Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama's a Poet Who Knows IT!

Philip Zelikow, charter member of the neocon Project for a New American Century (PNAC), knows the power of myths and narratives; his remarks to that effect, in a newspaper story last year, tipped me off.

The late Alan Watts, in a series of podcasts entitled "The Relevance of Oriental Philosophy," points out the jarring contrast between our dominant mythology and genuine democracy. We worship a King of Kings, Lord of Lords (titles borrowed from Persia), yet American democracy requires that we govern ourselves as sovereign citizens.

Joseph Campbell called it "mythic dissociation:" mistaken belief that we are forever apart from the divine. In that world, the best you can hope for is to stand in the proper relation to the proper authorities.

Christ preached the greatest heresy of all: "I and the Father are One." Campbell called this "mythic identification." Christ's good news, Watts says, still hasn't gotten out.

Compare the following graphic illustrations of the feudal world view and our new worldview.

[[[Supremacy / Common Weal///[[[{{{Subjugation}}}]]]]]

As we can all plainly see, a dominant group asserts privileged access to our Common Weal, simultaneously denying access to a subjugated group. We can see all the illusory walls that divide Us, the indivisible. The original wall is the illusory self / other divide. From there, it's just a matter of density.


As we can also plainly see, this is our more perfect Union; the basis for a genuinely American America.

Thankfully, as Cathleen Falsani reveals in her just-released interview with the president-elect, Obama's a poet who knows it.

Joseph Campbell emphasized the importance of the distinction that Obama makes in this interview with Falsani:

OBAMA: It's interesting, the most powerful political moments for me come when I feel like my actions are aligned with a certain truth. I can feel it. When I'm talking to a group and I'm saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I'm just being glib or clever.

FALSANI: What's that power? Is it the holy spirit? God?

OBAMA: Well, I think it's the power of the recognition of God, or the recognition of a larger truth that is being shared between me and an audience. [Obama's Faith: Fascinating Interview Unearthed, retrieved November 12, 2008 from]

Eureka! This is topic I’m always on about. Here’s Joseph Campbell, from the first in his four volume work, Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, on the very same subject:

[T]he 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....

[T]he radical distinction here made by the poet Housman between images that act upon our nervous structure as energy releasers and those that serve, rather, for the transmission of thought. [Housman says,] "some ideas do, while others do not, lend themselves kindly to poetical expression; and that these receive from poetry an enhancement which glorifies and almost transfigures them, and which is not perceived to be a separate thing except by analysis."

Campbell continues:

[This is] 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 impact. [Joseph Campbell. Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, pp.40-42. New York: Penguin.]

Thanks to a tip from a reader of the article published this morning by Steve Clemons on The Huffington Post, I found this gem of a quote by Amos Tevelow in his doctoral dissertation published in 2005:

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy organizations constituted by section 501c3 of the U.S. Tax Code ("think tanks", TTs or "tanks") monitor and adjust governance norms and networks by using research, analysis, and advocacy to structure discourse about social problems and solutions among multiple elites and in the popular imagination. [Amos Tevelow. From Corporate Liberalism To Neoliberalism: A History Of American Think Tanks, PhD dissertation, April 20, 2005; retrieved November 12, 2008 from]

This is the very definition of myth-making, the proper provenance of Art and religion. But we cannot manufacture a stairway to Heaven, for as it is said, the kingdom of Heaven is to be found within.

Here again, as the late Stephen Jay Gould warned us over 8 years ago, our hubris has led us into catastrophe:

The reductionist method works triumphantly for simple systems -- predicting eclipses or the motion of planets (but not the histories of their complex surfaces), for example. But once again -- and when will we ever learn? -- we fell victim to hubris, as we imagined that, in discovering how to unlock some systems, we had found the key for the conquest of all natural phenomena. Will Parsifal ever learn that only humility (and a plurality of strategies for explanation) can locate the Holy Grail? [Emphasis added. Stephen Jay Gould. Humbled By The Genome's. Originally published February 19, 2001 in the New York Times. Retrieved November 12, 2008 from]

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