My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Power of Myth (1988) by Joseph Campbell (along with interviewer, Bill Moyers) is the complete televised interview published in a book of clues to help better understand our own personal destiny as well as the destiny of our society.
As I write this, the America I had known as a child crumbles to pieces as though it has become wet sand in the palm of corporate greed. David Simon, author of the hit HBO series The Wire, agrees with me when he says, “There is definitely two Americas.”
David further laments on the sad state of American affairs in his essay found in The Observer:
“You would have thought that we would have learned what works. Instead we’ve descended into what can only be described as greed. This is just greed. This is an inability to see that we’re all connected, that the idea of two Americas is implausible, or two Australias, or two Spains or two Frances.”
Greed. There is no better diagnosis than greed to help explain the turmoil and uprisings transpiring all across America in the last few years, as well as in many other parts of the world.
And we will continue to see these uprising from the simple meek, the average people who have been cheated out of their rightful inheritance to human equality—certainly all are born with equal potential but they are not given equal opportunities, not by a long shot.
No matter who you are, greed can never be the reason to live nor can it be the silver lining to one’s personal and social destiny. And these invisible social boundaries often found in a “social status” created to divide men and women can be described as a doomed concept of the infantile Ego seeking superiority over an equal.
Campbell knew more than most about the broken future ahead. He explains in The Power of Myth:
“Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that’s what is threatening the world at this minute” (p 8).
And so almost thirty years since these words were spoken by my mentor Joseph Campbell that America finds itself as the great Monster State and it is no wonder why the world watches the uprisings all across America with great interest—it is like watching Rome burn, no?
But here we are. All across America the corporate pigs have firmly established their rule of greed and American citizens from all walks of life are finding themselves discontent, dissatisfied and disillusioned in their Monster State that surrounds and suffocates them.
Campbell speaks of this discontent and the anticipation of the individual in a broken society to evolve to something more:
“Your life is much deeper and broader than you conceive it to be here. What you are living is but a fractional inkling of what is really within you, what gives you life, breadth, and depth. But you can live in terms of that depth. And when you can experience it, you suddenly see that all the religions are talking of that” (p 70).
David, too, speaks of this existential crises happening all across America in his essay in The Observer:
“We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share…And that’s what The Wire was about basically, it was about people who were worth less and who were no longer necessary, as maybe 10 or 15% of my country is no longer necessary to the operation of the economy. It was about them trying to solve, for lack of a better term, an existential crises…That’s the great horror show.”
To better understand the tragedy of both the individual and society—what could be called as the Horrific Fall from Human Greatness—Campbell explains how an internal evolution takes place:
“This is a fundamental psychological transformation that everyone has to undergo. We are in childhood in a condition of dependency under someone’s protection and supervision for some fourteen to twenty-one years—and if you’re going on for your Ph.D., this may continue to perhaps thirty-five. You are in no way a self-responsible, free agent, but an obedient dependent, expecting and receiving punishments and rewards. To evolve out of this position of psychological immaturity to the courage of self-responsibility and assurance requires a death and a resurrection. That’s the basic motif of the universal hero’s journey—leaving one condition and finding the source of life to bring you forth into a richer or mature condition” (p 152).
This is what the world is seeing: the “death” of a way Corporate and Political America has been growing fat and lazy by treating its hard working citizens as labor fodder. And this death is necessary for America, in both corporate and political psychological tendencies, to evolve into a more mature condition—and if America does not evolve? Well, it will burn. There’s no question about it.
Campbell sympathizes with modern Americans, even in 1987 when the interview aired on PBS:
“When you think about what people are actually undergoing in our civilization, you realize it’s a very grim thing to be a modern human being. The drudgery of the lives of most of the people who have to support families—well, it’s a life-extinguishing affair” (p 160).
When families and individuals begin to feel the weight and pressure of this “life-extinguishing affair”, they will do what they did in Baltimore, among many other places: they will pick up a brick and speed along the death of their America.
As the corruption of capitalism and corporate greed continue to provide profound evidence for their own inevitable demise, Americans are witnessing the oldest mythological motif:
As you come out of the forest with gold piled high on your back and in your hands the gold turns to ash (p 164). And America is now coming out of that forest.
What happens if America continues to ignore such time-honored truths as those Campbell spent the better part of the twentieth century discussing among the greatest minds in the world?
Campbell has an answer for this, too:
“If the person [and society] insists on a certain program, and doesn’t listen to the demands of his own heart, he’s going to risk a schizophrenic crackup. Such a person has put himself off center. He has aligned himself with a program for life, and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. The world is full of people who have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for” (p 181).
The fact remains for Corporate America to digest and seriously consider: the body [as in the people] is no longer interested in your program [as in capitalistic greed]. And things are going to change whether Corporate America likes it or not. Why? Because there is always the brick.
David speaks of this in his closing remarks about his broken and divided America:
“We’re either going to [change] in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.”
And lose faith he likely will. Corporate America is on a collision course with more bricks thrown by a generation who are no longer satisfied with staying quiet and performing the status quo because they are now awake and have fully realized that quid pro quo is a grand deception; there’s no gold and riches at the end of this rainbow—ashes and dust are what Americans are getting for their hard work and honest morals. But the question still remains: how should America proceed?
“There are gods of violence, there are gods of compassion,” Campbell says in his interview with Moyer, “there are gods that unite the two worlds of the unseen and the seen, and there are gods that are simply the protectors of kings or nations in their war campaigns…
“When you can get rid of fear and desire and just get back to where you’re becoming, you’ve hit the spot. Goethe says godhead is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in what has already become and set fast. So reason is concerned, he states, with striving toward the divine through the becoming and the changing, while intelligence makes use of the set fast, what is knowable, known, and so to be used for the shaping of a life.
“But the goal of your quest for knowledge of yourself is to be found at that burning point in yourself, that becoming thing in yourself, which is innocent of the goods and evils of the world as already become, and therefore desireless and fearless. That is the condition of a warrior going into battle with perfect courage. That is life in movement” (p 259, 273-274).
By recognizing this particular ability to reason, as Goethe mentions, and to contemplate Campbell’s call to find that “burning point in yourself”, we can start to perceive the steps to help us evolve, both personally and socially.
We must also further understand that life is change, that our Universe requires change on every level, and that we must become desireless and fearless when seeking such change in all aspects of life, either personal or social, in order to be deserving of the rewards that are sure to follow in the new America, a new and better World for all.
More of Joseph Campbell’s Books:
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 350,000+ followers