Hello friends. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion around my book this November. First, some business:


If you haven’t got a copy yet, the quickest ways to do so are directly from me (www.madnessatthegates.com) through Paypal, or from Amazon. Even quicker, if you have a tablet, would be to order an electronic copy (Kindle, Ipad, etc.) from Amazon. I also have sample chapters and essays available for free on the website. You might also find my blogs interesting (as well as shorter reads) at http://madnessatthegates.posterous.com/


This November could not be a better time for our conversation. Right now, we are “between the worlds.” The entire Hispanic, Catholic and Pagan worlds are focusing on All Souls Day, Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), and Samhain, the Celtic/Pagan New Year. The ancestors are among us right now like at no other time. They require our attention, our celebration and our tears. If you live in the Bay Area, there are still spaces available for our Day of the Dead Ritual (http://www.barryandmayaspector.com/Barryandmaya/Day_of_the_Dead.html).


Now for that lively discussion. I suspect that any proponent of Depth and Archetypal Psychology will agree that we need to look at the soul of a society or culture in the same way we look at an individual soul. We ask such questions as: What has this soul banished to the underworld, to become its shadow? What do those repressed parts want from those who inhabit the light? What sickness results from such repression? What myths are in play? What Gods are being disrespected? What would such a soul look like if it honored those gods?


At the same time, there’s little to be gained by preaching to the choir. I want to encourage dissension and healthy argument from those who disagree with some of my insights (or mistakes, if you prefer), especially in regard to the current political scene. What better theme to start with than a mythological perspective on the election that I offered on my most recent blog: Barry's Blog # 40: The Ritual of the Presidential Debates


The Myth of American Innocence requires periodic maintenance. I am suggesting that the Presidential election is a mass ritual that the nation participates in so as to revive and energize the myth and reconstitute our national sense of denial. What do you think?

Alternatively, there are many other themes we could discuss. If anyone is interested in going through the book doing, say, three chapters each week (twelve in all), I'll be happy to oblige.

And again: This is the time to remember our ancestors and both the blessings and the wounds they have bequeathed us. We are all in this together. Every single American carries a huge burden of unacknowledged grief simply by virtue of living in this society.

Or, in psychological/theological terms, as James Hillman said, every American, regardless of their professed spiritual beliefs, is "psychologically Christian." That is, we are all likely to take our myths literally.

Tags: america, book club, culture, madness at the gates, spector

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Replies to This Discussion

Barry, I enjoyed your blog on the “Ritual of Presidential Debates” which made me think of smaller, insidious rituals of everyday life that function as acts of group creation.  One that comes to mind for me is, since 9/11, singing God Bless America at major league baseball games. Since 1918 (during WWI) the national anthem has been sung at the games but now God Bless America has been added to baseball, the game that is referred to as “America’s pastime.”  This, it seems, creates a sense of inflated nationalism against the backdrop of a game where the goal is to make it home safely. This may seem like a small example but I wonder if the cumulative effect of similar rituals makes it easier to sacrifice our sons and daughter to keep our “home” (the U.S.) safe?


On another note, I just started to read the book and three chapters a week sounds good to me.  I’m really enjoying the book thus far and look forward to the conversation 

Hi Robert - I'm recovering from Saturday's Day of the Dead Ritual, which lasted twelve hours!

The example of patriotic music at sporting events is quite accurate and cumulatively very significant.  When I attend basketball games at a major, "liberal" university, the announcer specifically requests that everyone "Rise, remove your hats and honor America" for the playing of the national anthem. I often refuse to do so, just to watch the nervous reactions around me.

I'm thinking of Joseph Campbell's fourth function of myth, the sociological function. At this level, the national state and its spokespersons offer narratives that encourage the individual to adhere to the goals, symbols and interests of the ruling elite. This is how myth functions in a society in which the great myths that once held it together and gave real meaning to life have broken down.

When the myth (in this case, the myth of American Innocence) is fully functional for certain segments of the society, everyone takes the basic assumptions about reality for granted, without ever questioning them.

But when the myth shows great cracks in its facade, and people are opening calling its fundamentals into question, then great anxiety can arise among those who subscribe to the narrative and the need for scapegoating arises. In such a context, certain individuals (our sports announcer, perhaps) will appoint themselves as gatekeepers and use their authority to make explicit what was formerly implicit.

I think I know what you mean by "a game where the goal is to make it home safely," but please say more.

Hi Barry (and all),

It's been interesting to come back to come back and re-read your blogpost this morning now that the presidential election has been settled. I continue to be struck by how polarized our nation is, and how "right" we all believe we are, regardless of the side we're on. And how difficult it is to change anyone's opinion,--including my own.  We are so attached to them, and they are so tied to our very identities.

One line that jumped out at me from your blog this time--and you repeat it essentially in the book-- is "The purpose of ritual at the level of the large, national state is to sustain the group by repeating, at various levels of intensity, the act of group creation." I'm thinking about how these two very different political parties have created and recreated themselves again now on the basis of last night's events---and wondering how and if the process of "creation" from a ritual such as this could ever truly be creative in the sense that it would allow us to transcend our attachment to beliefs, systems and parties and "create" a unified nation. Can you speak to that a bit? Would love to hear yours--and everyone's--thoughts on the subject as we go on living our myths....

Hi all. On the subject of polarization, I think the notion has become a cliche, which means we haven't looked at it clearly. This country is NOT polarized into liberals and conservatives, except in the sense of the electoral map, which shows blue states on the coasts and red states in the "fly-over" areas. I believe that a much deeper polarization exists, a result of the breakdown of the system itself: the divide between the 50% of us who vote and the other 50% who long ago stopped participating in the democratic process. These people, of course, are for the most part poor, the very people who were once the backbone of the Democratic Party before it went corporate. If you check public opinion polls on almost any issue, huge majorities of Americans, including evangelicals, are far to the left of either party.

On the subject of changing another's opinion: A friend has "un-friended" someone because that person was saying deliberately provocative, right-wing stuff on FB. This led me to think about the notion of "provocation," which comes from the same Latin root as "evoke," "invoke" and "vocal." I myself love to provoke strong, opinionated response in conversations with friends and readers, people who actually want to try to arrive at the truth of something or other. However, what this guy was doing (and we've all heard or seen this kind of stuff) was deliberately trying to get people angry. 

And here's where both psychology and mythology come in. He is probably one of the millions of angry white males who are now the backbone of the Republican party. They exemplify for me one of the great themes of both my book and American history as well: men who are objectively in positions of privilege (including, at the extreme, actual billionaires) who have been led to identify themselves as victims. Some can be openly angry; others do the passive aggressive thing and provoke others to carry their anger for them, so they can see it in others.

Bonnie, please say more about how you see the two parties have re-created themselves on the basis of last night's events. I'm not sure what you mean.

We need to look at our attachment to beliefs, systems and parties, I think, within the much larger context of our shared devotion to American Innocence. To me, the major difference between the parties at this point is in terms of whom they consider part of "us," the polis. Who is within the pale, and who is the "other?" While the Republicans are clearly the bad guys in this context, we can hardly identify the Democrats as the party of ultimate inclusion as long as a Democratic President continues to prosecute wars of imperial aggression and speaks of the middle class instead of poor people.

In the long run, the 12-step image is accurate: just like an alcoholic, the nation may have to "hit bottom," acknowledge the depths of our diminished lives and grieve deeply together before we can engage in the rituals of reconciliation.

Barry, thanks for a very powerful post. I totally agree with you about the shift in perception of polarization and the question of those who have "seceded" from the democratic process altogether. Who knows why? Are they just so fed up they don't want to participate, or do they feel so powerless that they don't bother to try?

Meanwhile,when I stated that the "two parties have created and recreated themselves again" after the election, perhaps a better word woud have been re-enforced. I meant they have re-affirmed their identities based on what they were before, added this new event of the election into the mix, and then re-organized beliefs to accomodate whatever just happened--whether their candidate won or lost. I think I meant this in the same way that you talk about the "myth of American innocence" in the sense that most of us who identify with a particular party believe this is how it is and we don't question the process or the underlying currents that took us there. Somehow, this myth that "our candidate" won or lost needs to be examined at it's root, rather than the collective simply justifying WHY this was so and not wondering WHY one lost and one won at all. 

Bonnie - I used to run a furniture moving company. Of the dozens of young, working-class men who worked for me over 35 years, I know for sure that hardly any of them had ever voted. From one perspective, I agree that their cynicism worked against their own best interests. But looked at from another point of view, it is possible that their self-indentified "outsider" status (in a very affluent city) allowed them to see the truth of our political system better than we "educated" people. 

Noam Chomsky argues that the most educated people in our society believe most strongly in our mythic framework. Similarly (and perhaps against stereotype), opposition to the Viet Nam war varied absolutely directly by income. 

Chomsky has also taught that,so long as our media gate-keepers agree to limit the range of acceptable debate, then those who argue with others within the pale can seem to be expressing a real continuum of ideas.

As for your second comment, perhaps the notion of cognitive dissonance is helpful. When belief systems (myths, if you prefer) are so strong and we confront facts that disprove our beliefs, we simply change the facts to conform with them. 

But as always, I'm far less interested in the apparent polarity of beliefs between parties than in the broad, overwhelming mythic threads that connect most Americans. Clearly, there is much to celebrate about this election, not the least of which is the demographic shift that is itself an indication  of major cracks appearing in the myth. Abortion rights will be ensured through future Supreme Court appointments, and perhaps Global Warming will once again become an important issue.

Still, all it would take to rapidly shore up our shared sense of innocence and denial would be another terrorist attack. Right now, Facebook is full of heartfelt posts honoring our veterans as well as references to the fact that the President apparently wept as he congratulated his campaign workers, even as his first official, post-election action was another drone bombing in Pakistan.

When it comes to the ultimate confrontation between "us" and "other," I'm afraid that most of us, Democrat, Republican or non-voter, if faced with a serious threat to our self-image, would still retreat into the comfortable, reactive space of rallying around the flag. 

Still, though, even a corporate-Democrat president and congress may feel enough public pressure now to agree on the necessity of contributing to some real, positive change. 

But I'd like to close this post by adding something completely different to this discussion. I had to do some business in one of the Oakland city administration buildings the other day. It was an ugly, soul-less high rise office building. But this building was different, because Oakland is an African-American city. It was two days before Day of the Dead, and the lobby had been decorated with four large, elaborate, beautiful shrines to city employees who had died in the previous year. People had brought soul into the building. It's little things like this that give me hope.

I just posted a short blog on the Petreus affair: 

A Few Thoughts on the Petreus Affair


The corporate media (our mythic gatekeepers) have built up General Petreus' celebrity/warrior status for over ten years. In fact, this man has never seen combat. He made it to Brigadier General solely on his managerial skills, as essentially a corporate executive.


However, I am interested in neither his pseudo-warrior status nor his sex affair, but in the mythic implications. Modern culture long ago replaced the creative imagination with its the toxic mimic. It substituted reverence for the gods (within) with the culture of celebrity.


We have always had a profound need to see our deeper nature projected onto kings and queens, figures of "nobility" (which comes from the same Greek root as "gnosis.") A "noble" person is one who knows him- or herself.  But these are archetypal images – and therefore they are images of perfection. When we project those images onto actual human beings, those beings, being human, inevitably disappoint us. This explains why their fall is so precipitous, and why we revel so gleefully in their downfall, when only yesterday we adored them.


What makes this “affair” so specifically American, however (in Europe, this thing wouldn’t make the second section of any daily newspaper), is the fact that it’s a sex affair.


The man who must take ultimate responsibility for two failed wars, the deaths of thousands, the waste of billions and a culture of torture and misogyny, where more soldiers die from suicide than from combat, where female soldiers are more likely to get raped than at home, where their assailants are almost never charged with a crime, has fallen because he cheated on his wife! Only a society steeped, like ours is, in a profoundly puritanical legacy can fail to see the irony in this story.

Barry: This is a highly astute assessment, and I'm most intrigued by your point about how scandalized everyone is about the sex aspect while we collectively turn our heads away from the elephant in the room: the issues of violence, war, mistreatment of women in the military (and at hoome), and also---not taking care of the soldiers we have programmed for battle, sent into the fray, and forgotten about upon their return. What do others here in the community think? I'd love to hear more.


Beautifully said!  I didn't realize, shockingly, that he had never seen combat.  The latest distraction from depth and meaning, the latest temporary excitement produced by a media obsessed with meaningless drama...  What a toxic replacement for Eros in the lives of Americans—the never-ending parade of the melodramas of an Eros which has been degraded into sex scandals!

—Terry Ebinger

Hi All! This is all so true, the same theme almost brought a good president down. I grew up in Denmark, and my friends there thought we were all mad at the time. I am musing though, about the oportunity for General Petreas to bring new meaning into his life. What looks to many like a fall, may prove to be a blessing. A chance to review a life dedicated to the madness of war. I am also wondering what can be done to turn this tide?


Britt Borden

Looking to what you mention as hopeful signs coming out of our recent election, Barry,

Still, though, even a corporate-Democrat president and congress may feel enough public pressure now to agree on the necessity of contributing to some real, positive change.

it seems to me that we each need to figure out how we can, in our individual and outrageously privileged lives--privilege is not just defined by economic well being, at the core, the most privileged are the most conscious--how we can devote some portion of our creativity and energy and resources to increasing this public pressure on the power structure.

It is easy to expend more of our energies in talking among ourselves, as you say, to the choir, reinforcing our sense of belonging to this elite group of intelligent, thoughtful, caring people, than to devote them to figuring out what the hell to do next.

Certainly a part of that, for each of us, is to figure out how we can leverage our particular gifts and privilege to increase this public pressure for change toward a more humane and psychologically honest culture.

In my case, I'm focusing on the poems that came to me after Matthew's murder--poems that draw our attention not only to the tragic individual loss of this young life but to my own and our collective responsibility for the loss of our children's lives to street violence. Will this make a difference? I don't know but I seem to not be able to do otherwise. Maybe this process will move me out of the "choir" into the broader world. We'll see. Maybe this process will contribute to public pressure toward change--maybe help call attention to the cost of the myth of our own innocence, not just in war abroad but right here at home, a cost in young people's lives.

But Matt . . . Matt was hope

            in the midst of hopelessness.

            He was smiling and laughing

            with his friends when he was shot,

            from behind—one bullet to the head, one to the back—

            by two masked kids in an act of retaliation

            or initiation—who knows what?

            Maybe some kind of turf war,

            right here, not halfway ‘round the world

            in Afghanistan or Iraq—right here.

                                                    from Matt's funeral

                                                     Looking for Matthew


I'll close with this one . . .

This I believe


I hear the voice of fear

            and I am afraid.

            I hear the voice of hope

            and I have hope.

            I hear the silence of the voiceless,

            and I weep—

            for I know that silence

            is shattered time and again,

            time and again by the sound of shots—

            and my child, our child,

            lies dead on the street,

            my street, our street

            and I weep, I weep

            for that loss

            of hope.


Yet, I live. I breathe and I speak

            and though I weep

            and though I am afraid

            and lie awake in the dark of night,

            I must not be silent.

            My voice, quavering

            as it sometimes may be,

            must speak the certainty I know,

            must be a voice for the voiceless,

            must be a voice of hope.

            This I believe.


Thanks to Bill Denham for his poems. Clearly, there are hopeful signs after the election. 

Demographics: The simple fact is that old, white males are dying out, and Black, Brown, female, gay, progressive young people who were able to see past the fear-mongering and billions in corporate spending are replacing them as voting majorities. 

Myth: The demographic changes are the literal manifestation of deeper, symbolic transitions. Once again, the nation finds itself in a transitional (initiatory, if you prefer) phase when large rips in the fabric of the myth of American Innocence are appearing. As in all initiations, this is a time when our self-definition is changing. As such, it is a time when great possibilities (both positive and negative) present themselves. Nothing can be taken for granted.

"Otherness:" Obama's endorsement of gay marriage may well have been nothing more than a cynical play for the gay voting block. But now that that endorsement has, so to speak, been endorsed by the voters, a huge possibility has emerged to reverse a reactionary trend of the last forty years. For the first time since the 1970s, the sense of who we are, the polis, has expanded a bit, and the sense of who the "other" is has shrunk a bit. This is a good thing, and it could be a harbinger of a progressive turn in the Supreme Court, as Obama gets the chance to replace retiring old white guys with people more representative of the people as a whole.



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