History, Its Hits and Myths

Updated: Dec 18, 2019



History is, of course, constantly being made by our actions and the actions of others as events unfold around us all. The same is true of mythmaking whose memes are constantly being crafted and thrown into the polishing mosh of the collective id. Perhaps we were comfortably privileged to witness more of the latter in the relatively unpompous circumstances of George H. W. Bush's final layaway.

Not inappropriately, much scrutiny was applied to calculating the spiritual debits and bloody credits involved in memorializing Poppy's vaunted civility and how it cloaked and revealed his and our humanity - and inhumanity too. This is not inappropriate because whether or not we view ourselves as (a)theists, we rely on each other to each have some care for what are sometimes called our "souls" whether or not such questionable entities are understood as unique kernels of individuality or as amorphous parts of something vaster that encompasses so much more than we can ever comprehend.

In considering the legacy of the elder Bush, there were also the peripheral, but not at all unimportant, concerns expressed in eulogizing the transformational passage of a mythological WASPY elite. This is significant because venerating the former president's gracious manners was inescapably a limited rebuke to the obscene grotesqueries of OUR current president*. We have so much more to be concerned with in terms of both our governance and our culture. Scrolling past riveting real-time photos of starving Yemeni children ought to be sufficient to remind us of the limited utility of contrasting the brutalities and injustices of our recent past to gauzy memories of comity in bygone politics. If the atrocities of Vietnam and Guatemala and . . . and . . . and . . . and..., are not by now, indelibly tattooed onto our national self-image, then we are truly soulless by any definition of spiritual and moral emptiness. Despite any ultimate reliability or validity in the mythological notion of an Enlightenment Process and the gratifying empirical reinforcement for such notions provided by wits like Steven Pinker, the atrocities undeniably continue in their semi monotonous horror.

Returning to more reassuring preoccupations regarding the prospects of nubby digited trimp, it would be most surprising if that story is not, by now, already irrevocably barreling down the briskly steepening path of writing itself. Relentless prosecutors in the Departments of Justice and The House of Representatives are already pivoting past the inner circles of unscrupulously clueless cronies towards the empty blank sanctum of the "first" family. The only question is how large a portion of our crumbling institutional capital will trimp bring down with him - and how dramatic will be his inevitable implosion. We wait, with belted breath, to see whether any advisors able to curb or divert trimp's worst impulses will survive until the clutching final grasp while watching his less formidable (or more agile) accomplices scurry into the shadows. It's dramaturgically reassuring that one arch villain, Steve Bannon, has already absconded to the gilded recesses of the continent where he hobnobs and plots with aristocratic Opus Dei types for the future overthrow of liberal democracies and Papa Francesco. The buttery popcorn eats itself as we sit transfixed in the dark.

Anyone who lived sentiently through any portion of the Century of "The Quiet American" has their own grasp on how much of the "spirit of service" of the Waspy, Kennedy, (some Jews may apply) upper crust was merely hollow cant. This is in the nature of guiding mythologies after all. To the extent they are even recognized, they are rarely fully understood, much less embraced. And those rare souls who are allowed by some combination of circumstance and accomplishment to hold a capacious appreciation of a guiding mythology while still being possessed by it are cast into the crucible of its contradictions whether or not such souls are operationally involved in its clashes with "reality" in the way of presidents and statesmen. (This far into our history-making, the bulk of those anointed ones, who themselves exist at least semi mythologically, have not been women).

What must be remembered about myths is that because of their holding power on the collective imagination, they are always so much more than mere fantasy or cant. This is especially true of "Guiding Myths" because these, no matter how ineffectually or catastrophically, actually do exert some degree of guidance over most of us at least some of the time - and we can have interesting arguments about the extent to which their hold is fastest on the minds of some of the most eminent among us vs the extent to which the purview of such myths is mostly a preoccupation of observant scribes or gullible trudgers and consumers. The hold these myths have on our thoughts and hopes is their power and their reality. The spirit of compromise murmured about in appreciations of George H. W. Bush may be nominally applied to relationships between political parties vying for power in a rule-based system, but it is always just as much about the compromises of ideals in the face of (elite and popular) perceptions of expediency and (popular and elite) understandings of necessity.

Bemoaning "the spirit of service" (of which our collective myth machine has now made Bush I an emblem) is, hopefully, part of the process of generating some newer version of a guiding myth by which newer generations of leaders may be inspired, constrained, and befuddled. Yes, the WASPY Service Spirit, was in part limited in the hold it had over us all because it was, after all like the spirit of Noblesse Oblige which proceeded it, an ethos for an elite. There are those who claim an elite will always be necessary whether it is aristocratic, meritocratic, or based on some other (much) more or (much) less democratic mechanisms. They will not (soon) be proven wrong. Nevertheless, a truly robust guiding mythology must fulfill a large number of functions, not the least of which is uniting an entire people, which in this new century almost certainly means the entire global population. In that light, the slightly hapless, slightly Machiavellian figure of George "Poppy" Bush (playing ground champion, war hero, and chief spook) may be as apt a symbol of the passing guard as will ever be possible. And in his spirit of graciousness, I look forward to the possibility that the emergent spirit, typified now by the young likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be of signal help as we struggle to lift our common prospects together above our abysmal past one collectively forged nacho at a time.


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