All modern people internalize the five thousand year old heritage of patriarchy and the literalized thinking of Christianity. Furthermore, by adolescence almost all white Americans incorporate the myth of innocence. For all their failures, our institutions still teach the individualism, consumerism, mobility and competition – and underneath, the deeper legacy of Puritanism – that define us as Americans. Above all, the media have replaced priests and storytellers in the ancient function of telling us who we are: a nation without a shadow, existing to enlighten and redeem the world – through violence.
Our essence, we are told, is free enterprise. Entering the world as blank slates, with neither baggage nor purpose, we are free to make our own destiny, on our own merits. We assume that everyone should – and does – have equal access to the resources needed to become anything they want to be, and that one’s responsibilities to the broader community are limited to its defense.
We believe that the gods (or forefathers) have left us the means to aid the process of freely competing with each other, including a free market of ideas, products and services. As a result, we believe that we live in an affluent society – the best in the world – that has resolved old racial problems, and that we were meant to do this. Curiously, this collectivity of free and purposeless libertarians thinks of itself as a nation that exists for the purpose of spreading those freedoms everywhere.
However, detachment from the myth clearly reveals that those rights and freedoms have rarely been available to most citizens. Indeed, Americans have won them only after decades of sacrifice; and many of them have been eroded recently.
But the fact remains that the myth of national purpose and innocence is still so pervasive that even in those rare moments when the nation confronts bare reality, we quickly re-veil it. Recall the conservative refrain of the 1960’s: My country – right or wrong! Americans have developed a very old, unique and massive cognitive dissonance – if the facts contradict the story, then it is the facts that must change. Our academic and media intellectuals continually reframe information, keeping it consistent with the story. The “liberal establishment” has an essentially religious function, like the Inquisition: preventing, or at least marginalizing heresy.
Part Two of this essay is here.