Monday, October 31, 2022

America Haunted

Halloween (as we now know it, in its reinvented 20th-century form) is a somewhat silly, happy holiday. It is all about festivity and fun - with a residual of traditional transgressive behavior, mediated through modernity's ever-present spirit of narcissism, its haunting spirit safely tamed. 

In the fairy tales with which we in my generation grew up, while the ending was usually a happily-ever-after one, the route to that happy ending was strewn with wicked witches and other formidably frightening forces. I remember as a child thinking how lucky we were to live in the present rather than once-upon-a-time when all those wicked witches and dragons and monsters were a regular threat. Of course, as I eventually learned, the witches and monsters were not literally real. But what they represented, the real evils lurking in the world for so much of human history, tormenting human beings and frustrating human hopes, were very real. 

Christianity claimed to have overcome the demonic powers through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and so started the process of disenchanting our experience of nature, which we increasingly aspired to control and tame to meet our increasing needs. Paradoxically now, nature (now completely disenchanted) has been transformed by our efforts to tame it, into an even more threatening apocalyptic monster in the form of humanly unintended but humanly caused climate change.

The Christian concept of Halloween as the celebration of God's triumph over the demonic has been increasingly replaced by a resurgent paganism, in which the demonic is celebrated as benevolent and even fun. Most of us no longer fear literal ghosts. Yet everywhere we are haunted by evil spirits of our own creation, which like nature in the form of climate change, are coming back to haunt us.

America this Halloween is haunted. We are haunted still by zombie ideologies (Reaganism, Marxism) that continue to block us from understanding (let alone responding to) contemporary problems. Way worse, however, we are haunted by our mutual hatreds and the cultural civil war which the worst among us have for decades now been encouraging us to fight. We are haunted by a contrived illusion of an American greatness that has divided us, weakened us, and made us weaker in the eyes of the rest of the world. And we are haunted by our own narcissistic self-absorption which more than anything else separates us from one another and paralyzes the collective action called for to slay the dragons of our day.

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