Barry’s Blog # 303: Military Madness – The Unacknowledged Metaphors in Our Daily Speech, Part Four of Four

Part Four

Turn this wall on its side and it becomes a bridge! – Graffiti on the Mexican side of the U.S. border wall

Mythopoetic men’s conferences have evolved effective conflict rituals that encourage men to engage with each other on subjects as frightening as race, power and sex without either leaving or becoming violent. In this context, safety means feeling secure enough within the ritual container to take risks. If men remain in this heat of confrontation long enough, they may get past anger to the underlying grief, to weep together and to cleanse their souls.

Joshua Chamberlain was a Union Army general who recorded the awesome spectacle of Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9th, 1865:

Before us in proud humiliation stood…men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve…thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond…On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer…but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead! …How could we help falling on our knees, all of us together, and praying God to pity and forgive us all!

He knew as few could know that the two armies, ground down by four years of carnage, had suffered together. Despite the hatred – or perhaps because of it – they had erased a little bit of that sense of otherness that drives men to violence. The surrender, of course, didn’t heal the nation’s wounds, but Chamberlain’s vision invites us into the imagination of reconciliation. Reframing can lead to clarification of intention.

I’ve already alluded to the idea that competition means “petitioning the gods together.” greengreecego_wrestvase The ancient Greeks knew this. Agon (the root of agony) was their term for a contest in athletics, horse racing, music or literature. It also referred to a challenge that was held in connection with religious festivals, especially Tragic Drama, in which the two main characters were the protagonist and the antagonist.

This doesn’t mean that the Greeks were able to transform their greed and their passions into non-violence. Indeed, they were constantly at war with each other. However, almost every four years between 776 BC and 393 AD they called sacred truces. Many scholars see the origin of Olympic competition in earlier funeral games that were held to honor deceased heroes, as described in the Iliad.

So contest can mean “testing together,” or “to bear witness together,” from the Latin testis (plural: testes).  Michael Meade claims that “testimony” implied holding one’s hand over one’s testes to prove that he was telling the truth.

So now we can reframe the military metaphor Give me your best shot into “Show me what you’ve got; inspire me to show what I can do,” and then into “Let’s make this boxing match (ball game, breakdance, poetry competition, etc) into the most beautiful thing imaginable!”

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, even if those truths have been corrupted to serve a culture of death. We cannot simply drop them by realizing that they are myths; we must go further into them, by telling the same stories, but reframing them until we discover their essence.

Americans have some advantages here. 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 identity.

As Casey says, “co-operators are standing by.” The other world is offering help, but indigenous protocol insists upon our full participation. We will develop that capacity as we build our willingness to imagine. This is why the renewal of the oral tradition is so important; it enables us to go beyond the literal and think metaphorically. Here are a few ideas from Chapter Twelve of my book:

We can start by reframing capitalism’s basic – and bizarre – superstition that if each person pursues his own narrow interests, then the common good advances. Instead, let’s imagine a society in which individuals enhance both their own wellbeing and the greater good only when they give fully of themselves. This implies an indigenous concept of abundance in which the role of money is to facilitate the transition of value from its source in the Other World to its recipients in this world, and back. Wealth is a warehouse in transit, temporary storage. As in a potlatch, one accumulates it in order to give it away.

Appreciation of interconnectedness reminds us that we both held by and accountable to the larger communities of nature and spirit. Dominion can become stewardship or husbandry, which can free us from our mad obsession with growth. Then we can replace the GDP with a “Gross National Happiness” index.

We can replace development with liberation (from Liber, Dionysus) in both its Buddhist and political senses. Then our obsession with growth will be unmasked as a spell that monotheistic thinking has cast over the indigenous soul. Liberation: breaking the spell, lifting the veil. In America, the shadow of growth (both economic and spiritual) is depression. But in previous depressions we learned to stop buying things we didn’t need. We can do it again, as a simple solution to consumerism and pollution.  The opposite of consumption is neither thrift nor poverty but generosity.

Below the pressure to compete lie older assumptions. The vindictive God of the Old Testament never seems to have enough blessing for everyone. Is this why we strive so hard to accumulate things? Let’s reframe scarcity and original sin into infinite fecundity and original blessing.

Scarcity assumptions (if there is not enough to go around, then only the “elect” will have it) lead to Puritanism. Let’s reframe the compulsion to work unceasingly into the drive to remember and deliver our unique gifts. Finding a sense of belonging from what we give rather than from what we get will free us from blaming capitalism’s victims for their own suffering. With less energy invested in success, we’d find less shame in failure. Idleness would transform into the opportunity to do more important things than make money. Self-improvement could become a non-dogmatic, communal spiritual quest. Perhaps addictions stemming from our misguided search for meaning and a true home in the world would simply melt away. Then self-interest and individualism would shift eventually to the needs of the soul and prosperity would not be measured in numbers.

a-bullet-i-dodged-william-haefeliWe would reframe Puritanical contempt for the body into an inclusive, humorous eroticism.  Heterosexuals would appreciate gay people as gatekeepers. We could shamelessly entertain images of lust and loss of control without needing to project them upon others. The paranoid imagination would lose its suffocating grip on our emotions, as we reframe anxiety itself into the natural curiosity and hospitality of people who know who they are.

Perceiving abundance in spiritual terms, we’d also reframe the predatory imagination. Entertaining the possibility that we are held by non-human powers, we would find no joy in exploiting others. Feeling welcome in the world, we would laugh at primitive ideas like dog eat dog or every man for himself.

The earth needs real heroes like never before, but we will prefer peace heroes to war heroes. As we support ritual containers for the initiation of youth, we will no longer be fascinated by men who risk their lives crushing the Other to restore the peace of denial. We will applaud those who commit to the hard work of relationship with the feminine, men who don’t ride off into the sunset.

Reframing heroism will help us take back what we have projected onto entertainers. We will still admire those who excel in athletics, public service and the arts as models for excellence. But as the images of the pagan divinities return, as we understand them as aspects of our own souls, the cult of celebrity will wither away.

We could drop the patronizing moral superiority that justifies interventions and invasions (both international and interpersonal), transforming them into the desire to encourage (give heart to) the best in people, to see others find their own voices. As patriotism shrivels back into love of the earth – matriotism – racism and witch-hunting would transform into appreciation of diversity. And we could shift from  “We are not them” into the positive Mayan greeting, “You are the other me.”

Instead of meaning personal fulfillment unimpeded by government, freedom would imply public commitment made possible by government. We would replace the white bread melting pot with a new metaphor reflecting the diversity of soul and world: a polychromatic mosaic of shining ethnic facets, each reflecting all the others.

The world would still be a “vale of soul-making,” as Keats wrote, but it would no longer be a fallen world. Imagine millions of Americans no longer interpreting Biblical poetry as literal fact. Belief would return to its German roots where it is connected to love and cherish. Dropping the model of a god who sacrifices himself to redeem others, we would happily redeem ourselves. Imagine shifting our paranoid confrontation with the Other to the environmental crisis, a stance in which everyone would be “we,” united in the defense of the Earth, when national borders would dissolve.

Sacrifice would revert to its original meaning: voluntary approach to the underworld for the renewal of self and community. It would imply the intimate connection between death and rebirth that constitutes initiation. What is “made sacred” would once again be the person who endures the terrifying ego death that precedes the birth of a new identity. Jung writes, “What I sacrifice is my own selfish claim, and by doing this I give up myself.”

thThe sacrifice of Isaac – our most fundamental mythic narrative – would once again symbolize the offering up of Abraham’s own innocence.

Happy to sacrifice what we don’t need, we would reassess consumerism. We would shift from consuming culture (passively ingesting electronic media) to making culture. We would no longer settle for sitting passively while the burdens of our unfulfilled lives get resolved electronically.

Making culture means dropping the need for divertissement (being diverted), performance (to provide completely) and amusement (related to the Muses). We’d create real entertainment (holding together). We would periodically renew ourselves through shared suffering – and shared ecstasy. In return, the art we would make would hold us all together.

Shared ecstasy: a few tastes of the potential of real community would make us realize how little we have been willing to settle for. We would reframe the pursuit of happiness – a deeply constrained vision typical of our narrow emotional range, which is itself the expression of the refusal to grieve – into the pursuit of joy, and of our true natures.

Those who can grieve together can laugh together. Re-acquainting ourselves with the old rituals of grief and closure, we would reframe our characteristic denial of death and come to value the final initiatory transition endured by people who have lived real lives. Death – as a necessary, periodic restructuring of identity – would become our friend, sitting (as Carlos Castaneda wrote) on our right shoulder, reminding us to pay attention to the fleeting beauty of the world. And we could reframe the old question of the generals, What are you willing to die for? into the initiatory challenge, What are you willing to fully live for?

Reframing our reflexive use of military metaphors can help us 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.

If America remembered its song as This Land Is Your Land rather than as Bombs bursting in air, we might understand freedom as willing submission to the soul’s purpose, and liberty as the social conditions that allow that inner, spiritual listening to happen. Diversity and multiculturalism would reflect the vast spaces of the polytheistic soul, and conflict would be about holding the tension of two opposites to create a third thing, something entirely new. We would remember that self-improvement is really intended for service to the communal good, and that individualism points us toward our unique individuality.

Remembering its song, America would remember its body – Mother Earth.  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 contempt for our own children and to see them for who they are, rather than as projection screens for adult fantasies of innocence. We could reframe our national narratives with their deadly subtexts of child sacrifice into stories of initiation, renewal and reunion with the Other.

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 and those military metaphors 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.

We would realize that an appropriate metaphor has already arisen out of this land: the spirit of Jazz improvisation. When Charles Mingus heard a band member play a crowd-pleasing solo, he’d shout, “Don’t do that again!” By this he meant that the sideman needed to keep experimenting, to push himself (and the band) to even deeper soulfulness. And this means not just playing but communicating. Wynton Marsalis explains:

… 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.

We might realize that we have already dropped our fascination with evil. As in the Aramaic, we would view destructive behavior as unripe, as a cry for help, and we would know compassion.

Finally, we could cook innocence itself down to its roots. Our own light would no longer blind us. Innocence, once again, 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.

Richard West, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian, proclaimed at its dedication ceremony, “Welcome to Native America!…The Great Mystery…walks beside your work and touches all the good you attempt.”

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Barry’s Blog # 302: Military Madness – The Unacknowledged Metaphors in Our Daily Speech, Part Three of Four

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

These days there is much talk about de-colonizing our minds – interrogating ourselves about the unconscious biases, racist opinions, classist ideas, colonialist language (and, I would add, outmoded mythologies) that we take for granted and that no longer serve us, if they ever did. To this list we need to add de-militarizing our minds. And this requires learning to reframe our metaphors, especially around health and illness.

The Queen of reframing, astrologer Caroline Casey teaches that our military metaphors subtly determine and undermine the metaphysics of our relationships and our work in the world. We’d see both our childhood traumas and our medical crises in very different lights if we viewed them as “our beautiful, dangerous assignments.” Indeed, in discussing her own cancer diagnosis, she speaks of having “inappropriately exuberant cells” that have “no respect for boundaries” and “can’t stop growing.”

Reframing is not necessarily about positive thinking, only adding a poetic mind that may prevent us from feeding the problem. Barbara Ehrenreich writes that separating her cancer, “an evil predator,” and the body in which it resides seems to stand at odds with the nature of the disease. She calls the cancer cells in her body “the fanatics of Barbaraness, the rebel cells that…carry the genetic essence of me.” The cancer then becomes not an enemy, but a part of her, that which is the most fanatical; not a predator but an overzealous fan.

Again, metaphors are the language of poetry, but they don’t have to be so damned serious. Earlier, I quoted Jack London: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Another master of reframing, Rob Brezsny, comments:

That sounds too violent to me, though I agree in principle that aggressiveness is the best policy in one’s relationship with inspiration. Try this: Don’t wait for inspiration. Go after it with a butterfly net, lasso, sweet treats, fishing rod, court orders, beguiling smells, and sincere flattery.

They key word as we move on is “relationship.” Casey teaches that whatever we fight against grows stronger because we give it more energy than it originally had. She suggests reframing that phrase to “what we dance with.”

 Some of the Asian “martial” arts understand this. Aikido practitioners learn to use their opponent’s own aggressive energy to defeat them, or, ideally, to guide them into a higher state of awareness in which physical violence is not an option. They perceive failure as a point when one succumbs to the temptation of literal violence. Similarly, in other contexts such as couple’s counseling, one attempts to help another person reframe and formulate the question he really wants to ask, to help him get past his own anger or unconscious motives, to not, in poet William Stafford’s words, “follow the wrong god home.”

Sumo wrestling referees wait to signal the start of a match until it is clear that both competitors are conspiring (breathing in unison.) This reminds us to go back to etymology for reframing help. Diabolic (“to throw across”) comes from the same root as ballet. The root of “compete” is “petitioning the gods together.” We see this when top athletes sincerely, even lovingly, hug each other after fiercely “engaging” with each other (double meaning intended).

As I’ve shown, so many of the military metaphors in American English are rooted in the New Testament. Some scholars claim that The Book of Revelation is the most popular Bible section among Evangelicals. But etymology is very helpful here too. Apocalypse doesn’t mean “destruction” or “end times,” but rather “to lift the veil.” It was written at the end of the Pagan age, and now the age of monotheism is falling into such literalistic thinking that we can see its own conclusion approaching. At the end of this age we have the opportunity to see truths that have been veiled behind outdated myths.

We need to use sacred language, in the subjunctive mode: pretend, perhaps, suppose, maybe, make believe, may it be so, what if – and play. This “willing suspension of disbelief” is what Coleridge called “poetic faith.” Then, says Lorca, the artist stops dreaming and begins to desire. Love moves from imagination to inspiration, which invents the “poetic fact,” where new life comes not from us but through us.

Jung said that myth offers us two gifts: a story to live by, and the opportunity to disengage or “dis-identify” from outmoded patterns and thus re-engage in a different way with the archetypal energies from which our stories arise. In the tribal world, art (as ritual) serves to balance the worlds of the living and the unseen. Healing comes through memory, both in purging grief and guilt and in creatively re-framing one’s story – what Hillman called “healing fictions.”

It was Memory herself, Mnemosyne, who mated with Zeus and birthed the Muses. Reconnection to memory through art reverses the work of Kronos and counters Time’s linear progress with her cyclic imagination. Ultimately, we heal by re-membering what we came here to do.

musessmall

The Muses dancing with Apollo

It is said that the Muses collected the scattered limbs of dismembered bodies; it was they – art – who reassemble what our military metaphors rip apart.

If we absolutely have to use military metaphors, let’s remember poet Dianne Di Prima: “The only war that matters is the war against the imagination.” How do we reframe “conflict?” There is plenty of evidence that tribal people once believed that conflict existed not only to eliminate alternative voices, but to bring people together. We see vestiges of this in the Gaelic language. One cannot say, “I am angry at you,” but only, “There is anger between us.” I’ve mentioned competition and engagement. Animosity, with its connections to animal, animate, animation and anima, derives from the Latin for “breath of life.” If we follow animosity to its archetypal source, we may find the one breath we all share.

Greek myth provides a surprising image in the war god, Ares, the “killer of men.” Zeus calls him “…most hateful to me.” But beyond the Iliad, he appears in few fully elaborated myths. Instead, wrote Hillman, “He presents himself in action rather than in telling…The god does not stand above or behind the scene directing what happens. He is what happens.”

Like all inhabitants of the polytheistic imagination, Ares is more complicated than he seems. He is an image of the divine, and thus of the psyche. This tells us first that Greek culture understood that martial values are fundamentally human. Second, some say that Ares was taught to dance before he was taught the arts of war.

Third, no monk, he was Aphrodite’s lover. This most masculine god and this most feminine goddess birthed a daughter, Harmonia. Love and war beget harmony, as Psyche and Eros beget Voluptos, or voluptuousness.

Soldiers entering battle invoked Ares, asking for strength and courage. But they also called upon him to prevent conflict from degenerating into uncontrollable violence, as in this ancient hymn:

pompeii-ares-and-aphrodite_a-g-13132879-8880742Hear me, helper of mankind, dispenser of youth’s sweet courage, beam down…your gentle light on our lives…diminish that deceptive rush of my spirit, and restrain that shrill voice in my heart that provokes me to enter the chilling din of battle…let me linger in the safe laws of peace…

 

 

 

This poetry invites us to imagine a consciousness that loves conflict as a form of relationship, seeking restoration of harmony rather than domination. “Who would have imagined,” wrote Hillman, “that restraint is what Ares offers?” And Aphrodite’s sensual fury is hardly different from that of Aries. Their union is one of sames rather than of opposites, and thus passionate aesthetic engagement can restrain violence. Long-term discipline of an art tames hasty emotional expression but not its passion. Violence is beyond reason; what counters it must be equally unreasonable: “Imagine a civilization whose first line of defense is each citizen’s aesthetic investment in some cultural form.”

If the archetypal warrior is forced into combat, he goes sadly. If he survives and returns, he grieves for all the dead, because he knows that his enemy was a part of himself. In serving the Divine King of the psyche, he is charged with protecting boundaries, with determining which outside elements to welcome and which are dangerous. Invoking him, we reframe “armoring” into “respect for proper boundaries.” In Irish myth the Fianna warriors guarded the borders of the realm and questioned all strangers, “Would you like a poem or a sword?” Let’s imagine shifting the role of the police from controlling and punishing Black people to – artfully – protecting the borders of the realm. The purpose of the entire military could be nothing more than that of the Coast Guard.

An example from biology is the immune system. The skin and lining of the small intestine are semi-permeable membranes that know what to allow in (air and nutrients) and what to keep out (microbes and toxins). In an infection, certain white blood cells sound the alarm, others neutralize the invaders and still others curtail the immune response when the danger is over. Then the body creates antibodies to remember – memorialize – the event and protect against future ones.

Our military metaphors may point to a certain wisdom about our demythologized world. Why, in the most competitive society in history, do “proper,” middle-class people tend to avoid actual confrontation, restricting it to spectator sports? Perhaps we intuitively know that normal social interactions cannot contain conflict and prevent it from turning into literal violence; it simply isn’t safe. Our myth of redemption through violence polarizes us into one of the two most easily assumed stances: the path of denial and/or retreat, or the path of extermination. We inevitably resort to either fight or flight.

Ritual provides a third alternative: staying in relationship without being violent. It requires, however, that participants acknowledge the reality of the Other. In West Africa, traditional Dagara married couples engage in conflict rituals every five days. Agreeing that there will be no violence, each person simultaneously vents all accumulated emotions. The entire village may witness them. Long experience has shown them that conflict causes damage to the entire community only if it is removed from ritual and brought out into the profane openness of daily life.

African American culture abounds in the ritualized conversion of aggression into creativity. Examples include break dancing, poetry slams and “the dozens,” verbal jousting in which antagonists poetically insult each other’s mothers. Mythologist Lewis Hyde writes that the loser is “the player who breaks the form and starts a physical fight…who chooses a single side of the contradiction” between attachment and non-attachment to mother. The winner artfully holds the tension of the opposites.

Characteristically, Rob Brezsny suggests that even this ritual can be reframed:

I invite you to rebel against any impulse in you that resonates with the spirit of “Playing the Dozens.” Instead, try a new game, “Paying the Tributes.” Choose worthy targets and ransack your imagination to come up with smart, true, and amusing praise about them…here are some prototypes: “You’re so far-seeing, you can probably catch a glimpse of the back of your own head.” “You’re so ingenious, you could use your nightmares to get rich and famous.” “Your mastery of pronoia is so artful, you could convince me to love my worst enemy.”

In Part Four, we’ll go deeper into the challenges and rewards of reframing. Perhaps we can open a “reframing shop.”

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Barry’s Blog # 301: Military Madness – The Unacknowledged Metaphors in Our Daily Speech, Part Two of Four

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. – Jack London

Here is a list of martial metaphors (followed by some sports names) that I’ve compiled. Its sheer size, more than any analysis, may help you realize how often you use some of them and why we all need to be conscious of our speech. After that, we can think about alternatives.

Above and beyond the call of duty

Advance

All-out assault

All hands on deck

Armed with knowledge

Ammunition for arguing

Armoring

Arsenal

Attacking my subject

AWOL

Banging

Battle of the Bands

Battle Royale

Battleground states

Bazooka Gum

Beachhead

Besiege

Big guns

Bite the bullet

Blast from the Past

Blitz

Blockade

Blockbuster

Bombshell of a report

Blonde bombshell

Bloodbath

Blow them out of the water

Blown away

(The) Bomb

Bomb (theatrically)

Bombarding with facts

(A) Booming voice

Boot camp for computers; rehab; diabetics; weight loss; etc

Boot camp for Light Workers 43096006_2136484316408546_6103361987490611200_o

Boots on the ground

Break a leg

Bring out the heavy artillery

Broadside

Bullet point; Bullet train; Bulletproof plan; Dodging a bullet

Burning one’s bridges

Call to arms

Camouflage

Canon for an arm

Canon ball dive

Ceasefire

Changing of the guard

Clarion call

Collateral damage

Conquest of nature

Coup de grace

Courageous battle against cancer

Cowboys and Indians

Cowboy up

Crossfire

Crosshairs

Crusade

(A) crush on her

Crushing it

Culture wars

Cutting contest (Jazz)

Deadline

Dead End; Dead Man’s Curve, Hand, Island, etc

Decimated

Deserter

Destroying the opposition

Devastated

Doctor’s orders

Doing some damage

Dressed to kill

Dud

Earning your stripes

Economic Hit Man

Enemy

Fight fire with fire

Fighting the good fight good_ fight_1

Firestorm

Firing blanks

Firing line

 

Flank

Foxhole

Front and Center

Front lines of the debate

Fruits of war

FUBAR

Get us over the top

Go for broke

Half-cocked

Hammered

Happy warrior

Hard-hitting

Hard-liner

Have your back

Hired gun

Hit record; baseball hit; website hit

Hit the mark

Home run blast

Hostile takeover

I love him to death

In the heat of battle

In the trenches

Incoming fire

Invasion of cancer cells

IPO launch

Itchy trigger finger

It’s a losing battle

Join the ranks

Judicial arms race

Kick-ass performance

Killer app

Killing it, making a killing

Knock ’em dead

Knock yourself out

Launched (offspring)

Line in the sand

Lock, stock and barrel

Locked and loaded

Loose cannon

Love bomb; Love drive-by love-bomb-graphic-love-bombing-relationships-romance

Main thrust of the argument

Man up

 

Marching as one; together; in unison; in step

March of progress

Marshalling the troops

Miss-fire

Missing in action

Mobilize

Nailed it

No holds barred

No man’s land

No quarter

Nuclear option

(That’s) Over the top

Pass muster

Penetrating insight

Photo bomb

(She’s a) pistol

Police your room

Pounding a beer

Powder keg

Pulverize

Punchline; beat to the punch

Punch it (through a yellow traffic light)

Push comes to shove

Rally the troops

(Corporate) Raiders

Rank and file

Rising up the charts like a bullet

Roger and out

Salvation Army

Salvo

Seeds of destruction

Shot: photograph, basketball, line-drive

(A) shot at success

(Give me your best) shot; (Good) shot!

Shot over the bow; Shot in the dark; Shot down

Shot at fame / love / success, etc

Shots of vodka, tequila, etc

Shoot from the hip

Shoot a text / email

Shoot the moon

Shooting down the opposition, shooting back

Shooting star

Shooters (drinks); Shooters Restaurant

Silver bullet

Slam dunk

Slash emissions

Slay

Smokescreen

Smoking gun

SNAFU

Soldiers of the Lord

Soldier on

Sound off

Spartan(s)

Stand tall

Stick to your guns

Stoned

Sweating bullets

Tackling the problem

Take liberties

Take no prisoners

Taking the internet by storm

Target

Task force

This is my rifle, this is my gun; one is for killing, one is for fun.

This means war!

Three-point bomb

Throw everything we’ve got at this problem

Throwing firebombs

Time bomb

To the hilt

Top gun

Triggering; pulling the trigger; trigger warnings

Troops, trooper

Truce

Tweet bomb

Under fire

Under the gun

Up against the wall

Up in arms

Vaccine shot

Waging peace

War on drugs; cancer; poverty; Christmas hqdefault

War room

War zone

Warriors (spiritual)

 

Weaponize

Weekend Warriors weekend-warriors-55971f4c0555d

Within striking distance

 

And a few college sports nicknames:

(ASA College) Avengers

(Ohio Wesleyan) Battlin’ Bishops

(Thomas Moore College) Blue Rebels

(Lutheran Bible School) Conquerors

(Eastern Kentucky) Colonels and Lady Colonels

(Fla. Nat. Univ.) Conquistadors ath-header

(Holy Cross) Crusaders

(Dordt College) Defenders

(St. Ambrose) Fighting Bees

(N. Dakota) Fighting Hawks

(Kalamazoo) Fighting Hornets

(Illinois) Fighting Illini

(W. Illinois) Fighting Leathernecks

(Muskingum) Fighting Muskies

(N.C. Arts) Fighting Pickles

(Wilmington Col.) Fighting Quakers (!)

(Carrol College) Fighting Saints

(Ohio Valley) Fighting Scots

(Mary Baldwin College) Fighting Squirrels 414389_xXOTwPh7iGiY8_pTm5hlXDGJF

(Wash. & Lee) Generals

(McDaniel College) Green Terror

(CA Maritime) Keelhaulers

(Arcadia) Knights; (Army) Black Knights

(Massachusetts) Minutemen

(New England) Patriots

(U. Hawaii) Rainbow Warriors

(Oakland) Raiders

(Texas) Rangers

(Texas Tech) Red Raiders

(Mississippi) Rebels

(UNLV) Runnin’ Rebels

(San Jose St.) Spartans

(USC) Trojans

(Minnesota) Vikings

(Auburn) Warhawks

(Golden State) Warriors

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Barry’s Blog # 300: Military Madness – The Unacknowledged Metaphors in Our Daily Speech, Part One of Four

Part One

Military madness was killing my country. Solitary sadness comes over me. – Graham Nash

Imagination is not a solitary thing. Unlike fantasy, which is self-centered, imagination implies dialogue – between what is and what could be. Consider that some languages lack the verb “to be.” Speakers grow up expecting to communicate indirectly, use metaphors freely and tolerate ambiguity. Metaphors serve as organizing frameworks that shape our thoughts about social reality. They are the language of poetry; they can leap the chasm between thoughts and transmit multiple levels of meaning.

As Joseph Campbell taught, the life of mythology springs from the metaphoric vigor of its symbols, which bring together and reconcile two contraries. When we think mythologically, we perceive meaning on several levels simultaneously, aware that the literal, psychological and symbolic dimensions of reality complement each other to make something greater than the sum of the parts.

But unimaginative language, said James Hillman, “displaces the metaphorical drive from its appropriate display in poetry and rhetoric…into direct action. The body becomes the place for the soul’s metaphors.” In other words, if we can’t make images in art, music or beautiful speech we get sick. Certainly, this is one reason for the huge increase in poetry readings and oral tradition performances such as Rumi’s Caravan. People are hungry for more meaningful – and beautiful – language. For more on this thought, see my essay, Creative Etymology for a World Gone Mad.

But let’s be clear about our situation. There is no reason to assume that indigenous people cannot do this. Actually, it is we who have, by and large, lost this capacity. The curses of modernity – alienation, environmental collapse, totalitarianism, consumerism, addiction and world war – are the results.

We have been living in what Campbell called a “de-mythologized world” for an extremely long time. Literalistic thinking began in patriarchy and blossomed in the victory of monotheism over polytheism. This doesn’t mean that we no longer have myths. Rather, it means that the myths we do have – and we are usually quite unaware of them – no longer feed us. It means that many of us have lost the capacity to think symbolically or mythologically and only have their “toxic mimic,” literal thinking. The most obvious example is fundamentalism, which often replaces metaphor (“This is something else – now go and live with the mystery.”) with parable (“This means that, and only that, so stop thinking.”)

This is unfortunate enough. But the monotheistic world also led inevitably to a world of constant warfare. “Because a monotheistic psychology must be dedicated to unity,” wrote Hillman, “its psychopathology is intolerance of difference.” I offer my thoughts on the religious thinking that resulted in colonialism and empire in Chapter Ten of my book, Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence, and here are some of the basic ideas:

The western world was beginning to understand myth literally, as actual history. The zealots who wrested control of the early church believed that Christ had physically returned from the dead, and they condemned metaphoric interpretation of his life. Very soon, schisms developed, and rival sects attacked each other in furious jihads. As early as the second century, Clement of Alexandria declared that the gods of all other religions were demons.

The holy text that emerged out of this period omitted the few metaphors of the sacred Earth that had been allowed into Hebrew scripture. As a result, wrote Paul Shepard, the New Testament is “one of the world’s most antiorganic and antisensuous masterpieces of abstract ideology…”

So it should be no surprise that this foundational text of our civilization constantly uses military metaphors. Paul describes Christians as “fellow soldiers.” Timothy uses the soldier as a metaphor for courage, loyalty and dedication. Corinthians is concerned about “an adversary that wants to destroy us…the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not human but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds.” au_postcard In Thessalonians, Paul employs a military metaphor of a sentry on duty, writing of “the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” Ephesians refers to the “armor of God…even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground.” Similar crusading imagery appears of course in hymns such as Soldiers of Christ, Arise; Onward, Christian Soldiers; the Battle Hymn of the Republic and untold thousands of sermons.

Propagandists, aware that the Roman empire needed a mass ideology to link the individual to the state, took note of this language. It recognized that Christianity, which was re-writing history to de-emphasize its esoteric origins, could fill this role. In the fourth century, it became the official religion of the Empire, the Catholic (universal) faith. soldier The notion of One True God found its political equivalent in the totalitarian, expansive and ruthlessly violent Roman state. By the fourth century the Church was essentially a branch of government, and it would serve to justify imperial conquests, civil wars, crusades, colonialism and genocidal violence for the next thousand years.

Others were only too willing to turn that violence upon themselves. Christianity became the first religion to make martyrdom a demand of faith. Leonard Shlain put this process into historical context:

Until the Christian martyrs, there does not occur anywhere in the recorded history of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece, India or China a single instance in which a substantial segment of the population accepted torture and death rather than forswear their belief in an ethereal concept.

Missionaries spoke of “taking prisoner every thought for Christ.” In Christian iconography, the knife that Abraham would have slaughtered his son with became a soldier’s sword. The ideal of dying as Christ became dying for Christ which, by the time of the First Crusade, became killing for Christ.

Five hundred years later, the English language, steeped in Biblical imagery, was full of martial metaphors, and Americans would add countless others to their lexicon.

Religious fundamentalists took their Bibles, their racism, their hatred of the body, their violent metaphors and their genocidal conduct to the New World, setting the tone for the development of the myths of American Innocence and American Exceptionalism. Four hundred years on, few of us realize how our language, and hence our thinking, is so unconsciously and deeply flavored by military metaphors.

I don’t need to quote statistics about gun violence and mass murders in America. You’ve all seen them. But the fact that 24% of us, far more than in any European country, believe that “…it is acceptable to use violence to get what we want” also underlies our racist politics, the behavior of our police, and – perhaps you haven’t seen this one – the fact that the American Empire has bombed nearly forty sovereign nations since the end of World War Two.

So: We all need to get more familiar with the metaphorical, symbolic, poetic or mythological language that we will need as the old myths die and we are called to imagine the new ones. And we also need to become more conscious of how, in this de-mythologized world, we use metaphors inappropriately. They can lead to insight, but they can also distort. In creating ways of seeing they can also create ways of not seeing.

Military metaphors are common, for example, in the world of medicine. Though they can promote support for research, they also fuel our American obsession with perfect health, where doctors use the “arsenal of science” as “weapons” to “battle” disease in the “war against the invasion of cancer.” A sick child becomes a “little soldier,” “rallying” to secure victory against the dreaded opponent. war-cancer

C.S. Lewis described what can go wrong when a “master” uses a metaphor to explain a concept to a “pupil.” The “master” understands the relationship between the literal and figurative meanings, while the “pupil” hears “the unique expression of a meaning” which immediately places a constraint on his thinking. Thus, when physicians use metaphors to explain concepts to patients, the latter are “at the mercy of the metaphor” as it “dominates completely the thought of the recipient whose truth cannot rise above the truth of the original metaphor.”

In Illness as a Metaphor, Susan Sontag wrote that cancer is so embedded in the western psyche that the word itself is weighted with connotations:“…in the popular culture, cancer equals death.” We treat it “as an evil, invincible predator, not just a disease…talk of siege and war to describe disease now has, with cancer, a striking literalness and authority…” war-on-cancer-585x400 The enemy is not bacteria but “the fanatic…cells” of the patient whose body has become the battlefield. The cancer takes over the body, perhaps physically, but also metaphorically.”

And, I think, most significantly, cancer is “regarded…as a diminution of self.” Readers familiar with my writings may notice the implications for American myth, where the tradition of blaming victims for their own bad fortune is the shadow that lurks behind our Calvinist heritage of predestination, Social Darwinism, positive thinking and the Prosperity Gospel. In other words, the use of military metaphors tends to stigmatize those who are ill and make them feel responsible for the “wrong thinking” that caused their illness – and, by the way, distract them from considering the politics of environmental pollution and lack of health insurance.

This discussion is particularly relevant to the U.S., where we are almost always invading someone else. Indeed, the nation has been at war 93% of the time, 222 out of 239 years, between 1776 and 2015.

So we find military metaphors in nearly any context, as we’ll see below. Cultural anthropologist Robert Myers says that “gun speak,” or “war speak” has permeated American culture so deeply that it’s used by everybody – men and women, Republicans and Democrats, gun owners and people who have never even seen a real gun:

…it doesn’t break down by education or social class…I can’t say that we use this violent language and imagery and that makes us more violent. But I can ask… ‘Well, if we spoke with all kinds of racist words, were we more likely to be more racist or more comfortable being racist?

Myers writes, tongue-in-cheek (I hope) that the warspeak permeating everyday language “puts us all in the trenches, and most of us don’t even know it.” Everything has been “weaponized” – a word which, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer, has increased in print by a factor of 10 between 1980 and 2008. He suggests that warspeak matters for three reasons:

First, it degrades our ability to engage with one another. Framing an issue as a “war” can communicate an urgency that requires instantaneous – and often thoughtless – action.

Second, it evokes violent attitudes. Young adults exposed to political rhetoric charged with warspeak are more likely to endorse violence. 01-shutterstock_132569027_adjusted-1076x588.jpg

Third, when everything is laden with violent imagery, our perceptions and emotions become needlessly distorted: “Political carnage and carnage in the classroom, weaponized songs and weapons of war, snipers on the hockey rink and mass shooters – all blur together across our cognitive maps.”

In Part Two, I’ll offer a list of these metaphors.

 

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Barry’s Blog # 299: Grief and Remembrance in Greece

What shall I send you, dear one,

There in the underworld?

If I send you an apple, it will rot,

If a quince, it will shrivel;

If I send grapes, they will fall away,

If a rose, it will droop.

So let me send my tears,

Bound in my handkerchief.

– Greek folk song

In previous essays I’ve written at length about the importance of rituals of grief in the tribal imagination, where the souls of the dead go neither to heaven nor to a nameless void, but to the Other World, or the Underworld.

…we may think of those souls as journeying first through a liminal period …between the worlds of the living and the dead. Liminal comes from the Greek word for threshold, which also gives us the word Limbo. We imagine those souls in a mysterious transition prior to rebirth into some new state of being. But the completion of the transformation, as in all initiations, requires the intercession of a greater community of beings who can facilitate the burial – both literal and symbolic – of the old before the appearance of the new.

Many myths reflect the belief that death is a process, rather than a single event in time. The dead require the focused acts of the living in order to complete their transition to the other world. But – of equal importance – the living need this process to succeed as well, because souls who wander in the liminal space between the worlds as ghosts will inevitably cause suffering for the living. The unburied dead in particular are condemned to haunt their relatives – those who should have performed the appropriate rites. Such souls are stuck, unable to conclude the last of life’s initiatory processes, the welcoming “home” by their ancestors in the other world. Like some mentally ill people in our world, they are “betwixt and between.”

In rural villages, archaic pagan customs still underlie a thin veneer of Christian belief. After a death, the community participates in ceremonies intended to serve the needs of the dead, to feed them, especially those who cannot enter Paradise without having had their sins forgiven. greek-orthodox-funeral-pouring-olive-oil-into-grave-AX1M23 Two coins are still laid on the eyes of the deceased to pay Charon, who has ferried the dead, pagan or Christian, across the river Styx since the very beginning.

Throughout these areas, we can still see aged crones crete-old-ladydressed completely and permanently in black, their heads always covered.  After raising their children, their primary duty is to mourn the dead. Long after the funeral, the women sing daily laments at the grave. Anthropologist Loring Danforth notes the similarity of these chants to wedding songs, a reminder of the mythic “marriage with death.”

Unlike the Latin and Catholic world, where people welcome the temporary return of their dead on November 1st and 2nd, in the Greek (and Greek Orthodox) world there are up to seven “Saturdays of the Soul.”

Three to five years after a funeral, as professional mourners sing improvised dirges, close relatives of the deceased disinter the body. p0396h9x They are searching for a sign. If the body has not completely decomposed down to white bones, this may mean that the soul is not yet at peace and may have become a wandering vampire or werewolf, a vrykolakas. The local priest may then determine that an exorcism is needed, after which the body will be carried three times around the church and then re-buried.

After some years, if another disinterment reveals pure, white bones, the community agrees that the soul has been forgiven, has completed the transition through the liminal realms to Paradise and is at peace. Then, the family ritually deposits the bones (or perhaps only the skull) in the bone house or ossuary. In large villages, each family has its own ossuary, whereas in smaller villages there will be one ossuary for everyone.

The empty grave becomes available for another – temporary – resident. The period of liminality for both the souls and their relatives ends, and everyone can move on, free of the weight of both grief and responsibility. Except for the older women.

That’s the cultural background to a slightly fictionalized story I want to tell. But first, some historical background.

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Hitler decided that he needed to secure his southern flank. That simple strategy set in motion a ferocious invasion of Greece and the eventual death, mostly by starvation, of between 300,000 and 600,000 Greeks. Some historians have concluded that a tenth of the population perished.

The graveyards were so overfilled that many families had to bury their loved ones outside of the cemeteries in mass graves. This caused much additional distress, since many believed that those buried in unconsecrated ground became vrykolakas who would return to haunt the living.

Armed resistance in Greece, especially on the island of Crete, was the fiercest in all of occupied Europe, and it was met by the cruelest of reprisals in which the Germans massacred entire villages.

1920px-Amiras_Memorial_R02 Years ago, driving along the south coast of Crete, my wife and I stumbled upon a memorial in the Amiras area, where the Germans had destroyed over twenty villages and murdered some 350 people. My wife and I, two Jewish Americans, heard the only other people present speaking in German as they stared at the scene. Perhaps one of their parents had been there before.

amiras_memorial_r03-1.jpg

Here is the story, written by Manolis Xexakis:

The Smile From the Abyss  

Down in a glen I know there is a round ossuary where women come down and wash the heads of the deceased with wine on Saturday of the Souls. My mother has my grandfather there, and she visits him.

They bring the skulls down from the display cases, they carry them to the yard, and they lay them down on the side wall. The scene can give chills to an innocent passerby.

This whole business happens in the morning, the time when the day is lighting up and a murmur sprinkles through the olive trees, as do drops of sun.

It can pull your heartstrings to see the harmonious figures of living bodies plant themselves by the bare bones in that deserted place.

They go and pour wine in copper buckets and then, carefully, softly, without dipping their fingers in the black holes, baptize the skulls for a long time and “caress” them. They say, “My ill-fated one, my unfairly killed one, once upon a time you were a human being too…”, and as the sun rises for good, the priest arrives and reads the prayers over a plate of memorial wheat, and as soon as he is finished the women talk among themselves about those who have left but are still present. By noon, they all leave the cenotaph and the area withers completely.

From stories, I hear that my grandfather was shot in his eighties.

The Germans surrounded the village and rounded the people up. They brought them down to a ravine with their hoes on their shoulders, and the interpreters kept telling them that they would be transported to the airport at Tymbaki for work. The captives spent hours in anticipation. The wind was blowing with sudden swirls, then it would disappear.

The procession of the morning frost was passing before their eyes. They had been arrested in retaliation for someone in the village who had disinterred two dead Germans so he could take their boots and clothes.

The Germans separated the women out. They arranged the men in a line. They made them dig the graves. A few shots were heard from a machine gun, and then the dull finishing shot.

Later the women went as far as the ravine to the open graves, where they cleaned the bodies of the dead and covered the ditches, without a cross or writing or any special sign.

After three years they each identified the heads of those shot by the final gunshot hole in the skull.

But even now there is one skull that three women claim and they do not know exactly to which of the dead it belongs. So on Saturday of the Souls all three wash and clean the skull together, and each believes that it is her loved one.

Well, in this treacherous world there are dead who belong to all of us, and we must all claim them. Otherwise, souls are stuck in the thorns and human deeds blown away by the wind.

But the mystery – and necessity – of grief and remembrance in Greece does not end here. Having sustained very heavy losses in the invasion and occupation, the Germans established several cemeteries there for their own dead. The people of Crete still oversee and tend these places, where a custodian says:

At dusk you can often see a poignant sight; black-dressed old Cretan women lighting candles on the graves of past adversaries. Fig 10_large When you ask them why, they reply, “They, too, have a mother, and she is far away or dead. We also lost our sons…We know how a mother feels. Now, we are their mothers.

Now that’s the way to run a culture.

 

For further Reading:

Danforth, L.M. The Death Rituals of Rural Greece.

Fermor, Patrick Leigh and Roderick Bailey. Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation in Crete

Garland, Robert. The Greek Way of Death.

Huntington, Richard and Metcalf, Peter. Celebrations of Death – The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual. 

Markale, Jean. The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween.

Prechtel, Martin. Long Life, Honey in The Heart

Pschoundakis , George. The Cretan Runner: His Story of the German Occupation

Shay, Jonathan. Achilles In Vietnam.

Some´, Malidoma. Ritual: Power, Healing and Community.

Some´, Malidoma. The Healing Wisdom of Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

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Barry’s Blog # 298: We Like to Watch: Being There with Trump, Part Seven of Seven

The grief and sense of loss that we often attribute to a failure in our personality is actually an emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered. – Paul Shepard

Then our possessions will turn to beasts and devour us whole. – Zuni prophesy

When school or mosque, tower or minaret gets torn down, then Dervishes can begin their community. Not until faithfulness turns into betrayal and betrayal into trust can any human being become part of the truth. – Rumi

In the course of my life I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet. – Winston Churchill

In trying to understand why a third of Americans continue to buy Trumpus’ con – and that another third hate him so completely that they are willing to consume a different con (the heroic CIA riding into town to save us!), and that, as usual, half of us will not vote at all in 2020, we have to acknowledge that rational analysis gets us only so far. At some point we have to open ourselves to the deeper truths that we can only find in mythological thinking.

Ancient myth provides many parables, warnings and teaching stories about the limits of human greed and arrogance. Chapter Four of my book discusses the broad pattern of “the return of the repressed.” It focusses on the House of Atreus and the stories of Dionysus, whose last words in The Bacchae imply that if uninitiated boy-kings were to awaken, they might “have an ally…in the son of Zeus.” Chapter Nine speaks of the necessary death of the Hero and “wake up calls from the Dark Feminine” (Kali in India, Baba Yaga in Russia and Coatlique in Mexico), as well as Medea, La Llorona, Pele and the Tower of Babel: Bruegel-Tower-of-Babel

Yahweh’s response to it was to punish its builders by “confounding their language that they may not understand one another’s speech.” He “scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11: 8-9). James Hillman suggests that this isn’t a bad thing: it prevents mankind from speaking with the single voice of monotheistic literalism. Unity (contrasted with com-unity) leads to inflation and arrogance; the correction to “vertical ascensionism” is diversity. When humans scatter horizontally across the earth they learn to speak in many languages.

Greek myth acknowledged the damage that uninitiated men could do and told cautionary tales of King Midas and golden youths such as Icharus, who flew too close to the sun and perished. Phaethon, child of the sun, borrowed his father’s fiery chariot. Unable to control it, he set the world on fire and died. Perhaps the most relevant story in our time of climate grief is of the grandiose King Erysichthon erysichthon-matera who cut down a sacred oak. Demeter cursed him with insatiable hunger, throwing him into a frenzy of consumption. He ate everything and everyone in his kingdom. Ultimately, he consumed himself. The king who couldn’t bless ended up destroying the realm.

These are images of what Robert Moore called “boy psychology.” The hero may vanquish the beast. But if he doesn’t enact the necessary third part of the initiation story, returning with a boon for his community, or if that community is limited to a small minority of rich people, then his heroism becomes pathological. Either he turns his violence against others, especially the women and gays who remind him of his own vulnerability, or he condones such violence by others, or he turns it upon himself in depression or suicide. He must serve a transpersonal cause, or his own image, like that of Narcissus, will become that cause. His great towers will become targets, unconsciously provoking the Stranger who will puncture his grandiosity.

020118-101-Classics-Sisyphus-Art-History-LiteratureSisyphus was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when it nears the top, repeating this action for eternity. For his crimes, Tantalus was made to stand forever in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink. He is the source of the word “tantalize.” Similarly, Buddhism speaks of those souls stuck in the realm of the Hungry Ghosts, constantly hungry yet unable to fit food through their pinhole mouths. buddhist-hungry-ghosts1

These are mostly traditional, cautionary, moral tales, told from the point of view of the initiated, wise elders who are so lacking in our society. They say, in effect: Watch out! Grow up! Don’t be such a jerk! We translate them into simple if necessary political truths (Have compassion for the poor, care for the Earth, be a good citizen) or psychological insight (interrogate your motives and the early traumas that may have led to them). They tell us plenty about Trumpus, but so what? If we as a nation refuse to turn our lights upon ourselves, other Trumpuses (Trump uses!) will certainly arise in the future. And they will continue to arise until we face what we need to face.

But we Trumpuses, almost by definition, never heed the cautions of our elders, most of whom we have cast into prisons, otherwise known as nursing homes. The moral tales end, almost by definition, in the destruction of those who were too busy conning themselves or consuming the Earth to listen. Perhaps the only hope for the con man (and his marks) is to be conned into self-awareness by the Trickster. The following material comes from my blog on the con man:

Trickster figures appear in the myths of most indigenous cultures: Coyote, Raven, Iktomi, Elegba, Papa Legba, Hermes, Mercury, Eshu, Loki, Wakdjunga, the Signifying Monkey, Brer Rabbit, Huehuecóyotl, Puck, Maui, Kokopelli, Hanuman, Leprechaun, Nasruddin, Tanuki, Baubo, Sheela-na-gig.

The trickster breaks the rules of the gods or nature, often maliciously but usually with positive effects. He (most but not all trickster figures are male) can be thieving, lying, cunning, amoral, meddling, deceitful, disruptive, prophetic, shameless (“impudent” is related to “pudenda”), humorous and/or foolish, and he often changes physical form or gender. He is associated with luck (bad or good) and change. He is there when we sneeze or make slips of the tongue.

The trickster crosses both physical and social boundaries, breaking or blurring connections and distinctions between all of our familiar polarities of right/wrong, sacred/profane, clean/dirty, male/female, pure/impure, young/old and living/dead.

His territory is doorways, portals, thresholds, tunnels, bridges, elevators, canals (including the birth canal), roads and especially the crossroads: places of heightened uncertainty. So he is the patron deity of travelers (and travel agents), immigrants, translators, traders, midwives, matchmakers, furniture movers, remodelers, magicians, psychotherapists (and “borderline personalities”), priests, wedding officiants, (“masters of ceremonies”), lawyers, merchants and bankers, but also of undertakers, smugglers and thieves – all those who work at the boundaries between social worlds, regardless of society’s moral judgment of them.

For much more, see Lewis Hyde’s book Trickster Makes This World or Helen Lock’s essay, Transformations of the Trickster.

Trickster invites us to a necessarily deeper understanding of soul, culture and the soul of a culture. As Hyde writes, he is “the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox.”

In his role as messenger of the gods Hermes is the figure who connects the archetypes to each other. Only Hermes (whose grandson is that other great liar, Odysseus) moves between regions of divine experience or human potential that are so perfect and normally distinct from each other. Similarly, Elegba translates among the spheres of the Fon gods of West Africa.

Hermes travels between these worlds and ours, from which he leads the dead into the underworld. He is psychopomp, or guide of souls, who delivers them, writes Hyde, “into whatever world or mental state lies across the line…the underworld of sleep, dream, story, myth.” But he is also the “disenchanter or awakening angel” who can lead Persephone out of the darkness. Had Orpheus followed his instructions and not turned around, Hermes would have brought Eurydice out of that world, back to life.

Without Hermes and his tricks, such as farting in Apollo’s face, there is no communication (“to make common”). There are only individuals, deities or nations so separate from each other, and from themselves, that they can only project their own unconscious darkness upon each other.

Trickster offers us the possibility of seeing the world from a new perspective, challenging our rigidities and privileged perceptions. This boundary-crosser can also create new boundaries and borders, bringing to our awareness new distinctions that were previously unknown, even as he undercuts the fictions by which we have agreed to define ourselves. Among his favorite targets are the academic, religious, media and political gatekeepers whose business is to limit our view of the possible.

Trickster is, in the deepest sense, provocative. The word comes from the Latin root vocare (to call), and it implies a sense of choice. In ritual terms, one can in-voke the gods. Through passive aggression, however, one may pro-voke anger in others. Trickster’s capacity for provocation is directly related to our own inability to e-voke the qualities we’d like to see in ourselves or in others. Understanding him better, we better understand ourselves. By disrupting society’s rules and boundaries, he enlarges the sphere of human possibility. However, writes Lock, Trickster is not playing.

Not just any rogue or anti-hero can properly be termed a trickster. The true trickster…calls into question fundamental assumptions about the way the world is organized, and reveals the possibility of transforming them (even if often for ignoble ends)…his interest in entering the societal game is not to provide the safety-valve that makes it tolerable, but to question, manipulate, and disrupt its rules…the trickster pushes the limits of the unorthodox in order to transform reality – and as such is distinct from, in many respects the opposite of, the fool.

Black America evoked African trickster figures to help negotiate its passages between the worlds, including the Middle Passage and the later transitions to freedom and equality. White America, creation of a demythologized world, could only imagine a quasi-Trickster figure with all of the cunning, greed, self-deception and entertainment value as the archetype itself, but with little potential to embody its transformative wisdom. He is there to prevent real change. Native America has Coyote; America has the Con Man.

So what do we do once our grandiosity is punctured and we finally realize that the con has not served us? Disillusion releases anger first, because we have invested much energy in maintaining the illusion of innocence. And then we find ourselves, appropriately, at a crossroads. We are dis-enchanted. Literally, the song we have been singing is over. Or: the spell that had been cast upon us has been broken. Hyde writes:

There is no way to suppress change, the story says, not even in Heaven; there is only a choice between a way of living that allows constant, if gradual alterations and a way of living that combines great control and cataclysmic upheavals. Those who panic and bind the trickster choose the latter path.

This is the dual mystery of soul-making and culture-making. Tragedies occur that puncture our inflation. Then, whether we know it or not, we encounter Hermes at the crossroads. One road leads toward reconstituting our grandiosity: repression, projection and scapegoating the Other.

A second road – the lucky road, the road Odysseus takes – involves the willingness to remain in grief for as long as it takes to move through self-interrogation and ultimately to forgiveness. It is a process of “re-membering” our purpose. Trickster pulls us into this state of liminality. He or she who accepts his invitation willingly may proliferate new structures, symbols, metaphors and forms of community. In another, only slightly different context, Antonio Machado asked, “What was your word, Jesus? Love? Forgiveness? Affection?
All your words were one word: Wakeup.”

This is how sustainable cultures with working mythologies endure: not through rigidly reproducing the same forms every generation, but by imagining mythological figures whose function is to reveal and disrupt what worked in the past so that new growth may begin. Old stories – the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves – must fall apart so that new ones may arise from the fragments. But we exist in liminality until we have imagined new stories.

After disillusionment comes the possibility of deliberate, conscious choice, to reframe disaster (“against the stars”) into opportunity (entrance or passage, related to port, harbor, place of refuge). Then we can consider (“with the stars”) a new future. The transgressions of the Trickster deflate our rigid polarities and ideologies. This – potentially – allows an incursion of the chaos from which real creativity and a higher order may emerge.

Perhaps the only way we can understand the gilded age of Trumpus is as an invitation to step out of the myths that no longer serve us, to retrieve and eat our collective shadow, to withdraw the projections and finally face the suppressed grief in the bag that has been trailing behind us. However, writes mythologist Martin Shaw, “We can’t be naïve in times like this, because we are in the presence of underworld forces that will do one of two things: they will either educate us, or annihilate us…”

Is Trumpus channeling the Trickster archetype? Hell, no. The con man is merely its toxic mimic. But we simply have to be open to the possibility that his presence in our lives has meaning. In myth, and perhaps in reality, the motivation of the main characters is irrelevant. Perhaps at some deeper level, all the con men of our American imagination really are provoking us into a new story that is more humorous, tragic, creative, proactive and collaborative than we have been willing to embark upon so far. Watch this: if, after three years of this tragicomedy, prominent evangelicals can still keep a straight face when they proclaim that God sent Trumpus “to uncover the veil of the current political leadership and culture in America,” then so can we.

In Spanish, “con” means “with.” What an irony: the con man, this greedy manipulator, the one who hates communal values, may actually be calling us to community. But being in community – staying in the room when conflict arises, as Michael Meade insists – means doing a lot less watching and a lot more listening. Shaw writes:

The real horn being blown at this moment is one some of us simply cannot hear. Oh, we see — the endless television clips of crashing icebergs, emaciated polar bears…but I don’t think we necessarily hear. Climate change isn’t a case to be made, it’s a sound to be heard.

It’s really hearing something that brings the consequence with it — “I hear you.” We know that sensation; when it happens, the whole world deepens. If we really heard what is happening around us, it’s possible some of it may stop. From a mythic perspective, seeing is often a form of identifying, but hearing is the locating of a much more personal message. Hearing creates growing, uncomfortable discernment.

I worry I have been looking but not hearing. When I hear, I detect what is being disclosed specifically to me at this moment of shudderation and loss. What is being called forth? Whatever it is, I won’t likely appreciate it…We remember that the greatest seers, the great storytellers, the greatest visionaries are so often blind. Listening is the thing.

In ancient Greece, if you needed wisdom greater than human you went to the market square of Pharae in Achaea and created libation for Hermes, god of communication, messages, storytelling. There stood a statue of the bearded god. After burning incense, lighting the oil lamp, and leaving coin on the right of the deity, you whispered your question in its ear. Once complete, you swiftly turned and left the sacred area with your hands over your ears. Once out, you removed your hands, and the very first words you heard were Hermes speaking back to you. You curated these insights into your heart, pondered and then acted on them.

You didn’t see Hermes, you heard Hermes. You listened.

It’s said that in ancient Greece the deaf were shunned through their supposed lack of capacity to hear the gods. That was considered dangerous…Isn’t it interesting that the enquirer to Hermes kept their ears blocked till they were out of the market square, so as not to be assailed by idle, above-world chatter and think it divine? I wonder if we may be asking the question to Hermes but removing our hands too early…As a storyteller I have noticed when an audience is profoundly absorbing the import of a story, they close their eyes to do so. It deepens the encounter.

…Staggering spiritual repair is called for. It is not just those bad white men in power that did this. We all did…I’m not even asking for hope or despair, I’m suggesting responsiveness to wonder. To entertain possibility. And to deepen.

Here are some other relevant essays of mine:

Reality Show Initiations

The Secret of their Appeal

The Dionysian Moment. Trump Lets the Dogs Out

The Hero Must Die

The Mythic Sources of White Rage

 

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Barry’s Blog # 297: We Like to Watch: Being There with Trump, Part Six of Seven

When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I always get even…Sorry, losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest — and you all know it!…Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich. – Trumpus

We’re building a wall in Colorado! – Trumpus

In an age when politics has long been nearly indistinguishable from entertainment, his people know very well that Trumpus has been conning them for years, and they love it. Is he a genius or an idiot? We speculate about that question, but they don’t.

But I really wonder if their crazy wisdom goes a step further. Perhaps they love him – especially the men – because he is a loser and because, deep down, they know that they are losing as well. They know far better than we that the economy is collapsing, and along with it, the myth of American Innocence. They know that, along with their jobs, they are losing their precious world of male privilege and authority, indeed, of heroic masculine identity itself. They know deep down that both our mythology and our winner-takes-all economy offer only one alternative to the Hero, and that is the Loser, whom we also picture as the Victim. They know, or at least they have been conditioned to believe, that they have been victimized by the women and people of color who now compete for their jobs and the people of non-conforming gender whose freedom mocks that masculine identity.

Crazy wisdom. They (and we) know even deeper down, way, way down, that they have an indigenous soul, and for it to be revived, the Hero must die. They know that they must first endure what their ancestors did: symbolic, initiatory death. Perhaps this is why idiot Trumpus – the Loser – has engaged for so long in such manipulative but ultimately provocative and self-sabotaging behavior. Perhaps this is where idiot Trumpus and Con man Trumpus finally come together.

Like so many adolescents, perhaps he wants to get caught. Why else would he make obviously self-incriminating phone calls when he knows (and admits that he knows!) that intelligence agents are listening in?  Yes, any publicity is good publicity, but why else would he provoke us all to make him, as Solnit writes, “the most mocked man in the world”?

The Book of Lies

I’d like to have a word
with you. Could we be alone
for a minute? I have been lying
until now. Do you believe

I believe myself? Do you believe
Yourself when you believe me? Lying
is natural. Forgive me. Could we be alone
forever? Forgive us all. The word

is my enemy. I have never been alone;
bribes, betrayals. I am lying
even now. Can you believe
that? I give you my word.

– James Tate

Ah, but we get only so far psychoanalyzing one person. Indeed, an entire industry is engaged in such pursuits. Of course the guy is a deeply traumatized, wounded, lonely, unlovable, narcissist and sociopath. So freaking what? Is he really that different from every single American President since the military coup of November 22nd, 1963? Is he any different (except in his style) from Hillary Clinton’s favorite war criminal, Henry Kissinger? RT_hillary_clinton_and_henry_kissinger_3a_ml_160518_4x3_992

I respectfully suggest that our willingness to answer yes is a measure of our own innocent willingness to project our “best intentions” upon our leaders, and that we’d get a bracingly different response from a resident of, say, Fallujah, Ben Tre, Santiago Atitlan, Dili, El Mozote or Gaza.

But let’s consider his style again. Caitlin Johnson suggests that

…Trump is the most honest US president of all time. By that I don’t mean that he’s an honest person; he of course lies constantly. I simply mean that while his predecessors have always made sure to dress their imperialist military campaigns up as benevolent humanitarian intercessions, Trump just stands there out in the open like “Yeah we grabbed their oil and it’s ours now, blow me.” There was once a time when claiming a war was really about oil got you branded a conspiracy theorist. Now the US president just outright says it.

And this is really the only reason establishment power structures dislike Trump. They don’t feel directly threatened by him, they just dislike the way he’s always saying the quiet part out loud. Status quo power has a vested interest in keeping a smiling mask on things and preventing people from thinking too hard about what’s really going on in the world, and Trump keeps ripping off that mask by telling everyone what he’s doing in plain English.

But it’s so much easier to focus on Trumpus – we like to watch – than to do the difficult work of interrogating ourselves and asking why our culture has vomited him up to present him as a mirror for our fantasies. TrumpTVTV It’s critical to acknowledge that in this Gilded Age his image embodies the intolerance, greed and hatred that America prefers to project upon others – and to question whether the hatred we project outward is hatred that ultimately, we feel toward our own imperfect, traumatized selves.

They and we know (the wisdom has never completely left us) that such difficult and sacred work requires the ritual container of real community. This is why, in my thirty years of men’s retreats and grief rituals, the most common statement by far has been something like this: I haven’t cried in decades, and I will not allow myself to start, because if I do, it will never stop.

The demythologized world has stolen from us our innate ability to think mythologically or symbolically. The mind that cannot see past the con man to the Holy Fools who would mirror our indigenous souls or the Trickster figures who would trip us up so as to heal us cannot perceive that the desire to end it all is the toxic mimic of this need to die and so to be reborn. This is particularly ironic, since for two thousand years the sacrifice of the son has been so central to the Christian myth, even if the son dies only to glorify his father. But the willingness of the father to participate in that murder goes back a further thousand years to our foundational myth of Abraham and Isaac, which describes the cruel literalization of initiation ritual into the literal killing of the children.

In falling for the con of the politics of racial resentment, Trumpus’ base supporters are quite literally dying of whiteness.  Still, although they may be unwilling to make the leap into their own darkness, they are not stupid. Any child can see that Trumpus has never known love that he hasn’t paid for, that he is an uninitiated boy-man who is desperately insecure (or at least that he plays one on TV), that he lacks any ability to relate to other human beings except as they might feed his infinite narcissistic needs. In other words, they see themselves, but unlike the characters in Being There, they know it.

However, identifying with him remains preferable to the only currently available, if literal, alternatives: ending it all through opioids, alcohol or “suicide by cop.” Better to watch the con man. After all, as Salena Zito writes, “…the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”  And as long as the media continue to normalize him, we’ll continue to watch.

We respond to images, metaphors and narratives more than to logic. And what we fight against may well get stronger. George Lakoff recalls Reagan being interviewed by that same Leslie Stahl:

The next day, she got a call from Reagan’s chief of staff, saying, thank you for this wonderful interview. And she said, but I was attacking Reagan. He said, it didn’t matter, if you turned off the sound he looked wonderful…And this is the same thing with Trump. So if you have a station where people are constantly sitting around analyzing Trump, some attacking him, some defending him, etc., that’s normalization. When you negate something, you’re activating it.

Trumpus learned well from Cohn, Reagan and Bush, as well as from American mythology, which prioritizes identity in terms of the racialized Other. Although he couldn’t claim to be a traditional outsider from a western state, he converted the mainstream media in the eyes of a third of the country into the hated insiders that his followers perceived as the source of their misery.

This wasn’t difficult. Southern whites, his primary supporters (imagine Southerners voting for a New Yorker!), have a very long memory that stretches back to the days of Reconstruction when Yankee carpetbaggers, newly enfranchised Blacks and radical reformers had turned their world upside down for a time. In the past twenty years they had laid the groundwork, through voter suppression and gerrymandering, for that to never happen again. For more on this, read my essays, Did the South Win the Civil War?  and Madness, Machines, Migrations and Mythology. 

For the present, this means fully accepting the nauseating truth that Trump is us – Trumpus – that he embodies the dark side of a toxic, national mythology that inhabits the psyche of every American, just as the Teutonic darkness dwelt in every German in 1933.

Here’s the third item I took notice of, another indication of the New Gilded Age: 190503104406-01-maurizio-cattelan-america-super-teasePolice were trying to recover a toilet made entirely from 18-carat-gold that was stolen Saturday from Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, the stately home where former prime minister Winston Churchill was born. No commentators pointed this out, but I will: at some level we see this image and make the inevitable equivalence of gold and shit.

Item # 4 is about my own innocence. It was hard to believe that shortly after that obscene real estate deal, and while I was watching Being There, Trumpus arrived in San Francisco (in my liberal Bay Area!) for a secret fundraiser among Silicon Valley billionaires. Tickets ran from $1,000 to $100,000 for photo ops with Trumpus (Trump is us!), who left with an estimated $15 million. To be fair, another con man, Joe Biden, swept in two weeks later for another – private – fundraiser. Neither would risk appearing in public.

Bly’s book on the shadow insists that healing – personal or social – must involve the lifelong process of retrieving those parts of ourselves still in that bag that trails behind us, or as he put it, eating the shadow:

One of the things we can do as Americans is to work hard individually at eating our shadows, and so make sure that we are not releasing energy which can then be picked up by the politicians…

Ultimately, we have to confront the innocence of good-hearted liberals, who since 2016 have been so obsessed with Trumpus the evil con man – they like to watch the Russiagate and now the impeachment narratives – that they have been willing to ally themselves with the “intelligence community,” simply because it has appeared to be against Trumpus.

I’m talking about those same spooks and thugs who have been overthrowing popular governments and assassinating American leaders for seventy years. Yes, I know that’s a provocative and contentious statement. That’s what I do, unlike those good-hearted types (Item # 5) who innocently praised the fact that liberal Ellen DeGeneres (yes, they watched) and warmonger George W. Bush could sit together as friends at a football game.

Where else but in America, only eighteen years after the “intelligence community” lied repeatedly to manipulate the nation into invading Afghanistan and Iraq, only fifteen years after the revelations of torture in the Abu Ghraib prison, would good-hearted liberals, in their hatred of the projection screen known as Trumpus, in their denial of the corruption of their own politicians, indicate a higher trust in the CIA than Republicans? 

Or this item, from January of 2019: Anderson Cooper, millionaire scion of that same Vanderbilt family that still owns the mega-mansion at which Being There had been filmed, telling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that her Green New Deal “…would require, though, raising taxes.”

Where else in America would we find Item # 6? An anonymous CIA agent reveals that Trumpus has asked the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden, and the media dub this person a “whistleblower.” However, as the wheels of liberal innocence crank into gear, let’s remember that CIA agents are not “whistleblowers” unless they are actually whistleblowing on the CIA itself. Otherwise, unlike Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Reality Winner, John Kirikaou and Chelsea Manning (all of whom the media have either ignored or demonized), he’s working for the CIA, which is choosing to influence the public narrative.

And here’s the item: those good-hearted, Trumpus-hating liberals have started a GoFundMe campaign for the CIA agent, and they’ve raised over $220,000. Only in America. Perhaps this guy’s name is “Chance.”

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