Submitted by: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Last night Ann Coulter, a person I loathe, appeared on the Bill Maher Show. She was pushing her new book “Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America.” Cringing as I watched her the thought nevertheless occurred to me that “She really believes this crap she sells.” This minor epiphany led me on to other thoughts. The battle in American politics has essentially devolved into a two sided affair between opponents convinced of the “demonic,” to use Ann’s term, nature of their ideological opposites. In this ongoing struggle one can’t merely disagree with us on a given political/societal issue, without our believing them to be hateful and worthy of being despised. Their motivation must undoubtedly be sociopathy and/or undemocratic. I must admit that I myself often feel that way about those who disagree with me and I say this with the rueful knowledge that when I do I am allowing myself to engage in stereotypical behavior.
This has been the American condition almost since its inception and was implicit in Ben Franklin’s question about our ability to maintain our Constitution and the freedoms it provides. In order to begin to find solutions for bridging the gaps between us all in the attempt to govern the body politic, we must first understand the fact that much of this division is the result of conflicting mythologies of what we are as a society. If we can identify the underlying mythologies that guide us, perhaps we can see beyond the constraints that limit our ability to see beyond them and discover basis for true negotiation between apparently irreconcilable differences.
In 1988, I watched a many part conversation Bill Moyers had with a Columbia Professor Joseph Campbell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell and_the_Power_of_Myth I was fascinated by the man and by the concepts he was teaching. I found it so compelling that I ran out, purchased, and read most of his books. The books that were the most informative to me were “The Masks of God” series and “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”. What Campbell showed was human history was influenced greatly by the mythologies of various political states and ethnicities. These myths indeed reflected not only religious belief but also social and political philosophies. I don’t pretend great expertise in this area to explain it to you cohesively and the topic is one that has produced untold volumes of throughout thousands of years. Suffice it to say that the mythology of a people is a strong influence of not only its behavior, but of its interactions with other believing different myths. I’m sure as a general concept this idea is not a new one to readers here, especially when it comes to religious beliefs.
Stemming from Campbell reading I embarked on rediscovering the books on mythology I had previous read, but with the new perspective of Campbell’s insights. I later discovered: “TheGunfighter Nation: Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America” by Richard Slotkin. Using literature, history and even the movies, Slotkin persuasively posited that much of America’s domestic and foreign policy was dictated by the false mythology created of our frontier expansion, “Wild West” and rugged individualism. This myth was portrayed in the newspapers, literature, “Dime Westerns”, Wild West Shows and later on in the Movies.
The nature of myth is such that it’s ingested not only intellectually, but also viscerally. Seeing Gary Cooper in “High Noon” when I was seven in 1951 influenced my own life greatly and actually dictated some actions years later. John Wayne, a college football star spent WWII making innumerable, heroic war movies, while others such as James Stewart actually fought in action. Yet Wayne remains an iconic American Hero and that is pure, though deeply believed mythology. I would be safe to say that many who consider themselves conservative’s today look up to John Wayne as a role model and a hero. That myth becomes meme and that meme becomes point of view.
We of the left are no different in our choice of heroic figures to follow, mythologizing their activities and persona’s into something heroic. JFK, a man I admire on many levels and who I idolized in his time, was a serial philanderer of such epic proportions as to be pathological. Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman were people who my generation followed with veneration and yet in retrospect, given their future lives, were hardly heroic.
We absorb both past and current myths and allow them to cloud our judgment, limiting our ability to make informed political choices, by shutting down our options of reacting to our environment based on the facts at hand and not the reality we perceive colored by the blanket of our mythology. We see people applying “What Would Jesus Do?” to a broad spectrum of possible decisions and yet isn’t even the concept of WWJD, different based upon ones particular Christian denomination. This is true conceptually for most other religions, all of which have subsets of varying belief.
We need to individually work to understand just what myths guide our own actions in order to be able to react appropriately to the to the decisions we need to make in reacting to the environment of life around us. If we can do that honestly perhaps, we can then comprehend what motivates those with which we disagree. Maybe then, in understanding the other’s mythological viewpoints we can find ways to bridge our differences. This is most probably an over optimistic view from the perspective of possibility.
So let me end on a less positive, but perhaps more practical note. We ignore the influence of our surrounding mythologies at our own peril. The human organism has a need to interact with its environment in such a way that it draws the sustenance it needs from that environment. If our perception of that environment is skewed by preconceptions of reality, we are unable to benefit fully from the interactions, to our detriment.
The country today is engaged in a deadly battle with itself. The rage and hostility on each side seems to be growing. There is a conflict of fundamental mythologies, neither of which holds all the answers, yet blinded by its own preconceptions. These types of battles can end in a total victory and concomitant harsh defeat for the loser; a continuing stalemate and ongoing struggle; a total collapse of our society; and/or perhaps understanding and cooperation by the parties leading to a synergy of ideas. I’d much prefer the latter, but I am sanguine about it’s’ possibility.