Barry’s Blog # 267: The Ritual of the Presidential Debates, Part Three of Three

The cumulative, intended effect of the ritual is to revive our belief in the good intentions of our entire political class, and of our own innocence. Just as they ensure that we won’t be disturbed by outliers, they assure us that innocent Eden is both safe and honorable. Together, they reaffirm our denial with the implied message that nothing is wrong, that our fear – which they exploit at every possible opportunity – is ungrounded.  “Whomever you vote for, the King will be here,” they seem to tell us, “…Everything is under control.” 103973007-AP_16271046857625.1910x1000 Thus, they invite us to share the fiction that, despite our fears, democracy will survive, and there will be a peaceful, cooperative transition when the next king-figure is anointed.

Is the system broken or has it been working quite well? This is not an “either-or” choice; it’s both. However, the fact that fewer and fewer of us have been willing to expect anything more than flowery phrases from these con-men  – only half of us vote at all, and many of the rest of us have been choosing the “lesser of two evils” our entire lives – is, I think, a source of concern to the kingmakers and gatekeepers. It indicates, in mythological terms, that the holes in the fabric of the myth of innocence are growing. All the more need, then, for them to create another opportunistic ritual: the next war to protect “freedom” in Iran or Venezuela.

Nicholas Maduro is only the latest in a long tradition of Third World leaders whom the U.S. has labeled as the face of evil. As I wrote in Chapter Eight of my book:

Around 1985, the Other became more personal when television identified many charismatic Third World villains. After the first generation (Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro) came Muammar Gadaffy, Idi Amin, Yasser Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Manuel Noriega, Kim Il Sung, Slobodan Milosevic, Hugo Chavez, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden…

Note three themes here. First, U.S. propaganda attacks were often timed to impact (or obscure) domestic issues. Second, only Milosevic was white (but Slavic). Third, several of these men had previously worked for the U.S. Back in 1932, Roosevelt had said of Nicaragua’s Anastacio Somoza, “He’s an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.!” It is as if the U.S. keeps them on ice, allowing them to quietly do their work until it needs to reveal them as the Devil’s latest incarnation. Then they become expendable, or, as with Bin Laden, even more valuable as fugitives, hiding in caves and bazaars, plotting more evil.

None of this is to advise you to stay home on Election Day 2020. If you choose to support the Democratic nominee, go ahead, especially if you live in a contested state. But do so with eyes wide open, as a practical decision to support the centrist (regardless of how he or she defines himself) over the outright fascist.

Idealization says more about our own psychological projections than it does about the candidates. When, after one of these debates, you hear yourself say (about either candidate), “He seems like a nice enough guy; I just don’t agree with his positions,” know that the ritual has been successful. The “nice guy” has proven that he can play the role if called upon; he has passed the audition.

That audition has been primarily for the edification of that part of the population that still holds to the naïve, liberal view that the debates might actually provide some input into a system with authentic choices. The Republican base, however, is not – and for a long time has not been – so innocent. They know perfectly well what scoundrels their leaders are, and they don’t care, as long as such leaders play the game of tweaking the noses of the east coast intelligentsia who have been telling them how to live. That Trump – He’s no racist, but he says what he means!

In 2016, Trump effectively reversed the “nice guy” rule. Apparently, quite a few people of the evangelical persuasion perceived quite correctly – they weren’t stupid – that he was a liar, braggart, misogynist and serial marriage cheat, and concluded that “He’s a bastard, but I agree with his policies.” For them, he passed the same audition, which had been defined primarily by fear, racism and xenophobia.

After two years of unparalleled corruption, scandals, contempt for the Constitution, war threats, climate denial, permission to hate, tax cuts for the mega-rich – and normalization by the media – they still support him. Indeed, in a mass epidemic of cognitive dissonance, many are convinced that he has been sent by God.

Is there any other explanation for their willingness to tolerate such a blatantly insincere gesture as his hugging of the sacred totem fetish? Trump hugs a U.S. flag as he comes onstage to rally with supporters in Tampa, Florida I mean, really, even this accomplished con-man couldn’t keep from smirking. Don’t matter none. He is their Divine King, and because of him, they – not unlike their liberal opponents with their Russiagate meta-narrative – can proclaim their innocence.

On the other hand, as Chomsky has said, “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.” Amanda Marcotte suggests another explanation for Trump’s enduring popularity among his base:

In truth, Republicans have been priming their voters for decades to accept, defend and even adore a shameless criminal in the White House…First, Republicans normalized the idea that all politicians are corrupt by electing a series of deeply corrupt politicians themselves. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have all been warm-up acts to Trump…Second, (they) trained their base to think of investigations as bad-faith political power grabs…They are now thoroughly primed to interpret the investigations into Trump’s very real corruption as nothing more than Democrats seeking revenge…

That’s why polls that measure whether Republican voters “believe” Trump is telling the truth are somewhat beside the point. The real problem is that they don’t believe it matters whether Trump is a criminal…if it helps their team win.

So: in 2019-2020 we have a Republican base that isn’t simply unashamed but proud of its criminal leadership. We have a Democratic base that still thinks everyone is playing by the same rules, that logical argument will convince others. We have a Democratic leadership that participates in these rituals of innocence as long as the corporate money flow lasts. And we have the other fifty percent of the population who, like those Honduran peasants, don’t vote because they see no reason to. Finally, we have media – print and social – that serve the same wealthy class who fund these two political parties by marginalizing progressive voices.

In the next round of presidential debates – our seasonal, contrived rituals – watch as most Democrats studiously avoid any mention of the military budget and our imperial wars, especially in Venezuela and Palestine. For the time being, it will still be the children of other nations who are sacrificed. But the group – we – will remain vigilant, prepared for those conditions when the next opportunistic rituals of sacrifice and regeneration become necessary. Then, once again, it will be our children (well, not really ours, unless we live in the crossover states or in urban ghettos) who will be asked to enter the fire to glorify their parents.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical; I hope so. Perhaps it serves no purpose to simply point out our failures without offering an alternative vision. Perhaps it does serve a deeper purpose to point out that these are not failures; that the system continues to run smoothly for the one percent. And certainly, there has been much good news since the 2018 election, especially in the fact that Republicans are obsessed with demonizing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They just can’t stop talking about her, and the Green New Deal has become the kind of meme or positive frame that George Lakoff has been asking the Democrats to come up with for years.

But the fact that the Democratic leadership have dug in their heels to marginalize her, Bernie Sanders  and other progressives indicates that the fix is still in, that the next election cycle will conclude with more rituals of denial and self-congratulation. In other words, the great shift in mythological thinking that is necessary for a transition to a sustainable world has yet to manifest.

What will it take to change things? Really change things? Certainly, the passing of the Mitch McConnells of the world – and the Diane Feinsteins – is absolutely necessary. Could this millionaire warmonger have stated the generational divide – not just that, but her absolute contempt for children – any more clearly? Let’s thank her for clarifying that, in case anyone thinks she has anything worthwhile to offer.

Significant demographic changes are right around the corner. America is getting darker and younger, less individualistic, more communitarian, more critical of this death culture. Death culture? Is that too strong a phrase? As I wrote in Chapter Eight, nearly fifty years ago the social critic Phillip Slater was appalled by the carnage Americans were inflicting upon the Vietnamese:

…obsession with the body count, rather than control of territory, became an end in itself. General Westmoreland set the tone when he smugly dismissed civilian casualties: “It does deprive the enemy of the population, doesn’t it?” With this kind of permission coming from the top, massacres became commonplace, as they had been in Korea and would continue to be, wherever the U.S. would oppose dark-skinned people. Phillip Slater argues, “This transfer of killing from a means to an end in itself constitutes a practical definition of genocide.” He asks, “Do Americans hate life? Has there ever been a people who have destroyed so many living things?”

The three great Athenian playwrights – Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides – were, after Homer, the storytellers of their culture. Sophocles said that he wrote about how people might be, while Euripides (author of The Bacchae) wrote about how people really are.

I don’t think that a culture can rebirth itself until it has fully acknowledged what has no longer been serving it, and what needs to die. We will not be fully able to imagine new stories until enough of us realize – like alcoholics – that we have hit bottom. This is why I must continue to write about who we are and leave the imagination of who we might be to more optimistic voices.

It may still be possible for significant change to occur through elections – may it be so. But without addressing a much more profound level, the causes of our condition – the vast well of grief and self-contempt at the core of the white American psyche – we condemn ourselves, and the Earth, to more of the same.

The new story of Who We Are is waiting for enough of us to call it forth. We are capable of creating new public rituals that affirm the values of community without sacrificing our children. The old knowledge is still in our bones. Our indigenous souls remember. At this point in history, perhaps only poets can write about who we might be. It might be about remembering who we once were:

The Ancient Ones

From the beginning, we have been with you.
We are the ancient ones and we remember.

We remember the time when there was only Love,
The time when all breathing was one.
We remember the seed of your being
Planted in the belly of the vast, black night.
We remember the red cave of deep slumber.

The time of forgetting,

The sound of your breath, the pulse of your heart.
We remember the force of your longing for life,
The cries of your birth bringing you forth.

We are the Ancient Ones and we have waited and watched.

You say that you cannot remember that time
That you have no memory of us.
You say that you cannot hear our voices
That our touch no longer moves you.
You say there can be no return,
That something is lost, that there is only silence.

We say the time of waiting is over.
We say the silence has been broken.
We say there can be no forgetting now.
We say listen.

We are the bones of your grandmother’s grandmothers.
We have returned now.
We say you cannot forget us now
We say we are with you and you are us.

Remember. Remember.

— Patricia Reis

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Barry’s Blog # 266: The Ritual of the Presidential Debates, Part Two of Three

Viewing the Presidential debates – of any year – from this perspective, we look first not at what they say, but at how they look. It’s about who looks more relaxed, confidant, articulate, trustworthy, folksy or personable. But above all, their intention is, simply, to look “presidential.” Their smiles and calm demeanor (even as they attack each other) and their friendly banter afterwards, tell us that they are qualified to carry the essential Protestant virtue of repressed emotion. It’s about looking like the best example of a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Barack Obama, by the way, was, except for his color, the best example since George Bush the Elder.

As I have argued in my book, the greatest sin in Puritanism is the inability to control one’s impulses. And this is precisely where we can identify our national shadow, when we project that impulsivity upon minorities, immigrants and terrorists. But presidential candidates are different. By restraining themselves, they – even Donald Trump – show us that they are not the Dionysian “Other.” They, and by extension, we are part of the club.

As Americans we are especially subject to being conned. So, although we know we have been burned before, we are likely (they are counting on this) to convince ourselves of their good intentions. More than anything, each of them appears sincere; he really cares about us; he could be a King.

Secondly, we observe their dual role of gatekeepers. I first wrote this essay during the Obama / Romney campaign, romney-and-obama but it describes all “debates” that have followed. At that time, Glenn Greenwald and George Farah described “The lame rules for presidential debates: a perfect microcosm of US democracy”:

We have a private corporation that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties…Under this elaborate regime, the candidates aren’t permitted to ask each other questions, propose pledges to each other, or walk outside a predesignated area…the audience members posing questions aren’t allowed to ask follow-ups…every single question asked by the audience (must) be submitted in advance on an index card to the moderator, who can then throw out the ones he or she does not like…And this election cycle is the first time that the moderator herself is prohibited from asking follow-up questions…

… the Commission is run by lobbyists and funded by large corporations. Meanwhile, the moderators were selected to ensure that nothing unexpected is asked and that only the most staid and establishment views are heard.

In this context, the debate moderator (etymology: “modest, restrained,” past participle of moderari, “to regulate, mitigate, restrain, temper, set a measure, keep within measure”) – becomes a critical participant, quite literally the master of ceremonies. As such, he (usually it’s a he) must have a Television track record of appearing at least as restrained as the debaters in both demeanor and social views. Lester Holt, Anderson Cooper, Martha Raddatz, Chris Wallace, Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer, George Stephanopoulos, you get the picture. Greenwald and Farah continue:

In order to be considered as a candidate for moderator you have to be soaked in the sphere of consensus, likely to stay within the predictable inner rings of the sphere of legitimate controversy, and unlikely in the extreme to select any questions from the sphere of deviance.

Here then, within this one process of structuring the presidential debates, we have every active ingredient that typically defines, and degrades, U.S. democracy. The two parties collude in secret. The have the same interests and goals. Everything is done to ensure that the political process is completely scripted and devoid of any spontaneity or reality…All views that reside outside the narrow confines of the two parties are rigidly excluded. Anyone who might challenge or subvert the two-party duopoly is rendered invisible.

The media’s role is to keep the discourse as restrictive and unthreatening as possible while peddling the delusion that it’s all vibrant and free and independent and unrestrained…while wildly exaggerating the choices available to citizens and concealing the similarities between the two parties.

This last paragraph is a clear reference to Noam Chomsky’s insights into the role of the media in elections:

The public relations industry, which essentially runs the elections, is applying certain principles to undermine democracy which are the same as the principles that apply to undermine markets. The last thing that business wants is markets in the sense of economic theory. Take a course in economics, they tell you a market is based on informed consumers making rational choices. Anyone who’s ever looked at a TV ad knows that’s not true…The goal is to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices…The same is true when the same industry, the PR industry, turns to undermining democracy. It wants to construct elections in which uninformed voters will make irrational choices…between the factions of the business party that amass sufficient support from concentrated private capital to enter the electoral arena, then to dominate campaign propaganda.

We fidget while the nominees confine their arguments to the thin range of opinion that their corporate handlers and focus-group research has shown to be of concern to the undecided (white) voters that they are actually competing for.

Watch them in a sea of American flags competing to be the one who is more willing to use military force – anywhere – to protect freedom. This, of course, is the ultimate gate-keeping role: to absolutely guarantee that any issues or persons that might call the function of the ritual – and therefore the function of our mythology – into question are safely confined to the margins, literally outside of the ritual space and outside of our awareness.

We notice whom they agree to exclude from the debate – the third-party candidates. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, was actually shackled for eight hours to ensure that she wouldn’t barge in on the ritual.

I’m afraid I have to point out, by the way, that had you been a peasant in Honduras or Somalia or the Philippines or a resident of Gaza watching the debates, you would have discerned almost no difference whatsoever between the candidates, or between Trump and Hilary Clinton four years later.

Part of the frustration that progressives feel when enduring these excuses for debates results from the fact that the vetting process is already over. It is an axiom of American political science that candidates typically attempt to motivate party activists during the primaries – people who are always more extreme in their views than the party insiders – and then “run to the center” after the (pre-)anointed one has won the nomination.

And, by speaking only of the white middle class and its concerns, they subtly reinforce the belief that the nation is defined only by these people, which, because we are watching, is us – those who read the New York Times and Washington Post, those who are already subject to the conservative to liberal version of the myth of American Innocence, the version which excludes all others.  Therefore, we are not the “Other.”

Still, events of the years since November 22nd, 1963 have made us quite cynical. Few of us remain so naïve as to listen to their arguments in hopes of seeing any actual policy implemented. The Republican Ronald Reagan’s promises to reduce government were belied by a massively increased national debt and police state, and the Democrat Bill Clinton proudly destroyed welfare, condemning thousands to life on the streets.

It is useless to speculate whether any candidate who rises to this level is interested in significant change of any kind. We can, of course, never know their actual feelings, nor do such feelings matter. Even if an American President were truly interested in significant, positive change, he wouldn’t have the power to make it happen. We watch only to view the roles they are playing in the ritual.

By not addressing global warming, the military-industrial complex, mass poverty, race, corporate welfare, the police state, voter suppression and outright, massive corruption of the voting process itself, they invite us to collude in the fiction that such issues are simply beyond the pale of acceptable discussion. After all, if they won’t talk about these things, perhaps we needn’t either.

Most importantly, they won’t (will not be allowed to) address the ongoing sacrifice of young people to the furnace of war, because as Marvin and Ingle write:

Body sacrifice lies at the core of nationalism. Warfare is the most powerful enactment of the ritual of blood sacrifice…The creation of sentiments strong enough to hold the group together periodically requires the death of a significant portion of its members. In short, society depends upon the death of sacrificial victims at the hands of the group.

We, dear readers, are the group. Well, not really, since our children won’t be among the sacrificed, those who will die for capitalism. But in the broader sense, who could argue that our generation has not condemned them all to a collapsing ecosystem and polluted bodies?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Barry’s Blog # 265: The Ritual of the Presidential Debates, Part One of Three

Our first responsibility as mythological, archetypal thinkers is to take a step back from the dominant political and pop cultural issues to perceive the real stories that are being played out in our culture. The next step is to understand how we participate in those narratives through our own willing acceptance of their primary themes. How do we do this? One way is by being passive consumers of our national rituals. I’m not speaking about conscious, intentional, local, indigenous-based ritual, but mass, public ceremonies that reaffirm the nation-state and its (our) identity as savior of the world and Christ-like advocate for the good.

Public rituals enact and train us in our mythologies. The larger they are, the more influential they can be. nuremberg_nazipartyrally10 Think of the Nuremberg rallies in Nazi Germany. But such rituals certainly don’t need to be so bellicose. In America, where we naively believe that we still have a functioning democracy, our public rituals, designed to reinforce our sense of innocence, are much subtler.

As I write in Chapter Five of my book (Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence), Joseph Campbell taught that a living myth refers past itself to the ineffable, serving four distinct functions.

First of all, the mystical function introduces the individual to that which underlies all names and forms. It awakens religious awe, humility and respect. Second, the cosmological function explains how the universe works. Third, the pedagogical function defines a moral life in terms of the particular culture.

Fourth – and most pervasive – the social function validates the social order and integrates individuals within the community. Originally, it oriented people to the mystery by presenting noble figures at the center of the realm – or psyche – who radiated the blessings that flowed through them from the other world. These figures served this order and showed that everyone carried such potential within. If people still revere royalty, it is from vestigial memory of what the sacred King once meant.

“It is this sociological function of myth that has taken over,” wrote Campbell, “…and it is out of date.” Myth, however, shapes our values, organizes our experience, brings emotion to our festivals, sets the boundaries of dissent, names the children, sends them off to war and justifies their sacrifice. It is the most compelling story we tell ourselves about who we are. And frequently it is the story of who we are not – the Other.

In this context, I strongly recommend Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag, by Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle. You can find the whole book here. Or read a short summary here.

They – and I – reject the notion of “patriotism” in favor of the much more relevant term “nationalism,” which for the past 150 years has supplanted mass religion in most advanced countries. But it retains much religious symbolism. The familiar Christian God has long been replaced by the group, which is symbolized in the totem fetish – the flag.

A fundamental aspect of America’s civil religion is our unique cult of the flag. Curiously, we display it in our churches as well as in many places of business, as if to reinforce the notion that in America there is little difference between them. We worship it by pledging allegiance, and occasionally by kneeling and kissing it. And we are horrified at the thought of its desecration, because, they write, it is “the ritual instrument of group cohesion…the god of nationalism.” Such rituals nearly equate God with America, writes Robert Bellah. Often “…the most jingoistic identity of nation and church has come not from our political leaders but from the churches themselves.” And the flag is embodied in the totem leader, the President.

In this view, the purpose of ritual at the level of the large, national state is to sustain the group by repeating, at various levels of intensity, the act of group creation. Participants in such rituals – especially in our culture of radical individualism – achieve a kind of communion and learn that their God demands human sacrifice. Not the sacrifice of the defeated, which implies the preparedness to kill for one’s country, but willing sacrifice, the willingness to die for it. Or at the very least, the willingness to send one’s children – the best of the best – to die for it.

This willingness, we recall, was established in the two most foundational myths of Western culture. In the first, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son to glorify his God. It makes no difference that the son was spared; it was the willingness that counted. In the second, that same God did sacrifice his only son (the son of a father with no mother) to redeem the world.

American mythology updated this legacy with the idea of regeneration through violence.  We regenerate our culture not by killing millions of people of color (although we do that in every generation), but by sacrificing our own young – and not the dregs of society, but, like the Aztecs and Hawaiians, the very best.

In this demythologized world, where all large public events serve the sociological function of myth, rituals may be contrived or opportunistic. The most powerful rituals of nation-group solidarity, say Marvin and Ingle, are opportunistic responses, to the perception of group threat, such as war. But opportunistic rituals are unreliable in their occurrence and expensive in their prosecution. Their magic is great precisely because they are risky and costly.

Contrived or pre-planned, seasonal rituals fill in the intervals between opportunistic group-forging rituals by rehearsing the drama of sacrifice and regeneration. American presidential elections are prototypic contrived rituals of sacrifice and regeneration.

Every American President has two functions: He plays the symbolic role of king-figure, embodying the nation-state and all that the group considers good about it. But, like the last kings of Mexico and Hawaii, he is also the primary spokesperson – a salesman, essentially – for a dying empire.

As spokesman, he must continue at all times to amplify our paranoid fear of “The Other” so as to justify military intervention abroad and repression at home. In other words, he must manipulate the traditional white American sense of being the innocent victim, or at least the potential victim, of some dark (and dark-skinned), irrational, violent, predatory outsider.

As King-figure, however, his job is to absorb the idealistic projections of millions of people and convince them that his intentions (and ours) are noble, protective and altruistic. To do that, he must play the exact opposite of the victim, the Hero. He must reassure Americans of his – and our – ability to meet the threat and defeat it, while simultaneously bringing the Good Word of our compassion to those evil ones who would – for no apparent reason – harm us. This double-bind, by the way, has been described as a long-term prescription for schizophrenia.

Anyone who has survived the long, drawn-out vetting process of satisfying the power brokers and achieving major-party nomination has proven his or her willingness to play by these rules. They have made a career of playing both spokesman and potential King for the cameras. And they are perfectly aware of the penalties for straying too far from the role.

The Democratic Party’s nomination of George McGovern in 1972 was an anomaly, never to be repeated.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


The 2019 Redwood Men’s Conference:

The Next Step — Finding Wholeness in a Broken World

May 24-27, Memorial Day Weekend, Mendocino Woodlands Camp

Welcome to our 29th annual conference!

Dried mud These days we hear the word “broken” everywhere – broken hearts, broken promises, broken treaties, broken vows and broken rules. We know what it means to be breaking up, breaking down or breaking out. We commonly lament that the political system, or democracy itself, even the environment is broken and beyond repair. In this wealthy nation many are too broke to afford a roof over their heads. We ask each man, young, middle and older aged:

How are you broken?
How do you hide your brokenness?
How has your brokenness helped you?  Cubist
How have you broken through?

Each generation is challenged to confront, perhaps facilitate, the breakdown of old systems that no longer serve, to find or create something new and more relevant. In doing so, we speak of breaking through; breaking the curse; breaking the spell; and breaking the silence.

There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen

Men are now called to acknowledge that “going it alone” no longer works and that our narratives of heroic isolation have led directly to our broken condition. Indigenous wisdom offers some comfort in realizing that we’ve been here before. Consider the Ojibwey chant:

Grandfathers, Grandmothers: look at our brokenness.


Such an appeal is not only an urge to be seen and held but also a sign of our willingness, as Greg Kimura says, to:  Sit with the pain in your heart. Hold it there like a sacred wine in a golden cup.


Click here for more information about the conference and the Redwood Men’s Center.

Conference Leaders

Gregory Guss: LCSW, Psychotherapist and Community Organizer

Jay Jackson: mountain biker, solar guru, drummer, artist, father.

Conrad Larkin: LCSW, Psychotherapist for Elders and their families

Hari Meyers: Author, Teacher, Storyteller, and Literary-Mentor

Richard Naegle: Therapist, teacher, leader of the Noah Project

Gordon Pugh: Craftsman, Improv Artist and Life Coach

Barry Spector: Author of Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence 

Help us spread the word! Download a printable version of this announcement and distribute it in your town.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Barry’s Blog # 263: Breathing Together, Part Four of Four

…he is constantly being squeezed between the world and his idea of the world. Better to have a broken head – why surrender his corner on the truth? Better just to go crazy. – Stephen Dobyns

All things depend on each other. Everything breathes together. – Plotinus

When we encounter betrayal or disillusionment and refuse to see the opportunity for soul work, we can easily leap from devotion to disgust, as our love-hate relationship with celebrities reveals. But then we are likely to search for a new devotion. I’ve heard it said that there are no more virulent anti-communists than former leftists,  or more vocal  anti-Catholics than former Catholics. Michael Meade, among others, has referred to himself as a “recovering Catholic.” And if another ideology doesn’t fill the void, substance abuse can be an overwhelming attraction, as I wrote about here.

If we pay attention – if we can discriminate – we may see that life always presents the need and the opportunity to reframe our obsessions. How do we do that? By looking past the literal to the symbolic. If we survive the era of Trump, we may well discover a new meta-narrative. Perhaps it will have something to do with the return of the Goddess, or the Whole Earth as an object for our devotion.

But to do that, we need to accelerate the return from monotheistic back to pagan thinking. Rather than connecting the dots to justify our helplessness in a grand narrative of control, we may well need to pursue mini-narratives in the form of questions, such as: What have I been called to do? What gift must I manifest, without which the world would be less for? What god or goddess do I serve? What is my responsibility to the other world, and to those who come after me?

What if we were to cook the word “conspire” down to its essence – to breathe together – and then reframe it further, into the Hawaiian ritual of Ha? This is a mutual greeting that recognizes and welcomes the other into one’s personal space. Two persons press the bridges of their noses together and inhale, thus exchanging the breath of life. To ancient Hawaiians the breath was the key to good health and possessed mana (spiritual power). On their deathbed, elderly persons often passed down wisdom to their chosen successors with this ritual.

And we can also reframe the idea of gatekeeper, from one who figuratively stands at the entrance – the threshold – to the world of acceptable discourse,  charged with the responsibility of maintaining its borders and deciding who is pure enough to be admitted.

By contrast, in the indigenous world there are often people who straddle two worlds and mediate between them. Such people, comfortable in liminality, serve the community by guiding those who are in transition from one state to another. Many Native Americans use the term “two-spirit” to describe persons of unconventional sexual or gender orientation, while in West Africa words describing them actually translate as “gatekeeper.” Sobonfu Some´ of the Dagara people explains:

Without gatekeepers, there is no access to other worlds…They are mediators between the two genders…There are many gates that link a village to other worlds. The only people who have access to all these gates are the gatekeepers…They have one foot in all the other worlds and other foot here…Without them, the gates to the other world would be shut. On the other side of these gates lies the spirit world or other dimensions. Gatekeepers are in constant communication with beings who live there, who have the ability to teach us how to deal with ritual. And gatekeepers have the capacity to take other people to those places…a person doesn’t become a gatekeeper out of a desire for power or even because of sexual orientation…Gatekeeping is part of one’s life purpose, announced before birth and developed through rigorous initiatory training to ensure that its power is not misused. A gatekeeper is responsible for a whole village, a whole tribe.

So let’s imagine a culture that invites a return to a ritual relationship with the Earth, with ancestors, with Spirit, with strangers. Imagine a culture that perceives the other not as a threat but as one who arrives bearing gifts. Imagine a culture than respects the hard-earned wisdom of the past but also understands that the young – and those on the margins – must be heard from. Imagine some people being called from birth – from before birth – to heal the divide between worlds so as to welcome the potential of each person, including the potential to re-imagine the world, rather than to exclude those who question inherited Truths.

Let’s imagine a world not dominated by the Western, monotheistic urge to enforce those Truths on others, but one that appreciates these Pagan insights from the far East:

Since everything is but an apparition,

Perfect in being what it is, having nothing

to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection,

One may well burst out in laughter.  Long Chen Pa


Since water flows, though we cut it with swords.

And sorrow returns, though we drown it with wine,

Since the world can in no way satisfy our cravings,

Let us loosen our hair tomorrow and go fishing.  Li-Po


If you love the sacred and despise the ordinary, you are still bobbing on the ocean of delusion.  Lin-Chi


Leave your front door and your back door open.

Allow your thoughts to come and go.

Just don’t serve them tea. Shunryu Suzuki


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Barry’s Blog # 262: Breathing Together, Part Three of Four

Who is he, who even were truth on his tongue, his way of speaking it would make truth almost as offensive as falsehood? – Melville

In America part of this heritage is channeled through our unique emphasis on individualism, and, I would add, our narcissism:  What is true for me, what saved my soul, is necessarily true for you as well, and it would save your soul as well. This is the potent, underlying assumption of all religious proselytizers, because it serves to cover up anxiety about their own beliefs. In other words, if they can convince you to accept Jesus (more likely, a very narrow understanding of Jesus), they have proof that their own choice was correct.

But, because, quoting Hillman, we are all psychologically Christian, this also explains the rigidity behind some of our secular disputes. The examples in middle class consumer culture are endless: clothing styles, therapy or exercise styles, doctors or healing modalities – and especially diet. What helped me with my problem would help you with your problem. Am I exaggerating? Consider your last Thanksgiving dinner conversation (or was it a frustrating monologue?) with a committed vegan you hadn’t seen in years, or if you prefer, an advocate of, say, the “caveman diet” (consider also the smirking sarcasm of your gatekeeping friend at the other end of the table).

Whatever the context, when believers insist that you would be better off converting to their way of thinking, this is known as fanaticism. It can only exist in a monotheistic universe where we assume only one correct way to be, and its logical conclusion is jihad, or crusade. According to Winston Churchill, a fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. Ironically, fanatic derives from fanum (“temple, shrine, consecrated place”).

Let’s move from fanaticism to discrimination. Discriminate (v.):  1620s, “distinguish from something else or from each other, observe or mark the differences between,” from Latin discernere, “to separate, set apart, divide, distribute; distinguish, perceive,” from dis- “off, away” + cernere, “distinguish, sift”, from root kre, “to sieve,” possibly related to “incriminate” and thus to “crime”.

I’ve been suggesting that discrimination is the key. Not in the negative, American religio-mythic sense in which discrimination divides the chosen from the fallen, but discrimination in the Buddhist sense of clear comprehension of reality. So I’ve devised a somewhat poetic response to discrimination-challenged NACs:

1 – Admit that we are all gatekeepers. Way back in 2005, Stephen Colbert coined a new word, “truthiness.” He said, “We’re not talking about the truth; we’re talking about something that seems like truth — the truth we want to exist.” No matter how far out on the margins anyone is, there is always someone further out, and we each determine where the boundaries are. Behind the justifiable but still monotheistic hunger for Truth, we find a deeper but smaller truth, the Pagan wisdom that there is no Truth, only various truths. Or, as the great physicist Niels Bohr said: “The opposite of a correct statement is a falsehood, but the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

2 – Believe nothing; entertain possibilities. Thanks to Caroline Casey for this insight. We are talking about stories that could be true, or not. Like all myths, they are stories we tell about other people but which in fact – always – are about ourselves. We project the stories we need to hear about ourselves onto celebrities (our substitutes for the pagan gods), or upon the shadow of celebrity, those who will not reveal their identities, or those who claim to have “knowledge” of the shadows, knowledge gained from (often quite undiscriminating) discrimination.

Only in our demythologized age, when myths no longer serve the deep needs of the soul, do stories about the “truth” result in affirmations of belief. Indigenous people who are still held in living mythologies and rituals, understand that stories are meant to provoke increasingly deeper questions, to drop us into the work of the soul, not to provide simplistic answers.  “That is how he grows,” says Rilke, “by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.” Stories are meant to entertain us. As I write in Chapter Ten:

Our primary leisure activity is entertainment, being passively entertained. Certainly, we deserve relaxation and restoration. But why does it seem so unrewarding; and despite this, why do we constantly repeat the experience, as if something might change and our longing be fulfilled?

Entertain means “to hold together.” But what does “together” refer to, subject or object? Two or more subjects can hold something in common. Or, one subject could hold two or more objects. Finally, a community, several subjects, could hold mutually exclusive concepts – the tension of the opposites – in a ritual container such as tragic drama, and suffer together. I suggest that the original meaning of entertainment was ritual renewal of the community though shared suffering. Athenian audiences did exactly that; viewing the clash of unbearable contradictions, they held that tension and wept together. They emerged spent but renewed, purged of their anxieties for a while.

3 – Follow the money. In searching for truths in America one’s first question must always be Cui bono?Who profits? Anchoring ourselves in this perspective, we automatically align ourselves with the masses of suffering humanity. Then it becomes easy to see that behind most so-called “populist” movements of the Right are some very wealthy families. Tea Party organizers, for example, make sure that their crowd photos include lots of overweight, scruffy, baseball hat-wearing, “working class” people. But, quite simply, there would be no Tea Party – and hence, no Trump presidency – without the massive infusions of money provided by the Koch brothers. To take their bait, once such sponsors are revealed, and still accept the proposition that the mega-rich have anything in common with these people besides their racism is to lack discrimination. And the only Deep State that Donald Trump is endeavoring to destroy are agencies that regulate his friends’ businesses. 

4 – Judge a tree by its fruit. Even if at this late date you still harbor notions that Trump is out to destroy the Deep State, all you need to do is look at the scoundrels he has always surrounded himself with, from his original mentor Roy Cohn to New York and Russian mobsters to the corrupt bankers and anti-regulators dedicated to serving Big Business. At the top of David Icke’s website I found a banner reading, “President Trump needs your help. Sign the petition to build the wall!”

To judge what the tree really thinks, look at what other trees think of it. During last year’s Gubernatorial campaign, the Republican (and, due to massive voter repression, eventual winner) Ron DeSantis made outrageous public statements. He denied their obvious racist nature in debates with the Democrat Andrew Gillum, who countered with:

…he’s got neo-Nazis helping him out in the state. He has spoken at racist conferences. He’s accepted a contribution and would not return it from someone who referred to the former president of the United States as a Muslim n-i-g-g-e-r. When asked to return that money, he said no. He’s using that money to now fund negative ads…Now, I’m not calling Mr. Desantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.

Trump, the consummate con-man, plays the spokesperson for a deliberately indefinable, populist extreme that draws its energy by pretending to attack an establishment that, they have been falsely taught, serves only undeserving minorities and immigrants. So far, the fact that all of his actual policies, like those of all his predecessors, consistently buttress that same establishment doesn’t matter to them. We are talking about rhetoric, not action; stories, not revealed truth. He doesn’t have to wink and nod; the racists know very well where he stands, at least on the issues of race, misogyny and white supremacy.

5 – Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Just as there is no overarching, grand Truth, no one is perfect except for the archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, and this is the source of the cult of celebrity which so characterizes our age. So we can’t expect our purveyors of information and speculation to precisely share our versions of some truths.

At the same time, a certain general consistency in philosophy ought to produce general consistency in specific views. Consider Ron Paul and his son Rand, who occasionally voice very perceptive criticisms of America’s imperial wars from the libertarian perspective, but who would also ban all abortions. Can someone favor banning a woman’s freedom of choice – choice! – and still claim that they love freedom? Or is that freedom simply freedom from taxes? Broken clocks.

Of course, the government had (at least) prior knowledge of the 9-11 attacks, but that doesn’t mean that they take their orders from Reptile people. The fact that Alex Jones quite rightly questions the official narrative – or that he, unlike absolutely any of centrist gatekeepers, gives Dr. Andrew Wakefield airtime opportunities to respond to his “debunkers” is no reason to accept his claim that the Moon landing footage was fake, or that Democrats and communists have plotted “white genocide” attacks.

Jones’ major product, like that of all right-wing conspiracy theorists from Limbaugh to Beck, is fear. And his major cures, like theirs, range from scapegoating Black people to nutritional supplements and gold investments. His show is very profitable (follow that money again). Maybe that’s the real difference between right and left-wingers, whose organizing is motivated toward inspiring people to act and make society more just, not more fearful.

6 – People do cruel things because they are cruel people, not as representatives of racial or ethnic groups. Of course, we are often victimized in the general sense, but we act as individuals, even if we are encouraged by politicians and other bad actors. Every mass shooter acts entirely on his own, even if the vast majority of them are white males with similar, right-wing views. This is all about white privilege. In my blog of the same title  I list fourteen characteristics. Here are two of them:

Privilege allows white people to universalize, to claim that “black people are also prejudiced,” to claim that racism is fluid, one day (or era) benefitting whites and another day benefitting blacks. While the notion of individualism declares that we all need to see each other as individuals (everyone is different), the privilege of universalism declares that we all need to see each other as human beings (everyone is the same) and subtly functions to deny the significance of race and the advantages of whiteness. Simultaneously, whites learn that they are individuals and not part of a racially socialized group.

Privilege allows whites to individualize, to view themselves as unique and original, unaffected by the relentless racial messages in the culture, able to distance themselves from other, “bad” whites. Seeing themselves as individuals outside of race frees whites from the psychic burden of race in a wholly racialized society. Race and racism become “their” problem, not “ours.” Whites are privileged to invoke these seemingly contradictory discourses – either we are all unique or we are all the same – interchangeably when it suits their purposes to do so.

At this point, more than one good-hearted friend may ask, “What about George Soros?” 0922-beckchart1  I’m afraid that they have been, knowingly or not, influenced by certain well-funded websites that tend to place Soros’s name at the center of their connect-the-dots charts, but which also clearly emphasize his Jewish identity first and his billionaire status second. My friends have probably never heard of Sheldon Adelson. Nor do they realize that the whole Soros narrative – and the huge uptick in worldwide anti-Semitism associated with it – was created by two long-time Republican (and, yes, Jewish) dirty tricksters.

7 – The Lyndon Johnson trick in reverse, as told by Hunter S. Thompson:

…(in) one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas. The race was close and Johnson was getting worried.  Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows. “Christ, we can’t get a way calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested.  “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.” “I know,” Johnson replied.  “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”

 In reversing this tale, we recall the line from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” I have no scientific proof here, but I don’t really think that truly non-racist people, whose actions usually speak well for themselves, ever have to deny accusations that they are racists.

Trump: “I’m the least racist person anybody is going to meet.”

David Icke: “I’m one of the least racist people on Earth…”

To be fair, we should note that Icke, unlike Trump, has consistently pointed out that he (like increasing numbers of American Jews) is an anti-Zionist. And this issue drops us back into the false equivalency muck, where Republicans – and, sadly, most well-known elected Democrats – accuse even pacifist critics of Israel of being anti-Semitic and continue attempting to demonize the BDS movement. So, referring back to Andrew Gillum’s statement (“I’m not calling Mr. Desantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist”), we can only ask whether admitted racists consider Icke an ally.

And would a committed and articulate anti-Zionist ever have anything whatsoever in common with such a pro-Israeli imperialist and spokesperson for genocide as Trump? The only thing that broken clocks have in common with each other are their brokenness and their willingness to con the gullible.

8 – It’s not my circus, not my monkey. We have to ask ourselves: Do I really need to spend any more time obsessing with the stuff? Is it doing me, my loved ones or the world any good at all? Why am I concerned with global (or inter-galactic) issues over which, admittedly, I have no control, when I could actually have some influence in local issues? This is not to patronize but to challenge those who cleave to meta-narratives that clearly no longer serve them. In the 20th century we have seen plenty of evidence that those who have done so often reached the depths of profound disillusionment. In archetypal terms, Hillman referred to this experience as betrayal, and he saw it as a prelude to soul-work. Or, as Rumi says:

When school or mosque, tower or minaret get torn down,

Then dervishes may begin their community.

Only when faithfulness turns to betrayal and betrayal into trust

Can any human being become part of the truth.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Barry’s Blog # 261: Breathing Together, Part Two of Four

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

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

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

The classic text on our unique willingness to search for conspiracies is Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964), and most of our gatekeepers still quote it when pontificating about conspiracy theories. But critics of Hofstadter point out that “the tendency to conflate left-wing and right-wing populism, ignoring significant differences between the two, continues to be a significant long-term effect of Hofstadter’s work.” In other words, Hofstadter himself was a gatekeeper who encouraged the same kind of false equivalencies that I’ve been talking about.

We don’t need another study of conspiracy theories. We need a deeper understanding of who, why and how we or our institutions decide to be part of the gatekeeping process, and especially how we marginalize progressive thought. We also need to learn to discriminate. Indeed, we can learn much from some of the gatekeepers, some of whom offer brilliant analyses of right-wing conspiracism. (The problem is that, since they invariably express the anxiety of the Center, they cannot resist falsely equating right and left.) Steve Clarke and Brian Keeley offer a useful definition:

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

There may be a strong similarity to religious cults. Rachel Bernstein, a writer who specializes in recovery therapy, argues that there is no self-correction process within cults, since the self-reinforcing true believers are immune to fact-checking or conflicting opinions:

What a movement such as QAnon has going for it, and why it will catch on like wildfire, is that it makes people feel connected to something important that other people don’t yet know about…All cults will provide this feeling of being special…When people get involved in a movement, collectively, what they’re saying is they want to be connected to each other. They want to have exclusive access to secret information other people don’t have, information they believe the powers that be are keeping from the masses, because it makes them feel protected and empowered. They’re a step ahead of those in society who remain willfully blind. This creates a feeling similar to a drug—it’s its own high.

Jonathan Kay (Among the Truthers) writes:

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

These observations make sense to me, even if they are quite patronizing. Using pop psychology to label and dismiss people from afar is one of the most common gatekeeping tools. To patronize is to set oneself up as an expert – smarter, better, more advanced than the other, and Kay excels in this tactic, peppering phrases such as “a sense of revitalization and adventure,” “quackery,” “satisfy his hunger for public attention,” “typing out manifestoes on basement card tables,” “something they fit in between video gaming and Facebook,” “college-educated Internet addicts,” “faculty-lounge guerillas,” and the almost comic false equivalency of “Glenn Beck and Michael Moore.”

Ultimately, such analysis tells us more about the experts than about their subjects.

So we find ourselves divided into perhaps four groups. First, there is an increasing, mostly progressive and activist, community who question many (but certainly not all, as willingness to consume the Russiagate narrative shows) of the fundamental aspects of the myth of American innocence. Then we have a tiny but vastly influential class of media gatekeepers (divided, I suppose, into the true believers and others who are clearly on the take) who still maintain the illusion of innocence and rationality for the great Center. Third, the true believers on the right download who, despite their white privilege and evangelical fervor, consider themselves victims of the Center, which they equate with the Left.

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

Psychology gets us only so far. I prefer a mythological or at least a religious-historical perspective.

This notion of overwhelming influence and control that is so characteristic of conspiracism is a form of literalistic thinking, an aspect of our de-mythologized world, in which the true believers have essentially eliminated the Old Testament Jehovah and substituted the Illuminati. But it is still monotheistic thinking.

The mythic figure who embodies this thinking is transcendent, distant, all-knowing, all-powerful and exclusively masculine. This thinking objectifies Nature and Woman. It invites misogyny, hierarchy and dogma. It rejects cyclical time for linear time, allowing for only a single creation myth and a single ending. It constricts the imagination, reducing mystery to simplistic dualisms such as ultimate good and ultimate evil or innocence and original sin.

Since it cannot include its opposite, it absolutely requires another mythic figure to do so, and therefore it is obsessed with both evil and temptation, and it leads inevitably to puritanism. Since it rejects paradox, diversity and ambiguity, it demands belief, which implies not merely a single set of truths but also the obligation to convert – or eliminate – those who question it.

This heritage is perhaps three thousand years old. Or, if we were to take a feminist perspective, we could say that its antecedents extend another three thousand years further back, to the origins of patriarchy itself. But by the beginning of the Christian era, it had solidified into the thinking that ultimately led to the mentality of the crusader. Norman Cohn, in his classic study The Pursuit of the Millennium, wrote:

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

But what happens when, after a thousand years, that narrative, that sense of meaning begins to break down? Or, as I’ve argued in my book, when an entire mythology – a metanarrative such as the myth of American innocence – collapses?

As we all know, religion as a system holding the mass of society together has been essentially dead since the early 19th century, when a new way of knowing, the scientific method, replaced it and modernity was born. Very quickly, by the middle of the century, a new meta-narrative, nationalism, arose. Germany, Italy and Japan, for example, did not constitute themselves as nation-states until the 1860s. And one could certainly argue that this was also true for the United States. This new thinking was ideological, and in the sense that people were willing to die for an idea, it had clear religious qualities. A meta-narrative, it gave people meaning in a world in which science had taken that meaning away from religion.

All nations certainly continued, and do continue to give lip service to religion, but in reality they utilized religion, as they had for centuries, to justify the new, nationalistic order. Modernity provided only two alternatives, the scientific method that had helped de-throne religion, and political ideology. By the late 20th century, science too had lost its capacity to provide meaning, as Huston Smith wrote:

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

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

From what I can see, many NACs cling neither to conventional religion nor to any simplistic kind of nationalist ideology. What they do seem to cling to is the pseudo-community that characterizes the Internet, where they can freely share meta-narratives but can experience neither the risks nor the support of authentic community. What options has post-modernity offered them? Consumer culture, addiction, workaholism, vicarious intensity (see Chapter 10 of my book) – or, simply, the opportunity to connect the dots and explain everything, and in so doing, reduce their levels of anxiety?

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

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

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

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

Let’s be clear about this: No one in our culture fully escapes this legacy, since, as James Hillman said, “We are each children of the Biblical God…(it is) the essential American fact.”

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment