I am barely awake. I know I risk the titters of the enlightened for saying such a thing. "Ah, he is slumbering in the otter darkness." Or perhaps I mean outer darkness. But the typo is felicitous, even fateful, for when I go haring off to Google Images to find an appropriate Otter, where do I find this one but on a site called The Interpretation of Dreams. This was not intentional, I assure you, but does serve to underscore the ubiquity of what I set out - after such a long hiatus - to discuss today. The page where I found this furry water sprite says:
If in a dream you see, how otters peacefully dive and lap in transparent water, in reality to you the happiness and good luck are prepared. For bachelors such dream promises successful marriage.
The page is festooned with astrological sun signs and other assorted paraphernalia of the psychic prediction business. To me, the happiness and good luck are prepared indeed, because what I was meaning to discuss was precisely this sort of magical thinking. However, the Otter was merely a gift from Source, as Marianne Williamson might say. I wasn't really shooting for such low-hanging fruit as broken-English dreambooks.
No, I was shooting for some version of this thing Carl Jung once said...
It struck me what it means to live with a myth, and what it means to live without one... so, in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know my myth, and this I regarded as my task of tasks.
...I suspected that myth had a meaning which I was sure to miss if I lived outside it in the haze of my own speculations. I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: "What is the myth you are living?" I found no answer to this question, and had to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust. I did not know that I was living a myth, and even if I had known it, I would not have known what sort of myth was ordering my life without my knowledge. So, in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know "my" myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks...
If I were inclined to be kind to old Carl - something I'm usually not so ready to do these latter days - I would interpret this as meaning he realized he was, as we say, "laboring under an illusion." That's not what he meant, though, and it's certainly not what the boundless world of Joseph Campbell-driven bliss followers thought he meant. What he meant was that he longed for some higher-level - oh hell c'mon, let's call it mystical - principle that would invest that random and "uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities" - that haze of his own speculations - with something like meaning.
But here be dragons, sportsfans. Let's say that, after casting about a bit, you decide your myth is that of Atlas. And perhaps you then conceive an overwhelming need to shrug. Can this cause you problems as an individual? You bet. Can it destabilize an entire civilization? Ask Paul Ryan, Clarence Thomas, Alan Greenspan, Rand Paul, his aged dad, and - god help us - Pamela Geller. Because they are still living the myth, and as Stevie Wonder so presciently told us long ago: when you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer. No, superstition ain't the way. But it sure as shit is popular these days!
That's an unusual example, though, coming as it does from a right-wing tweaker with a dime-store Nietzsche complex. In the more typical case, the myths are provided by what Jung called archetypes of the collective unconscious, like the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, and how Mayans invented television. Say you read Amor and Psyche by Jung's disciple Erich Neumann, and now you think you're an especially deep kinda chick being subjected to various cosmically meaningful tests by some cosmically meaningful invisible hand - maybe Marianne Williamson's "Source," who knows? You sure don't. Or perhaps you read Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, and you think you're on some sort of, you know, quest - maybe involving Magic: the Gathering, or to save a big pile of Bitcoin from the fire-breathing NSA dragon. That'd be exciting, right?
Jung himself wrote about the dangers of such psychic inflation in his "Two Essays On Analytical Psychology" (Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 7).
I... showed that to annex the deeper layers of the unconscious, which I have called the collective unconscious, produces an extension of the personality leading to the state of inflation.
And by this, he didn't mean something good. What he meant was megalomania. Despite the warning - which has served as more of a come-on - the goal of Jung's Analytical Psychology was a little number he called "individuation," the integration of the collective archetypes into the Self. He nearly always capitalized it because we're no longer talking about that random and "uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities," which he was "beginning to regard with increasing distrust." In contrast, the Self could be something solid and certain, something brave, courageous and bold. Something meaningful. And this idea has caught fire with the mystic bourgeoisie: that you could live in a wonderful multicolored miasma of signs and portents, of foxy shamanic babes and powerful magic heroes, insulated at last from any reality except the one you weave around yourself, one that makes infinitely greater and more delicious sense than the quotidian cardboard world of mere human beings.
btw, my various googlings today first turned up the above quote, which is all over the fucking internet. I found it attributed to Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections, but it's not in that book - I checked - and there's no evidence Jung ever said it. It is, however, an excellent indicator of what so many hope for: to be what they want to be... on Cloud Nine.
These people are thanking Kat Herding for following them on Twitter. Little do they know that I am "Kat Herding" and that I've added them, along with about 100 others, to my new Twitter list: Crackpotz.
Naturally, this requires further explication -- as does my absence here since May 22, but we'll get to that.
Twitter just recently implemented these lists, and it took me a day or two to figure out what they were for and how they worked. Then the penny dropped. Oh! I immediately flashed on the Mystic B Rogues Gallery I put together back in January. With a Twitter list, I could update that, expand on it, plus make it more interactive and, you know, modern. For instance, let's listen in on what some of these jokers are saying right this very minute!
Deepak Chopra: You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?
Marianne Williamson: Expect less from other people; expect more from universal supply.
Wayne Dyer: An infinity of forests lie dormant within the dreams of one acorn.
Jean Houston: Are the UFO’s full of ET's at a galactic sporting event, on the edge of their seats betting on whether we will make it or not?
James Arthur Ray: I am spending the weekend in prayer and meditation for all involved in this difficult time...
As you can see, metaphor is big with these folks. That is, unless they actually think people fly and acorns dream. Or that "this difficult time" is an appropriate euphemism to use in reference to three people you just killed. However, given their many other strange beliefs -- such as, oh let's see... "universal supply" and "UFO’s full of ET's" -- I suppose dreaming acorns are entirely possible. In fact, all these people are all about "the possible."
At this point I should probably recap why I started writing Mystic Bourgeoisie. Stop me if you've heard this before. My inspiration, if you could call it that, was the painful death of an important relationship. She always protested that she was not New Age. You've heard that one before, for sure. "Who me? Oh, I'm not New Age!" We've all heard it. Only terminal cases ever admit to the proclivity. Maybe the last gasp of those people who recently died in James Arthur Ray's Sedona sweat lodge was "Oh fuck, I guess I am New Age!" But of course, we'll never know if, even then, the denial was finally overcome. When you get right down to it, nobody wants to be seen as New Age because nobody wants to be seen as irreparably stupid.
Long story short, I took her at her word. Until after it was over, anyway, and I started asking myself what had happened, what had gone so terribly, irreparably wrong. "I'm spiritual but not religious," she once told me, and I was actually impressed. It sounded so smart. At the time. In the context. It's embarrassing to admit what a chump I was. But I was. A tool. A fool. An unwitting enabler of this grandiose self-absorbed bullshit. It wasn't until I encountered the book, Spiritual, but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, that I -- suddenly, thunderstruck -- understood it was a context-free cultural meme, a buzzword, a badge of membership in some amorphous faux-community held together only by the vague belief of its members that they are "not New Age."
So I started Mystic Bourgeoisie to explore what else might be hidden under the hood of nicey-nice sentiments and trendy affirmations of the type that are common as dirt here in Boulder, Colorado. Of course, I quickly came to realize that Boulder and Sedona and Big Sur had long ago lost whatever lock they once may have had on the market for mystically rationalized narcissistic personality disorders. Such spiritual-but-not-religious not-really-New-Age notions and nostrums had been packaged, marketed and widely exported, such that -- thanks to middleware mediums such as Hay House, The Secret, and The Oprah Winfrey Show --- they now constitute many of the unexamined "core values" of middle-class, middle-of-the-road America: a.k.a. the Mystic Bourgeoisie.
But of course, it didn't stop there. The phenomenon has gone gibberingly, grandiosely global -- and "established religions" have hardly been immune. Take Hinduism. Please.
Some of you will recognize many of my Crackpotz. Others will recognize only a handful. But I'm betting damn few will be familiar with these denizens of the Hindu Right. That's right: as in what some would call spiritually fascist. In no particular order...
And this brings us back to why Mystic B has been virtually moribund since last Spring. The history of Hindutva and related right-wing racialism goes back two centuries, connecting German Romanticism, American Transcendentalism, Indian Nationalist terrorism, Esalen Institute, Transpersonal Psychology, and Ken Wilber's Integral-Everything-on-a-Stick. When I began to explore these connections and cross-pollinations, I had no idea what I was wading into. The links are deep, real, and ultimately mind-blowing. However, trying to unpack how this whole morass evolved -- not to mention how it has shaped the contemporary self-delusions of the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious set -- proved more of a challenge than I was prepared to deal with. It was daunting. I am daunted still.
But I have gritted my teeth, girded my loins, and decided to press on: ever deeper into the heart of darkness.
Somewhere (in my garage, I think), I have a copy of Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. I need to look at it again. Maybe this time I could understand what she was on about, my previous efforts in that direction having always ended with me going, "Why did I buy this damn book, anyway?" Today I know: because God wanted me to read it.
I also know I shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but if I could afford it, I'd buy this other Mary Douglas volume strictly on the strength of the following graphic. From what little I can glean, I guess the idea is that one big class of things people find risky, what they really fear, are various kinds of pollution and environmental toxins. Which is to say impurities. But that the purity that's being guarded (if not truly protected) by such fears might be something deeper. Hidden. Masked, you could say.
[L. Ron] Hubbard put forward his ideas about Niacin in a book called All About Radiation. He claimed to have discovered that large doses of vitamins could both alleviate and prevent radiation sickness. He marketed this anti-radiation mixture in the form of a tablet, calling it "Dianazene." 21,000 such tablets were seized and destroyed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1958.
There's also Moral Purity and Persecution in History by Barrington Moore Jr., and it looks as if he has some insightful (inciteful? I always forget) things to say about purity. However, the reviews seem to indicate that he blames monotheistic religions for too much. Me, I think it's a crime to leave out The Mystic East in a work of this type. I mean, can you spell P-U-J-A? Not to mention, more generally, purification rites.
Ritual purification is a feature of many religions. The aim of these rituals is to remove specifically defined uncleanliness prior to a particular type of activity, and especially prior to the worship of a deity. This ritual uncleanliness is not however identical with ordinary physical impurity, such as dirt stains; nevertheless, all body fluids are generally considered ritually unclean, and some religions have special treatment of semen and menses, which are viewed as particularly unclean.
America has a deep Puritan heritage, but few have Clue One what that means. I don't. Despite any number of books by Perry Miller and Sacvan Berkovitch lying about the place. I'm not sure, but I think it might have something to do with the odd fraction in this...
OK, now we're getting somewhere. Hmmm, let's see. What else have we got in this vein? How about...
Oh wait... How did that last one get in there? Sorry, I don't know what I was thinking. But while we're at it, let's dip in and see what's up with this unwelcome intruder. Here the author is discussing Lester F. Ward (1841 - 1913), who, as Wikipedia helpfully informs us, was no less than the first president of the American Sociological Association. Just imagine! The author notes Ward's view that...
White racial purity was an impossibility; miscegenation a social inevitability. Yet Ward wrote in support of whites' double standard with regard to miscegenation, condoning sexual intercourse between white men and black women as advantageous to blacks, while castigating and forbidding sexual intercourse between black men and white women. For the purposes of evolutionary progress, according to Ward, sexual intercourse need only occur between men of the conquering race (white men) and women of the conquered race (black women).
Yeah well, I suppose this must all seem totally arbitrary, huh? But here's how I got to those books and links (up to but not including Angelfood McSpade). Pay close attention here, OK? First, here's an equally white cover, wherein we return from simple and possibly ideology-free interior decorating to something more spiritualized. Note, for instance, the carefully chosen title term "sanctuary."
Get rid of the the dirt, the pollution, the poisons, the toxins, the horrid and unforgivable blackness of racial and sexual sin! Another popular term for this sort of detox is "cleansing," as in...
Of course, it would be utterly wrongheaded to associate this sort of cleansing -- ridding the pristine Godly self of invisible sub-molecular dangers and unspeakably spiritual quantum risks -- with the completely unrelated idea of ethnic cleansing.
...from which, boys being boys and all, let's crib a couple quotes anyway. Just for the hell of it.
This search for 'oneness' also very often goes along with a headlong quest for 'purity'. This is another theme of the imaginaire that 'toughens' the identitarian process and impels it more inexorably toward an episode of mass violence. To define oneself as 'pure' in fact implies categorizing some 'other' as impure. The accusation of impurity constitutes a universal accusation against the population one is going to massacre. Purity already implies a requirement of cleanliness as opposed to another catalogued as 'dirty', perceived as rubbish. Purity also contains an appeal to the sacred: the need for purification falls within the province of religion, and constitutes a powerful springboard for unleashing a purgative violence. These clichés -- pure-impure, cleanliness-dirtiness, whiteness-blackness -- seem terribly crude to us. Their binary structures mirror however the elementary functioning of the human psyche in times of crisis.
In the 1920s [Alfred] Rosenberg became a kind of guardian of the general doctrine (Weltanschauung) of National-Socialism, propagating through his writings profound personal convictions about the reality of a Judeo-Masonic world conspiracy. His masterwork, The Myth of the Twentieth Century [: An Evaluation of the Spiritual-Intellectual Confrontations of Our Age], published in 1930 (thus three years before Hitler came to power), was to become the second Nazi 'bible' after Mein Kampf. This book, which had taken him years to prepare, is deeply inspired by the racist theories of the Count of Gobineau and Houston Chamberlain. The myths of Rosenberg are based above all else on the mystique of the purity of Aryan blood which, under the sign of the Swastika, sparked off a worldwide spiritual revolution: that of 'the awakening of the Aryan soul'.
And so in closing let me say: Axe not for whom de tocsin toll. It Tolle for thee, Eckhart.