American Weltanschauung

American Progress
American Progress by John Gast

In graduate school I was privileged to take a class with the late, great Dr. John Locke* who told me that words have power, but only if you know how to pronounce them. His class was a semester-long exploration of the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales through a Jungian interpretation.

“This well-tin-shwang-shmoo idea…” I began.

“It’s pronounced: velt-un-shhhh-oww-ung. Say it,” said John. He made me repeat it a couple of times until it sounded like the German word that it is. “People won’t take your ideas as seriously if you can’t even say them.”

Weltanschauung means world view: “weltan” + “schauung.” It applies to how the individual sees society and how the society sees itself through a framework of its history and culture. Hitler used the word a lot, and his followers assumed Hitler’s weltanshauung was Germany’s weltanschauung. Said Hermann Goering, “I have no conscience. Adolf Hitler is my conscience.” For Hitler, Germany was for the Germans, and Jews and Gypsies were to blame for all of Germany’s ills. He believed that blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryans were the superior race who deserved Lebensraum, elbow room, to expand into lands occupied by the Slavs and other “sub-humans.”

I became fascinated with Jungian psychology and folklore, thanks to John Locke. It’s on my to-do list, especially these days, to read more Carl Jung. I read Iron John too, by Robert Bly, not long after Locke’s class. Bly translated Jung’s archetypes of animus and anima into poetic imagry as, “the long bag we drag behind us.” Putting aside any sexism arguments regarding feminine (anima) or masculine (animus) archetypes, I do find it valuable to think about people and their Weltanschauung in terms of how values are expressed and lived and how their shadow-values can be suppressed.

Let me pivot now from John Locke to John Wayne. Even though I am a liberal and John Wayne was said to be politically conservative, for me he is an archetype of what it means to be an American. You’re brave. You’re resourceful. You’re loyal. You don’t give up. You protect the defenseless. You say few words, but those words carry weight. You’re a gentleman. You tell the truth. You love your country. You love it because you’re building that country… as a sheriff, a rancher, a soldier. The older I get, the more sentimental I get. I confess I choke up when I say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I pledge to the Flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

When my son was a cub scout I witnessed a flag retirement ceremony for an enormous flag. It was so large that when the scout master called for first responders to come down and participate at least 50 firemen, cops and medic were able to hold its edges. After each stripe was cut away it was solemnly folded and placed on a bonfire as the scout master said, one by one: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. I’m choked up just writing about this.

For every American ideal that perhaps we all express or feel in our hearts and an American Weltanschauung, I believe there is its shadow archetype. The rugged individual is also the guy who raced to beat the other pioneers to stick a flag in the ground for the Oklahoma land grab. Horatio Alger and his bootstraps became Gordon Geiko in suspenders bragging that greed is good. Don’t Tread On Me became a bumper sticker on a Coal Roller pickup truck spewing pollution as a thumb in the eye of pansy environmentalists.

I love my country. I have always assumed the American Weltanschauung was best expressed by the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, which until I Googled it just now I thought began with the phrase, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Here it is in its entirety.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Red caps that read “Make American Great Again” have been pulled from the long bag we drag behind us, our shadow Weltanschauung, which is the myth that never existed. Being a bully and a braggart, that is in the shadow cast by the powerful. Being a rugged individual, a “maker not a taker” casts the shadow that puts up fence signs that say, “I’ve got mine: private property.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that American Values, our world view as individuals and as a society, is dualistic. For every value there is a counter-value. Animus and Anima are bound together, Jung wrote, so that whatever is suppressed is always there.

The question is, which one do we want at the forefront, and which one do we want to acknowledge but keep in the bag?


*John Locke, a compassionate and thoughtful teacher, in 2000 was murdered his office by a disgruntled PhD student whom he was advising.


This is what Democracy Looks Like

I was there. February 24, 2017 town hall meeting inviting Barbara Comstock. She’s on record saying she won’t go to these because she wants to control the setting. She considers half of her constituents unfriendly. No, Barbara, we object to your positions.

There are moments in your life when a strong emotion wells up, an elation for being alive in the present moment, for bearing witness. The birth of your child. A wedding. Sitting on a folding chair in my first town hall was like that.

Last night, February 24, 2017, VA District 10 Indivisible hosted a town hall for Representative Barbara Comstock who, like most of her Republican colleagues, has ducked such events. I was one of 150 people there to ask questions and better understand our Congresswoman’s positions on topics such as healthcare, immigration, education, the environment, and democracy itself. The event was streamed live for hundreds more. First-hand I witnessed and participated in free speech and free assembly. How did I get to do this? I just showed up. After weeks of reading articles, posting on Facebook, liking friend’s articles, tweeting, I did something in real life, and I showed up.

I feel compelled to do more. With each passing day, this feeling grows.

I wanted to leap out of my chair at the Town Hall. I wanted to run out in the street and flag down passing cars and yell, “Come on, are you with us? We can do this.” How hard is it really to vote in an election, in EVERY election? Not just the ones every four years, but next year’s Virginia elections for governor, Attorney General, and every state delegate? Not everything is as easy as voting. It takes time to learn how our government works, to read bills, to call, call, call on the issues. Not just now, but from now until the day I die. But that’s what I’m going to do.

The catalyst was being there the day of the Woman’s March on Washington, pressed into the crowed of half a million people, a flood of signs, smiles, and pink pussy hats. Last night was gasoline on the fire in my belly. I encourage anyone reading this to keep doing the online stuff, keep calling if you are doing that, but find a way to do something in the world, and make human contact. It. Feels. Good.

I watched the people line up for the microphone, patiently waiting for their turn to speak, to tell their stories and ask their questions. The guy who said he’d never been to a political event in his life, he teared up explaining that he was there because his 5-year-old son’s best friend was born here, but his parents were undocumented and rightly worried. Passionate was the mother who is worried about clean air and water for her kids, for my kids, for all of us. And on an on. Dozens of thoughtful, incredibly articulate people addressed a panel of citizen researchers and activists, and the empty chair and microphone where Barbara Comstock had no excuse for not occupying. We were a respectful crowd, not a mob. It was beautiful. We clapped with every statement and question.

You had to be there to understand the power of the moment (this is what I am telling you), you had to be there, when retired colonel Mike Turner pulled out his pocket-sized constitution and read the Emoluments Clause. “It’s one sentence!” he said, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

I leapt to my feet. So did everybody else. Mike Turner, please run again for congress. I will knock on doors for you. Knocking on doors is on my to-do list. Sending post cards to politicians is on my to-do list. Attending more town halls is on my to-do list. Attending street protests is on my to-do list. Registering new voters is on my to-do list. Driving around on Election Day in 2017 and 2018 (taking that day off) and taking old people and car-less people to the polls is on my to-do list. Yes We Can. Si, se puede!

Read the Washington Post news story.

Where’s Barbara?
Citizens lining up to ask questions. Retired Air Force Colonel Mike Turner at the microphone.
Citizens lining up to ask questions. Retired Air Force Colonel Mike Turner at the microphone.