The Magician’s Bargain in 2019 America

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Beneath the surface of the obvious turmoil in American lies a fissure deeper than our differences. More than just a fissure. A seismic shift in the ground that has traditionally held the nation together, as suggested by this adaptation of L. Robert Kohl’s “The Values Americans Live By”:

Traditional American Cultural Values

1. PERSONAL CONTROL OVER THE ENVIRONMENT
People can/should control nature, their own environment and destiny. The future is not left to fate.
Result: An energetic, goal-oriented society.

2. CHANGE / MOBILITY
Change is seen as positive and good. This means progress, improvement and growth.
Result: An established transient society geographically, economically and socially.

3. TIME AND ITS IMPORTANCE
Time is valuable - achievement of goals depends on the productive use of time.
Result: An efficient and progressive society often at the expense of interpersonal relationships.

4. EQUALITY / EGALITARIANISM
People have equal opportunities; people are important as individuals, for who they are, not from which family they come.
Result: A society where little deference is shown or status is acknowledged.

5. INDIVIDUALISM, INDEPENDENCE AND PRIVACY
People are seen as separate individuals (not group members) with individual needs. People need time to be alone and to be themselves.
Result: Americans may be seen as self-centered and sometimes isolated and lonely.

6. SELF-HELP
Americans take pride in their own accomplishments.
Result: Americans give respect for self achievements not achievements based on rights of birth.

7. COMPETITION AND FREE ENTERPRISE
Americans believe competition brings out the best in people and free enterprise leads to progress and produces success
Result: Competition is emphasized over cooperation.

8. FUTURE ORIENTATION / OPTIMISM
Americans believe that, regardless of past or present, the future will be better and happier.
Result: Americans place less value on past events and constantly look ahead to tomorrow.

9. ACTION AND WORK ORIENTATION
Americans believe that work is morally right; that it is immoral to waste time.
Result: There is more emphasis on "doing" rather than "being". This is a no-nonsense attitude toward life.

10. INFORMALITY
Americans believe that formality is "un-American" and a show of arrogance and superiority.
Result: A casual, egalitarian attitude between people is more accepted.

11. DIRECTNESS / OPENNESS / HONESTY
One can only trust people who "look you in the eye" and "tell it like it is". Truth is a function of reality not of circumstance.
Result: People tend to tell the "truth" and not worry about saving the other person's "face" or "honor".

12. PRACTICALITY / EFFICIENCY
Practicality is usually the most important consideration when decisions are to be made.
Result: Americans place less emphasis on the subjective, aesthetic, emotional or consensual decisions.

13. MATERIALISM / ACQUISITIVENESS
Material goods are seen as the just rewards of hard-work, the evidence of "God's favor."
Result: Americans are seen as caring more for things than people or relationships.

Adapted from http://“The Values Americans Live By”, L. Robert Kohls

Thoughtful people may quibble with Robert Kohl’s list. But few would erase the 11th valuehonesty/trustworthiness –as bedrock to the American experiment in democracy. 

The Magician’s Bargain

Looking each other in the eye and “telling it like it is” has been chipped away, replaced by the twists of tongue and cunning to get and hold power. In our time, truth has been reduced to a function of circumstance in the road to power. We live with the consequences of what C.S. Lewis called the magician’s bargain.

It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

The surrender of soul in return for power is the seismic shift in the America of 2019. Honesty/openness/directness have never been a fact of our common life. The 11th traditional value is aspirational. There have been and always will be lies. But never in my lifetime has truth-telling been less valued than it is today in the highest places of government. To the chagrin and sadness of George Will and other principled traditional conservatives, it is the children of Jerry Falwell‘s Moral Majority who engage the moral magician’s bargain.

The Irony of the American Magician’s Bargain

Michael Cohen testified last week before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee. The minority members of the Committee attacked the credibility of the convicted criminal who had served for 10 years as the president’s personal lawyer and “fixer” and chose to ignore the hard evidence the president’s “rat” had placed before them.

The only difference between Michael Cohen and those who refused to exercise their duty to uphold the Constitution was that Michael had confessed.

Do we feel the rumbling of the common ground beneath the partisan divide?

How deep is the loss! How much greater the challenge. Ben Franklin would have a cow!

“We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”  — C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 2, 2019.

What We Have in Common

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Over coffee at Starbucks following the 2018 American mid-term election, a psychiatrist observed an epidemic of stress among his patients, regardless of their political leanings. They’re like inexperienced swimmers doing the doggie paddle in a tsunami.

The tension, the angry tone, the incivility, the name-calling, the smirks, the mocking impersonations, the barrage of lies and twisted truth are leading many of us to Sigmund or Anna Freud’s couch. Or to a fifth. Or pills. And to acts of verbal or physical violence of our own. We’re brawling in America and we wonder how we got here.

Sigmund and Anna Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and today’s practitioners of therapy know something about stress. So do the wisdom traditions of religion — the Tao that bridges the differences that divide us. It is this deeper sense of the Tao that is the source of human goodness. The Tao (Way) of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism guides individuals, cultures, and nations to flourish across all the walls we erect to separate us from each other.

C.S.Lewis Belfast

In his The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, to whom Ross Wilson‘s  statue pays tribute, wrote that without the perspective of the Tao, which calls us to something more than brute emotion, “…the world of facts, without one trace of value, and the world of feelings without one trace of truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, confront one another, and no rapprochement is possible.”

Today in America, emotions are displacing the Tao. Narcissim and nihilism increasingly divide us into what Lewis called “trousered apes” and “urbane blockheads” who call each other names from different sides of a dividing wall. Like Lewis in his time and place, public philosopher-theologian Cornel West identifies nihilism as the plague let loose in America in his book Race Matters. “Nihilism is a natural consequence of a culture (or civilization) ruled and regulated by categories that mask manipulation, mastery and domination of peoples and nature.

Cornel West by Gage Skidmore

Cornel West photo by Gage Skidmore

“We need … the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.”

When the common ground binding a society together is shopping, we step out on nothing, just hoping to land on something. Everything is up for grabs. A culture which turns its back on a spiritual-moral compass we didn’t make up, and that connects us to something greater than oneself, soon leaves its people flailing in an emotional and cognitive tusanami.

We [America]are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately,” says West. “Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”

The therapist’s couch in my friend’s office will never be empty. Some stress is part of life. But is it too much to hope that his clients may go there in sesarch of the Tao hidden beneath the false choice of being a trousered ape or an urbane blockhead, less patient with evil and more patient with people to meet the challenge of our time?

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November

Two deaths on Nov. 22, 1963

Fifty years ago today two great men died. JFK is on all of our minds. C.S. Lewis was the other. Had he died on any other day than November 22, 1963, the world would have taken notice of C.S. Lewis’s death. Click HERE for a piece on C. S. Lewis.

I remember the assassination of JFK like it was yesterday. I didn’t know then that C.S. Lewis had also died. May they both rest in peace. They both live on in a world of woe and hope.

News: 24/7

Author C.S. Lewis as a child before his mother's death.

Author C.S. Lewis as a child before his mother's death

“NEWS: 24/7” 

a poem by

Steve

Shoemaker

April 20, 2012

The writer, C.S. Lewis, said he never read the newspapers or owned a TV.  “If any-

thing important happens, someone will always say,”

he claimed. His house was filled with books. The life he led

began each day with prayer, with pen and a notebook,

food, teaching, more writing, then meeting friends for beer

and talk and laughter. 50 books of his appear

in 65 years on this earth. “Just take a look,”

he said, “I’m the last dinosaur you’ll ever see!”

His day of death was not reported on TV:

November 22, 1963.

JFK (R) with big brother Joe Kennedy

JFK with big brother Joe Kennedy

C.S. Lewis’s books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The Chronicles of Narnia are the most popular. having been popularized on stage, TV, radio and film. His book A Grief Observed, an exceptionally honest reflection following the death of the love of his life, Joy Davidman, meant a great deal to me in dealing with my own raw grief. The film Shadowlands was based on A Grief Observed. Lewis was no stranger to the grief that shocked the world in Dallas November 22, 1963, the day he died without the notice he deserved.

 “…God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity