In a recent NPR Alternative Radio podcast, Dark Ages in America, Morris Berman proposed a deeply unsettling identity at the core of the American psyche responsible for the endless wars America finds itself in. A young, thoughtful listener on the brink of deciding where to settle and launch his career is disturbingly affected at the prospect of remaining in America. He asks the question: “Where should I go?”
Berman himself had come to the conclusion that there was no place in America for a peaceful, truth seeking person, though he’d heard of people forging monastic sanctuaries in the midst of hostile territory.
The conclusion of Berman’s exhaustive analysis is that the American “SELF” is actually a composite self, an amalgam of “I the rescuer/savior” and “evil other.” His analysis suggests that America conceives itself as the righteous savior of an evil world. That evil world has been encapsulated by many countries throughout our 200 plus year history, beginning with Great Britain to most recently Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. America has always been symbiotically defined by its role of defeating the evil other. America does not have an identity without the evil other. America therefore is a perpetual warrior nation that can’t exist without a war to wipe out “the bad guys.”
It’s interesting to note that a large portion of the American electorate now seem poised to embrace a Mormon president. The driving force in Mormon history was to establish Zion, a Utopian society of the righteous here in America. Zion is actually Jerusalem, the holiest city in Judaism. Mormon narrative identifies with a Jewish narrative, with the building of the New Jerusalem here in America. Americans, from this perspective, can be seen as the true Israelites, the chosen ones charged with freeing the world of the evil other.
Berman argues that America is indeed imploding, turning its warrior identity against itself. The case for this is abundantly clear in the obvious unleashing of warrior energy upon Obama, branded the Muslim infidel, the Muslim other that must be brought down at all costs. This is not a battle based on reason, this is a battle fueled by an almost religious fervor—a battle of Exodus seeking to liberate Americans from the bondage of the infidel, to be restored to its own Zionist roots. This is a battle cry that speaks to the American psyche. A large part of the American electorate appear ready to anoint the Mormon liberator to bring down the “Muslim Infidel.” This is the American Civil War reignited.
Even China now seems ready to call our bluff. In the midst of our deadly infighting we’ve taken our eye off the ball. The truth is likely that it’s not a matter of years before we are surpassed as the dominant economy in the world. The truth is it’s already happened. What is more important to the American psyche at present, despite lip service to the economy, is war, the destruction of perceived evil.
Psychologically, America is an extraverted nation. That means the playing field, that which is considered real and valuable in life, is outside of us in the concrete world. That is why we cling so tightly to unbridled capitalism: the accumulation of objects is the supreme value, the core of how we value ourselves. We are, largely, not an introspective people. Hence, we do not know, value, or reckon with the contents of our own psyches. As a result, we do not know our true nature, with all its contradictions. We do not undertake the mature process of inner reconciliation. To the contrary, when we encounter an evil thought or impulse within ourselves we project it outward, onto some evil other in the world as it becomes our playing field of reconciliation. We then rally around the mission—shock and awe—to subdue the evil other. Meanwhile evil runs rampant and unchecked, wreaking havoc within our own shores, from Wall Street to Main Street.
My response to the question “Where should I go?” is: nowhere. America needs to sit still and face the truth of its own identity. America must take responsibility for its own evil side. We must evolve into a nation that reckons with its own evil versus projecting it and attempting to destroy it somewhere else in the world.
On a personal level, every American is challenged to face the full truth of who they really are. Where is the Sadam, the Ahmadinejad, the bin Laden—the evil dictator, the terrorist within the self that puts its own self-interest above the needs of the rest of the self? Who within seeks to hoard and control? What attitudes and beliefs rule the self? Is the ego self in full charge? What about the nations of the body self and the spirit self, are they known and included in the governance of the self?
On a collective level we are challenged, as a country, to face the imposition of our own self-interest over the needs of the world and the planet. Who is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels? Who is the greatest backer of big oil? And lest we look to Wall Street to blame, how many of us base our pensions on the success of big oil? Where is our conscience if the stock market affects our income?
Personally, I view the American experiment as I view the human experiment: a work in progress. America is the orphan child that detached itself from its ancient European roots. That rebellious child said it could do it better, as it freed itself from the dying governance of monarchy. America ushered in freedom and new possibility, democracy on a grand scale. This act of defiance advanced the world, but the shadow side of this hubris has been the illusion that we are perfect, as we cast our personal evil outward onto all the other evil empires in the world. Couldn’t get more immature! But with true humility and ownership of our true identity, we can grow into mature adulthood, as a nation and as individuals.
The actual complete answer to “Where should I go?” is nowhere, and then within. Discover and reckon with the full truth of the full self. Change the self; change the country. Mature the self; mature the country.
Though hopelessness has its rightful place in the economy of emotions, is it really a path of heart? This song comes to mind, sung in the 1960s musical HAIR, Where do I go?. Listen to this version from the original Broadway soundtrack: Where do I go?
NOTE: No longer available as a free podcast through NPR, here is a link to Alternative Radio’s website should anyone be interested in Morris Berman’s speech.