Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chickens in Hawks' Clothing

A thing that I find both curious and disturbing is that fact the United States really has no mythology, in the sense of many well-known, established stories that are both entertaining and educating. Cultures that have endured for thousands of years always have these ritual mythological stories: the Greeks and the Romans, for two examples. Even today, people still know the Greek myths and fables: Hercules, Apollo, Aesop.

American culture is dizzily all over the map when it comes to what passes for its myths. About the only two "myths" I can remember as a child are Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. Hardly any kids these days know those stories, which aren't even myths. They're not bad stories, but they're really about the American "can do anything" spirit more than anything else.

There are a lot of things that can almost classify as myth, but not quite. Bugs Bunny, the American version of the Trickster archetype, is one. He is a mythic archetype, but he's a cartoon, one for children. He is both entertaining and educating: he teaches us it doesn't pay to hate people, and it's best to outsmart those who are stronger than we are. But the cartoons are lightweight, almost evanescent. How many people can remember any of the plots?

There are others: Homer Simpson, the distilled essence of a dysfunctional middle-class family with a lower-class mentality. The X-Files, those tales of American paranoia about non-existent conspiracies. Ward and June Cleaver, Andy Griffith, Archie Bunker, Beavis and Butthead, that eternal innocent child Spongebob Squarepants.

All of entertaining, some are disgraceful, some are entertaining and educating, but none have achieved the status of a legitimate American myth. Some, thankfully, never will. Yet without mythic stories, I wonder if America can be at its best? So far it doesn't look so good. Look at it this way: in a little over two hundred years the citizenry has gone from one that completely and correctly distrusted that ever-growing, overbearing monstrosity known as government to one that sees that same government as a teat from which all goodness flows: jobs, education, welfare, health.

How did all of this degradation happen in such a short time? One reason, and maybe the most important: we don't really have any shared mythic stories, and the rituals and rites that go along with them. The closest would be Christmas and Halloween, and they're consistently under dishonest and deranged attack, especially, these days, Christmas. Both holidays are full of mythic stories, of rituals and rites and symbols. Yet they are losing their power, because of those attacks. And since culture is a shared continuity, I find it no surprise at all that America has changed so quickly, and not always for the better, because of the dimming, and fading away, of those mythic rituals and rites and symbols.

We should never reject anything just because some consider it "old" or "obsolete." Plato wrote, "Any change except to eliminate an evil, is an evil." Be careful about overthrowing tradition, symbols, myth, rites and rituals. If we give up the good stories, they can, and perhaps always will, end up replaced by rap, or Keynesian economics, or Freudian psychology, or Dawkinsesque evolution. Neither will America be held together by foreign fables about the Holocaust or Cinco de Mayo. All, for Americans are houses built on sand.

What common stories existed at the beginning of this country are now just vague memories. Some of them are not only false but comically false: George Washington refusing to lie about chopping down a cherry tree. Others are just out-and-lies to the point of obscenity: Lincoln as a saint.

There are, however, two genuine myths that have taken root in the last few years. Both are right on the money, both are known by everyone, and both are political. One is the myth of the Chickenhawk, and the other is the myth of the Sheeple. Both illustrate how widespread and penetrating are the tentacles of politics in American life.

Both stories illustrate the fact that true, enduring myths often use animals to symbolize humans. Be it Aesop's Fables, or Greek hybrids such as the Minotaur and Pan, or fairy tales, or the parables of Jesus, the animals in these stories are illustrations of the strengths and weaknesses of humanity. Most especially of the weaknesses.

I've concluded the reason for this use of animals is that it makes the stories easily understood. When Jesus spoke of some people being "wolves" and others being "sheep," as in "wolves in sheeps' clothing," everyone knows exactly what he meant without any detailed explanation.

Let's look at the Chickenhawk myth first. A chickenhawk is in reality a raptor that preys on other birds (or a pedophile/pederast who targets young boys), but it has taken on the modern-day mythic meaning of "I'll rabidly support unnecessary (and endless) wars while absolutely refusing to fight in any of them." In a sentence, the Chickenhawk is a abject coward who will not risk his life in war under any circumstances, but insists others do so.

This is a new myth, one I've never seen before. Chickenhawks don't exist in any fictional story I'm familiar with, except Henery Hawk, who was a cartoon chickenhawk best known for trying to drag Foghorn Leghorn to the broiler by his big toe. Henery was blustery, but he was no coward.

People being what they are, some must have existed as Chickenhawks in the past, but I suspect people shamed them into silence, clearly perceiving their cowardice. Yet today some cannot see them for what they are, and, astonishingly, even support them. What magic has blinded some people into being unable to see blatant cowardice? Bread and circuses, perhaps? That hynotic Cyclops known as the TV? An unwarranted, indeed very dangerous faith in government? Those, I'm sure, and others.

I like to call Chickenhawks "chickens in hawks' clothing." This makes sense, because chickens are loud, squawking birds, always running around in circles, and to imagine them in hawks' clothing is a discontinuity that brings laughter. "Chickens in hawks' clothing" is just an expansion of "Chickenhawk." They're chickens through and though, but clumsily mask themselves as hawks.

The Chickenhawk archetype is now permanently part of American culture. The word has evolved beyond having anything to do with the real bird, or Henery Hawk, or sexual predators. It has now achieved the status of a new myth. That means it's not going to change for a long, long time. It has become a shared story about the culture, one both educating and entertaining.

The Chickenhawk archetype does have some antecedents. It's related to the Greek God of War, Ares. There is one big difference: Ares, while he loved war and was a coward, personally fought in battle. Today, Chickenhawks love war, are cowards, but won't fight. They are a truly degraded specimen of Ares. Such men, in the past, in certain war-like cultures, were killed as cowards.

Mythologically, they're also related to Narcissus, who could see only himself. Chickenhawks, too, can only see themselves; other people, especially soldiers, are mere pawns, ones not truly human, to be sacrified in war. They also follow the old Greek story of Hubris followed by Nemesis: the overweening arrogance in which evil appears as good, to be followed by a tragic collapse.

The portmanteau "Sheeple" is a fusion of the word "sheep" and "people." You can call them "sheep in people's clothing." I don't know who created the word, but it is a perfect description of the herd, one comprising people who are convinced they know the facts, but don't. They generally don't wake up until the wolves among them and chewing on their gizzards. Even then, some never do awaken. Such is the power of self-deception, and group-think.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of a problem, although it's a humorous one. That problem's name is Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto, who as a political economist is an essential read, dived rulers into two kinds: the Foxes, who use persuasion (or more correctly, fraud, manipulation and lies) and the Lions, who use force. The inert, easily-led masses of people are Sheep (in modern terms, "Sheeple"). About the Sheeple, Pareto wrote, "Whoever becomes a sheep will find a wolf to eat him."

There is not the slightest bit of Lion in any Chickenhawk, although they like to pretend that's what they really are in their hearts, and desperately try to con the public into believing them. Instead they are Foxes, ones who use propaganda and lies. So now we are stuck in the quandry of the Chickenhawk being a subset of Foxes. That, of course, doesn't make any logical sense. But then, mythic and symbolic images don't necessarily have to make much "logical" sense.

We're also stuck with the fact that the Sheeple can also be Chickenhawks.

Here are the names of some modern-day, well-known Chickenhawks:

Rush Limbaugh

William Bennett

William Kristol

John Podhoretz

Richard Perle

Paul Wolfowitz

Douglas Feith

Max Boot

Jonah Goldberg

Benjamin Shapiro

David Frum

I would like to see Frum's name applied to the Chickenhawk archetype, as in "He's a Frum," but this is just an idle fantasy of mine. It's not going to happen, although I am truly fond of the image of a chicken with Frum's head (hideous haircut and all) on top of it. It would fit: here's a man (and I use the term loosely) whom the writer Jerry Pournelle always refers to as "the egregious Frum," and whom The American Conservative's Taki said was always creeping up behind people like Uriah Heep.

No one on the list is any better than the anti-American, leftist "neo-conservative" Frum (who is not American but Canadian), although I doubt any are worse.

Chickenhawks are more than just cowards. They are also bullies, although they're always intellectual bullies who hide behind their keyboards and fling libels at people. But actually being lions? That will never happen. You can bet the house on that, or your car, or your shoes, or anything else you own.

There are some other characteristics that define the Chickenhawk, besides their overwhelming cowardice and hubris: their belief in their intellectual and moral superiority over everyone; the lust for attention and political power over all, and their desire to destroy. Mythologically, they fit the exact archetype of Satan. Demonic Chickenhawks, you could say, although this makes the taxonomic fit with Pareto even more distressing.

Hubris-ridden, cowardly little Satans...four words to describe all Chickenhawks.

The Chickenhawk archetype has achieved such power that those to whom it applies have attacked it viciously. Chickenhawks such as the egregious Frum and Jonah "My Mommy Got Me My Job" Goldberg have insisted it is a false description, claiming that it isn't necessary to see combat to lead a nation in war.

They, and other Chickenhawks like them, completely ignore the fact a Chickenhawk is someone who believes in unnecessary, endless wars. They also ignore, because they do not understand and will never believe, the inherent cowardice and hubris inherent in being a Chickenhawk.

I find this new Chickenhawk archetype disturbing, because, as far as I can tell, it has never existed before, at least not as one with a name besides "coward."

While Pareto spoke of the Circulation of the Elites, in which the Foxes and Lions changed places, he never wrote of anything like the Chickenhawk. And Chickenhawks, these days, have gained political power. And how the hell did that happen?

This is a very bad thing for the United States, when its foreign policy is influenced by liars and cowards who want to start wide-ranging -- and utterly unnecessary -- wars. They are Chickenhawks leading the Sheeple -- the blind leading the blind, right over a cliff.

Since the Chickenhawks are a subset of the Foxes, this means in the next Circulation of the Elites, we're looking at the Lions taking over, i.e., the military. Is that where hubris will lead Chickenhawks And the Sheeple who believe them?

Perhaps this won't happen. I pray that it doesn't. As always, it depends on the Sheeple waking from their torpor in time. If it does happen, it will be as it always has been in the past: right when they Sheeple are teetering on the edge of the cliff, with their toes sticking over, looking down and realizing it's long, long way down to that rocky bottom.

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