Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bliss versus Ignorance

In the PBS series The Power of Myth, renown American mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) tells host Bill Moyers : “I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Now this formula doesn’t mean doing whatever one wants. Neither does it justify abdicating one’s responsibility to act responsibly – i.e., “I was just following orders.”
At root, Campbell’s “bliss” evolves from the search for what, among society’s (and life’s) many needs, so absolutely absorbs one’s psychic energy and attention as to inspire the sense of having reached one’s greatest potential when engaged in that selected activity.

In the civic life of these United States today one can find much passion still, but it is the destructive passion of anger, the polar opposite of Campbell’s energetic, creative bliss.
Memory, of course, is selective, but in the 20 years since Campbell died the anger seems to have increased exponentially and in reaction to the failure of elected and selected officials to create and nurture and inspire a positive public spirit.

And apparently, this failure is detectible at the very top – at least in the view of Mayan priests at a archeological site Guatemala that President Bush visited during his just completed to six South and Central American countries. In what Campbell would readily recognize and appreciate, the priests announced they would have to cleanse the former sacred temple grounds of “bad spirits” following Bush’s visit so their ancestors could “rest in peace.” As one Guatemalan put it:

“That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture.”

Meanwhile, back in Washington, anger is growing over an ever-widening array of revelations involving officials who, most charitably, could be described as “out of the loop” and uncharitably as willfully deceiving Congress and the public – and then attempting to excuse themselves from any responsibility for providing false statements by claiming ignorance about what occurs within their department or agency.

The Army’s Surgeon General, LTG Kevin Kiley, plead no knowledge about conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center despite having commanded the hospital three years earlier and still occupying a house on the hospital grounds. Moreover, when the problems first surfaced, he tried to minimize them, then rejected calls for his resignation, suggesting he would be the best person to undertake corrective measures because he was most familiar with the shortfalls. In stark contrast, MGEN Weightman, the commander at the time the story broke (and who had been at Walter Reed for just 6 months), apologized up-front to the wounded soldiers, their families, and to the country for not moving more quickly to correct deficiencies.

The Walter Reed scandal was soon followed by revelations that the FBI had underreported to Congress by 20 percent the use of “national security letters” to obtain telecommunications records. This too was put down to lack of information – that is, ignorance – on the part of Director Robert Mueller. But when the individual whose organization can demand private account histories without the knowledge of the affected subscribers doesn’t know how often his agency has used this authority, on what basis can the people trust that these and other “powers” of government will not be further abused?

Of course, one can always go to the Attorney General (AG), Alberto Gonzales, the person who is supposedly the people’s chief lawyer. (Remember, the president has his own White House legal counsel.) With the current AG, however, once again ignorance is called on as the operative defense for lying to Congress about who was and was not involved in the decision to fire eight U.S. prosecutors. (Such is the famous “Sergeant Schultz defense” – “I Know Nothing!” – named for its originating character in the 1960s television series Hogan’s Heroes.)

Campbell’s bliss is the intersection of myth, symbols, rituals, and life as natural expressions of and windows on the transcendent. The Bush administration’s bliss – or bias – lies at the intersection of a Grimm’s fairy tale, deliberate deception, fear, and secrecy that are so convoluted as to be opaque, thereby effectively severing government policies from programs and interdicting corrective feedback. It is a wonder that more officials aren’t “blissfully” ignorant of the realities of the daily lives of millions of the general public.

Perhaps PBS ought to re-run the Power of Myth. Better yet, PBS might mail a DVD of the series to every cabinet secretary, undersecretary, head and deputy of independent government agencies, and every military flag officer (general or admiral).

And on the cover of the DVD ought to be placed in large script the following quote from Campbell:

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are – if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”


Blogger ddjango said...

You're a hero, my friend.

I'm founder and editor of P! - An Asylum for Broken Rabble at Would you possibly let me interview you for my blog?

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Nancy Pace said...

Dear Col. Smith,

I have just discovered your blog, and look forward to reading your archives.... Thank you for adding "The Quakers Colonel" to your amazing record of highly distinguished service to our country.

Do you have an opinion on historic battlefield preservation (whether/how it perpetuates war by glorifying it)? The "Civil War Preservation Trust" (which boasts 70,000 members) has just refreshed its list of endangered sites and is receiving a lot of press. I am thinking of blogging on this very delicate subject, and would like to be more informed first....

My blog, is informed by my military brat childhood (my dad taught at the Army War College) and my interests in the military, peace, politics, and spirituality. Many of my friends and fellow peace-volunteers in Women in Black and at the Frederick (MD) Peace Resource Center are Quakers.

Increasingly, I find myself blogging to encourage those who identify with the military to see themselves as partners with peacemakers, since they share the common goal of national and global peace. I'm so grateful to have found your blog, and look forward to reading it....

My blog titles are intended to be provocative but are also somewhat self-explanatory; if you have time to read a little about my areas of military interest, may I recommend the blogs: "A Fog of War Movies and Books," "Putting On and Taking Off the Pretty Face of War," "America's Oldest Enemy Batters the Flag," "My Father the Terrorist," and "Armed Men Are Coming From Far Away to Break Down Our Doors and Kill Our Children." Almost every blog will give you a sense of my political perspectives.

Again, I'm so pleased to find your site, and would appreciate your sharing any links to battlefield preservation questions.

I started my blog anonymously (as "Eppy Harmon," but am in the process of changing back to my own name.)

Sincerely yours,

Nancy Pace

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Nancy Pace said...

Dear Col. Smith,

I forgot to leave my email address, which is .

Thank you!

Nancy Pace

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love reading your blog..they're a one of a kind.thank God for "The Quaker's Colonel" @; you're sanity(unlike Hannity) in a crazy world.

7:59 AM  

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