A New American Vision: Rethinking Our Past and Future Mythologies, Part 2 – Guest Post by Marian A. Lee

Vision is not mere fantasy devoid of pragmatic realism but an expression of our core values linked to universal experiences.  For a nation that used to pride itself on a universal concept of E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one), we have politically divided and compartmentalized ourselves in the “Pluribus,” but have precious little “Unum” to show the world as the American political process continues to grind away defined by fractured relations and contentious posturing.  Our “better angels” have obviously not alighted on this planet to guide our actions to date.

Both sides of the political spectrum confuse the “map with the territory” a concept first proposed by philosopher Alfred Korzybski and expanded upon by anthropologist Gregory Bateson.  In essence, people confuse their own personal maps of the world with the territory the map represents by the conviction that their view is the one and only “truth”.  As a result, we engage in never ending arguments over whose version of the truth is the correct view of reality.  When gazing through a universal lens, multiple realities exist which necessitates a collaborative response for effective governing so that each reality is honored at a given level of consciousness, while moving toward wholeness and understanding. Creating a national vision where multiple realities from diverse perspectives are organized into a coherent unified force to solve our complex domestic and global problems has clearly been lacking in the current political climate.

Furthermore, the capacity of our leaders to reach a high level of comfort with ambivalence—holding opposing extremes of conviction at one time—would result in executive and legislative actions that would begin to reflect the cohesive rendering of E Pluribus Unum from which our nation has evolved.  A more collective rather than purely individualistic stance is not an anomaly in our history. Our founders faced a crisis during the American Revolution which galvanized a search for principles upon which they could build a unified nation culminating in the adoption of the Constitution. Edmund Morgan writes in his book, The Birth of the Republic, that prior to the American Revolution, “colonists were reputed to be a quarrelsome, litigious, divisive lot and historical evidence bears out this reputation.”  However, through inspired leadership they were able to come together in common purpose to address injustices inherent within the organization and functioning of the British governing institutions that controlled the colony at the time.  This collective action ultimately resulted in independence and the rule of law sacred to our Constitution.  A transformative American vision of E Pluribus Unum evolved out of this crisis and set a historical precedent that speaks to the American sense of fairness and necessity to act collectively on democratic principles to preserve individual liberties.

                                                                                                                  National Re-imagining                                           

Clearly, we need to undergo a national re-imagining of ourselves.  9/11 was the chance to do just that and could have provided us with a bolder more authentic vision of ourselves grounded in our historic strengths and realities yet connected to enduring universal themes of abundance, unity, and infinity, in which nothing is static except universal truths expressing spiritual realities.  Ken Burns in his commencement address at Stanford University (http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/) spoke to the need to see history as a non-static source of vision for our nation. “Over those decades of historical documentary filmmaking, I have also come to the realization that history is not a fixed thing, a collection of precise dates, facts, and events that add up to a quantifiable, certain, confidently known truth.” History is a mysterious and malleable thing, constantly changing, not just as new information emerges, but as our own interests, emotions and inclinations change. Each generation rediscovers and re-examines that part of its past that gives its present new meaning, new possibility and new power. The question becomes for us now – for you especially – what will we choose as our inspiration? Which distant events and long dead figures will provide us with the greatest help, the most coherent context and the wisdom to go forward?”

The saying goes: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  Americans are ready for a renewal of the American vision.  Many Americans are tired and “living rough” in day to day existence with no obvious purpose and meaning in sight. Visionary thinkers and authors are in a unique position to point the way toward transcendence, but it is incumbent upon us to walk this inner journey and share our experience with others. In his final years, Joseph Campbell saw the need for a new mythology that was based on a universal rendering of a transcendent hero found in all world mythologies instead of misconstrued localized metaphors “misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts.”  This transcendent hero goes forth on an individual, yet also a collective journey of growth and self-actualization returning to his community to share and embody wisdom gained from experience. This archetype points towards a consensual reality based on shared experience that could be articulated by our leaders in a manner that resonates with a majority of Americans. Indeed, Campbell’s lectures on this very subject enthralled American audiences wherever he spoke.

Perhaps the rediscovery and embodiment of an ancient universal archetype such as the transcendental hero will serve us better —one composed of more depth and clarity of purpose through the embodiment of meaning referenced by people of many diverse backgrounds, and one which acts as a metaphor for a collective journey towards the wisdom and maturation of the American consciousness—rather than the incessant replay of shallow repetitious stereotypes from the past.

 

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BIO:

Marian A. Lee is a hospice chaplain and holds a BA in Political Science from George Washington University.  She has a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of South Florida and has completed two years towards a doctorate degree in political science.  She is revamping her fictional visionary book, The Lioness of Brumley Hall, to bring in a stronger narrative based on the precepts of magical realism, as well as, a children’s magical adventure series imbued with subtle political irony.  

 

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6 Responses to A New American Vision: Rethinking Our Past and Future Mythologies, Part 2 – Guest Post by Marian A. Lee

  1. I totally agree when you say “Visionary thinkers and authors are in a unique position to point the way …” All artists are called upon during chaotic times to touch and inspire the human spirit and I think those of us who consider ourselves VF authors have a special role.

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  2. reanolanmartin says:

    As as a nation (and a world) we are in a period of turbulence on the road to (I believe) unification, though others may say annihilation. It’s always a choice, I suppose. Our heroes have in most cases been local, but the whole world cries out for new heroes capable of unifying humanity beyond geopolitical boundaries. These will likely show up in arenas other than politics, since politics will continue to fight for and identify with local heroes and mythologies for quite some time. Visionaries offering new maps and new leaders of a very different world may not be appreciated (or even discovered) in our lifetimes. But the stories are still vitally important. Thanks for a wonderfully nourishing and illuminating set of posts on this subject, Marian!

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  3. Robin says:

    Transcendental heroes are often successfully depicted as folk heroes. They don’t have to be political in order to shake up political or power structures. For example, poet Coulianu inspired Romanians to revisit visions set forth in their ancient mythology during Ceausescu’s reign. And, having gained such power to persuade the people, he may have been assassinated for it. The evidence of his “suicide” is very dicey. This is a wonderful, visionary, real life story being made into a film now. Thank you for a thoughtful and informative post, Marian.

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  4. Victor Smith says:

    Thanks again, Marian, for more to ponder on the new American vison and its definition and propagation by visionary fiction authors. Again, I take a smidge of umbrage over the emphasis on “American” (separate, nationalist) over “Human” (unified, inclusive); but your final paragraph does open it out unmistakably. “Joseph Campbell saw the need for a new mythology that was based on a universal rendering of a transcendent hero found in all world mythologies instead of misconstrued localized metaphors.” The framing of that “new mythology” has become critical as we necessarily evolve from “mine” to “ours.” I believe this “great work” should be the overriding dream of every VF writer. Just as there was once the Great American Novel, let there now be the Great Universal Novel–and it will be VF.

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  5. Thanks everyone for you feedback and comments. I did not really mean a new American vision but rather a new vision for Americans.

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  6. Both parts of Marian Lee’s essay on the need for a new American vision resonate with insight and perspicacity. In these as in many other times our nation seems to have lost its way. But does it need a new leader who transcends localized mythologies for something more universal as she suggests in citing Joseph Campbell? Our cultural and religious history is dotted with inspirational leaders of all stripes such as Billy Sunday, Charles Coughlin, and Pat Robertson, all of whom claimed to have a vision for America’s future. It’s easy to say with the 20/20 hindsight of the 21st century that none of these leaders had the inclusive vision that Campbell would claim is needed, but how could any of their adherents (and those who weren’t) be certain that their inspirations weren’t correct?
    Writers of visionary fiction (if they’re lucky) may reveal in their articles and stories some insights toward a more-inclusive vision for the future of the United States, but it seems presumptive and hubristic to suggest that any of us might know THE way for our readers to take or that any of our insights apply to the bulk of humanity with their own customs, cultures, and mythologies. Try as we might, our authorial visions are steeped and shaped by the strengths and biases of our own cultural experiences. Some might even say that Campbell’s insights embody the Judeo-Christian imperialism his call for a transcendent hero implies.
    To me a good idea is a good idea whatever its source. But to limit the concept of a transcendent hero as a means for solving America’s leadership problems reduces it to the rankest form of nationalism. If our purpose as authors is to identify and celebrate universal heroes, we need to do it in the most multi-culturally sensitive way possible by supplanting the nationalistic biases that motivate our story-lines with fervent, profound, and humanistic (in the broadest sense) narratives that resonate to people of all creeds, backgrounds, and beliefs.

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