ARROWS GUEST BLOG
© January 29, 2017
All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved
Permission to reprint the essays of Maggie Macary has been granted mythopoetry.com by the executors of the estate of Maggie Macary; mythopoetry.com wishes to thank Doug Macary and Martin Macary for their generosity in making her essays available to you.
~Maggie Macary, Ph.D
This essay first publishes to Arrows Newsletter Vol 2 No 3, January, 2003. ©Copyright 2003, Myth and Culture, all Rights Reserved
Some other mythos has gripped the psyche of the leaders, if not many of the citizens, of this terrified land. (Dennis Patrick Slattery)
For some time now, I have pondered the mythos of the United States. I wonder what it is and how it is driving our domestic and foreign policies as well as our own individual and cultural psyches. As we stand on the brink of yet another war with Iraq, oppositional forces of war and anti-war clamor for voice. I retreat from the debate and try to understand what is going on. Anti-war protesters take to the streets in what seems to me to be a flash-back of the 60’s, the same old faces and slogans resurfacing in a repetition of some strange pattern, some immoveable force, some circulating complex, even as government forces ignore the growing protests from within and without this country.
It is difficult not to take a stand, not to forego the deep contemplation of myths and movements and the relative ambiguity of a post-modern stance. I know there must be a time when intellectualism requires a moral stand even as the ground beneath that stand pounds and shakes as the god of the depths angrily tries to get our attention. Politics and myth seem to go together and yet their language is different, the tone and approach seen as oppositional. I experienced this very recently. In an attempt to explain my mythological lens and approach to a new friend, he angrily challenged my myth-musing with his own political language. I stepped back and around the discussion, trying to find ways of communicating that opened up rather than closed down the conversation, to explain that our approaches to the discussion were different. It was difficult. The language did not seem to match. Jungian, Thomas Singer acknowledges this difficulty in his introduction to The Vision Thing: Myth, Politics and Psyche in the World. Singer writes:
There is an inherent opposition between the kinds of people who are most interested in the inner dynamic of archetypal reality and those interested in everyday politics, just as there is an inherent tension between mythological thinking and political thinking. Both have different modes of perception of apprehending the world. They represent different ways of being in the world. (5)
I wonder as I read Singer’s thoughts if the ongoing, repetitive oppositionalism of war and anti-war movements is in fact the inherent opposition of different modes of perception, different ways of being in the world. I look at my own stance and approach, my own mode of being and wonder: how does one stand archetypally in a world in which a literal war with massive destruction seems imminent? How does one hold onto a depth perspective and still remain moral? That is my question, my pondering, my frightening odyssey. The experience of being gripped in a mythos that is terrified and terrifying drives me back into my way of being in the world – into mythological thinking. I realize that I can only do what I do best which is to look for patterns in things, revealing the psychological and mythological underbelly of what seems to be the realities of the day. I think that is my only refuge and my strength. It is my moral ground.
So, as I try to stand on this shaking ground, pondering the depth I will offer in this inadequate essay, some small idea of patterns and mythic material driving the United States with the hope of generating more discussion and building a sense of community. I know I am not the first to think about these things. Over 10 years ago, psychologist Rollo May wrote about the myths of the U.S. in his book, Cry for Myth. He entitled the first myth “The Great Myth of the New Land”, writing:
America was to become for the West a myth of the rebirth of humanity, without the sin or evil or poverty or injustice or persecution which had characterized the Old World. (94)
That idea resonates with me as I ponder events since 9-11 with the language of crusades, axis of evil and evil-doers. Are we, as a nation, caught in a myth of our own elevation in the world, our own savior-like status, our own irrefutable power for good? As the “New World”, are we, caught in the myth of “the New Jerusalem”?
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth are gone, and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, and made ready as a bride is arrayed for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying: Behold, the tabernacle of God among men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people…(Revelation 21:1-4)
Certainly, U.S. policy and the current administration seems to circulate around the mythic idea of a new Jerusalem. In September 2002, the Bush administration publicly released a document called The National Security Strategy of the United States. In the opening paragraphs we find a mission statement that reveals the United States’ mythic status:
The United States possesses unprecedented— and unequaled—strength and influence in the world. Sustained by faith in the principles of liberty, and the value of a free society, this position comes with unparalleled responsibilities, obligations, and opportunity. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom. (Section 1, para 1)
The U.S. national security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests. The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better. (Section 1, para 4)
Policy makers have determined that it is the United State's role in the world based on its power and righteousness to ensure that the world is a better place. The "New World" comes with a manifest destiny to ensure that its righteous principles are enforced around the world. Rollo May wrote more about lone stances. The myth of the new land, the new world, the West, he conjectured, comes pre-packaged with this idea of divine righteousness and a mythic image of the lone pioneer or cowboy out on the range taking the law into his own hands in order to battle for freedom. This is enforced in our unconscious psyche by popular culture May contends:
Chronicled by an endless number of films, the myth of the lonely cowboy was made to order for Hollywood and the American mood. The background was the western mountains in their scarlet and purple against the endless ochre of the desert sand. In the films the courage of American frontier men and women dared all…And there was the final lone shootout between the hero and the villain. Westerns illustrate the love for repetition…we seemed to have an endless appetite for seeing the same theme over and over again as an authentic myth. (97)
I feel this repetition in play as I see the country move around once more to its nostalgia for the 1960’s: peace signs proliferate as anti-war movements square off with a government making its stand for righteousness and freedom alone in the international community. Curiously, the portrayal of George W. Bush abroad is that of a cowboy politician bent on enforcing his notion of lone justice throughout the world. The United States once more echoes its themes of manifest destinies as the National Security Strategy document reinforces this image of the lone hero/country and justifies its increasingly isolated policies:
In exercising our leadership, we will respect the values, judgment, and interests of our friends and partners. Still, we will be prepared to act apart when our interests and unique responsibilities require. When we disagree on particulars, we will explain forthrightly the grounds for our concerns and strive to forge viable alternatives. We will not allow such disagreements to obscure our determination to secure together, with our allies and our friends, our shared fundamental interests and values. (Section 9, para 18)
I recognize that there are multiple myths working in our culture and this small essay cannot convey their complexity. Yet I feel compelled to make a moral stand here. Perhaps the earth-shaking that is going on right now is a reminder to all of us from that god of the depths – that the true danger we are in is the mindless repetition of unrecognized cultural myths and unconscious circulating complexes. Perhaps my moral responsibility right now is to merely be a mythologist.
-- National Security Policy of the United States, September 17, 2002. 25 January 2003. http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nssall.html.
May, Rollo. The Cry For Myth. New York: Norton, 1991.
Singer, Thomas. “Introduction”. The Vision Thing: Myth, Politics, and Psyche in the World. London: Routledge, 2000.
Slattery, Dennis Patrick. "Seduced by Peace." Headline Muse. 27 January 2003.http://headlinemuse.com/Culture/seducedbypeace.htm.