Many stories speak about the process of integrating the individual into society. This mythology of state (throughout oral and written antiquity) imposes and justifies limits on self-absorbed desires or acts of hubris in order to create humane models of hospitality and civility. Significantly ancient narratives like Homer's Odyssey and Sophocles' Oedipus the King are stories about achieving social order, political allegiance, and homeostasis. In Civilization and its Discontents (1930), Freud discusses how the superego balances the impulsive id, which houses the libido. The id and the superego are opposed yet still synonymous in that human interaction and development are fundamental to both: still the Mythology of the State advocates that the development of civilization has clear priority over the gratification of the individual.
In the first story ever written, the hero eventually become less-inclined toward self-aggrandizement; every sense, heroes have continued to realize that they are indeed sociopolitical animals; the narratives continue, and you recognize, sometimes tragically, that you are indeed an interdependent member of the world around you, for the truth is? To live in disregard of community leads to isolation and then perhaps insignificance, destruction, and savagery. In Homer's Odyssey, the corrupt and brazen engine of individualism gone awry is represented by the suitors and strange characters like the Cyclops, a race of myopic, single-eyed creatures living without any sense of social organization or precognition. Authentic and true, the hero knows future obligations to the community, instead of seeing only the privileges of fame, glory, and supremacy.
"This was a man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things."
The Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of the renowned king of Uruk, originates in older Babylonian and Sumerian cultures and becomes, after being pieced together, the oldest literary text of antiquity in Mesopotamia. In the beginning, Gilgamesh sounds the tocsin for his own amusement, his arrogance has no bounds. "No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all, even the children; yet the king should be a shepherd to his people. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior's daughter nor the wife of the noble; yet this is the shepherd of the city?" In the Epic of Gilgamesh, narrative poetry itself--as cuneiform tablets--intervenes in the dissonance between Gilgamesh as tyrant and Gilgamesh as shepherd of the people. After a long mysterious journey Gilgamesh returns to Uruk with the ferryman, Urshanabi. The bard's story reconciles life and death as a new social order.
"Urshanabi, climb up on the wall of Uruk, inspect its foundation terrace, and examine well the brickworks; see if it is not of burnt bricks; and did not the seven wise men lay the foundations? One third of the whole is city, one third is garden, and one third is field."
If one reads the "field" as the battlefield, then Gilgamesh's words provide us with the beginning of the Feudal System and the city state or polis. I will discuss this idea later in connection with the story "The Judgment of Paris." Thus, there are variations on this story. Later in Greece, heroic individualism actually is the pathway to a better polis or cite society. As heroes revitalize their own lives through some form of transformation of consciousness (the heroic quest motif of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces), they in turn revitalize the community in which they live. Oedipus alone chooses to blind himself and carry out his own decree of exile to restore civic order. This specific action does not come down from Delphi and the oracles of Apollo. Ultimately in some stories, the State receives its power and authority from the power and authority of the individual. The writings of Henry David Thoreau in "Civil Disobedience" underscore an American version of the Greek model, whereby individualism becomes a vital source of righteousness in the face of injustice, tyranny, and chaos. Thoreau believed that when government requires you to be an agent of injustice: "Break the law." But we must understand that the most powerful narrative in the Mythology of the State subjugate the individual without ambiguity.
Within American narratives, the mythology of self is evident in the works of American writer Mark Twain. His well-known character, Huckleberry Finn, establishes a pragmatic American morality that mimics the drama in Antigone,Sophocles' tragedy written in 431 B. C. As a modern recapitulation of the young woman Antigone, Huck Finn must decide whether to turn the runaway slave Jim over to the authorities or defy, not only the powerful hegemony of slavery, but the doctrines of his religious training and the preconceived standards of the Widow Douglas. In the story, he wavers for a vital moment, contemplating, trembling, trying to decide forever "betwixt two things." Then he rejects his respectable training--"All right, then, I'll go to hell." Huck defies the sovereignty of Southern Plantation System and remains loyal to his friend Jim regardless of the certainty of damnation, Antigone defies the decree of King Creon and remains loyal to her brother Polynices. In the Myth of Self, individual heroes rely on their own innate sense of right and wrong to formulate decisions.
However make no mistake. While American mythology exalts the power of individualism often to extremes (our heroes are increasingly more reckless, violent, and lawless), the Greeks believed in the priority of order and balance. Defiance of the State is considered destructive at best. Aristotle's thinking on politics is distinguished partly by an inspired common sense which asks that we avoid extremist views. The story of Socrates' death and Oedipus' self-exile demonstrates this conceptual reality, whereby individuals, even in times of dissidence, actively and responsibly carry out the decisions of the State. And at this junction we can begin to see the influence of Aristotle on Freud, in particular, and American psychology and mythology in general, for it seems evident that Freud read the classic Greek precursor. Virtue for Aristotle was dependent upon the ability to balance between two extremes of conduct: just as the ego must find an angle of repose between the self-absorbed demands of the id and the oppressive tendencies of the superego,the authentic Greek citizen must achieve a mean between uncontrolled desire and complete asceticism. For Greeks and Americans alike, individual character is essential, but virtue cannot be practiced solitarily.
The Mythology of the State: An Index
John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961--this speech contains the famous line: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Kennedy suggests that each generation of Americans will have to redefine its loyalty to this Nation.
Speeches by Theodore Roosevelt--Roosevelt's "The Duties of the American Citizenship" declares that every man and woman must devote a reasonable share of their time to political duties and the Political life of the community. In 1908, Roosevelt declared that individualism had transmogrified into profiteering and the wasteful development of our natural resources.
Abraham Lincoln in the "Gettysburg Address" declares that heroes, the honored dead, properly gave their lives so that the Nation might live. Lincoln will declare that the people are the source of the political power of the State and in this he connects with Thoreau.
It will say "page not found" but search for yourself in History Matters: A Labor Newspaper Derides the Myth of the Self Made Man or A Workingman's Prayer for the Masses.
Cain and Abel Revisited: A Case for Keeping thy Brother
In the Roman epic The Aeneid, the power of the individual is stripped away in a mythology that shows how individual desire invites opportunism and/or hedonism; heroes can become unmindful of the realm. Aeneas' love for Dido is portrayed as a self-absorbed and careless emotion that interferes with divine progress and destiny. True heroic action is not demonstrated by a lone, charismatic figure or any other demigod of individuality. Heroism is an acceptance of duty and the serious recognition that social order originates, not in the splendid and passionate tales of love and human freedom, but in the subjugation of human desire to the irrefutable power and authority of the State.
Thomas Jefferson details in one-liners the meaning of good government. Jefferson believes that government is a necessity.
In his 1996 essay "Myths of Individualism," Tom G. Palmer underscores the need for absolute cooperation for the attainment of one's ends. An individual can never be "self-sufficient" which is precisely why we have rules.
Alexis DeTocqueville: WHAT ARE THE REAL ADVANTAGES WHICH AMERICAN SOCIETY DERIVES FROM A DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT?
Tragedy of Commons
THE LAND ETHIC ALDO LEOPOLD A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC (1949, 1966)
World War II:
Power of Persuasion--words, posters, and films waged a constant battle for the hearts and minds of American citizenry in WW II.
Hollywood Goes to War:
Casablanca--city of hope and despair located in French Morocco in North Africa--the meeting place of adventurers, fugitives, criminals, and refugees lured into this dangerous oasis by the hope of escape to the Americas.
War Films--most difficult of genres to define, records and shapes oscillating attitudes towards war.
The Myth of State suggests that salvation is achieved through acceptance and understanding of human limitation. The tendency is to turn outward in search of order and stability in the world. Hence we can look at the system of classification known as binomial nomenclature, introduced by Carolus Linnaeus, as part of mythology--the phrase "Kingdom of Living Things" (as metonymy) implies human social systems can be utilized to codify the natural world in general. We must acknowledge that the categorizing of all living things into genus and species is--regardless of how surprisingly accurate--an artifice born out of our vehement desire to systematize the known world. Such desire is not new. In the second account of creation in Genesis, "Lord God" asks Adam to name the creatures of the land and in doing so humans construct a taxonomy for ordering life.
Freud's Civilization and its Discontents directly addresses the dialectic between the Myth of Self and the Myth of State. Freud suggests that the creation of civilization would perhaps be most successful if the happiness of the individual was not considered at all. This part of his discussion seems to be more Roman than Greek, if indeed we can come to see ancient mythology underpinning Freud's commentary.
Jean de Crèvecoeur, in "Letters from an American Farmer" (1782), argues that American culture is merely European culture extended into a new continent.