“A lost coin is found by means of a candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story.”
– Anthony De Mello
“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way.”
– Flannery O’Connor
“The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, I smell it in the air.”
That we are living in difficult times is beyond question. Daily, human societies around the world are suffering the devastating consequences of our callous indifference to balances in the natural world while narrow minded greed-above-all-other-values thinking has elected a party in the most powerful nation on Earth that is determined to inflict the same destructive mentality on human societies as well. All the while, a mad man, elected by a farcical and corrupt electoral system, has gained access to the world’s largest, most deadly stockpile of nuclear, conventional and cyber weapons. Daily he struts his new weapons as though the mega death and destruction they would release if launched is no more serious a concern than the absurd comedies of another of his World Wrestling Entertainment bouts.
This could all be depressing, very depressing. In fact, I’ve heard numerous people saying just that—it’s all very stressing and depressing; it is difficult, at best, to feel optimistic about our future these days. It is unfortunate that it is so easy to forget that humanities darkest hours often give rise to our our greatest sense of the need to take in brighter horizons than the enveloping darkness of human greed and brutality. Most of humanity’s brightest hopes for a better world arise in the stories of hope and insight that arise from looking into the dark with our eyes open.
Today I want to share with you my own perceptions that– despite the denials of J.R. R. Tolkien that there is any metaphorical meaning in The Lord of the Rings—this deeply imagined, intricate tale of the woes and triumphs of Middle Earth does, in fact, offer a glimpse into our human character and human society that could offer us reason (insight) to believe that Donald Trump may yet play a profound role in the evolution of a just, equitable, environmentally sensitive humanity.
As you could justifiably argue, there isn’t much basis for such an argument in the news these days. The news is pretty much all doom , gloom, greed and arrogant indifference to people and planet. But, the news is just one—heavily massaged–dimension of human society and our human capacity for change. I want to turn, for a moment, away from the news and look deeply into the story that our stories tell about who we really are and about our immense capacity for insight, compassion, and change. Our stories seem to tell us, over and over, that out of our darkest hour, a new vision is born—or reborn. Stories seem to reach down into the darkest night of the soul and reawaken a light, a dream, of who we could be. Stories, like The Lord of the Rings, which I want to look at, seem to reach down to a level of consciousness that is greater and more meaningful than even the conscious intentions of the purveyor of the story. Just as a dream can reach down into the unconscious memories and perceptions of the dreamer to come up with understandings and perceptions that are inaccessible to the dreamer while conscious, so our stories are like our collective dreams. Stories are rooted in the fullness of life and may help counterbalance our culturally determined conceptions and misconceptions. To understand the meanings and insights our stories may bring we have to be ready to accept that the story is a pattern that has meaning in the pattern rather than in the precise wording. We have to be prepared to accept that the meaning is so deep and entrained that looking for the particulars often obscures the meaning/the underlying pattern. Only by opening our heart, our senses, our intuition, our connectedness to all people/even to all life can we begin to understand the insights that our stories bring us.
Let’s look at Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and see if looking at it as a story (a pattern of beingness) about our human condition can provide us with any insights that help us understand the absurdity that is human civilization 2017. Could Tolkien’s journey into creative consciousness provide us with any insight to what is happening today; and what might it tell us about ourselves and our future?
The Lord of the Rings is likely the most read story of our times. Could it be that the story is so widely read because it connects with our unconscious perceptions about the sorry state of our human occupation of the Earth and tells us, not just about the troubles that beset us, but about the actions we must take to shake off this curse of a greed so blind that it hides from us any understanding of a path to a more just and sustainable world?
In this epic story Tolkien describes a time—Middle Earth—where Sauron, Lord of Mordor, has brought an ever spreading darkness of unfettered greed and cruelty to all the land.
It is pretty hard to not, at least, wonder if ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a prophetic vision of our present tumultuous times when war, violence, greed, hatred and destruction threaten to envelop us in darkness.
Sauron is seeking to reclaim the lost ring that will give him absolute power over all of Middle Earth…”One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”–Inscription on the Ring of Power.
Because Gandalf, the wise, recognizes that the powerful ring will corrupt almost anyone who wears it, he selects a humble hobbit to take the ring on a long journey to cast the ring back into the fire from which it was forged—the only way it can be so utterly destroyed that men corrupted by the lust for power cannot retrieve it in order to expand their endless greed—and cruelty. So the humble Hobbits, selected by Gandalf, the Wise, set off on a perilous journey to cast the ring back into the fire. Along the way they encounter many obstacles but remain true to the task of saving the Earth from conquest by the forces of evil.
The thing that fascinates and absorbs my thoughts is that not only must the ring be cast into the fire by the least greedy of all beings but that, at the last moment—on the verge of casting the ring back into the fires of Mount Doom, even the least greedy, the pick of Gandalf the Wise, succumbs and is about to claim the ring and its powers for himself when Gollum, the disfigured, debased creature that has followed the Hobbits hoping to reclaim the ring for himself, pops up, and in the struggle to wrest the ring from Frodo, Gollum stumbles and takes the ring with him back into the fires from which it was forged—where he and the Ring are destroyed. Throughout the story, Gollum was torn between his lust for the Ring and his desire to be free of it. In many ways he played the role of a fool controlled by a fate he couldn’t escape. But, in the end, he is used by fate to bring an end to the all encompassing greed and destruction that threatened to overrun Middle Earth.
Wow! That is just too rich an allegory to let it go by as simply an entertaining tale. Just like our dreams can bring back wisdoms from the depth of consciousness that as conscious beings we would never discern, so powerful story images from humanity’s collective unconscious can bring up content that is so powerful it can only be conveyed in story (which to me is our collective dreaming).
When I let my imagination run, I see a rather close resemblance between Trump and Gollum. Both are utterly owned and operated by their glimpse of having absolute power. Both seem tortured beings. Trump’s grimaces and his obvious struggles with an ego that is eternally in danger of cracking and exposing the substanceless content beyond remind me of Gollum slinking along muttering to himself about his lost “my precious.” Clearly Trump’s attack on the ‘IQ” of others is a projected reflection of his deep worry that he doesn’t have any.
The thing that really fascinates and moves me is the allegory behind the casting the ring back into the fire–it was only the incidental greed of a slimy, ego obsessed creature that could actually get the ring back into the fire from wince it came. One thing we can be sure of is that Hillary Clinton was not going to cast the ring back into the fire. She was going to put on the ring and “bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” Trump doesn’t want to give up the ring but he doesn’t wear it well. What he thinks hides his slimy tricks and intentions actually reveals not only himself but—metaphorically–lays bare the utter destructiveness of capitalism. When we see the way that capitalism corrupts everything it comes in contact with, it isn’t much of a leap to see this pernicious view of our relation to other people and to our Earth is a very good fit for the “one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” No matter how much one plays with the image of capitalism, the core truth is that it is the one ring that usurps everything and transforms it to utility value—the one ring that will bring all other values to the fires of greed and “in the darkness bind them.” You only have to look at Canadian politics and see how once the ring of power was on his hand Trudeau began pandering after the pipelines. Trudeau has become just a pretty mask over the ugly faces that seek to consume our Earth.
Ironically, Trump has lusted after the ring of power for a very long time. He wouldn’t know how to begin to pretend he cared for people or any part of our Earth that he couldn’t convert to money–if he still had the desire to even pretend. But he doesn’t. My gosh, he appointed Rex Tillerson, Earth frying oil executive, as Secretary of State and Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education—in charge of the Education system she openly seeks to destroy! For Trump there is no truth or lies; there is only Trump’s ego and his desire to make more money; truth has nothing to do with it. The only Truth in the Trump administration is that the truth is irrelevant to the unmitigated effort to make money in consuming our Earth and enslaving its people to serving the interests of a wealthy few.
But remember Gollum. Trump may well have a really important role in saving our Earth and its peoples. Perhaps Trump with his Gollum-like– undisguised lust for the ring of absolute greed and domination may well make the ultimate goals of capitalism so utterly obvious that humanity will turn from it; will cast capitalism–the one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them—back into the destructive fires from wince it came–and go and pattern our human endeavors on an understanding that is based on the well being of our Earth and of its peoples.
Clearly, the American empire is coming to an end. As Chris Hedges observes in his recent End of Empire Commondreams.org essay, “The U.S. economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia. Overseeing this descent at the highest levels of the federal and state governments is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and warmongering generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too…Presidential tweets and rhetoric celebrate hate, racism and bigotry and taunt the weak and the vulnerable…The brutality abroad is matched by a growing brutality at home. Militarized police gun down mostly unarmed, poor people of color and fill a system of penitentiaries.”
The American empire is coming to an end. With Trump in the White House there is no one to give this hideous misappropriation of power a human face. It stands naked before all to see its inherently destructive character—even without the hurricanes and wild fires that have come to make obvious the farce of climate change denial. Daily assassinations have become the calling card of a nation that once claimed to champion human rights.
Trump didn’t create all the now obvious failings of capitalism American styled, he is just the slimy creature that makes its inherent destructiveness obvious for all to see. He is just the one who will strip it of all its pretenses—hopefully in time for the people of the Earth to cast it back into the fires of greed from wince it came.
“ My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before this is over.”
–Gandalf’s instructions to Frodo at the foot of Modor.
When asked about Frodo’s exhaustive efforts to destroy the ring despite so many set backs, Tolkien, rather uncharacteristically replied: “That seems more like an allegory of the human race. I’ve always been impressed that we’re here surviving because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds.” Was he paraphrasing Margaret Mead?
Hold on. Fasten your seatbelt securely. It is going to be a wild ride, but we ARE going to win; unless, of course, the idiot does get to use his new nuclear toys.