Summary: Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To gain anything, something of equal value must be given. That is life’s First Law of Equivalent Exchange, and applies to thing tangible and intangible — matter, energy, and spirit. When America learns this we will be back on our true path.
As describe in dozens of posts on this site, America has come to a point where the burdens of self-government are too great for us to bear. Our national motto seem to be “It’s not my fault”, which should replace E Pluribus Unum on the dollar bill. ** This is the ethos of a nation in decline.
What’s next? When a people’s conceits and delusions are burned away, we must fall back on our core beliefs. Those are seldom enough, at least IMO not enough for America. Belief in freedom, free markets, human rights, and a republican form of government — all valuable and important ideals. But America is in a sense an intellectual project, which gives it a basis in our minds but not our hearts. So it should not surprise that these beliefs did not prevent us from our current situation — similar to that of a jet aircraft with sputtering engines, pilots bickering, and passengers panicking. Neither self-interest or love of our nation provide guidance in such a crisis.
All we have left are our myths. Unfortunately our modern myths reflect the spiritual weakness that is one cause of our crisis. For example, most of them tell about about people who find a magic dingus and become great, or have powers bestowed on them by some Great MacGuffin. James Bowman calls these Hollywood’s “slacker heroes”:
In XXX, for instance, the charm of the scenario lies in the idea that lazy, undisciplined slackers like, well, moi, can wander in off the street and instantly outperform the highly trained secret agents that were the role models of yesteryear (or a) similar imposture: that enough of the right technology can render skill and discipline unnecessary. … Discipline, practice, sobriety, hard work, training, all of this counts for nothing. I could do that all that stuff — being the kind of “street-smart” character that I am.
But we have other myths that better match our past — and can lead us to a greater future, stronger food for our spirit and imagination.
Bruce Wayne as a young boy watched the murder of his parents, and spent years studying and training to become Batman, one of the most formidable men of his time.
James T. Kirk studied for years before entering Star Fleet Academy, working to become a great Starship Captain. When an instructor at the Academy his students saw him as “a stack of books with legs”, familiar with both ancient philosophy (Spinoza, mentioned in the TV episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”)) and the major battles of history (described in chapter 2 of “the Kobayashi Maru” by Julia Ecklar (1989).
Now we have a generation growing up watching Fullmetal Alchemist (first broadcast to the US in 2004; see Wikipedia for details), whose tagline (slightly paraphrased) is
Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To gain anything, something of equal value must be given. That is life’s First Law of Equivalent Exchange, and applies to thing tangible and intangible — matter, energy, and spirit.
If America were to take this belief to heart would again become a formidable nation.
These are just stories, but they represent a part of us — of our culture, our society — to which we can look to for inspiration in the dark times ahead.
I use these myths as a means to to describe the state of our culture, and its depths and strengths.
As described by Allan Boom in his great work The Closing of the American Mind, as (to closely paraphrase his words in page 187-188), culture is …
everything that uplifts and edifies a people, as opposed to commerce. It constitutes a people, binding individuals into a group with roots, a community in which they think and become a moral unity — of which the arts are an expression. It is the peak expression of man’s creativity, our ability to break out of nature’s narrow bonds, and hence out of the degrading interpretation of man in modern natural and political science. It is profounder than the modern state, which deals only with man’s bodily needs and tends to degenerate into mere economy.
Bloom also notes that many foreigners, such as …
“Charles de Gaulle and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, see the United States as a mere aggregation of individuals, a dumping ground for the refuse from other places, devoted to consuming; in short, with no culture.”
We will prove them wrong. We have taken the refuse from other nations, but from it have forged something new and great.
We cannot forecast events because we do not know how people — even ourselves — will react, or on what myths we will draw during adversity. Our minds and spirits are a maelstrom of discordant elements, amongst which we choose. Those choices define us, and play a great role in determining our fate.
** As faith in religion died out in America after WWII, we pretended it was not so by more fervent professions of that which we no longer believed (which were not necessary when we did believe). In 1954 Congress added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1956 they changed the national motto from the powerful and appropriate E Pluribus Unum to the increasingly false “In God We Trust.”
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest are:
Some posts about America:
- A philosphical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
- Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture, 5 November 2008 — About our heroes.
- The war for America’s soul, 23 December 2008 — Our changing attitudes to “It’s a Wonderful Life”
- Can Americans pull together? If not, why not?, 29 July 2008