Sunday, June 17, 2012

We Don't Need Another Hero

The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination. - Joseph Cambell
The general similitude of individuals which renders any one of them, taken separately, an improper subject of poetry, allows poets to include them all in the same imagery, and to take a general survey of the people itself. Democratic nations have a clearer perception than any other of their own aspect; and an aspect so imposing is admirably fitted to the delineation of the ideal. - Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. III, p.115
 The true hero of the democratic poet is the nation of which he is a member, or the whole race of man to which the nation belongs. The mettlesome, proud, turbulent, brave, self-asserting young Achilles, lover of women and lover of comrades of Whitman's epic, can be no other than the American people; his Ulysses, the prudent, the 'cute, the battler with the forces of nature, the traveller in sea-like prairie, desolate swamp, and dense forest is brother Jonathan. But if the American nation is his hero, let it be observed that it is the American nation as the supposed leader of the human race, as the supposed possessor in ideas, in type of character, and in tendency if not in actual achievement, of all that is most powerful and promising for the progress of mankind. - Edward Dowden, "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," The Westminster Review, 1871
As we work up our courage to admit our fears, it can become a distraction, or a desire, or even a need, to seek out a One who, relieving us of the burdens of being strong, might yet lead us out of our confusion.  This One may be, like the goat of the ancient Hebrew people, the one sent out to the wilderness to die the death the people should die for their sins.  The One may be the Jesus of some small-minded Christians, who celebrate the image of the warrior Christ, double-edged sword in his mouth, ready to cast in to the put those who would deny Him his true power.  The One may be a warrior of Allah, willing to kill and die for the sake of the Prophet, ignoring the Prophet's demand for mercy, or Allah's title as All-Merciful.

That One could be a sharp business leader who assures us commercial competence is the path to greatness.  The One might be a seasoned public servant, who offers us experience and cunning, as well as knowing whose skeletons lie just beneath the surface, ensuring us easy malleability in those who might oppose a way out.  The One could very well be a new face and voice, one who insists if we only grant power and authority, then all sorts of good things will rain down on us.

In our life as a nation, we have, at various times, heeded these voices that connive to steal the one thing that is ours - the power we all have as Americans to decide for ourselves who we are, and how we are to be.  Whether the charlatans and thieves wear clerical robes, or a power suit, the reality becomes clear enough as we find ourselves still lost, still wandering, still afraid.  When we've succeeded, though, it has always been because we as a people chose to move forward together.

Never without conflict, of course.  Political conflict is as natural and real as breathing.  Those who think it possible to govern without the lively give-and-take of political conflict don't understand the biggest blessing of being America.  We should never sacrifice our fellow Americans, though, on the altar of some political principle, no matter how deeply held.  Like Whitman, we need to see in the beauty and power and strength of all of us - men and women, ethnicity and race, religion and creed - the source of what will make America great.  What unites us as Americans isn't adherence to a religious faith or ethnic ties or some "natural" gender types.  What unites us is our differences, and our refusal to surrender our differences for the sake of convenience, efficiency, or the false peace imposed by One who might insist our silence is a sign of our consent.

We do not need a savior.  We do not need a Leader, chosen from among us, to feed us our fears as some diet of endurance.  We, ourselves, are all we have ever needed to guarantee our future.  We must celebrate the reality of all our differences, without ever succumbing to the temptation to hand to One what belongs to all of us.  Heroes are not a democratic being; in all of us, affirming who we are together without surrendering who we each are, lies the only real source of power and strength and hope.  We need not fear if we remember we are strong enough, and intelligent enough, and canny enough, and cunning enough, and beautiful enough to do what needs to be done.  There is no law or rule that constrains the potential we all have to make America what it can be.

When we remember that, those who rule in our name for their own benefit have always trembled.

Virtual Tin Cup

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