MythBlast | Revolution of One
This month we in the US celebrate the genesis of our country, marked by the signing of a document establishing the sovereignty of 13 colonies and establishing their collective intention to form an entity unlike any seen before: The United States of America. The mythology of the United States is reflected in its establishing documents, including The Declaration of Independence, wherein the first declaration—and arguably the most essential declaration to America’s core values—states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — Declaration of Independence
Our origin story is one of great vision, established on ideals so revolutionary that the United States was considered a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. Once challenged within its own borders, these ideals proved strong enough to sustain the unity of the country through a civil war. And now, over 150 years have passed without internal threats to the existence of the country. Yet, while unimaginable a decade ago, the word “revolution” has recently emerged in American dialogue. Articles by John Ferling and James Schall, entitled “Forget a new civil war. We need a new American revolution” and “On America’s impending revolution” respectively, are just two examples of a shift in the American zeitgeist.
What, exactly, does revolution mean? An online dictionary describes it as “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.” Synonyms include rebellion, revolt, insurrection, and riot. This may be our most common understanding of the word, but it is also defined as “an instance of revolving,” with synonyms such as turn, cycle, and rotate. While the deep divisions in American politics, communities, and households could lead us to a revolution in the first sense, perhaps the second definition holds the most promise.
America is revolving; it’s on its own monomythic journey that has its people grappling more than ever with the ideals on which it was founded. The exigencies of the world today are challenging our collective mythology in a way we haven’t seen before. We’re questioning how “all men are created equal” applies to women, LGBTQ+ communities, and immigrants. When does Life begin? What is Liberty if your pursuit of Happiness interferes with mine? How are we to move forward if we cannot find common ground on our core ideals?
As Joseph Campbell explains in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “The community today is the planet, not the bounded nation; hence the patterns of projected aggression which formerly served to coordinate the group can only break it into factions” (388). We saw this in play when the USSR faced a similar challenge in 1990. In this context, could we be heading toward a revolution of that kind?
As always, Campbell provides a way forward. He foresaw the shift we find ourselves in today, wherein the existing borders are no longer enough to contain the collective:
The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice , and sanctified misunderstanding. …It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 391)
Today we are called upon to recognize that, individually, we are the change we seek. The power of the individual, not to stand alone but to ignite a web of change, has been a growing mythology throughout the world. Evidence can be seen throughout pop culture; one example is the film Evan Almighty, wherein God asks Evan, “How do we change the world?” Evan replies, “One single act of random kindness at a time.” We see it in the use of social media: one person at a time becomes a catalyst for the creation of global change.
The power of the individual can also be seen in emerging forms of old religions, such as Nichiren Buddhism, which was developed in thirteenth-century Japan but took hold there during World War II and has since spread to 192 countries. It holds as its central tenet that not just the ascetic, but each individual has the creative ability within to overcome any obstacle in our lives and unlock our Buddha Nature, a process called “Human Revolution.”
While we grapple with our great ideals here in the United States, our mythology has left our borders and has become a global mythology. We are called upon to take our place in a web that encircles the planet, not as citizens of the United States, but as the creative heroes in our own lives and in a movement that honors those rights throughout the world. When we fully embrace the power of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as a global ideal, we create a revolution of one: one planet.
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