This is my first political comment. When I started this i thought how one of the areas I might want to get into would be politics, or rather punditry. Punditry has long been one of my fantasy careers, along with astronomer, architect, archaeologist, sorceress, political operative (if they ever have a reality tv show for running a presidential campaign, I’d sign up), and rabbi.
Apparently, I’m not alone in fantasizing having my own political column. On a recent radio show about the media the panel mentioned how editors are constantly receiving applications for columnist.
So, since I have about 5 times as many writing projects in my head as I have time to do, I probably will keep my political observations down to an occasional commentary right here.
This first one is odd, in that I might call it an esoteric political commentary (how many of those have you seen in The New York Times?). It was occasioned by a discussion on Exoteric-L, my favorite hangout listserve. Exo, as we call it, was started by refugees from a SERIOUS Tarot discussion group, where we tended to get in trouble for not staying on topic.
In the way of such things, Exo has gotten political lately. Recently, my friend Zoe Matoff referred to the United States as a “thought form.”
At first I thought of a flippant reply. Then I thought of simply asking what thought form she thought the U.S. represented. From that came a long reply, which I give below, with some editing.
What is the United States a thought form of?
Is The United States a collective form of all its inhabitants, or just some?
It often strikes me that conservatives tend to win because they believe that the United States belongs to them, they own the thought form. When Clinton got elected part of the uproar was an affront to what had come to seem a natural law. Liberals tend to feel alienated, tend at a subconscious level to agree that they are on the outside, and so they somehow expect to lose. They do not believe that they own the thought form.
On the other hand, the United States has enjoyed a special status in much of the world by promoting the idea that it is a (or maybe the) thought form of Liberty.
Some continue to defend whatever the U.S. does primarily on this basis. This is the doctrine of American “exceptionalism”–when we invade countries we do so for good and noble purposes. We do good by definition, not evidence.
Others are outraged that the U.S. seemingly has betrayed the ideal that supposedly produced it. As the thought form of Liberty, the United States should be better than the rest of the world.
Personally, I believe that the United States was built on 3 pillars, of which the most prominent is undercut by the other two, but also hides the other two.
That prominent one is personal liberty and the chance for individual people to create their own destiny. The other two are slavery and genocide (whether deliberate or de facto). To some extent, the first is a thought form while the other two are economic and political realities. For many, the thought form has the most power.
My rabbi, Jonathan Kligler of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, once suggested to me that sometimes a document states an ideal that is actually beyond the reality of its people, even the person or people stating it. But then the ideal takes on its own power and people strive to make it real. This is part of what we mean by a thought form.
He gave as an example the Declaration of Independence. Its principal author, Thomas Jefferson, certainly did not live up to the statement “All men are created equal.” Clearly, he did not actually believe this. If he did, owning other human beings would have been impossible, not simply uncomfortable.
And yet, once the statement had been made it became something that the country has tried, intermittently, to strive towards. Thought forms can have that kind of power. To a large extent, the Civil Rights movement gained its moral authority from the thought form created by “All men are created equal.”
But there is a shadow side to such forms. People come to believe that it is reality, and therefore any negative facts are either trivial, or do not even exist.
They believe that America and liberty and virtue are all the same thing, and anything that America does must be by definition good and noble and idealistic. Instead of striving to make the thought form real we assume it already is. A lot of terrible things can happen when a thought form displaces reality.