megalomaniacOur national mythology leads us to believe in our own goodness. We have scriptures we turn to in moments of self-doubt, when our sense of righteousness needs stiffening. In them we find words such as,  “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” or “…endowed by our creator…” or “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”  These, among others, make us feel we’re special and so good and so exceptional —Americanly exceptional.

But to be really exceptional, to be really good, we must take responsibility for everything and credit for nothing, otherwise we slide down a slippery slope at an accelerating clip until we’re taking credit for everything and responsibility for zip. True, this may be the manner of saints, but it’s something to strive for, if you get my gist.

Fortunately, some politicians tap into our national mythology for the sake of The Good and work to that end with humility, but too many others tap into it for the sake of power and wealth and work to that end with arrogance. Where the nation finally comes down depends upon many things, the foremost being the depth of our ignorance. We can’t have an effective democracy that works for a common good if a significant portion of us are stupid. This is exactly why we’re seeing a vicious, top-down assault on public education (and here –here) by politicians abetted by certain of the religious.

What happens on a personal level amplifies to national proportions by the effects of arrogant ignorance. It takes honest self appraisal to be what may rightly be called “good”. Otherwise it’s just a short slip down that aforementioned slippery slope unless (best case scenario) we acknowledge that we’ve already sloughed goodness many times like snake skin for the sake of some small gain, some little leverage, some edge, some in, elbowing out some less able contestant in Darwin’s world to gain what turns out to be a plot of worthless sand by means of tiny sins —which, of course, is only human.

The problem is that while the freedoms we tout in our mythology may have helped make us the richest nation on the planet, they have also blown a huge cocoonish bubble around us making it hard to be honestly self-reflective about what’s happening in the world and our responsibility for it. But, look, it’s tough, discernment’s not easy in the muddle of desire, everything we think we require is righteous so we turn to gods that fan that fire. We whisper prayers into corners first then, picking up a head of steam, we’re bellowing our righteousness from peaks as our minions mutter lies up and down mean streets and many bubbles burst.

One big bubble of recent years was burst by the events of 9/11. Look at what that bursting did to our sense of security, self esteem and honor: we started a war under false pretense spending billions and killing thousands of our own and others in the bargain, all out of an affront to our specialness and all done in the bliss of necessary nation-wide ignorance. Look at how that has fanned the flames of hatred by others as it exposed not only the self-interest of our motives in the Middle East (essentially oil) but the deep arrogance of our might. And notice how that has gotten us absolutely nowhere good. All this was done as we fanned the fires of national indignation and turned to the High Priests of gods that fanned that fire: The High Priests of politics, media and religion all stoking hate, while those of corporations were envisioning billions in blood.

But we can’t blame them entirely because ignorance starts here, on the ground, with us and our profound willingness to be duped, which brings us to the second big burst bubble. Think: the financial crash of 2008 which left us floundering in the lies of bankers, politicians and corporate talking heads —a crash that is certainly the fault of crooks in suits who, despite the depth of the debacle, have not personally paid for their crookedness— why? because we live in a land that honors megalomaniacs— why? because the other face of our national mythology is radiant with the hope and desire that we may, ourselves, become one —a tiny megalomaniac that is, at least.

Look, our fattest, most disgusting megalomaniacs did not become so in a vacuum, they became so as a result of human nature nurtured in and abetted by a cherry-picked mythology. We may not all reach the pinnacle of megalomania that our congress-people, presidents, bankers, and media personalities have.  No— more often than not we don’t get that far. We settle for a provincial fiefdom running a big firm or corner bar, equally worthy jobs if our heart’s in the right place and we understand the limits of all and know we’re in this universe under an umbrella of chance, lucky to be small and know we have just a tiny part in the making of this curious dance.

Without that kernel of smallness, of humility, we’re all candidates for megalomania, tiny or otherwise. We’re all capable of heaping disaster and dishonor upon ourselves.

by Jim Culleny
2/21/15

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