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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/29/16

Sebastian Junger's New Book TRIBE: ON HOMECOMING AND BELONGING (Review Essay)

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No doubt our current ideas about authoritarianism are based on the historical examples of fascism in Europe. No doubt fascism in Europe involved mass movements in which individual persons were submerged to the will of the political strong-man. But we Americans of European descent tend to think of such mass movements as involving tribalism, but writ large.

At times, for the purposes of waging war, American Indian tribes formed alliances. For example, Junger discusses how the American Indian leader and orator known as Pontiac (or Obwandiyag, 1720-1769) helped forge an alliance of American Indian tribes for the purpose of taking a stand against the British. Pontiac's War (1763-1766) is named after him.

Now, in the Hebrew Bible, after Jacob wrestles with the angel of God who came to him in his sleep, he receives a new name: Israel. He is portrayed as having twelve sons. We are told that each of the twelve tribes of Israel is named after one of the sons of Jacob/Israel. And the twelve tribes of Israel form an alliance to help fight against invading forces.

Now, the Canadian cultural historian and theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) uses the terms detribalization and retribalization routinely in his experimental but flawed book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962).

What McLuhan means by detribalization is equivalent to what the Harvard sociologist David Riesman (1909-2002) means by inner-directed persons in his famous book The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (Yale University Press, 1950). With the memory of European fascism fresh in his mind, Riesman, who was himself undoubtedly an inner-directed person, discusses what he refers to pejoratively and apprehensively as the emerging other-directed persons in contemporary American culture. (However, Ong was quick to note that being other-directed is not necessarily something pejorative.)

McLuhan, who was also undoubtedly an inner-directed person (as most academics to this day tend to be), uses the term retribalization pejoratively and apprehensively. Because the mass movements of fascism in Europe can be characterized as representing retribalization writ large, Junger's use of the analogy with American Indian tribes will probably face predictable difficulties with Americans of European descent.

Now, in the article "World as View and World as Event" in the journal American Anthropologist, volume 71, number 4 (August 1969): pages 634-647, Ong describes two broad senses of life: (1) the world-as-view sense of life and (2) the world-as-event sense of life.

The American Indian tribes discussed by Junger and the small-group hunter-gatherers discussed by Narvaez embody and manifest the world-as-event sense of life.

But the detribalized Europeans and Americans in modern culture in the West (in McLuhan's terminology, in the Gutenberg galaxy that emerged in the West after the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the 1450s) embody and manifest the world-as-view sense of life. Typically, our American upbringing and social and cultural and educational conditioning today inculcate and habituate us in the world-as-view sense of life.

However, I assume that the world-as-event sense of life is stored in the collective unconscious (in Jung's terminology). As a result, we American progressives and liberals today may want to access the world-as-event sense of life in the collective unconscious inasmuch as we can.

Please note that I do not think that anti-60s conservatives today would have any interest in accessing the world-as-event sense of life in the collective unconscious. Anti-60s conservatives have not yet effectively digested certain political and social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, anti-60s conservatives tend to look back on the 1950s with nostalgia. However, in the 1950s, under the Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), the inter-state highway system emerged. Often enough, inter-state highways cut deep concrete strips into existing communities in urban areas, thereby effectively severing them into two parts. So progressives and liberals should beware of anti-60s conservatives with their endless cries for community and their selective memories of community before the inter-state highways emerged in the 1950s.

Now, Jung and his followers refer to forming an axis between ego-consciousness and the Self (capitalized to differentiate it from ego-consciousness, which others often refer to as the self [lower-case]). So perhaps we American progressives and liberals today can form an axis, as it were, between the conditioned world-as-view sense of life of our ego-consciousness and the world-as-event sense of life remembered in the collective unconscious.

But a word of caution is in order here. At times, unconscious contents can surface with such power that they overpower ego-consciousness, resulting in a psychotic episode. For understandable reasons, most people would prefer not to experience a psychotic episode. So before you try to undertake possibly working out and establishing an axis between your ego-consciousness and the world-as-event sense of life remembered in the collective unconscious, you should make sure that you have sufficient ego strengths to undertake such a possibly perilous inner journey. Even so, I do NOT recommend using the approach that Jung himself recklessly experimented with that he refers to as active imagination.

Because Jung recklessly favored what he refers to as active imagination, he often inveighs against the form of guided imagistic meditation outlined in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. But even that form of guided imagistic meditation can be dangerous for certain people, who can experience a psychotic episode as a result of using it. Let me briefly explain why even guided imagistic meditation can precipitate a psychotic episode in certain people.

Ong never tired of referring to Eric A. Havelock's book Preface to Plato (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963). Havelock sets up and works with a contrast between the Homeric epics with their imagistic thinking and Plato's dialogues. Havelock sees the Homeric epics as representing oral tradition, basically pre-literate and pre-philosophical thought. Havelock sees the ancient Greek philosophical thought in Plato's dialogues as emerging historically as the result of phonetic alphabetized and vowelized writing in ancient Greek culture. Now, did Plato also occasionally use narratives and imagistic thought in his dialogues? You bet, he did. See John Alexander Stewart's compilation and translation in the bilingual edition titled The Myths of Plato (London and New York: Macmillan, 1905).

But the important point here is that Havelock see imagistic thought in the Homeric epics as expressing oral tradition (i.e., pre-literate thought, even though the Homeric epics obvious got written down). So guided imagistic meditations in Ignatian spirituality can potentially resonate with the world-as-event sense of life remembered in the collective unconscious. As a result of the potential danger of prompting a psychotic episode, I do NOT recommend making a 30-day retreat in silence following the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, as Jesuit novices customarily do.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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