America’s Eternal Internal Battle

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 Americaby 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.

239 thoughts on “America’s Eternal Internal Battle

  1. This post is a serious misread of what’s going on in our country. It’s almost a form of denial. There is one political faction in this country that is hell bent on hating and demonizing all other factions that stand in it’s way and that is the extreme Republican right which also now happens to also encompass what little remains of the “moderate” portion of that party. This faction is a coalition of well funded, seriously midquided, dangerous authoritarian misanthropes. The phenomenon is well documented. Attempting to put a stop to this now neo-fascistic, know-nothingism is most definitely NOT a mirror image of the right wing extreme. Those who meet the challenge of this very dangerous element in our political cutlture and society are not motivated, as is the right, by hatred and a lust for power at all costs but rather it is motivated by a profoundly conservative notion of preserving the stability of our nation and both the social and political progress that has been made here since 1932. This wrongheaded idea that “all” of us have somehow been consumed with a similar hatred of everyone who doesn’t think like we do is understandable but dead wrong and really is a posture that allows the right to gain even more ground. This faction on the right is not reasonable or rational and cannot be dealt with in any sort of normal fashion. I find it amazing to have to even point this out. Becuase it is so highly authoritarian and sociopathic, this faction must be treated in a manner appropriate to the threat it represents and must be opposed and put down by everyone else both conservative and liberal. People like Ann Coulter are not just right wingers who actually believe in the extremist garbage they vomit up as political opinion. There is something fundamentally wrong with them. I saw the Maher program and all one need do is look at her demeanor, the look in her eyes, the Linda Blair like evil giggling she does even when being severely mocked. That blank, hate filled stare of Coulter’s is something you can see in other right wing extremists as well, particularly females like Bachmann, Palin and the like. Watch sometime and focus on that glazed over look in the eyes, the frozen smile as they try to control their urge to scream and go on full attack. This is a problem for everyone, but the author’s misdiagnosis is almost as dangerous as the right wing extremists themselves are because it does nothing to address the real threat to our liberty and to our republic that these folks represent. One needn’t be liberal at all to understand this. All one need be is a modern, nonideological, educated, rational human being.

  2. horus: If there ever was a Top Comment on the Turley blawg, that is it.

    Well said. Your comment is one of those that make me say I wish I had thought to say that. Thanks.

  3. (1)”Attempting to put a stop to this now neo-fascistic, know-nothingism is most definitely NOT a mirror image of the right wing extreme.”

    (2)”This wrongheaded idea that “all” of us have somehow been consumed with a similar hatred of everyone who doesn’t think like we do is understandable but dead wrong and really is a posture that allows the right to gain even more ground.”

    (3)”but the author’s misdiagnosis is almost as dangerous as the right wing extremists themselves are because it does nothing to address the real threat to our liberty and to our republic that these folks represent.”

    horus,

    As to your first quote, a review of the history of my comments on this blog
    would show that there is nothing you say about the Right Wing Conspiracy that I haven’t stated years ago, with great passion and copiously. What does bother me is that you took my Post to mean I was establishing a “mirror image” argument vis-a-vis right and left in this country, which is hardly the case, though you may incorrectly read it as such.

    Now sometimes I admit that I assume too much of those reading stuff I’ve written. The misinterpretations people make may well be due to my own failings as a writer, or they can be because the reader rather than understanding the points being made and/or influenced by their own myths misinterprets me. If your confusion is due to my own failings I apologize.

    However, in light of your ideas of what I said I’ve just gone back to re-read it, If you would do the same perhaps you would come to a different conclusion as to the points I was making. You may still disagree, but perhaps you would understand that you are literally distorting what I wrote and missing the point.

    In quote number 2 you conflate mythology and myths as negatives. Part of the reason I referenced the writings of Campbell and Slotkin was because they explain the role of myths in human’s affairs and inherent in their explanation is that to follow certain myths is in no way always a negative thing. Myths are not by definition distortions and actually can be positive actors in allowing us humans to understand the world around us. Myths are allegorical and as I assume you know, allegory can be a very salutary method of education Certain myths are indeed poisonous, but others can be nourishing to a society.

    Finally I must say that I take umbrage in your quote number 3. Unless you are older than the age 67, which I’m fast approaching, you probably lack the experiences that I’ve gone through. I was a minor soldier in the Movement” of the 60’s and 70’s, fighting both racism and Viet Nam. In my involvement I came into contact with many other “allies” on the left who were every bit as badly myth-ridden and poisonous as the government we opposed. Sit down sometime and talk with real Communists, Maoists, Trotsyites, SNCC members or other Left Wingers of sociopathic bent and you might see that some people you deem on your side are just as poisonous and pathological as any Teabagger.

    Now today, contrary to form, I remain as radical in beliefs as I was back then. The difference is that I spent 10 years of my 37 year career of fighting for the underdog, in deep self examination. I believe I’ve learned to be self aware and self critical. With that knowledge I have seen many who would seem to be on my side, actually acting for their own selfish gain. Are a goodly percentage of the people on the right promulgating evil as I (and you perhaps) define it, knowingly or not? My answer is a definite yes they are. However, our side of the equation is also not a paragon of good among all our allies and some would be just as totalitarian in power as those we oppose. Unless we understand this and unless we convince many others of this, we are doomed to failure. I’ve always believed that “a one-eyed man in the land of the blind is king.” My aim is to allow us all to be “one-eyed” by fully understanding the nature of the combat we are in.

    One further thing. Professor Turley, when he honored me by making me a guest blogger cautioned me about being overly political in my essays.
    The purposes of this blog, while on some level one of advocacy, is in its essence to promote a free exchange of ideas. I will leave my political passion and leanings to the many comments I make on other threads.
    When it comes to my guest blogging my aim is to stir thought and debate,
    though the Professor allows us to express our opinions. Our host is the main advocate here, his guest bloggers perform a different function.

  4. This post is a serious misread of what’s going on in our country. It’s almost a form of denial. There is one political faction in this country that is hell bent on hating and demonizing all other factions that stand in it’s way and that is the extreme Democratic Left which also now happens to also encompass what little remains of the “moderate” portion of that party. This faction is a coalition of well funded, seriously midquided, dangerous authoritarian misanthropes. The phenomenon is well documented. Attempting to put a stop to this now neo-Marxist, know-nothingism is most definitely NOT a mirror image of the left wing extreme. Those who meet the challenge of this very dangerous element in our political cutlture and society are not motivated, as is the leftt, by hatred and a lust for power at all costs but rather it is motivated by a profoundly conservative notion of preserving the foundation on which our country was founded. This wrongheaded idea that “all” of us have somehow been consumed with a similar hatred of everyone who doesn’t think like we do is understandable but dead wrong and really is a posture that allows the left to gain even more ground. This faction on the left is not reasonable or rational and cannot be dealt with in any sort of normal fashion. I find it amazing to have to even point this out. Becuase it is so highly authoritarian and sociopathic, this faction must be treated in a manner appropriate to the threat it represents and must be opposed and put down by everyone else both conservative and liberal. People like Nancy Pelosi and Rachel Maddow are left wingers who actually believe in the extremist garbage they vomit up as political opinion. There is something fundamentally wrong with them. This is a problem for everyone, but the author’s misdiagnosis is almost as dangerous as the left wing extremists themselves are because it does nothing to address the real threat to our liberty and to our republic that these folks represent. One needn’t be conservative/libertarian at all to understand this. All one need be is a modern, nonideological, educated, rational human being.

  5. Mike S. in my comment above regarding the assessment by horus, I was focusing on the more psychological assessment of Palin, Bachmann, et al, and did not mean to imply agreement with the criticisms of your post. As a bystander, I see both sides of the argument. I do disagree with the criticism of your assessment.

    This is what I thought was spot-on (emphasis mine):

    People like Ann Coulter are not just right wingers who actually believe in the extremist garbage they vomit up as political opinion. There is something fundamentally wrong with them. I saw the Maher program and all one need do is look at her demeanor, the look in her eyes, the Linda Blair like evil giggling she does even when being severely mocked. That blank, hate filled stare of Coulter’s is something you can see in other right wing extremists as well, particularly females like Bachmann, Palin and the like. Watch sometime and focus on that glazed over look in the eyes, the frozen smile as they try to control their urge to scream and go on full attack.

  6. I am certainly glad I decided to revisit this thread as the exchange of ideas between Mike and horus was well worth the effort.

    Horus’ subtle attack on Mike’s presentation was, in my opinion, a staging designed to present his own thoughts in the best light. Such maneuverings are unnecessary for horus’ comments have a strength and validity that doesn’t require the augmentation of upstaging.

  7. OS,

    How could I take offense when I know you are very familiar with Campbell?
    I to agreed fully with horus in that quote you cited.

  8. Mike S., Alan Watts talks about making the person who is illogical follow a path that will puncture the illogic, but one must be consistent.

    The problem of life….

  9. OS,

    I’ve really liked Watts a lot and miss the soothing wisdom he brought while observing the world around him. Regarding consistency though, I’ve always been a fan of Emerson, though perhaps to I appreciate it because I at times fail to act logically.

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