Deconstructing Myths of America, or Why are we so effed in the head?
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about myths and their role, in jacking public opinion to hell and back: the jacking of our health care reform debate; and getting jacked into self-propelled bogus holy wars; being the two most egregious examples.
This diary will be my effort, to reveal the poetics, psychology, and mythology informing the maddening of our time by our self-appointed myth-makers.
The first question to ask, is not what you might think. The first question is, who or what is asking?
Who do you think you are? What constitutes awareness? Of what is the cosmos composed, how does it function, what is our role in it?
I’ll be discussing the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as it relates to our modern psyche. Having established what we are and how we relate to all there is, I’ll move on to examining the proper basis of being human: is it really competition, or might there be a more human basis for our actions?
Having done that, we’ll be in a position to compare mythologies, asking, what gods have we? Is a perpetual bogus holy war the only possible way of being human in the world?
If you haven’t seen it already, begin right here at the Lake with Constructing Myths of America, the interview conducted Friday December 18, 2009 by GRITtv’s Laura Flanders with Professor Mark Danner. You remember him: he broke the story of the Red Cross report that concluded US detainee practices amounted to torture.
He was speaking with Flanders about his recent book, Stripping Bare the Body, in which he describes the x-ray effect, on the body politic, of political crises and violence, showing us the true nature of the psychophysiology of our American body politic.
Robert Parry inspired my political awakening during Reagan’s war on Central America; he continues to do so to this day. Monday, December 21, 2009, Parry posted How Myths Can Kill, at Consortiumnews.com. He even offers hope for busting what may seem to be invincible edifices, but turn out to be illusions.
In that way, when history replaces myth, powerful narratives can change – shifting the sense of right and wrong, often bestowing greater humanity on a persecuted people, whether the Arabs killed by the Crusaders, the Jews persecuted in Europe, or the Palestinians displaced from their land.
There also have been modern myths used to justify political decisions, whether on a grand scale or more narrowly.
For instance, grand theories about American “exceptionalism” have rationalized U.S. imperial interventions around the world, wars and covert actions that would have been condemned as aggression or even terrorism if carried out by some other nation.
A smaller myth, George W. Bush’s “successful surge” in Iraq, contributed to President Barack Obama following a similar surge strategy in Afghanistan. [Emphasis added.]
Myths, as some may have heard me say before, are not the same as lies. A lie is a distortion of factual circumstances; a myth offers a way of seeing and being in the world. Myths physically speak to our emotions more than to our intellects. It’s what the speaker leaves unsaid, but is heard or seen loud and clear, that distinguishes the language of myth (metaphor) from that of prose (the declarative sentence).
Thus the inchoate nature of support for both Obama and Palin from people who’ve been jacked by carefully crafted myths.
The reader hardly need be reminded that the images not only of poetry and love but also of religion and patriotism, when effective, are apprehended with actual physical responses: tears, sighs, interior aches, spontaneous groans, cries, bursts of laughter, wrath, and impulsive deeds. Human experience and human art, that is to say, have succeeded in creating for the human species an environment of sign stimuli that release physical responses and direct them to ends no less effectively than do the signs of nature the instincts of the beasts. The biology, psychology, sociology, and history of these sign stimuli may be said to constitute the field of our subject, the science of Comparative Mythology.
When Housman writes that "poetry is not the thing said but a way of saying it," and when he states again "that the intellect is not the fount of poetry, that it may actually hinder its production, and that it cannot even be trusted to recognize poetry when it is produced," he is no more than reaffirming and lucidly formulating the first axiom of all creative art–whether it be in poetry, music, dance, architecture, painting, or sculpture–which is, namely, that art is not, like science, a logic of references but a release from reference and rendition of immediate experience: a presentation of forms, images, or ideas in such a way that they will communicate, not primarily a thought or even a feeling, but an
[Emphasis added. Joseph Campbell. (1968). Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, pp.40-42. New York: Penguin.]
Tom Engelhardt has inspired a lot of the research that has gone into this effort. His January 18, 2007 article, Crusading in the Arc of Instability, blew my mind when he first published it, and it still blows my mind.
The Church of Our Man of Global Domination
So think of this as Bush’s crusading scorecard for the years 2001-2007 — this record of barbarism with its guarantee of a "whirlwind of blowback," as Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times puts it, and the unmistakable look of a war against Islam.
In truth, the most obvious factor linking all of the above together, however, the real thing they have in common, is not, in the normal sense, religious at all. If there is a religious war going on, waged by men (and a few women) of faith, then that faith is neither Christianity, nor Judaism, nor is the war against Islam per se. It comes instead from the fundamentalist Church of Our Man of Global Domination and at its heart is the monotheistic religion of Force. If the arc of instability were inhabited by recalcitrant, angry, sometimes armed, and sometimes destructive Buddhists, sitting on vast energy reserves, this war would look like a war against the Buddha himself.
The essential doctrine of faith that ties all the disparate foreign-policy acts of this administration together is the belief that to every global problem, to every difficult situation, there is but a single striking and uniform response — not the application of democracy, but the application of force. [Emphasis added.]
So does John Pilger’s July, 2009 article in the New Statesman, titled
Mourn on the Fourth of July.
“Now listen, either you gooks come on out from wherever you are, or we’re going to come right in there and get you!”
The people of Tuylon finally came out and stood in line to receive packets of Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice, Hershey bars, party balloons and several thousand toothbrushes. Three portable, battery-operated, yellow flush lavatories were kept for the colonel’s arrival. And when the colonel arrived that evening, the district chief was summoned and the yellow flush lavatories were unveiled.
“Mr District Chief and all you folks out there,” said the colonel, “what these gifts represent is more than the sum of their parts. They carry the spirit of America. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no place on earth like America. It’s a guiding light for me, and for you. You see, back home, we count ourselves as real lucky having the greatest democracy the world has ever known, and we want you good folks to share in our good fortune.”
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Davy Crockett got a mention. “Beacon” was a favourite, and as he evoked John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill”, the marines clapped, and the children clapped, understanding not a word.
It was a lesson in what historians call “exceptionalism”, the notion that the United States has the divine right to bring what it describes as liberty and democracy to the rest of humanity. That this merely disguised a system of domination, which Martin Luther King described, shortly before his assassination, as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, was unspeakable. As the great people’s historian Howard Zinn has pointed out, Winthrop’s much-quoted description of the 17th-century Massachusetts Bay Colony as a “city upon a hill”, a place of unlimited goodness and nobility, was rarely set against the violence of the first settlers, for whom burning alive some 400 Pequot Indians was a “triumphant joy”. The countless massacres that followed, wrote Zinn, were justified by “the idea that American expansion is divinely ordained”. [Emphasis added.]
So what exactly is the nature of the "religion of Force?" Where does it come from, who advocates it, who opposes it? Where can we see examples of its use right now? Is it somehow related to what the Pentagon calls "strategic domestic disinformation campaigns?"
The larger questions I want to address, and answer, are such perennial favorites as, What’s wrong with the world today? Why is perpetual bogus holy war, for privatized profits, our dominant way of being in the world?
And the answer I offer is also an oldie but a goody: It’s the mythology!
Or "manipulating the media narrative, in Scott McClellan’s bloodless phrase. There’s a good reason why honesty is the best policy. Jacking public opinion with carefully scripted myths has delivered us into this god-forsaken Waste Land.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Scott McClellan Pt.1|
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Scott McClellan Pt. 2|