely rare in the universe (requiring billions of years of evolution, plus several specific geophysical conditions coming together); it then moves on to the climate crisis. )

Lastly, I've transcribed Chris Hedges' introduction to his interview of Dahr Jamail:

"We have begun the sixth great mass extinction, driven by our 150 year binge on fossil fuels. We are pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at ten times the rate of the mass extinction known as "The Great Dying", 252 million years ago. The glaciers in Alaska alone are losing an estimated 75 billion tons of ice every year. The oceans, which absorb over 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, are warming and acidifying, melting the polar ice caps, and resulting in rising sea levels and oxygen-starved ocean dead zones.
We await a 50 gigaton 'burp', or pulse, of methane from thawing arctic permafrost beneath the east Siberian arctic shelf, which will release [the equivalent of] about two thirds of the total carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era.
Some 150 to 200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal are going extinct every 24 hours -- 1000 times the natural or 'background' rate. This pace of extinction is greater than anything the world has experienced since the disappearance of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago."

- from "On Contact: Climate emergency with Dahr Jamail"

(1)
"On Contact: Climate emergency with Dahr Jamail"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEKGp3gT_vs

(2)
A talk by Dahr Jamail, titled "Are We Already Off the Precipice?: The Progression of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption: A Sober Look at the Numbers"
(Takes a short while to stream in at first. Use on-screen controls to enlarge the slides section.)
https://media.csuchico.edu/media/0_2ljujwjg

(3)
Climate Documentary: The Cross of the Moment
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UuSxiCJ0co

.

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Spectacular Light

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The thing about living is light. It surrounds us, breathes through us – not in us but through us. The force of it is subtle as the New Mexico breeze I hardly notice under the hot summer desert sun then suddenly become acutely grateful for when under the shade of a hundred-year-old cottonwood tree.

 Light informs my psychotherapeutic work with patients who’ve suffered from complex childhood trauma, a terrible pain stemming from years of chronic abuse. There are horrid memories deposited in mind and body. Stepping out the door of my home each morning to go to my office, early before the sun rises over the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, I anticipate, hope for the light. Yes, there is hope because there is no guarantee that light, insight, will come and help the suffering to see and be a little freer.

Light, the way my patients and I experience it while sitting doing depth psychotherapy in my wood-paneled consultation office, is a subtle movement of energy. They sometimes comment, “The light in here has shifted. Have you noticed? It’s different, not brighter but clearer.” I often smile silently, acknowledging the reality of what I realize as numinous.

In depth psychology, soul-work therapy, numinous refers to spiritual awakening, an energetic force that awakens consciousness. It happens when we have a “big dream,” one that shakes us to the core and leaves a lingering sensation of mystery. Numinous and luminous are partners in life healing and transformation. It’s subtle, a shift we hardly notice, at times absolutely see, but always feel in our muscles, ligaments, and bones. Light, insight into self and others, awakens psychic truth and a sensation that the very luminosity of the room we are in and the world in which we live has shifted, transformed, for the better.

I call the numinous/luminous encounter spectacular because there is an instant, a millisecond even, when my breath stops, heart quickens, and my mind expands. Patients experience it, tears, sighs, and relief palpable. Spectacular light comes in moments of heart-to-heart conversation, a kindling of human understanding. It is subtle, meaningful, and spectacular.

http://www.drpauldeblassieiii.com/soulcare/2019/3/16/spectacular-light

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Barry’s Blog # 14: The Royal Wedding

In April 2011 a million people gathered in London. News reporters showed that many were apparently weeping with joy. Broadcast in over 180 countries to perhaps 160 million viewers, the wedding was one of the most watched events in TV history. With an additional 70 million live internet streams, the Guinness Book gave it the record of “Most Live Streams for a Single Event”, beating out 2009’s memorial service for Michael Jackson (see below).

Hundreds of journalists described every conceivable angle, article-2125809-127bd106000005dc-276_468x680.jpg?w=206&h=300&profile=RESIZE_710x from comparisons with the earlier wedding of Charles and Diana, to belated reviews of The Queen, to biographies of the horses (really) that pulled the royal carriage.

One might well ask, “What the hell is going on here?” or “Why don’t these people get a life?” And why all this fascination with royalty in America, the land of democracy?

We are dealing with a confluence of, on the one hand, an eternal archetype, and on the other, a modern expression of our demythologized world. The Royal Marriage is the meeting of the archetype of marriage with the cult of celebrity.

The Archetype of Marriage

Why do we cry at weddings?  Some of us identify with the happy newlyweds, who evoke joyful memories or wishes for a better future. At a more fundamental level, however, weddings (like births) proclaim a new start, a second chance, a new world, permission to turn our backs on past mistakes. In many tribal cultures, elders recited the society’s creation myths – cosmos emerging out of chaos – at such ceremonies, in the attempt to restore wholeness and promote fertility, in both the newlyweds and their farmlands.

It was the re-creation of the world that was taking place. We cry for the hieros gamos – the sacred marriage. We watch the enactment of life’s hidden unity: Sun and Moon, Heaven and Earth, King and Queen – indeed, Good and Evil – within each person. And in this case, Royalty and Commoner.

On the social level we celebrate the blending of two families who might otherwise conflict with each other. In parts of West Africa, the families, rather than the bride and groom, recite collective vows, and only after elaborate rituals in which they humorously test each other’s worthiness.

In an American culture so permeated by fear of the Other, we also unconsciously celebrate the union of Stranger and Guest, of America’s innocent lightness and its racial shadow, the two faces of Dionysus.

And some of our tears are of grief, reminders – as in all ritual – that something must be sacrificed for new life to be born. We mourn the death of the bride’s (and our own) identity as adolescent, regardless of her actual age. Mythologically speaking, she is moving from the first phase of the Triple Goddess, the Maiden, into the second, the Mother. Eventually she will die as mother to become the Crone.

This initiation is reflected in traditional Greek weddings, where the symbolisms of wedding and funeral remain very close. When the groom’s friends “kidnap” the bride, they are re-enacting Hades’ abduction of Persephone, who must die as innocent maiden before she can become Queen of the Underworld.

Greek myth provides many different images of sacred marriage: Zeus and Hera (union of equals); Ares and Aphrodite (war and love); Hephaestus and Aphrodite (beauty and artist); Orpheus and Eurydice (artist and muse); and Ariadne and Dionysus (originally, Goddess and consort). Twelfth-century Christian art re-created that union in the “coronation of the virgin: young adults 5407052725_1b5b6503e8.jpg?w=297&h=300&profile=RESIZE_710xJesus and Mary (most definitely not mother and son) enthroned together.

In Plato’s myth of humanity’s original wholeness there were three races: males, females and hermaphrodites. Each being had two faces, four arms and four legs, until Zeus for some reason ordered that they be cut in half. This left each half with a desperate yearning for the other. Feeling sorry for them, Zeus moved their genitals around to the front, so that they might have some satisfaction.

Ever since, all humans have wandered, searching for re-integration. Those who descended from the all-male ancestors search for the other half-male that will complete them, the women do the same with other half-women, and the descendants of the hermaphrodites search for the opposite-sexed beings who will return them to their original wholeness. “And now,” writes Plato, “when we are…following after that primeval wholeness, we say we are in love.”

The Cult of Celebrity

My book Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence describes the immensely long historical process in which the indigenous, creative, mythic imagination devolved into our current demythologized world. The losses of meaningful stories, effective ritual and divine images have resulted in our cult of celebrity. Instead of developing relationships with Aphrodite or Zeus, we adore each in a succession of actresses, athletes or politicians, who inevitably betray us by proving to be all too human.

If we only knew: The soul grows through an endlessly repeating cycle of innocence, projection, disillusionment, grief and expanded awareness, followed inevitably by new innocence or denial. In that process, those who cannot acknowledge or manifest their own creativity or nobility are likely to perceive those features in public personalities. We personify a grand, transcendent cause – the cosmos itself – as the King.

But without meaningful ritual, initiated elders and the container of real community, worship of celebrities (who may reflect our own best selves) becomes the toxic mimic of mythological thinking. And when we symbolically “kill the King” whom we had previously honored, we are really killing our own nobility. Noble comes from the same root as gnosis, or “knowledge.” A noble, someone who knows his or her own innate value, has no need to worship celebrities.

The cult of celebrity cheapens the hero archetype. For five generations, we have associated fictional characters (effortlessly achieving the impossible) with the actors who portray them. Now, few of us can distinguish between genuine heroes and fictional ones. We perceive little difference between Sylvester Stallone and Rambo or Rocky Balboa, or between Arnold Schwartzenegger and the vigilantes he portrayed, or for an earlier generation, between John Wayne and his characters. As I write in Chapter Nine:

Wayne, however, remains our greatest example of the confusion between actor and mythic image. Where did his stereotyped roles end and his public persona as right-wing spokesman begin? Those images were overwhelmingly present in the psyches of three generations of American men. Even now his films are required viewing for recruits at military academies, where his name is so common as to be a verb. Robert Bly jokes that the only images of masculinity available to young men in the 1960s were Wayne and his reverse-image, the “wimpy” Woody Allen.

We love them for being who they are, not for what they have done. In Daniel Boorstin’s phrase, a celebrity is “a person who is known for his well-knownness.” The Hero was distinguished by what he had achieved; he had created himself. Celebrities are known for their personalities and distinguished by their images, which are created by the media.

Ronald Reagan in particular was an expert at portraying derived values rather than anything heroic that he himself had achieved. He was so persuasive precisely because he could barely distinguish his life from his role. As President, writes Joel Kovel, he “played Ronald Reagan.”

In America we believe that we have neither royalty nor social class. We have spent much time and energy over the past 250 years convincing the world – and ourselves – that nothing prevents anyone in this country from making it to the top if he only tries hard enough.

But in reality our class system is nearly as impenetrable as the British system it is modeled on. We simply refuse to recognize the fact, because to do so would be to question our myths of democracy, freedom, meritocracy and opportunity and our heroic idealization of the rugged, self-made man. Ask George W. Bush if his high school C – average was sufficient to get him accepted into Yale, or ask Donald Trump why he threatened to sue all schools he had attended if they made his grades public.

So part of the shadow of this aspect of the myth of innocence is that we are absolutely obsessed with those who display its opposite, and in particular, the British Royals. Do you doubt me? Have you ever looked at long-term Sunday evening programming on PBS?

We can recognize another shadow aspect of our cult in our fascination with celebrity scandals, most of which tend to involve power, sex or money, or more fundamentally, desire itself. In a typical case, we are told that the celebrity seems to want more of something (it really doesn’t matter what) than our puritan heritage entitles him to; he cannot control his desires. Then, if enough of his followers conclude that this is true, he is on his way out of favor, because he has taken on the characteristic of “the Other.” Trump has shown that he can be the exception to this rule, as I wrote here.

The public (in countless “news” stories), “reacted with jaw-dropping disbelief” to the new revelation. Each new scandal elicits astonishment, which is in fact the reaction of those who have innocently suppressed their own desires to do precisely what the celebrity has been accused of.

Moving from scandal to the ultimate catastrophe (etymologically, to move downward), the cult of celebrity meets the characteristic American denial of death. We rarely grieve for the losers in our culture, but we mourn, sometimes quite excessively, for dead movie stars (in 2007, CNN covered Anna Nicole Smith’s funeral for ninety minutes uninterrupted by any commercials). Public attendance at their funerals – and shrines – allows thousands to vent their feelings.

Having projected so much upon entertainers, who have certainly replaced the pagan gods in our imagination, many grieve as if we personally knew them – or if a vital part of ourselves had died, which, in a sense, is true. As with Elvis, John F. Kennedy, Michael Jackson, Princess Diana and the Catholic saints, we honor their memory on their death dates, not their birth dates. Dying young, they remain frozen in time, immortal, never having to grow old like those who innocently deify them.

The Celebration of wealth

How many pounds sterling did the House of Windsor (one of the richest families in the world) and the British government spend on this ceremony? The mythological longing for the union of King and Queen meets the celebration of capitalism and consumerism that are at the base of the cult of celebrity. Outside of this context, almost anyone would describe this event as a gross (even tacky) and unforgivable display of wealth and ostentation in a time when so many have so little.

Indeed, in 2018, the next royal wedding – fraught with controversy over a prince marrying a divorced, mixed-race commoner – would cost £32 million. Did I say tacky? Wikipedia reports that

The 2,640 members of the public invited to Windsor Castle for the wedding were gifted gift bags to commemorate the event. The bag had the initials of the couple, date and venue location printed on the exterior. Inside was an order of service booklet for the wedding, a gold chocolate coin, a bottle of water, a fridge magnet, a 20% off voucher for the Windsor Castle gift shop(my italics) and a tube of handbag shortbread.

Let’s admit it. Americans, of all people, love these displays, not only for archetypal reasons but because they reinforce our beliefs in infinite growth and potential for success. Wecould be up there! Enough of us even love these displays – solid gold toilets! – in people like Trump, and especially in our religious leaders. We do this because so many fundamentalists subscribe to the prosperity gospel, which proclaims that perfect faith will deliver perfect affluence, even in excess. How else can we hear of people like Kenneth Copeland or Jesse Duplantis demanding larger private jets from their followers without tarring and feathering them?

How do we get out of this mess? Of course, it is inseparable from all of our other messes, because it arises from our desperate intention to remain innocent. In doing so, we project our darkness on the Others of the world, but we also project our better selves onto celebrities. We are so thrilled when they marry each other because we get to participate vicariously in that mythic union of King and Queen, or at least until they prove to be too human. The solution, like that to all our messes, is to begin the long and necessary and very painful process of retracting those projections and becoming ourselves, the people we came into this world to be.

In the Age of Obama and beyond, as our disillusionment with the latest savior figures set in, we continued in our spiral of diminishing political and social engagement.  But Americans still hold to our democratic stories of infinite possibility – those narratives that tell us that anyone can rise on his/her own merits to party like a rock star. We remain obsessed with the bread and circuses, even as – especially as – cracks in the walls of our innocence widen. As Billy Crystal’s character “Fernando Lamas” said, it’s better to look good – or at least admire those who do – than to feel good.

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Barry’s Blog # 31: The Race Card

The root of the White man’s hatred is terror, a bottomless and nameless terror, which focuses on this dread figure, an entity which lives only in his mind. – James Baldwin

As I considered the dark anniversary that is approaching, after all the writing I’ve done about race in America, it came to me as a shock of insight. It was so obvious, yet I hadn’t noticed it before. I was talking with a friend about white privilege, when he interrupted me and asked, “You’re not going to bring up the race card, are you?”

Suddenly, it was clear. My friend was, of course, making fun of the media pundits and conservative politicians who utilize that phrase to shut down any serious discussion about the one issue that underlies all others in America. By controlling public conversation, these gatekeepers establish the boundaries of acceptable discourse. Their primary function – and that of all corporate media – is to distract us from identifying the true sources of our distress.

The race card. Imagine a group of men playing poker. The game has rules, and everyone agrees on what they are. As long as everyone abides by them, the winner will be he who best combines skill and luck. The winner is an American archetype, the hero, in mythological terms. race-card-v1.jpg?w=140&h=140&profile=RESIZE_710xBy definition, he deserves to win. But then, just before the final accounting, one of the players pulls a trump card out of some secret pocket. The villain wins, but only by cheating, by breaking the holy rules of the game, the shared assumption of fairness. He expresses another American archetype that I have written about, the Con Man.

In America, for 400 years, the rules have been clear. Everything in America – economics, religion, education, foreign policy, entertainment, social cohesion, social class and personal identity – is based on race, and the agreement by social, media, financial and political elites to ignore both its cruel reality as well as its benefits.

Conservatives (that is, reactionaries) use the race card all the time, and have throughout American history. These days, so as to not appear blatantly racist, they use  commonly understood code words (“law and order,” “states’ rights,” “inner city,” “super-predators,” “gangs,” “thugs,” “rapists,” “drug dealers,” etc.) to manipulate the fears of their political base. The newest phrase is “invasion.”

American innocence is built upon fear of the “Other” – Indians, Mexicans, Asians, Communists and terrorists, but always and primarily, African-Americans. cq1vvxhvuaa-lfg.jpg?w=151&h=184&profile=RESIZE_710xThe fact that conservatives – and too often, liberals – regularly admonish progressives for speaking about race (from actually saying the word “race”) indicates the terrifying truth that the subject is taboo.

Anthropology teaches us that what is taboo is sacred. Like the Hebrew god Yahweh, this secret is too holy to be named.

I contend that race (as white privilege, as the prison-industrial complex, as the underpinning of our entire economy and all of our politics, and as the quite justified fear of retribution) is the great unspoken – and therefore sacred – basis of our very identity as white Americans.

White people know who they are because they are not the Other. In a culture built upon repression of the instincts, delayed gratification, institutional violence and a severe mind/body split, we have, for four centuries, defined the Other as those who cannot or will not restrain their impulses. We continue to project those qualities upon Black people and to a lesser extant all people of color.

In this American context, the legitimate issue of government intrusion upon the individual has consistently served as a euphemism for the threat that one’s personally hard-earned assets (despite the legacy of white privilege and discrimination) might be taken away and given to people who are too lazy to work for themselves, people who, we have been told, do not deserve help. How absurd is this standpoint? Consider that this society has condemned one of every four of its children to poverty and ill health because their parentscan’t find suitable work.

…this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime. – James Baldwin

These attitudes are essentially religious, even if we now articulate them in secular terms. We no longer speak of original sin – not because we have matured as a culture, but because we don’t have to any more. This brutal and childish theology is lodged in our bones. Underneath the clichés lies our Puritan contempt for the poor, still as severe as it was in the 17th century. Indeed, surveys still show that Americans of all social classes believe that losers are utterly corrupt, that their condition is their own fault. To fail economically (regardless of the causes) is not simple failure but – in America – moralfailure. We still refuse to acknowledge the elephant in the living room: systemic destruction of human values under capitalism.

As George Lakoff  has pointed out, most elected Democrats are law school graduates, whereas most Republicans emerge out of business school, where they study marketing, motivation – and brain science. These people know that narratives, not logic, move people, that effective politics in this demythologized age is aimed at the gut, not the head.

These themes have been played out with devastating effect since the end of the 1960s, when conservatives, far more mythologically literate than liberals, began to masquerade as “rebels” against the establishment. Their narratives took full advantage of the fact that American myth offers only one alternative to the hero – the victim. And the man who can no longer be a hero will search for villains or scapegoats so as to avoid the ultimate label of loser. For three generations these narratives have emphasized “values” over “interests,” redefining class war, once again, in racial, sexual and cultural rather than economic terms.

The continuing backlash against the perceived excesses of the 1960s still promises to absolve whites of responsibility and renew their sense of innocence. The theme of this revolution is a return to small town values. But its subtext is a complex mixture of fear, greed, misogyny, racism, violence, hatred of the poor and hatred of the body.

White males, oblivious to their privilege, now identify as victims – not of the rich, but of the minorities who compete with them, the women claiming equality with them, the gays who publicly question the value of their masculinity and the intellectuals who appear to be telling them how to live.

This is one way to understand right-wing activism: deeply committed, emotionally intense, sustained effort under the identification as victim, with their targets being precisely those categories (race, ethnicity and gender) whom they have been educated to perceive as questioning or contesting that privilege.

Hence, we have, and certainly not for the first time in our history, groups of relatively affluent people (most Tea Partiers are not working class) who actually believe that they have been persecuted by people who have far less money and far less influence than they do. images-2.jpg?w=165&h=83&profile=RESIZE_710xAnd not just the well off. For example, I used to know a 50-year-old man who did odd jobs for me. He had bad teeth, lived with his mother and was usually broke. Once, he declared that things were going badly for middle-class people like him and me. Middle-class? He was a good man, likeable, not entirely ignorant of politics, but the only way he could identify as middle-class was to ignore his own white privilege.

In the grand card game of American denial, there are severe penalties for not playing by the rules. And there are other secret cards, including the global warming card and, especially, the Palestine card. Witness the trashing that Ilhan Omar received recently (February 2019) from the leaders of the Democratic Party for quite accurately pointing out how AIPAC manipulates them. 

Race – hatred of African Americans – remains the highest-ranking Trump card. Few will admit to that kind of extreme language. But it should be clear to any “woke” person that prejudice and ignorance set the stage decades ago for the massive voter suppression (in at least twenty states), gerrymandering and computer fraud that dwarfed any alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Indeed, Omar was breaking another rule by pointing out that Israeli influence was far greater than Russian. 

…one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. – James Baldwin

Liberals who still hold to the Russiagate arguments are, in my opinion, simply enacting their own version of the myth of American Innocence. A four-century legacy of scapegoating has prepared us well for yet another narrative that allows us to displace our anxieties – and our complicities – onto a safely distant or “deserving” object.

With most white, older Americans perfectly content to have their cake (government services) without having to pay for it (taxes going toward lazy “welfare cheats”), too many of us are still willing to collude with the great secret.

“Original sin” is religious terminology, and so is “secret.” African slavery existed in Virginia before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. This fact has been referred to as America’s original sin. Ever since, every single white person who has ever set foot on this continent has benefitted from this secret.

It is a holy secret, because, four hundred years (from August 1619, to be exact) after the first African slaves were brought to Jamestown, we still will not name it.

If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they never would have become so dependent on what they call ‘the Negro problem’. This problem, which they invented in order to safeguard their purity, has made of them criminals and monsters, and it is destroying them; and this not from anything blacks may or may not be doing but because of the role a guilty and constricted white imagination has assigned to the blacks. – James Baldwin

For more of my writings on race in America see:

 Barry’s Blog # 133: Affirmative Action for Whites

 Barry’s Blog # 225: The Civil Rights Movement in American Myth

 Barry’s Blog # 136: Did the South Win the Civil War?

 Barry’s Blog # 36: Didn’t He Ramble?

 Barry’s Blog # 145: Do Black Lives Really Matter?

 Barry’s Blog # 99: Hands up, Don’t Shoot: The Sacrifice of American Dionysus,

 Barry’s Blog # 129: White Privilege

 Barry’s Blog # 30: The Dancing Ground at the End of the World

 Barry’s Blog # 179: Trump: Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology,

 Barry’s Blog # 236: The Mythic Sources of White Rage

 

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Every American president at least since Harry Truman, and arguably for much longer, has encountered a unique political dilemma created by two conditions. The first is a political reality. Capitalism and imperial expansion have dominated American politics since the beginning of the republic – and, if we are to properly understand the events of November 22nd, 1963 as a military coup – the end of the republic. In this context, all Presidents since Lyndon Johnson have been servants of the Deep State,  essentially spokespersons for the empire, certainly not its rulers, not even the primary “decider,” as George W. Bush called himself, well aware from the start that they have far less power than the public thinks.

obama-hand-to-ear-1.jpg?w=234&h=156&profile=RESIZE_710x

The second reality is mythological, and it involves his symbolic role as king-figure. He embodies the mythic figure of the King for his people. As envisioned by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette,  the King is the archetypal image of order, blessing and fertility. When, in dreams or myths, he acts, he does so as a representative of the Realm – or the Self – in its perfect, ideal fullness, in concert with his Queen.

These two conditions require that he play two opposite aspects of our national mythology against each other. Compared to ancient and indigenous narratives, the myth of American innocence offers us a severely diminished understanding of the possibilities of the psyche. We all learn quite early on that at the deepest level, to be an American is to aspire to be a success, a winner, or mythologically speaking, a hero. We also learn that our only alternative is to be a loser – or a victim. In this drama, we all make our destinies as individuals, and we are all either winner/heroes or loser/victims. And we all understand further that if we are losers it is no one’s fault but our own.

So the President’s – every President’s – role in the drama requires that he do two things. He must continue at all times to amplify the national mood of paranoia and fear of The Other so as to justify armed intervention abroad, a continuing national military state and repression at home. In other words, he must manipulate the traditional white American sense of being the innocent victim, or at least the potential victim, of some dark (and dark-skinned), irrational, violent, predatory outsider. This of course, would be nothing new to him, since anyone even aspiring to his office, not to mention those actually vetted, would be perfectly aware of it.

At the same time, he must play the exact opposite of the victim, the Hero. As Bush endlessly repeated after 9/11/2001, it is absolutely certain that America will prevail against the external Other (formerly Communism, now Islamic terrorism), because the nation, which he embodies, is charged with the divine mission of defeating evil and spreading freedom and opportunity. He must reassure Americans of his – and our – ability to meet the threat and defeat it, because not to do so would be to call our most basic national and personal identities into question.

Sadly (for those who expected something more), Barack Obama has slid seamlessly into this role. Perhaps he has had no choice; perhaps he is a true believer. But his statements about the war in Afghanistan are essentially no different from Lyndon Johnson’s on Vietnam or Bush’s on Iraq: We are in terrible danger, but we will prevail, because we are Americans, and God himself has ordained that we should be the saviors of the world.

But in America only a white man can play this role without being burned. Running for President, Obama was attacked both for being “too Black” and for being “not Black enough.” The realities of racial hatred – and fundraising – in America forced him to choose the latter, and to emphasize a “post-racial” philosophy. For this he was very richly rewarded by the financial sector.  His choice, however, had consequences.

The irony is that he has been unable to defend himself from the reactionary, Tea Party attacks regarding his place of birth, his middle name, his “socialist” inclinations and, of course, his skin color. His dilemma is truly unique. Even as he has been forced to continue demonizing others (dark-skinned people abroad and deporting Latinos at the borders), he has become the subject of demonization himself. He has become the President as Other, who shamelessly accepts the abuse even as he faithfully serves his corporate masters.

In another time and place, he would have been known as one of the “house slaves.” These were the slaves who served the master inside his house, the cooks, nannies and butlers, who lived in slightly better conditions than their brethren toiling in the fields. But they were still slaves.

Obama, like every President before him for several generations, worked desperately for years to become an occupant of the White House, only to become a slave to it.

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Part One:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. – W.B. Yeats

All that is solid melts into air. – Karl Marx

In a previous blog series I discussed how the gatekeepers of our culture exclude and demonize much progressive thought by associating it in the reader’s mind with bizarre right-wing claims, thereby delegitimizing both:

…countless websites and books devoted to narratives that marginalize anyone who questions the dominant paradigms of the culture. They typically do this by identifying “loony” theories from the perspective of the “rational center.” Such gatekeepers almost always lump all of the questioners together. Then with patronizing, pseudo-psychology they explore the unconscious motivations of conspiracy theorists, be they fascists or anarchists, Christians or Pagans, oligarchs or street people.

I’m talking about people who want us to forget about radical change because – they tell us – some of its adherents and some of their proposals are as laughably, preposterously unacceptable as are those on the other extreme.

The use of the term “conspiracy theory” is one of the main ways in which they banish any legitimate criticism of those in power to the realm of the truly illegitimate. The intent is insidious, even if often sincere. The only position that reasonable people could hold is the only one that remains, C – the consensual center that ranges between “not as crazy as A” to “not as crazy as B.” When they hear it often enough, people hold to that center so as to reaffirm their sense of American Innocence, and their identities.

I’ve read much by those who claim to objectively analyze conspiracy theories, and they all, left or right, serve that gatekeeping function. Even though most of what they say applies primarily to the right-wing loonies, they consistently associate the same faulty thinking with people further to the left.

But here is something new. In this age of fake news, “alternative facts”, high-resolution film and internet, when any image can be manipulated, some right wingers have become very skilled at offering theories with superficially progressive themes, but which, upon closer inspection, reveal reactionary agendas. They rely on the inability or unwillingness of countless good-hearted people who consume their well-funded rants and web posts to actually discriminate the former from the latter. One writer refers to these folks as “DRH” for “Down the Rabbit Hole.” I suggest another term: “New Age Conspiracists,” or NACs.

The wild popularity (seen by over 84 million people and translated into 27 languages) of the 2011 film Thrive is an example. Its creator Foster Gamble interviewed many progressive thinkers but hid his own libertarian views. Once they learned about those views, ten of the participants publicly denounced the film, claiming that Gamble had misrepresented himself. For more on that, see my blog, “The Mythic Foundations of Libertarianism” or Ben Boyce’s essay, in which he acknowledges “…how a skillfully edited documentary, backed with a big budget, can draw new adherents to a long-discredited political doctrine.” Later in this essay, I’ll describe how other “influencers” are manipulating thousands of people.

The pandemic year 2020 has seen massive resistance to social distancing and masking guidelines that have overlapped with vaccine skepticism. The great majority of it has emanated from right-wing and libertarian sources. But for now, I offer some confusing truths: quite a few left-wingers also favor personal choice on these matters – and the right is well aware of this. So we’re seeing slick, well-designed, “free-speech” websites such as Londonreal that, like Thrive, include articles by Noam Chomsky. But the further down one reads in their links, the more explicitly right-wing writings appear. This appears to be a deliberate strategy to influence young, anti-establishment, New Age readers.  

Let’s get a few things straight. Of course, there are conspiracies in which powerful people or classes discuss their shared goals and strategies away from the public eye. After all, to con-spire is merely to “breathe together.” Call it the Committee of 300, the Illuminati, the British Royal Family, the Rothschilds or the Khazarian Mafia – or just call it late capitalism and neo-colonialism rationally pursuing its short-term goals. Such people would be crazy not to get together periodically to shape national policies and international trends in their interests. And for my money, in this kind of a world, Trumpus is a minor mob thug and a useful idiot, while George H.W. Bush was Capo di Tutti I Capi of the Deep State.

“Deep State” is a phrase that can mean anything to anyone, and it seems that NACs especially use it too loosely. So I’ll try to define it from three perspectives:

1 – From the Center: The Deep State is the entrenched status quo that (in public perception) gets nothing done, whose members, lazy career bureaucrats and unmotivated administrators, care only to protect their own positions and retirement benefits. From a slightly more charitable perspective, it is composed of areas of government, including regulatory agencies such as the (pre-Trumpus) EPA that exist permanently, keeping the whole thing going, regardless of periodic changes in the White House. For more, read here.

2 – From the Right: The Deep State is “Big Government,” ideologically devoted to piling up infinite numbers of regulations intended to crush personal initiative and redistribute the national wealth to the undeserving poor. As Ronald Reagan said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Note the mythological assumptions: only in America, with its aggrandizement of radical individualism, is poverty considered the fault of the individual. Similarly, we celebrate people who claim to have accumulated vast wealth without the benefits of inheritance or the assistance of that same State. For more on this topic, see my essay, “Blaming the Victim,” and take note of how deeply this cruel belief system has penetrated the American religious psyche, especially in New Age thinking.

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This is the libertarian perspective of many NACs, who perceive federal regulatory agencies as instruments of a massive conspiracy to deprive them of the right to choose for themselves, especially in matters of health. To be clear, I agree with them to an extent, but it is very much a matter of discrimination, as we will see below. This thinking can slide down a long continuum that posits secret groups that control even the Deep State itself. In the most extreme scenarios, they are composed of alien (or Jewish) pedophiles determined to impose and dominate a New World Order; there is little practical difference between Big Government and the shadowy figures who conspire to control everything and everyone.

Note the mythological assumption: It’s a dualistic world of extreme good vs. extreme evil. This thinking has its roots in ancient Zoroastrianism, became solidified in Medieval Catholicism and justified centuries of European barbarism that led directly to the Holocaust.  

3 – From the Left: The Deep State is what we used to call the Military-Industrial Complex. Now we could describe it as the Military / National Security / Intelligence / Corporate / Petrochemical / Big Pharma / Big Banking / Big Agriculture Complex. From this perspective, government is not inherently bad, but it has been so utterly corrupted by capitalism that the State itself creates and maintains a culture of fear to generate a perpetual state of war. It crushes the imagination and redistributes the national wealth to the undeserving rich. Note another mythological assumption: nothing in our 400-year history has so deeply held our attention and limited our natural kindness as fear of the Other (the internal Other of race and the external Others of immigration, communism and terrorism). In this model, there is hardly any practical difference between Big Business and Big Government. When Defense Secretary Charles Wilson said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” in 1953, he was speaking quite literally.

Of course, more than one person conspired to kill John F. Kennedy. Even the U.S. Senate found this to be likely. Of course, elements within the government conspired to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. Indeed, a court determined that this is a legal fact. Obviously, elements of the Bush administration had some foreknowledge of the 9-11 attacks and did nothing to prevent them. And there are plenty of broader conspiracies to worry about.

But many people who have rejected the official narratives, who clearly understand that the mainstream media have shaped a false picture of the world (and possibly of American innocence) for decades, also seem to be getting caught up in some really wacky, paranoid, misogynistic and certainly racist claims. It appears that once you reject the center as illegitimate and the media as mendacious and locate yourself as a maverick out on the margins, you naturally become open to other marginalized opinions. From this perspective, when you entertain the possibility that everything we’ve been taught is wrong, then any alternatives may well be right.

Not long ago, most so-called conspiracy theories were clearly divided between right (Obama “Truthers”) and left (assassinations, CIA drug dealing). Gradually, many people have come to muddy the distinctions (if with very different conclusions), beginning with health issues such as fluoridation and the vaccine controversy, with the right mistrusting the government for intruding on their liberties and the left rightly criticizing Big Pharma’s perversion of the FDA. Meanwhile, the liberal, rational center – the abode of the gatekeepers – desperately holds to a naïve trust in objective and uncorruptible science, a working democracy, mainstream media who inform us (rather than selling us to their sponsors) and a foreign policy that protects freedom.

But then something new happened. The palpably obvious lie of the official 9-11 narrative brought individuals on both right and left together, if again with wildly different conclusions. Meanwhile, the mainstream media circled the wagons to marginalize all dissent in favor of unified military belligerence, just as they had done 84 years before to drag the nation into World War One, 60 years before to drag the nation into World War Two, 37 years before to drag the nation into Viet Nam, and only nine years before to drag the nation into Iraq.

People such as David Icke (one of the few people interviewed in Thrive who has not repudiated the film) have taken advantage of this really large segment of the public – remember, 100 million potential voters have opted out of the system – to posit a world in which powerful yet secret groups are striving to control the destiny of the entire world. This leads us to the QAnon phenomenon.

Part Two

The essence of American politics is the manipulation of populism by elitism. – Christopher Hitchens

The QAnon narrative, as most of us know by now, explains how we are in a sinister and dimly visible global power struggle. On one side of the fight is a depraved group of pedophiles, secretly sowing chaos and strife to create a pretext for their rule. On the other side is the public, decent people who have been deceived by the power brokers and their collaborators in the press. But patriotic elements within the military recruited Trumpus, and he’s been working hard behind the scenes to defeat the evil ones.

Whoever Q is (or are), its millions of followers receive and re-post thousands of hints about its agenda, and Trumpus himself (who many believe to actually be Q) has taken full advantage of it, especially in terms of coronavirus skepticism. Q followers agree that a great awakening is approaching to bring salvation. A promise of foreknowledge seems to be part of Q’s appeal, as is the feeling of being part of a secret community, which is reinforced through the use of acronyms and ritual phrases such as “Nothing can stop what is coming” and “Trust the plan.”

The year 2020 has added another dimension to the conspiracy mongering. Many people on both the right and the left who have legitimate concerns about corporate corruption of federal regulatory agencies, specifically on the question of vaccines, are finding it easier to question some aspects of the consensus on the Covid pandemic. And the Q people have skillfully taken advantage of this skepticism to convince them that the evil cabal of insiders deliberately created the pandemic or is at least ruthlessly exploiting it to frighten the public into accepting a totalitarian world government under permanent medical martial law. William Stranger writes:

The QAnon conspiracy represents nothing less than the chickens coming home to roost for the massive loss of public trust created by the plethora of outlandishly uninvestigated, under-investigated, and even fraudulently investigated marquee crimes in American history…

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But we need to realize that QAnon is well-situated in a long and racialized American tradition in which people who feel threatened by evil cabals are in fact relatively well-off. It’s a story about victimhood (as I write in Chapters Seven and Eight of my book) and an excuse for violence, real or vicarious, that we’ve been telling ourselves ever since the first massacre of Indians in the early seventeenth century. But in this new version, the savior is the President himself, who is arguably the most powerful person in the world already, and his people are already in charge. It’s a story that seems to have been designed to cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by the gap between Trumpus as his fans imagine him and Trumpus as he is. Here are some articles I’ve found useful:

The Wizard of Q  

Decoding QAnon: How the delusional theory beloved by far-right loons began 

QAnon spreads across globe, shadowing COVID-19

The Prophecies of Q: American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase

The deep, twisted roots of QAnon: Delusions of demon-cannibal conspiracies aren’t even original 

Majority of Republicans believe the QAnon conspiracy theory is partly or mostly true

A list of key words and phrases used by QAnon followers

How to know what’s true? Or, as Caitlin Johnstone asks, How You Can Be 100% Certain That QAnon Is Bullshit:

1. It always excuses Trump’s facilitation of corporate agendas.

2. It always refuses to prove the validity of its position.

3. It’s made countless bogus claims and inaccurate predictions.

I would add a fourth point, as a question: How many people who claim to be victims of the deep state are people of color? Or are they in fact people who are generally quite privileged and almost universally white?

But we mythologists cannot afford to wallow in our own form of patronizing self-deception. This is a mass phenomenon, and besides, plenty of its adherents are armed to the teeth. More critically, we have to acknowledge that at its core, it represents a legitimate, if misdirected anger at a secular state (and its media) that in their (and my) mind is no longer legitimate. Johnstone continues:

…it’s an obvious propaganda construct designed to manufacture support for the status quo among people who otherwise would not support it. It presents itself as an exciting movement where the little guy is finally rising up and throwing off the chains of the tyrannical forces which have been exploiting and oppressing us, yet in reality all it’s doing is telling a discontented sector of the population to relax and “trust the plan” and put all their faith in the leader of the US government.

And that’s exactly what makes QAnon so uniquely toxic. It’s not just that it gets people believing false things which confuse and alienate them, it’s that it’s a fake, decoy imitation of what a healthy revolutionary impulse would look like. It sells people on important truths that they already intuitively know on some level…It takes those vital, truthful, healthy revolutionary impulses, then twists them around into support for the…president and the agendas of the Republican Party.

The Anti-Fascist Network places Q and its strategies squarely within an old tradition:

Part of the fascist strategy is to misguide people into thinking the centrist neoliberal policies that trouble them are leftist policies. The far-right then pretend to be rebels against capitalism, whilst in fact standing for an even more extreme and brutal form of capitalism.

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To simply dismiss these people, however, is to ignore the implications of two of the basic ideas I’ll be speaking about further on. The first is that even a broken clock is right twice a day.Q followers and progressives agree that the mainstream media and mainstream political parties can’t be trusted, and some of the things that Q people say may well sound superficially attractive. But – and here is the second – we all need to learn how to discriminate, to notice when the clock really is broken, why it’s been broken and who broke it.

The issue is immensely complicated by technology – despite those few points of agreement, Q followers no longer share a common language with progressives. Indeed, the documentary The Social Dilemma reveals that the major social media sites have deliberately ensured that these people don’t ever read or hear the same news that we do.

Still, we must acknowledge that the worst lies can effective if they contain a core of truth. The great majority of Americans are suffering from a brutally unequal economic system and behind that, a soul-killing mythology, and the one thing all but the happy ten percent agree on is the need for change. Again: Q is “a fake, decoy imitation of what a healthy revolutionary impulse would look like.” That said, I’m interested not so much in its Tea-Party, libertarian or evangelical followers, most of whom identified with racist, misogynist, Republican politics long before Q arose, and will return to their roots when it disappears.

I’m more interested in figuring out what makes the NACs tick, and why so many of them have fallen for this con. It has been suggested that such people are particularly susceptible to being manipulated because they are perceived as high on empathy and low on boundaries. Also, it appears that one of the far right’s current strategies is to actively rebrand themselves as spiritual teachers or “new paradigm influencers.”

But we first we have to detour through American history and myth.

Read more…

Part Three -- History and Myth

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. – Andre Gide

As both American history and American mythology have shown us, it is always easier to blame others – dark-skinned people or dark-web conspiracies – for our troubles than it is to admit our own complicity. Chapters seven and ten of my book discuss what I call the Paranoid Imagination, tracing it backwards to the roots of Christianity and forward to the very beginning of the American Republic and its original fascination with the Illuminati:

The paranoid imagination seeks itself: it constantly projects its fantasies outward onto the Other and then proceeds to demonize it. Therefore, it finds conspiracies everywhere. In 1798, ministers whipped up hysteria about a tiny Masonic group. Anticipating McCarthyism by 150 years, one minister ranted: “I have now in my possession…authenticated list of names.” In 1835, future President John Tyler blamed abolitionism on “a reptile who had crawled from some of the sinks of Europe…to sow the seeds of discord among us.”

The classic text on our unique willingness to search for that “reptile” is Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964), and most of our gatekeepers still quote it when pontificating about conspiracy theories. But Hofstadter has his own critics, who have pointed out his tendency to conflate left-wing and right-wing populism and ignore significant differences between them. In other words, Hofstadter himself was a gatekeeper who encouraged the same kind of false equivalencies that I’ve been talking about.

We don’t need another study of conspiracy theories. What we do need is a deeper understanding of why and how we decide to be part of the gatekeeping process, how we reflexively reject what doesn’t appear to be “common sense” and marginalize progressive thought. We also need to learn to discriminate. Indeed, we can learn much from some of the gatekeepers, some of whom offer brilliant analyses of right-wing conspiracism. (Since they invariably express the anxiety of the Center, however, they cannot resist the temptation to falsely equate right and left.) Steve Clarke and Brian Keeley offer a useful definition:

A theory that traces important events to a secret, nefarious cabal, and whose proponents consistently respond to contrary facts not by modifying their theory, but instead by insisting on the existence of ever-wider circles of high-level conspirators controlling most or all parts of society.

There is often a strong similarity to religious cults, as we’ll see below. Rachel Bernstein, a writer who specializes in recovery therapy, argues that there is no self-correction process within cults, since the self-reinforcing true believers are immune to fact-checking or conflicting opinions. This makes them feel special, part of something important:

When people get involved in a movement, collectively, what they’re saying is they want to be connected to each other. They want to have exclusive access to secret information other people don’t have, information they believe the powers that be are keeping from the masses, because it makes them feel protected and empowered. They’re a step ahead of those in society who remain willfully blind. This creates a feeling similar to a drug – it’s its own high.

Jonathan Kay (Among the Truthers) writes:

In America…life’s losers have no one to blame but themselves. And so the conceit that they are up against some all-powerful corporate or governmental conspiracy comes as a relief: It removes the stigma of failure, and replaces it with the more psychologically manageable feeling of anger.

Note Kay’s apparent acceptance of American mythology: “…losers have no one to blame but themselves.” But his observations do make sense to me, even if they are patronizing (using pop psychology to label and dismiss people is one of the most common gatekeeping tools. In mythological terms, this is Apollo the lone archer killing from afar, as opposed to the drunken Dionysus who lives among the common people). To patronize is to label oneself as an expert – smarter, better, more advanced than the other, and Kay excels in this tactic, peppering phrases such as “quackery,” “satisfy his hunger for public attention,” “typing out manifestoes on basement card tables,” “something they fit in between video gaming and Facebook,” “college-educated Internet addicts,” “faculty-lounge guerillas,” and the almost comic false equivalency of “Glenn Beck and Michael Moore.” Can we take this guy seriously? Can we identify his agenda?

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Ultimately, this kind of analysis tells us more about the psychology of the “experts” than about their subjects. And it is precisely his style of east-coast, liberal, quasi-academic pontification and devaluing of flyover state values that drives millions of white working-class people either into reactionary politics or out of political engagement entirely.  

So we find ourselves divided into perhaps five groups. First, there is a progressive, activist, young, mostly non-white, often non-binary community who question the fundamental aspects of the myth of American innocence. Second, we have a tiny but vastly influential class of media and academic gatekeepers (divided into true believers and others who are clearly in it only for the money) whose professional mandate is to maintain the illusion of innocence and rationality for (three) the great majority in the center, innocently consuming all the American myths.

Fourth, the true believers on the right who, despite their white privilege and evangelical fervor, consider themselves victims of the Center, which they equate with the Left. Very many of them take a very selective “libertarian” stance, as the book Uncivil Liberties: Deconstructing Libertarianism explains. You can read the introductory essay (which I wrote), The Mythic Foundations of Libertarianism here. At the far end of this continuum we find the Q followers, many of whom apparently see no contradiction in, for example, their support of both Trumpus and the Black Lives Matter movement, or of both personal choice on vaccines and their hatred of abortion. Self-described “libertarians” who would ban abortion? Rand Paul is only one example.

And finally, we have some, children perhaps of the 1960s self-reliant, back-to-the-land movement, who dream of an Aquarian Age heaven on Earth if only everyone would think positive thoughts, but, because they cannot seem to perceive how they are manipulated, inhabit every zone of the margins without discriminating right from left, not to mention right from wrong. They are, truly, all over the map – like my Facebook friend who re-posts constantly, alternatingly from progressive and from ultra-right sources, denouncing racism on the one hand and praising those who enforce it on the other.

Psychology gets us only so far. I prefer mythological and religious-historical perspectives. In Chapter Seven I identify a trend that developed early on in American Protestantism in which

Cooperation between northerners and southerners birthed a paradoxical mix of extreme religious and modern Enlightenment values. Man was fallen and sinful, yet he could become whatever he wanted. Indeed, in 1776 – for the first time in history – a nation proclaimed the pursuit of happiness as its prime value. Soon, Tocqueville observed of American preachers, “…it is often difficult to be sure when listening to them whether the main object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the next world or prosperity in this.”

Where else but in America would there exist a doctrine known as the “Prosperity Gospel”? QAnon may be propelled by paranoia and populism, but it is also propelled by religious faith, and it utilizes the language of evangelical, apocalyptic Christianity. Adrienne LaFrance writes:

In his classic 1957 book, The Pursuit of the Millennium, the historian Norman Cohn examined the emergence of apocalyptic thinking over many centuries. He found one common condition: This way of thinking consistently emerged in regions where rapid social and economic change was taking place – and at periods of time when displays of spectacular wealth were highly visible but unavailable to most people. This was true in Europe during the Crusades in the 11th century, and during the Black Death in the 14th century, and in the Rhine Valley in the 16th century…

Here are two essays on apocalyptic thinking, one by Michael Meade and one that I wrote, in which I argue that millenarians always mistaken the need for internal, symbolic change for literal end-of-days.  

…we must step away from literalist thinking (whether New Age or fundamentalist) and accept that in biological, ecological, mythological or indigenous initiatory terms, to end is nothing other than to die. Only when death and decay are complete can they be understood as the necessary precursors to fermentation and potential new growth…

“End times” is also a metaphor for the archetypal cry for initiation. It is our own transformation – the death of who we have been – that we both fear and long for. The soul understands that there is no initiation into a new state of being unless we fully accept the necessary death of what came before…(but) when we can no longer imagine inner renewal, we see literal images elsewhere. We project our internal state onto the world and look for the signs of world changes “out there.”

The literalization of mythic images occurs everywhere that mythic thinking has broken down. But we know that a social or even political movement has elements of specifically American religiosity by the unmistakable smell of money. LaFrance continues:

The most prominent QAnon figures have a presence beyond the biggest social-media platforms and image boards. The Q universe encompasses numerous blogs, proprietary websites, and types of chat software, as well as alternative social-media platforms such as Gab, the site known for anti-Semitism and white nationalism, where many people banned from Twitter have congregated. Vloggers and bloggers promote their Patreon accounts, where people can pay them in monthly sums. There’s also money to be made from ads on YouTube. That seems to be the primary focus for (David) Hayes, whose videos have been viewed more than 33 million times altogether. His “Q for Beginners” video includes ads from companies such as the vacation-rental site Vrbo and from The Epoch Times, an international pro-Trump newspaper.

This notion of overwhelming influence, control and victimhood that is so characteristic of conspiracism is a form of literalistic thinking, an aspect of our de-mythologized world, in which the true believers have essentially eliminated both the Old Testament Jehovah and his demonic adversary and substituted the Illuminati, Bill Gates, the Clintons or George Soros. But it is still monotheistic thinking, and it expresses the Paranoid Imagination.

The mythic figure who embodies this thinking is transcendent, distant, all-knowing, all-powerful and exclusively masculine. This thinking objectifies Nature and Woman. It invites misogyny, hierarchy and dogma. It rejects cyclical time for linear time, allowing for only a single creation myth and a single ending. It reduces mystery to simplistic dualisms such as ultimate good and ultimate evil or innocence and original sin. However, since it cannot include its opposite, it requires another mythic figure to carry that role, and therefore it is obsessed with both evil and temptation, and it almost always leads to puritanism. Since it rejects paradox, diversity and ambiguity, it demands belief, which implies not merely a single set of truths but also the obligation to convert – or eliminate – those who question it.

This heritage is perhaps three thousand years old. Or, if we were to take a feminist perspective, we could say that its antecedents extend two thousand years further back, to the origins of patriarchy itself. But by the beginning of the Christian era, it had solidified into the thinking that ultimately led to the mentality of the crusader. Here is more insight from Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium

The elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted and yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary…ruthlessness directed towards…a total and final solution…The world is dominated by an evil, tyrannous power of boundless destructiveness. The tyranny of that power will become more and more outrageous, the sufferings of its victims more and more intolerable until suddenly the hour will strike when the Saints of God are able to rise up and overthrow it. Then the saints themselves, the chosen, holy people who hitherto have groaned under the oppressor’s heel, shall in their turn inherit the earth. This will be the culmination of history; the kingdom of the saints will not only surpass in glory all previous kingdoms, it will have no successors.

Cohn also repeatedly points out another characteristic of those times when the oppressed saints “rise up and overthrow.” In his examples from Northern Europe, they begin by attacking their rich overlords, but they quickly move on to massacring more traditional scapegoats, the Jews (if you haven’t noticed that much Q-related ranting is merely a recycling in 21st-century terms of Medieval anti-Semitism, you haven’t been paying attention).

But what happens when, after a thousand years, a grand narrative, that sense of meaning, begins to break down? Or, as I’ve argued in my book, when an entire mythology – such as the myth of American innocence – collapses? Religion as a system holding the mass of society together has been essentially dead since the mid-19th century, when a new way of knowing, the scientific method, replaced it and modernity was born. Very quickly, a new meta-narrative, nationalism arose. Germany, Italy and Japan, for example, did not constitute themselves as nation-states until the 1860s. And one could certainly argue that this was also true for the United States, in terms of the North-South reunification that occurred after the end of Reconstruction.

This new thinking was ideological, and in the sense that people were willing to die (and kill) for an idea, it had clear religious undertones. It gave people meaning in a world in which science had taken that meaning away from religion.

All nations certainly continued to give lip service to religion, but in reality, they utilized religion to justify the new national orders. Fundamentalism continues to motivate millions, but primarily as an adjunct to the state (as the consistently pro-war positions of nearly all televangelists show) or as its mirror-opposite (as in every socialist country).

The new literary and cultural movement of Modernism followed the universal disillusionment after World War One and attempted to make sense of what to do when we lose the certainties by which we define ourselves. But it offered only two alternatives for the non-artistic: the scientific method that had helped de-throne religion, and the political ideologies that led quickly to the second World War, the Holocaust and the Cold War. And, since neither of these belief systems addressed the soul’s longing for deeper meaning, faith in both began to collapse.

In the 1960s, Post-modernism identified this dislocation, celebrated the breakdown of structure and threw off the constraints of grand narratives. Individual identity, especially gender, was no longer fixed, but fluid and socially constructed. Postmodern individuals have no essential selfhood; they are constructed by webs of language and power relations. But very few of us can thrive in such a world, as Huston Smith wrote:

I am thinking of frontier thinkers who chart the course that others follow. These thinkers have ceased to be modern because they have seen through the so-called scientific worldview, recognizing it to be not scientific but scientistic. They continue to honor science for what it tells us about nature, but as that is not all that exists, science cannot provide us with a worldview ― not a valid one. The most it can show us is half of the world, the half where normative and intrinsic values, existential and ultimate meanings, teleologies, qualities, immaterial realities, and beings that are superior to us do not appear…Where, then, do we now turn for an inclusive worldview? Postmodernism hasn’t a clue. And this is its deepest definition… “incredulity toward metanarratives”. Having deserted revelation for science, the West has now abandoned the scientif­ic worldview as well, leaving it without replacement.

All this would be hugely magnified by technology, writes Alexander Beiner:

This is what identity is online. Fragmented, fluid, partial. Online, you can be anyone you want to be, and simultaneously, you are nobody. If this is where we gain our sense of self, we find ourselves adrift in a sea of language and relativistic narratives over which we have no control.

By the 1980s dissatisfaction with the trappings of post-modern culture – consumerism, the nuclear family, conventional religion, anti-communism and vicarious intensity (see Chapter 10 of my book) – was leading many Americans in one (or both) of two directions: the substance abuse that would eventually explode into mass death-by-opiates in the 2010s, and the retreat into fundamentalist religion.

When myths that bind us together in worlds of meaning die, the soul – and the soul of the culture – search for substitutes. All political ideologies, like the religions they emerged from, are monotheistic, since they allow no alternative viewpoints. Whereas myth once invited us to have our own ideas about the same thing, as Meade has said, ideologies force us to think the same idea.

From what I can see, many New Age Conspiracists cling neither to conventional religion nor to any nationalist ideology, but only to a simplistic and optimistic faith in “freedom.” They do seem to value the pseudo-community that characterizes the Internet, where they can freely share meta-narratives and experience neither the risks nor the support of authentic community, especially during the enforced isolation of the pandemic. And they do have one thing – the opportunity to connect the dots and explain everything, and in so doing, reduce their levels of anxiety.

Connecting the dots – finding some degree of correlation and attributing direct causality – may well be a new way of countering the terror of finding oneself in an economy, a pandemic and a political system that is broken and a climate that is out of control, in which a god of evil seems to have replaced a god of good. It’s difficult to confront the possibility that this good god may not really be concerned with our welfare (that would be a truly pagan perspective), or that he may never have existed at all. Americans still believe in that good god at much higher rates than Europeans – but 57% of American adults also believe in the existence of Satan, or in the hazy figure of the Antichrist.

Although he can’t resist throwing in false equivalencies, Kay accurately observes:

Conspiracism is attractive to the Doomsayer because it organizes all of the world’s menacing threats into one monolithic force – allowing him to reconcile the bewildering complexities of our secular world with the good-versus-evil narrative contained in the Book of Revelation and other religious texts…(he) vigilantly scans the news for signs that the world is moving toward some final apocalyptic confrontation between good and evil…so saturated is American culture with the imagery of Christian eschatology that it has been widely co-opted…Once you strip away their jargon, radicalized Marxists also can be classified as Evangelical Doomsayers… unfailingly compressing many random evils into a single, identifiable point-source of malign power…This psychic need to impute all evil to a lone, omnipotent source inevitably requires the conspiracist to create larger and larger meta-conspiracies that sweep together seemingly unconnected power centers.

…Both of them (conspiracism and millenarianism) go together: Both of them put the fact of human suffering at the center of the human condition. Conspiracism is a strategy for explaining the origin of that suffering. Millenarianism is a strategy for forging meaning from it…(in) a generalized nostalgia for America’s past.

Let’s be clear about this: No one in our culture fully escapes this legacy, since, as James Hillman said, “We are each children of the Biblical God…(it is) the essential American fact.” Deep in the unconscious psyche of every American Yogi, Buddhist or New Age influencer is a three-thousand-year-old monotheist, and it has its own agenda to convert or eliminate its competition.

Here is a clue: if your people consider their story to be literally true and other people’s stories are “myths,” then you and your people are thinking mythically or literally. Other mono-words share the brittleness of one correct way: monopoly, monogamy, monolithic, monarchy, monotonous. If solutions to our great social and environmental crises emerge, they will originate outside of the monoculture, from people on the edges – or at least those who have learned to discriminate.

Once we become comfortable thinking in terms of myth – as stories we tell ourselves about ourselves – we can step out of own monocular thinking. We can acknowledge, as Charles Eisenstein writes, that a conspiracy narrative is “…after all, neither provable nor falsifiable,” and then take a clearer look at what it can illuminate.

Underneath its literalism, it conveys important information…First, it demonstrates the shocking extent of public alienation from institutions of authority…Second, (It) gives narrative form to an authentic intuition that an inhuman power governs the world…(it) locates that power in a group of malevolent human beings…Therein lies a certain psychological comfort, because now there is someone to blame…

Alternatively, we could locate the “inhuman power” in systems or ideologies, not a group of conspirators. That is less psychologically rewarding, because we can no longer easily identify as good fighting evil; after all, we ourselves participate in these systems, which pervade our entire society…Stamped from the same template, conspiracy theories tap into an unconscious orthodoxy. They emanate from the same mythic pantheon as the social ills they protest. We might call it…the mythology of Separation…matter separate from spirit, human separate from nature…Because we are (in this myth) separate from other people and from nature, we must dominate our competitors and master nature. Progress, therefore, consists in increasing our capacity to control the Other…

…Events are indeed orchestrated in the direction of more and more control, only the orchestrating power is itself a zeitgeist, an ideology…a myth. This deep ideology…is beyond anyone’s power to invent. The Illuminati, if they exist, are not its authors; it is more true to say that the mythology is their author. We do not create our myths; they create us.

Now I think we have enough background to try and understand what makes NACs tick.

Part Four -- Conspirituality

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung

Most conspiratorial thinking deliberately serves the interests of the rich and powerful. But, as I wrote above, we are now confronting something entirely new. Extreme right wingers are presenting aesthetic web presences with superficially progressive themes, but which, upon closer inspection, reveal pro-capitalist, reactionary and/or racist agendas. This phenomenon relies on two factors. The first is the major social media platforms and their algorithms that encourage rapid dissemination of unreliable information and the confirmation bias that results from seeing only what the viewer already believes in. Now, Q-followers rarely see what you see, and if they do, it is presented in a format that minimizes the moral consequences.

The second is that these platforms are deliberately designed to take advantage of millions of good-hearted, “spiritual but not religious” people who have – quite rightly, in my opinion – lost all trust in the mainstream media, but who seem to have also lost the ability to discriminate between progressive ideas and the language of hate. One writer refers to these folks as “DRH” for “Down the Rabbit Hole.” I prefer “New Age Conspiracists,” or NACs, and I’ll bet you know a few of them.

Such people often share certain personality traits such as distrust of authority and institutions, particularly in the fields of health and education; openness to unusual experiences; willingness to detect hidden patterns; deep longing for authentic community; and an attraction to alternative paradigms.

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Many of these folks have long existed outside of conventional career paths, resonate with a libertarian, anarcho-capitalist entrepreneurial tone, are open to information that some psychics claim to have “channeled” from other, non-physical dimensions, and believe in the ability to manifest financial and romantic success and vibrant health through positive thinking, as taught by Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling book and film The Secret. In the film version, a series of self-help teachers promote positive thinking, primarily toward the goal of acquiring consumer goods and a great love life. This tradition extends back to the New Thought teachers of early 19th-century America. And let’s be really clear about this: the film ignores the values of community almost totally.

Mainstream media writers, who are primarily from the middle class, have never understood people who reject their values, demeaning the post-hippie culture as “bliss ninnies” of the “the love-and-light crowd.” Nor has the mainstream acknowledged how the counterculture actually birthed the high-tech world we all take for granted, as John Markoff relates in What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.

Among my 60s generation the characteristics that encourage artistic, religious and even scientific exploration, as well as a disdain for convention, usually produced liberal, anti-authoritarian attitudes on social issues and optimism about the future. But those same characteristics, encouraged by a lack of deep introspection, have a dark shadow. The term “conspirituality” was coined in 2011 – long before either Trumpus or QAnon. Charlotte Ward and David Voas write that

It offers a broad politico-spiritual philosophy based on two core convictions, the first traditional to conspiracy theory, the second rooted in the New Age: 1) a secret group covertly controls, or is trying to control, the political and social order, and 2) humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness. Proponents believe that the best strategy for dealing with the threat of a totalitarian ‘new world order’ is to act in accordance with an awakened ‘new paradigm’ worldview.

Jules Evans suggests how these two forms of experience can flow into one stream:

…. The first is a sort of extroverted euphoric mystical experience: “Everything is connected. I am synchronistically drawn to helpers and allies, the universe is carrying us forward to a wonderful climactic transformation (the Rapture, the Omega Point, the Paradigm Shift), and we are the divine warriors of light appointed by God / the Universe to manifest this glorious new phase shift in human history.” The second: “…Everything is connected, there is a secret order being revealed to me, but I am not part of it. It is an evil demonic order…perhaps I, and one or two others, can wake up to this Grand Plan, and expose it”…The first trip is a euphoric ego-expansion (I am God! I am the Cosmic Universe evolving!) and the second is paranoid ego-persecution (The Universe is controlled by Evil Demons…) In both, the individual awakens to this hidden reality. But in the first, they are a superpowered initiate in the hidden order and a catalyst for a Millenarian transformation, in the second they are a vulnerable and disempowered exposer of the powerful hidden order.

Both forms exemplify mystical or even schizoid thinking. In both, the ego is part of a grand cosmic drama. In one, it is the divine appointed catalyst for humanity’s rebirth. In the other, one is the heroic exposer of the Hidden Order. And it appears to be possible that one can switch between ecstatic, optimistic Millenarianism and paranoid persecutory conspiracy thinking, from “everything is connected and I’m a central part of this wonderful cosmic transformation!’’ to “everything is connected and I’m at risk from this global plot!”

It’s always been about waking up – being “woke.” For my children’s generation, the “red pill” moment of the 1999 film The Matrix became the central metaphor that connected these two forms of mystical thinking. On the left, being red-pilled implies awareness of social justice issues.

Rightists, however, have adopted the metaphor to represent an awakening from their perceived conditioned trance of soft, inappropriately liberal concern for the poor – those whom our American mythologies have labelled as unworthy. And any institutions that interfere with this libertarian focus on the individual are simply impediments to a narcissistic preoccupation with self-fulfillment. Then we enter the slippery slope in which the ability to discriminate diminishes in favor of an intuitive knowing and an essentially religious disdain for science and conventional sources of authority.

As I’ve said, much of that disdain is regularly justified by revelations of massive corporate corruption, especially in the fields of nutrition and wellness so treasured by NACs. The danger, however, is that they can become vulnerable to fake news that encourages that magical thinking. (Before we slide into simplistic demonization of “anti-vaxxers,” however, let’s remember that many others on the progressive Left who have retained that precious ability to discriminate are vaccine skeptics not because they disregard science, but because they reject the capitalist corruption of science.)

American history, especially the history of health care, is replete with good-hearted, naïve “holy fools” – and the con-men, from P.T. Barnum to the grifters already lining up to replace Trumpus – who have always been willing to steal our watches and sell them back to us. For more, read my series “The Con Man: An American Archetype.”

The devaluing of intellectual checks and balances combined with exclusive emphasis on positivity and the inability to grieve (another American religious characteristic) can result in “spiritual bypass” – the use of metaphysical beliefs to deny, distort, or reframe legitimate human suffering, both personal and social, and it can attract really decent and idealistic people toward cults and ideologies, whether spiritual, political or consumeristic. 

After the Dionysian explosion of the sixties, the meeting with Eastern religion, psychedelics and indigenous spirituality introduced healthier lifestyles that have benefited millions. But the phrase “human potential movement” entered the lexicon carrying the seeds of its own destruction wherever its proponents refused to address the fullness of the psyche. In late capitalist America, a society lead by uninitiated men and sociopathic narcissists long before Trumpus, they encountered institutions – work, church, media, politics, education, the police and the military, and perhaps most of all, the family – designed expressly to elicit their darkest potentials, much of which were channeled into fundamentalism, toxic masculinity, addictions and the vicarious fascination with brutal militarism.

Chapter Five of my book describes James Hillman’s Depth Psychological insight into the excessive identification with the dry values of “spirit” as opposed to the wet values we associate with “soul.” In mythological terms, this is the opposition between Apollo and Dionysus taken to its extreme. Julian Walker writes that for spiritual people,

…we end up engaging in a practice that, rather than shaping outside reality, as is often claimed in media like The Secret, instead burns a distorted operating system and perceptual lens into our neuroplastic brains…It’s the practice of thinking facts and evidence are relative, mutable, and can be made to mean whatever we want via the narcissism-enabling belief in absolute subjectivity — the divine “I” that alone creates reality and stands all-powerful within it…For spiritual folks the threshold into the overlap is crossed…into just the exact shadow reflection of the light-and-love delusion. It is the positive, synchronistic all-is-perfect obsessive pattern-seeking confirmation bias turned on its head and set on fire — and that fire fantastically fueled by the explosive emotional gasoline kept buried until now by spiritual bypass.

Walker is one of many voices writing from within the Human Potential Movement.  He describes several “worldview weaknesses” held by many NACs:

1 – Over-privileging of the individual over the collective.

2 – Denying the validity of other points of view, over-equalizing opinion and undermining of respect for expertise, all of which can lead to bigger sales and more followers. “Real scientists are always open to being wrong. Real scientists know the current hypothesis is only as good as the next batch of data. Real scientists are careful.” I would add: real scientists refuse to allow corporate toadies to corrupt their data to show quarterly profits.

3 – “Esoteric knowledge ego inflation:” rejecting virtually anything that can be called mainstream as a means of subtly bolstering one’s sense of having esoteric insights into reality.

4 – A sanitized, overly rosy spirituality that ignores the shadow “creates a bubble of positivity” that, when faced with actual suffering, can twist into its opposite and perceive its polarized antithesis in the form of evil elites. This can fuel messianic zealots who “can become compelling and charismatic leaders because they are rock solid in their convictions.”

5 – Belief in the “Law of Attraction,” which teaches that people create their own realities. This idea does have a core of truth. But it reinforces detachment from collective political action, radical individualism – that most fundamental American myth – and New Age promises of “instant gratification mental changes.” And, I would add, by ignoring its own deeply Calvinist roots, it leads to moral condemnation of those who don’t think positive thoughts. This is another specifically American story, as I describe in “Blaming the victim.”

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Another person writing from within this community is Martin Winiecki, who offers “Six Reasons so Many Spiritual People Have Been Fooled by QAnon”, and I extrapolate:

1 – Lack of Structural Analysis: The culture of radical individualism sees both heroes and villains in particular individuals or small, hidden groups. But when we don’t address the systemic nature of our condition (whether spiritual or material), this kind of thinking merely reinforces the system itself.

2 – Overly simplistic, binary thinking: Suppressing “negativity” encourages the shadow to take on a life of its own, “which will terrorize and subconsciously dominate them…” Jung concluded from his study of world mythology that when suppressed aspects of the psyche finally emerge – as they always do – they tend to be angry.

3 – Implicit Racial Bias: Stories about Soros’ control of social movements clearly reflect old-school, anti-Semitic prejudice about all-powerful Jews, while New Age fear of introspection leads to the unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of white privilege. Repetition of claims that Black Lives Matter is “a tool of the liberal elites” reveals the belief that black people aren’t able to speak for themselves. “Not seeing color” insults actual people of color who live their entire lives identifying exactly as they are.

4 – To denounce conventional reality as illusion can lead to the inability to realize that one’s own political views reflect ideology and thus believe everything and nothing at once. “According to the great political philosopher Hannah Arendt, this is precisely the psychological state of people who follow totalitarian ideologies.”

5 – The post-modern experience that the left has lost its appeal due to intellectual elitism, moral and ideological rigidity and rejection of non-material realities leads to the unconscious search for another ideology as a replacement.


6 – The natural desire for community is corrupted by its shadow of radical individualism and the profit motive. This results in people with no previous connection to each other fusing together in an illusionary sense of shared identity. Why are so many wellness practitioners in particular falling for the onslaught of QAnon claims? Although the global wellness industry is reportedly worth $4.5 trillion, its more controversial elements continue to suffer disparagement not only from Big Pharma but from countless self-appointed, individual gatekeepers of the status quo (do you, reader, giggle when a friend offers a treatment with healing crystals?) Now in this current state of emergency – where defeating the pandemic requires universal social acquiescence – many purveyors of these views see their paranoia being confirmed. In a form of what Brigid Delaney calls “trauma bonding,” this strengthens their connections with figures such as Alex Jones who appear to favor individual rights, and like that broken clock, may well be right twice a day.

I would add a seventh factor:

7  The natural desire to attain self-awareness and mystical realization is corrupted by those same factors. People often realize the deeper unity of beings and the need for a truly planetary frame of reference, at least briefly, through the experience of psychedelic plant medicines. However, as Daniel Pinchbeck writes,

The problem is that they need a cultural / initiatory context or container which supports them in fully integrating the influx of new knowledge and wisdom. Otherwise, the ego structure finds ways to distort these revelations for its own purposes, in a variety of subtle ways. This is how the Neo-spiritual and psychedelic movement have gone off track…Fascism is a kind of low-grade occultism: It satisfies the ego mind’s desire for a simplistic unity and gets rid of all the nagging paradoxes and contradictions of reality.

For more insight into conspirituality, there’s an entire website, www.Conspirituality.net, which describes itself as “a weekly study of converging right-wing conspiracy theories and faux-progressive wellness utopianism.” One of its pages lists over thirty wellness “influencers” that have posted, shared, or explicitly created QAnon-related content, even though many have recently scrubbed direct reference to Q itself.

Let’s be clear about this: we need to integrate the mystical and self-realization visions with indigenous initiation wisdom and roll it all into a perspective that reveals the systemic sources of racism, misogyny and political alienation that impact us all. Indeed, the idea of “spiritually awakening” to our true nature long ago predated the current idea of “woke.” But without the ability to discriminate, to understand the mythic narratives that drive our willingness to innocently embody and enact them, we remain “bliss ninnies” at best and crusaders for fascism at worst.

Read more…