Barry’s Blog # 242: The Mythic Sources of White Rage, Part Seven of Seven

We can risk psychoanalyzing the mega-wealthy. I think that on one level they really do hate themselves deeply. On another, they desperately desire renewal. And on still another level they are completely constrained by their literal thinking, their inability to think symbolically. They appear to believe that their only option is to maximize their power and privilege to call down the death of the small self upon the entire world. It could be different.

And the angry heroes who serve them? How can we re-imagine a world in which their anger is directed not at the easy targets that the right-wing presents to them, but toward the actual threats to a harmonious and sustainable future? How might we encourage the revival of the true archetype of the Warrior? Chapter Twelve of my book discusses “rituals of conflict”:

What if conflict itself had a completely different function from defending against, converting or eliminating the Other? Tribal people once believed that it existed 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.” This wisdom is present in the word competition (communally petitioning the gods). Engagement can refer either to martial or to marital affairs. 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 find the one breath we all share.

Greek myth provides a surprising image in the war god, Ares. Homer calls him “killer of men,” and he is “most hateful” To Zeus. But the Greeks saw him as an immortal god; so to us he is an image of the divine, and thus of the psyche.

S9.3Ares

Ares

This tells us first that Greek culture understood that martial values are fundamentally human, not to be demonized and certainly not to be ignored. Second, consider what it implies that Ares was taught to dance before he was taught the arts of war.

Third, he was Aphrodite’s lover. This most masculine god and this most feminine goddess birthed a daughter known as Harmonia (Harmony). Thus in pagan thinking the war god had a “harmonious” relationship with the feminine that balanced his destructiveness. There is sublime beauty in war, wrote Hillman, and there is conflict in love. Harmonia is the product of the Warrior in a balanced relationship with its complementary archetype, the Lover. Love and war beget harmony, as Psyche and Eros beget their daughter Voluptos, or voluptuousness.

Soldiers entering battle invoked Ares, asking for strength and courage. But they also called upon him to prevent unavoidable conflict from degenerating into uncontrollable violence, as in this 7th-century B.C.E. hymn:

Hear 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?”

An initiated warrior exhausts non-violent forms of persuasion (the realms of Athena and Hermes) before resorting to the most minimal level of violence. This is standard hero ideology, of course (the American Hero never strikes the first blow).

But here is the difference: the archetypal warrior sees violence as the failure of symbolic conflict. If he is forced into combat, he goes sadly. If he survives and returns, he grieves for all the dead, not just his compatriots, because he knows that his enemy was a part of himself. Even so, he may require deep and protracted immersion in the feminine waters of atonement before returning to normal life.

In primitive societies when violence ended, much ritual activity was intended to expiate guilt, including various kinds of ritual penance after killing. Often the returning warrior was considered sacredly polluted and had to undergo additional purification rituals. A Pima warrior withdrew from battle the moment he killed his opponent to begin his rites of purification. Any Papago man who had killed an enemy underwent a difficult, sixteen-day ordeal of purification before being readmitted to society.

Mythic Irish warriors had to be purified of their battle frenzy. After a great battle Cuchulain was still red-hot with war fury and remained extremely dangerous to his own people. The women solved the crisis by marching out naked to greet him. When the sight momentarily stunned him, men grabbed him and plunged him into a vat of icy water. His heat caused it – and a second vat – to evaporate and explode into steam. Only on the third dunking did he cool down enough; the city was saved.

The archetypal warrior stands vigilant, aware of his own dark potential and watching for external danger. In serving the Divine King of the psyche, he is charged with protecting boundaries. This doesn’t imply rigid armoring. He determines which outside elements to welcome and which are dangerous.

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 inside (such as air and nutrients) and what to keep out (including microbes and toxins). When intruders cross the boundaries, 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 anti-bodies to remember – memorialize (!) – the event and protect against future ones. The system discriminates between the two aspects of the Greek word xenos – stranger and guest. Similarly, in Irish myth the Fianna warriors  guarded the borders of the realm and asked all strangers: “Would you like a poem or a sword?”

Ares loves conflict, but he is first and foremost a protector. And remember, he comes from the Pagan world, not the Judeo-Christian tradition of the renunciate warrior-monk. He retains his amorous relationship to Aphrodite and has many consorts and children. He is comfortable in relationship.

But Christianity, despite its historic dynamism and belligerence, cast him out. Like Dionysus, he finds expression only in images of the Other. So from the pagan perspective, just as Aphrodite’s exile leads to pornography,  the absence of the war god causes literal violence that might otherwise be expressed symbolically.

Why, in the most competitive society in history, do “proper,” middle-class people 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. And if we choose the former, we reflexively evoke our long heritage of total warfare, as we evolved it on the frontier. 

Indigenous people understood that ritual provides a third alternative: staying in relationship without being violent. It requires, however, that participants acknowledge the reality of the Other. Traditional West African Dagara married couples engage in conflict rituals every five days. Certain that there will be no physical violence, each person simultaneously vents all accumulated emotions. If necessary, the entire village witnesses and affirms this ritual. Long experience has shown them that conflict causes damage to the entire community if it is removed from a bounded ritual container and brought out into the profane openness of daily life.

A second example is the kecak dance performances of Bali that convert aggression into art. The entire male population of a village (including boys) may enact battle scenes from the Hindu epics, with neither physical harm nor easy resolution of light over dark.

Kecak dance

Another is the bertsolariak, the Basque poetry competitions, in which each participant improvises in accordance with a given meter, taking his cue from his rival’s poem.

Urban 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. To become a winner at this game (and remain non-violent), one learns to artfully hold the tension of the opposites.

Aphrodite’s sensual fury, said Hillman, is hardly different from that of Ares. In their union of sames rather than of opposites, passionate aesthetic engagement can restrain violence. Long-term discipline of an art – any art – tames hasty emotional expression and the urge for vengeance, but not its passion. Violence is beyond reason; what counters it must be equally unreasonable. “Imagine a civilization,” mused Hillman, “whose first line of defense is each citizen’s aesthetic investment in some cultural form.”

Mythopoetic men’s conferences have evolved effective conflict rituals that allow men to engage with each other on subjects as frightening as race and sex without either leaving or getting 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 suffer together and to cleanse their souls.

Suffering together: Joshua Chamberlain was a general in the Union Army 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!

The same principle holds for both individuals and large groups. Tragic Drama could be the model for future conflict rituals, which might enact our greatest moral conflicts before the citizens and challenge them to hold the tension of the opposites without succumbing to the temptation of quick resolution. Such rituals could lead to a long-term reframing of the meaning of the hero/warrior. We might learn to value this archetype’s protective and healing capacity, including the power of non-violence. Questioning the myth of violent redemption would lead to considering that initiated masculinity has a great variety of expressions. Women might acknowledge that patriarchy is caused not by men but by the lack of initiated men. The roles of the military and the police could shift from controlling the Other to – artfully – protecting the borders of the realm. The entire military could become the Coast Guard, real Homeland Security.

Pentheus, no longer fearing his dark mirror-opposite, no longer needing to vent his self-hatred and his grief for never having been initiated, might just invite Dionysus into the city for a competition of dance and poetry, fueled by the deep wine of the Soul.

We conclude by returning to the question of the Apocalypse, so ardently desired by fundamentalist Christians, drunks, suicides and warmongers. But we recall that the word means “to lift the veil.” No one needs to die (or kill) to be reborn; one only needs to wake up, to see and to acknowledge what D. H. Lawrence saw:

…only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

There is yet another meaning to “endings.” Seen from the detached perspective of the mystic, from the inspired eye of the poet and even from the cyclic movements of our lungs, each moment expresses both birth and death, each of which is an essential aspect of life…breathe out the end of time, breathe in rebirth. Start again, continue. As Victory Lee Schouten writes: Waking up groggy is still waking up.

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Barry’s Blog # 241: The Mythic Sources of White Rage, Part Six of Seven

The third archetype we need to discuss is that of the Apocalypse. 

It is critical to this enquiry about rage in American life to remember that the myth of American innocence began to take form while Puritanism was still dominating all intellectual discourse and most politics in both Britain and North America. Then, the idea of “America” – and along with it, the narrative of regeneration through violence – was gestating even as religion appeared to be losing its grip on the modern mind, to be replaced by nationalism.

But from the point of indigenous people, both mass religion and nationalism are ideologies, vast systems that people construct to alleviate their alienation from the Earth and from their own souls.

Those old religious roots held fast in the underworld of modernism and put out strong “shoots” in our lifetime. Now, we are faced with the undeniable fact that Trump and the fascist police state that he threatens to enforce upon us is a direct result of the massive support he continues to receive from white, evangelical Christians. In addition to identifying with his insecurity, they support him because of their racial hatreds and fears.

Do you doubt that statement? All you need to do is check the contrasting voting patterns of black evangelical Christians.

But both groups share a fascination with the Apocalypse, and so do many of us who are attracted to the Warrior and King archetypes and their “boy psychology” versions.

A staggering percentage of Americans expect the world to end in Armageddon. In 2010, 41% of respondents said they expected Christ to return to Earth by 2050. A 2012 poll found that over a fifth of Americans believed the end of the world will happen in their lifetime (compared to 6% in France and 8% in Great Britain).  Four years later, 15% said that since God controls the climate, people can’t be causing global warming, and 11% that since the end times are coming anyway, there’s no reason to worry about it.

Americans inherited a long and bloody tradition of apocalyptic madness from their European forebears, top-10-words-from-the-bible-armageddon-274@1xand, as I show in Chapter Seven of my book, made it an essential aspect of their national psyche, impacting several “Great Awakening” revivals and crusades against alcohol. 24c84188404fcac7afd244d9db9061c8 But it was also the emotional force – killing to bring on a better world – that drove the American Revolution, the genocide of the Native people and the mass slaughter of the Civil War and all our subsequent wars. Betsy Hartmann, author of The America Syndrome: Apocalypse, War, and Our Call to Greatness, writes:

Of all the intertwining reasons for our apocalyptic disposition, the one that stands out most starkly is our acceptance of the necessity and inevitability of war. In the same 2010 Pew survey, six out of ten Americans saw another world war as definite or probable by 2050. This expectation of war isn’t surprising, given that Americans’ apocalyptic images and beliefs are derived mainly from Christianity, especially the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament which, above all, is about the grotesque violence and crowning glories of war…This promise of a New Jerusalem for the elect, and the cataclysmic violence against people and nature necessary to achieve that goal, has made the Book of Revelation an ideological tool of conquest and empire from the Crusades onwards. You don’t have to be a Christian to be susceptible to John’s logic that the perfect end—the New Jerusalem—justifies the bloody means.

A recent article proposes that we are all living in a “United States of anxiety.” But Chapter Ten of my book, published eight years ago, argued that Americans have been twisted between the two poles of fear and denial for a very long time.

Nor do you have to be a Christian to be swept up by fantasies of the end of the world as we know it, as New Age fascination with the “Y2K” phenomena download and the 2012 “Mayan prophecies” indicates. The issue we need to fully understand is what the notions of “death” or “ending” mean in myth and to the psyche. As I wrote here:

What does it mean to be at the end of an age? What does it mean to end? To honestly approach the question, 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…simply focusing on the light is another form of literalization equal to religious fundamentalism. An awareness of death is precisely what I see missing in New Age thinking. To celebrate rebirth without considering the breakdown and destruction of what must precede it is to wallow in innocence. As Jung said, “…the experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego.”

The word “apocalypse” comes from a Greek root meaning to uncover, disclose, to lift the veil from what had been concealed. Here is the essence of the issue: “End times” is 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. And our indigenous souls understand that there is no initiation into a new state of being unless we fully accept the necessary death of what came before, what no longer serves us or our communities.

Barbara Ehrenreich recently rephrased Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward catastrophic annihilation.” She is a proud materialist and she was talking about her own inevitable death.

In our demythologized world the problem is that we no longer possess the tools to imagine inner, symbolic renewal, so we see literal images elsewhere. And we project our internal state onto the world, looking for the signs of world changes “out there.” Freud was literalizing this archetypal urge when he wrote about the “death instinct.”

It gets worse before it gets better. Several hundred years of literalization and loss of initiation rituals has limited us to a heritage in which the most psychologically damaged among us – and I would include in this population most of our mega-billionaires – can only objectify others. And they can only perceive those who deserve the symbolic death that they unconsciously desire in the Others of the world – people of color, women and gay people. For some of them, it seems to be even worse: in their mad obsession with denying climate change, do they not project their death wish upon the entire planet?

Is history cyclic? Perhaps the Paranoid and Predatory imaginations have merged once again, as they did during the crusades and the early colonial period. Or perhaps, like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a new strain of reactionary has evolved: true believers in apocalyptic end, whose own ends justify any means. They are grandiose boy-men who subsidize murder not despite their faith but because of it. They see no ethical dilemmas in corruption and violence because their twisted mix of smug righteousness and social Darwinism assures them that their victims deserve their fate. Anyone who isn’t a hero is a victim, and all but the inner circle are now Other.

Again, I suggest: only a mythological perspective can make any sense of this. America’s rulers are not ignorant; they are fully aware of our human and environmental tragedies. The fathers no longer send only the young to be sacrificed; now they offer everything to the sky-gods. Whether or not we take their religious rhetoric literally, they are deliberately (if unconsciously) provoking both personal and global apocalypse.

Recall Pentheus, emerging from his collapsed palace, even more determined to confront (or to merge with) Dionysus. Thebes/America is a city of uninitiated men, fanatically devoted to the systematic destruction of their own children. When I was writing my book, a boy-king, who secretly longed for the symbolic death that might effect his transition to manhood, was leading this city. The entire world could almost feel it as a desperate, visceral prayer when, in June 2003, Bush, the self-appointed embodiment of American heroism, challenged the Iraqi resistance to “bring it on!”

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Barry’s Blog # 240: The Mythic Sources of White Rage, Part Five of Seven

The racist, misogynist, rage-filled, working-class white male has long seen himself as embodying the American Hero narrative. But that hero is the toxic mimic of another, more mature archetypal figure. Jungians Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette envision a four-part masculine soul  51LC3sbNP7L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ divided into the King (the image of order, blessing and fertility), Lover (relatedness and deep passion for life), Magician (awareness and insight) and Warrior (focused aggression and devotion to a cause). Each of these archetypes is divided into an immature, “boy psychology” image and a mature, initiated “man psychology.”

In this demythologized world, we certainly should not be surprised to read that “…most men are fixated at an immature level of development.” This is what we mean by “boy psychology,” and from an indigenous perspective, it is the source of all our current problems. Simply put, America and all of its institutions have been ruled for a very long time by uninitiated boys in men’s bodies. See Chapter Five of my book for a detailed discussion of this issue.

The immature form of the Warrior in the modern world is what we know as the hero. This macho man overcompensates for his insecurities, either bragging of his potency or smoldering in silence. He is brittle and easily provoked.

At bottom, he is deeply wounded, but his grief has no outlet other than rage. And it is yet another source of that grief and rage that American culture offers him almost no way to access his natural affinity – what indigenous initiation rites might have recognized in him – for the Warrior archetype. To imagine this dilemma in somewhat positive terms: the Hero, in his soul of souls, wishes to be recognized as the Warrior.

The warrior’s courage and discipline are intended for service. He hones himself into “an efficient spiritual machine…to bear the unbearable” for the express purpose of serving a transpersonal goal, not his own ego and certainly not white supremacy, celebrities or capitalism. The hero may vanquish the beast. But if he doesn’t enact the third part of the initiation story, returning with a boon for his community, his heroism becomes pathological and he remains a boy.

And here is the connection between the immature, American Hero and the King he can only serve through rage and demonization of the Other; between the foot soldiers of the alt-right and the oligarchs who actually subsidize their hate.

In all functioning, indigenous mythologies, the archetypal Sacred King is in relationship – to the realm, and to the divine queen, who is The Earth. Together, they personify that cause or community, which is composed of the entirety of its inhabitants, human, animal, plant as well as the unseen spirits and ancestors.

But archetypes can force their way into our lives in astonishing and destructive ways. Such iconic figures as Adolf Hitler, Marilyn Monroe and David Koresh were all seized by archetypes. In Jungian terms, these historical persons became identified with the archetypes rather than being conduits for their energies. And to the extent that we lack awareness, we become possessed by the shadow of that archetype. The King has both an active and a passive shadow, his uninitiated, immature aspects.

The active pole is the Tyrant, who cannot and will not create anything or bless others. He is concerned only with power, control and self-aggrandizement. Instead of channeling or embodying the archetype of the King, he believes that he is the King, literally the center of the universe. He is inflated, narcissistic, grandiose and entitled and assumes that conventional moral restraints don’t apply to him. Curiously, since he has a scarcity mentality, he objectifies all others and exploits them for his own purposes.

Greek myth acknowledged the damage that powerful but uninitiated men could do: Grandiose King Erysichthon 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 consuming himself. The king who couldn’t bless ended up destroying the realm.

The passive pole of the Shadow King – the Weakling – lies just below consciousness. In this manifestation, he is indecisive, depressed, incapable of leadership or blessing and of course, extremely insecure. Underneath every blustering Tyrant is a Weakling, and underneath every cowering Weakling is a Tyrant waiting to explode.

He must embody that transpersonal cause, or his own image, like that of Narcissus, will become that cause, and his followers will be, for a time, obsessed with his “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Sooner or later, however, his great towers will unconsciously provoke the Dionysian Stranger who will puncture his grandiosity. And those towers will become targets, because his followers, angry at his inability to embody that Sacred King, will turn on him when he can no longer distract them with scapegoats to sacrifice. He knows this.

And this is the rage connection to his foot soldiers. Privilege is privilege, whether it derives from the illusion of racial superiority or from inconceivably massive wealth, because – like Dionysus himself – it leaks through the cracks of the ego and establishes itself in the core of one’s identity. But the shadow King is just as angry at his uninitiated condition as his followers are at theirs. Despite being at the center of the realm, emotionally he remains an outsider, and his followers, perceiving this, temporarily identify with him in their wounded state.

So any perceived threat to his authority and supremacy, his assumptions of entitlement (isn’t it curious that musicians are legally entitled to royalty payments?), no matter how minor, also threatens to puncture the bubble of his inflated grandiosity and release the grief and the rage at the core of his self, just as it does with them.

Donald Trump represents the logical extreme of uninitiated, man-boy rulers that has manifested progressively for centuries. download His charisma lies in the fact (or the brand) that he genuinely appears to be as insecure, unstable and fragile as his followers. And, except for his classless style, I see no reason to believe that he is any different in essence – in the entitled grandiosity – of those who are far wealthier than he is.

Married or not, such men are utterly disconnected from relationship with the feminine. Together, in their implied hatred for the Earth itself, they compose an entire class of shadow Kings. They embody a condition that Paul Shepard identified twenty years ago:

We may now be the possessors of the world’s flimsiest identity structure where history, masquerading as myth, authorizes men…to alter the world to match their regressive moods of omnipotence and insecurity.

We are talking about psychopaths and sociopaths, men who speak with reassuringly sincere voices yet are completely amoral. Studies indicate that many corporate CEOs are actual psychopaths, who

…have a profound lack of empathy…use other people callously and remorselessly for their own ends… pathological liars, master con artists, and heartless manipulators. Easily bored, they crave constant stimulation, so they seek thrills from real-life “games” they can win – and take pleasure from their power over other people.

We are also talking about how, beginning with Lyndon Johnson, American Presidents began to take the “Commander-in-Chief” title quite literally and bypassed both Congress and their generals in deciding when to go to war. It was a new trend in which the nation has confused the two very separate archetypes of King and Warrior.

Of course, such men, well compensated as they are, merely work for the truly wealthy. But it seems natural to assume that it takes one to know one.

Perhaps we can understand men who sponsor torturers, climate deniers and drug smugglers (international drug trafficking has been controlled by the ultra-wealthy since the Opium Wars of the 19th century) only by comparing them to the original conquistadores. These men, writes James Wilson, lived “an apparently insoluble compound” of greed, cruelty, deceit, opportunism – and an absolutely literal, legalistic, church-sanctioned piety that assured them of their own salvation.

This is the bizarre logic of the modern Calvinists, regardless of whether or not they are overtly religious. In our mythology, their (usually inherited) state of infinite entitlement indicates without doubt that they are already saved, so evil deeds are irrelevant to their salvation. Since the “chosen” are above morality, they have no morality. They have the potential to be infinitely good or infinitely evil.

But their psychology – their underlying insecurity, grief and rage – determines the moral direction in which they move, even as they convince themselves of their perfectly benign intentions. What, we might wonder, is more important: the huge donation for a new hospital or art museum, the tax write-off or the fact that it will be named for them? None of this began with Trump. What are we to make of a Supreme Court Justice – Antonin Scalia – who publicly stated that there is nothing unconstitutional about executing innocent people?

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Barry’s Blog # 239: The Mythic Sources of White Rage, Part Four of Seven

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand…Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

We’ve tried to understand what motivates working-class hatred. Now when the wealthy engage in conservative politics,

breakers

Vanderbilt mansion

they do so in a somewhat rational, if short-sighted, effort to maintain their own wealth and privilege. They do not perceive themselves as victims.

Or at least that used to be the case. For the past twenty years now, the United States has seen a relatively new phenomenon: individuals and families – the Kochs, the Mercers, the Waltons, the Uihleins, Sheldon Adelson (who recently rewarded Trump for moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by giving yet another $30 million to the Republicans), Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Marcus, Paul Singer, Betsy DeVoss and other members of Donald Trump’s cabinet, among the 540 billionaires in the U.S. – who have absolutely dominated politics. These are the American olligarchs.

You say you never heard this phrase? The media, of course, never describe them as such, preferring to apply the term only to Russians, as if the mega-rich in America choose to remain above the fray and stay home counting their money. Here is another aspect of American myth: we really don’t hate the rich as people do in other countries, because we subscribe to bogus assumptions that we might someday join them.

I’m not talking about your average, run-of-the-mill, arriviste, rich person with only one or two billion in assets. download Some of these people actually have worked hard to amass their fortunes. Perhaps they remain somewhat insecure about their status in comparison with those who have much more, so they remain in the game of influencing politicians toward the goal of maximizing their wealth.

In the past several election cycles these people have donated inconceivably massive amounts of money to politicians. They give primarily to Republicans of course. But not always: Barack Obama collected more money from Wall Street than anyone before or since.

Certainly, some of this activity represents conventional quid pro pro investment. But at a certain point, materialist analysis fails us. Of course, we always ask cui bono – who profits? But I’m talking about people who are so fabulously wealthy 340px-Jdr-king that simple calculations of wealth enhancement really don’t seem to be in play.

What motivates these people? Most of them do not appear to be fundamentalist Christians. They don’t seem to be angry about losing status relative to women and people of color as the rank-and-file Tea-Partiers are (even as the Kochs have sustained them financially for many years).

Ideology? The Kochs and the Mercers in particular, have been described as “libertarian purists,” who passionately hate government regulation with religious intensity, who really believe that their philosophies, if fully enacted, would transform the world and improve all our lives.

I suppose some of them are as mentally and certainly as morally unstable as Trump appears to be, since their wealth has insulated them from the consequences of their actions. I suppose it’s easy to subscribe to crazy ideologies that deny the facts of climate change – even when they have more information about it than we do – when you live on an estate, tended by a flock of servants. It’s easy – in an America that blames the poor for their own condition and reassures the wealthy that they are among the saved – to feel that you are entitled to your wealth – that you deserve it – simply because you have it, to be unaware of Balzac’s charge that “At the base of every great fortune there is a great crime.”

It may even be easy to convince yourself that you pulled yourself entirely up by your own bootstraps – that white privilege, huge inheritances, elite educations, bought politicians, massive government subsidies and tax credits had nothing to do with it. As Jim Hightower said of George Bush Sr., he was “born on third base and thought he had hit a triple.”

But psychoanalyzing such people doesn’t get us very far. We need to understand the myths that they embody. That’s easy enough with Trump supporters (sorry if you think I’m being too judgmental): the myth of innocence is collapsing as quickly as the economy, and along with it their privileged sense of masculine, productive, gun-toting, heroic, white supremacy. They are pissed, especially at you and me, whom they have been taught to perceive as having destroyed their world with our “liberal” values. And let’s compartmentalize our compassion for a minute and acknowledge that large numbers of them are viciously, proudly racist (see my comparison above between white and black evangelicals). But I’m talking about the people who pay the bills for all the hate, the one percent of the one percent.

I’m trying to understand the myths that drive these people. It seems clear that they are enacting our national myths of innocence, exceptionalism and manifest destiny for us. But to go deeper we have look at three archetypes: the Warrior, the King and the Apocalypse. The Warrior serves the King, but they both have the potential of serving the Apocalypse. And we can’t really understand any of these themes without considering a fourth archetype that I’ve already been talking about: initiation.

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Barry’s Blog # 238: The Mythic Sources of White Rage, Part Three of Seven

In countless Hollywood versions of the “good war,” the American Hero, dedicated to his democratic ideals, dies fighting to the last man. bataan_roberttaylor Isn’t he always the last one to die – just as one of his mirror opposites, the evil genius, equally dedicated to his criminal goals, also dies at the very end? Don’t they each choose death over the alternative of being captured?

And what about the gunman (whether in old gangster films or on school campuses) dying in a blaze of police gunfire 72000650 after he has committed his crimes, or the mass killer in Toronto in April, 2018 who dared the police to “Shoot me in the head”?  This phenomenon is so widespread that analysts have called it “suicide by police.” The broader subject of suicide brings us back to the “mental illness” issue that gun rights supporters use to deflect the question away from gun availability.

I am no psychologist, but any plumber can see that the rage, like leaking water, must go somewhere – either outwards, often as literal violence or rape directed at others, or inwards, as depression or suicide.

Although we can never tell how much happens through suicide by cop or through deliberately unsafe driving, or deliberate but unconscious substance and medication abuse, at least 45,000 Americans commit suicide annually.  Half are by firearms. Men kill themselves 3 ½ times more often than women, and white males account for 7 of 10 suicides.

Our characteristic American expectation of positive emotions and life-experiences makes feelings of sadness and despair more pathological in this culture than elsewhere. images Christina Kotchemidova writes, “Since ‘cheerfulness’ and ‘depression’ are bound by opposition, the more one is normalized, the more negative the other will appear.”

Depression is the shadow of our heroic, successful, progressive, American stance. It has doubled since World War Two, with each generation showing higher rates than the last. It now impacts nineteen million American adults. Ten percent of us (6% of children) take antidepressants. Forty-one percent of young adults experience major depression, and nearly a third of them exhibit alcohol dependence by age thirty-two. Eighteen percent of college students take prescription psychological medications, and suicide is their second leading cause of death.

Most suicides, we can assume, take their own lives out of depression, despair, loneliness or internalized rage. However, this is not an “either-or” world but a “both-and.” When we bring the mythological into the conversation, we have to acknowledge the broad topic of initiation and our demythologized world in which traditional communities and rituals,  especially those of initiation, have long been lost. For more, see here and here.

At some level, we all really do know that the Hero must die  so that an elder may be born. In some African tribes, adolescents were expected to demonstrate their sincerity by dancing at great length before the hut of the elders, pleading for initiation. They knew the consequences of not being admitted: remaining boys in the eyes of the community.

In a post-modern world that has elevated the productive, achieving, radically individualistic male to the status of a demigod who lords it over all the “losers,” such consequences, if inchoate, are even greater. Twenty-first century capitalism produces a vast surplus of un- and under-employable people, especially men, who understand very well that they have been permanently excluded from the initiatory group of the upwardly-mobile.

In 2004, four million American eighteen to thirty-four-year old men were unemployed, were not in school and lacked a degree beyond high school. Fourteen years later, in a culture that identifies boys as men only when they have disengaged from family and established independent households, fully one-third of them live with their parents.

Not only are these young and not-so-young men unable to function productively anymore, they can also see that most job growth is now in areas (health care, food services, housekeeping, etc.) that either have been served traditionally by women or require high-tech educations.

Politically, it gets much worse: for at least two generations they have been deluged with right-wing talk radio and internet noise telling them that the source of their joblessness – and their pain – is affirmative action programs instituted by those same bi-coastal elites. It’s a very old story, and the personae have changed over the years. But its essence remains: you have been victimized by the Other.

Chapter Five of my book discusses the vast array of means by which we try to achieve the initiation into manhood that we desperately, if often unconsciously, desire:

As initiation rites have disappeared, so have the clear distinctions between life’s developmental stages. Consequently, adolescence in America seems to continue indefinitely. This is not to say that there are no initiations in modern life. The dizzying pace of change evokes liminality in everyone, and the psyche reacts to separation and loss as if initiations were underway. But we endure these transitions alone and unprotected by ritual and community. From childhood trauma to divorce and war, no one puts our suffering into a larger context or welcomes us home. This drains our capacity to express our purpose, and we live lifetimes of incomplete initiations.

Those unconscious means include fraternity initiations, substance abuse, tattooing and body piercing, midlife crises, fast cars, extreme sports and the pseudo-initiations of fundamentalism, hate groups, gangs and the military. What they all have in common is the desire to die to an old, no-longer-satisfying identity and be reborn into a new one.

Below the incapacitation of the alienated, depressed and increasingly angry white male lies that same desire. But with no real community of elders and no ability to experience his plight in symbolic terms, his only way out may be the literal, internalized expression of that rage as suicide.

Otherwise, the victim who cannot be a hero will search for villains or scapegoats. Some will do so with energy derived from their thwarted desire to play the hero, so they will organize collectively as victims, but with truly “heroic” enthusiasm.

This is right-wing activism: deeply committed, emotionally intense, sustained effort under the identification as victim – despite their unacknowledged white privilege – with their targets being precisely those categories (race, gender, immigration) 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 well-off people who actually perceive themselves to be the victims of people who have far less than they do. Only in America do millions of economically insecure white people serve the interests of the rich because to do so is to feel accepted among the elect and not “the Other.”

 This is the history of American politics, from Bacon’s Rebellion in the late 17th century to the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Populism, all the way to Ronald Reagan and Trump. As Lyndon Johnson said:

If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.

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Barry’s Blog # 237: The Mythic Sources of White Rage, Part Two of Seven

The love of violence is so fundamental to the American psyche that we can easily trace it all the way back to the beginning. In 1636, a generation after landing in the New World and the same year that they founded Harvard College, New England Puritans massacred and burned 500-700 Native Americans known as the Pequots. As Bob Dylan would write 328 years later, they had “God on their side.” One of the perpetrators expressed no remorse, only praise for this God:

…It was a fearfull sight to see them (the natives) thus frying in the fryer, and the streams of blood…horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prays thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them…

Hatred – and joy – of this intensity expresses a privileged world view that begins in abstraction and alienation from the body and drapes itself in innocence. pequot-massacre-1637-granger Ritual sacrifice – fire and blood – gives its practitioners a consistent moral self-image. It enabled the My Lai massacre – and dozens like it – in Viet Nam. It lies behind the communal celebration of whiteness known as the lynch mob, and it enables us to casually dismiss the torture of suspected terrorists in Iraq and Israeli massacres in Gaza. But it does not completely insulate us from guilt. For that to occur, one more step is required: the erasure of memory. After the Pequot massacre, the Puritans passed a law making it a crime to utter the word “Pequot.

We’ve all heard the statistics by now: 40% of American adults own 260 million legal and 25 million illegal firearms. We suffer 15,000 gun murders, 18,000 gun suicides and 1,500 “accidental” gun deaths per year. America’s adult murder rate is seven times higher and its teen murder rate twelve times higher than in Britain, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and Germany. These nations together have 20 million teenagers; in 1990 a total of 300 were murdered. That same year, of America’s 17 million teens, 3,000 were murdered, while thirty of Japan’s ten million teens were murdered, a rate one-fiftieth of ours. Glen Slater concludes that gun violence “keeps the national psyche in a holding pattern, preventing it from a more conscious encounter with more soul-wrenching issues.”

Some of this is about availability and the gun lobby. But we’re talking about rage, and the privilege of acting upon that rage (or ignoring it when others perpetrate it). Rage is about psychology, but belief systems are about mythology. Twenty-four percent of us – a far higher rate than in most countries – believe that “it is acceptable to use violence to get what we want.”

Of course, to maintain such complacency – and complicity – among the general population requires massive and continual government and media propaganda, which typically ensures huge support in the early stages of each foreign intervention. Eventually, our deeper impulse toward human solidarity arises, and our wars lose their popularity. The fact that the public predictably falls for the next set of lies about the next set of designated evildoers (told, as they are now, by the same pundits) seems to indicate a repetitive national pattern that we can only call addiction.

Meanwhile, constant, massive, fictional death in film and TV reduces the emotional impact of actual death. By age eighteen, an American will have seen 18,000 virtual murders. “Harmless violence where no one gets hurt,” writes James Hillman, “breeds innocence…the innocent American is the violent American.”

And although the idea of American innocence should always bring us back to race, our mythic blinders can prevent us from seeing the obvious. Many writers have recently addressed the pathology behind the fact that men commit most murders. But surprisingly few make download the necessary leap to the deeper issue: the fact that white men commit the vast majority of mass murders, whether on school campuses or in the 170 countries where the U.S. empire stations troops.

We can’t achieve any real insight without taking this background into account. We can’t speak of school shootings without also speaking of Rambo. We can’t speak about the money behind the NRA without speaking about depleted uranium bombs in Yemen. We can’t discuss the prisons that house – and breed – our killers without discussing the two million Palestinians housed in the outdoor prison known as Gaza.

Once we acknowledge the broader historical, religious and racial contexts, then we can bring in issues such as the firearms industry, the police (who actually do a shockingly large percentage the killing), the question of mental health, and the collapsing economy, with its parallel collapse of possibilities for the white, male working class.

Studies indicate that the likelihood of advancing in social class – the core fantasy of the American Dream – has decreased significantly since the 1980s. But to understand the mythic roots of the current epidemic of rage, it’s really useful to look back to 2003 and note that 56 % of those blue-collar men who correctly perceived George W. Bush’s tax cuts as favoring the rich still supported them.

The myth of the self-made man – the hero who succeeds without any community support, or who violently saves the innocent community and then leaves it – is as deeply engrained as our wild, naïve optimism and our ignorance of the facts. As late as the year 2000, 19 % of Americans believed they would “soon” be in the top one percent income bracket, and another 19 % thought they already were. Two-thirds expected to have to pay the estate tax one day (only two percent did, even before the recent tax bill that has drastically reduced even that tiny number).

Sooner or later, the individual, non-political behaviors prove to be either unavailable or (though addictive) ultimately unsatisfying. And when our assumptions of social mobility are revealed as fiction, the hero encounters his opposite – the victim / loser – within himself, and we become what we really are (except for Nazi Germany), the most violent people in history. American crime is a natural by-product of our values, an alternative means of social mobility in a society where “anything goes” in the pursuit of success.

“America,” says Glen Slater, “has little imagination for loss and failure. It only knows how to move forward.” When we realize that such movement is blocked, we go ballistic. Then guns become the purest expression of controlling one’s fate. As such, they are “the dark epitome of the self-made way of life.”

White people in America may well have had permission to dream bigger dreams than other peoples. With great possibilities, however, come great risks. The gap between aspiration and reality – the lost dream – is also far higher here than anywhere else. When we don’t meet our expectations of success, when that gap gets too wide, violence often becomes the only option, the expression of a fantasy of ultimate individualism and control. In this sense, the Mafia is more American then Sicilian, and the lone, white, mass killer is an expression of social mobility gone bad.

Students of myth do not look at motivation – we don’t really care why Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. We look first at the facts of the story itself: this is what happened. Only after accepting the facts themselves do we ask why. So we ask, is mass violence culturally approved? And we have to answer, yes, it must be, since in this story, society insists on doing nothing to prevent it.

Or at least when whites, especially the police, are doing it. But when armed Black Panthers marched on Sacramento in 1967, black panthers 2-28-69 it took only a few weeks for Governor Ronald Reagan to enact a strong gun control law.  As I wrote above, there is something about the hatred – and joy – of this intensity of violence that is characteristically American. Here is something like a corollary, a sub-rule of the myth of innocence: in this story, only white people are allowed to enact their rage without consequences.

All Others are forewarned: the display of your anger at anyone other than your own people will be severely punished. Senator Orrin Hatch explains, apparently without irony, how we perpetuate our sense of innocence: “Capital punishment is our society’s recognition of the sanctity of human life.”

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Barry’s Blog # 236: The Mythic Sources of White Rage, Part One of Seven

Who are the angry white males?

Sociologists tell us that the populations from which most reactionary activism arises are those who think they may be overtaken economically by groups below them in social class. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan have always been comprised mainly of lower-middle class men, not the poor. Similarly, most anti-abortion activists have been baby boomers who make less money than their parents.

But economics is only part of the picture. Myth – the narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves, and especially the stories about whom we are not – typically overrides the facts and provides the connection to the emotional energy, the rage, that often drives us.

For their entire lives, white Americans have received mythic instruction through the gatekeepers of the media, schools and churches that regularly, daily and continuously re-affirm two main aspects of their identity:

1 – The Hero: the potency and competency of the free, lone individual (disconnected from relationship and feminine values) and his capacity for achievement, creativity, control, productivity and perpetual growth towards a future that will be better than the past.  the-searchers-john-wayne He creates his own reality because all options are available to him as an American. I discuss the Hero at great length in Chapter Nine of my book.

2 – The Other is the shadow of the Hero, and he has several incarnations. As the villain who is dedicated to defeating the hero, he is willing to utilize unethical and unfair means to achieve his aims. download He represents evil, and he hates both the hero and his innocent community simply because of who they are.

As the outsider, he is all that they are not: dirty, lazy, impulsive, impure, sexual and untrustworthy; he is dangerous because he is highly contagious and always threatens to corrupt the community and infect it with his unchristian, even animalistic values. And as the Loser, he reminds the potential hero that – in this mythology – failure is also a choice.

This is how the sense of a solid self is formed in America. To identify in terms of what he thinks he is not is to claim the privilege of being accepted as a member of the innocent, well-meaning, Christian, masculine, upwardly-mobile, and most importantly, white citizenry. This means to know that one is not black, brown, yellow, red, gay, female or poor. Beginning in the late 17th century, Americans uniquely confused social class with race. As I write in Chapter Seven of my book:

This new allegiance to whiteness eliminated class competition and provided a sub-class of poor whites to intimidate slaves and suppress rebellion…America’s primary model for class distinction (and class conflict) became relations between white planters and black slaves, rather than between rich and poor. The new system, writes (Theodore) Allen, insisted on “the social distinction between the poorest member of the oppressor group and any member, however propertied, of the oppressed group.”

And it provided the historical foundation for the American love affair with guns.

Eventually, southern class discrimination merged with northern religious stereotyping. Since poverty equaled sinfulness (to the Puritan) and black equaled poor (to the Opportunist), then it became obvious that blackness equaled sin…scholars still wonder why a strong socialist movement never developed in America, as it did almost everywhere else. Characteristically, they rarely consider the overwhelming presence of the Other: no other nation combined irresistible myths of opportunity with rigid legal systems deliberately intended to divide natural allies…

No matter how impoverished a white, male American feels, he hears hundreds of subtle messages every day that divide him from the impure. Without racial privilege the concept of whiteness is meaningless. Often, Americans have had nothing to call their own except white privilege, yet they cling to it and support those whose coded rhetoric promises to maintain it.

Similarly, and despite the easy availability of guns (recall that Canadians have as many guns per capita as we do but don’t use them on each other), we cannot understand our unique willingness to go ballistic, to let loose the dogs of war, without fully contemplating why we are so angry all the time.

Most Americans have also been subject to three other subtle messages:

1 – For three to five generations, we have been bombarded with unrelenting, sexualized commercialism that has pre-determined both the nature of our goals and desires and also their essential unavailability. We feel constantly deprived because capitalism creates demand. Artificial scarcity of gratification assures the surplus energy that drives the fevers of production and conquest. To generate scarcity, it attaches sexual interest to inaccessible, nonexistent, or irrelevant objects.

Thus, writes Phillip Slater, “…making his most plentiful resource scarce, (man) managed…to make most of his scarce ones plentiful.” Because of their valuation of radical individualism, Americans in particular have been tantalized by the carrot and stick temptations of the media that keep them striving for more symbols of success, at the expense of traditional social relationships.

This is part of a complex cultural experience of the sheer insanity of modern life that almost all of us share, yet rarely acknowledge. I make a much more detailed case of it here.

2 – Recently, the media has commonly speculated about the end of the American dream. But this is not anything new. Since the mid-1970s, in socio-economic terms, the efforts of most Americans, especially “millenials,” to achieve the material proof and evidence of both their potency and their membership in the in-group of the middle class have been failing.

The minority of families that have not fallen backward in the rat race have done so for two reasons. The first is two-income households. Indeed, the fact that women working in middle class service jobs now often make more money than their husbands contributes to falling male self-esteem (remember our Hero myth), which often converts into rage and substance abuse.

And, for the past forty years those same families have survived primarily by borrowing. The average household that carries credit card debt has a balance of $16,000. If we include mortgages, car payments and student loans, that household is paying up to $8,000 in interest each year.

And to make matters relatively worse for white people, the economy (not the economy sold to you by the media, but the actual world of meaningful work and satisfying consumption) has been shrinking at the same time that the Others – blacks, browns, gays, the disabled and especially women – have attempted to claim their places in the mainstream.

3 – Americans are deathly afraid of failure, because in economic terms our mythology offers only one alternative to the victorious Hero: the loser, or victim. In this world of radical individualism, those same gatekeepers have instructed us that failure – at any level – is our own fault. This is an unacknowledged but profoundly powerful aspect of our Puritan heritage. To fail economically is not simple failure but – in America – it is moral failure. Jerry Falwell,

for a time, our best-known preacher, actually said, “This is America. If you’re not a winner, it’s your own fault.” 

Surveys show that a large majority of Americans deeply believe that losers are bad and morally corrupt. We have internalized the shaming messages of many generations of white, Protestant Euro-Americans. Our mythology is intertwined with our religion, and they are both qualified by our profound ignorance. Seventy-five percent of us believe that Benjamin Franklin’s proverb “God helps those who help themselves” can be found in the Bible.

In Kindergarten everyone gets a sticker just for trying. But soon afterwards, most of us learn that under our unique form of religio-capitalism, it is a zero-sum world of very few winners and large swarms of losers, because in this mythic dead-end, one can only be a hero or a victim / loser. And the self-perceived loser will generally find only one of two ways out of this uniquely painful condition:

1 – A solution to his pain through collective, politically progressive action. But Americans, as I’ve shown, do this far less than in other nations. Union membership has fallen from 33% in 1945 to 11% now. This is a very complex story, but one factor is that trade unions in America have an extremely racist heritage. Another is the corruption of the ideals of the Democratic Party and the subsequent and severe drop in voting participation. Another is the attraction of fundamentalist religion. And we should not forget that the primary objectives of the corporate media and other mythic instructors is to distract Americans from identifying both the true spiritual and economic sources of their pain, and the actual social opportunities for addressing them.

2 – A solution to his pain through (more or less) culturally-approved individual behavior. For many of us, especially since the 1970s, such behaviors have included everything from substance abuse, consumer addictions, celebrity worship and extreme sports to the self-help movement and committed spiritual disciplines.

To be honest, however, we must admit that violence, especially righteous gun violence, has always been approved behavior when it is directed at the Other. For a minority, this has meant actual, personal violent behavior. For vastly far more, it has meant vicariously experiencing and approving violence perpetrated by the state, from a safe distance.

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