Is Civility Dead?

I caught a piece of that show, Today, which is on a station I don’t normally watch, and they were running a segment about civility versus rudeness. Today’s installment focuses on the use of technology and how it helps disassociate people from each other, and suggests that this issue compounded with social tensions – especially concerning the economy – is to blame for the endemic rudeness and aggressiveness running throughout American culture. In my own little microcosm, I see many of the same symptoms: drivers who feel they are entitled to the entire road at the expense of safety, students who text during class, students who yell at me for not giving them exceptions to the rule, conservatives who want to boycott necessary taxes for community building… That’s only the Short List.

My gut impulse is to suggest that the best way to combat rudeness is through the Humanities, since obviously parental role models aren’t working (in fact, they simply fuel the fire). Through the Humanities, we can be reminded what it means to be HUMAN, in direct contrast to the science and technological emphasis in modern education. The real sad part is that many schools are killing the Humanities and those that still have a Humanities program stop with Intro, which is painfully just one step away from art history, and really don’t get the point across. (As a side note, I’m now contemplating semester themes to highlight various human issues, but since that will require a major curriculum change, that might be awhile in the works.)

But then I think about it a little further. Aggressiveness is the realm of Ares, technology the realm of Hermes, drunken excess or other substance use to combat the daily tensions of everyday life the ream of Dionysus, and the power games belong to Zeus. I think I now get the whole Goddess movement. I don’t support the Goddess movement as a rebellion against the patriarchal norm, but I do see a lack of female influence in the cultural psyche. Where is Demeter and her connection to our food source? Where is Aphrodite – where is beautiful Aphrodite, I should say. We live under the shadow of Dark Aphrodite, the direct result of the unhealthy relationships Americans have to sex. Hera seems to be on permanent vacation, and Athena isn’t trying hard enough.

I’m not the biggest fan of archetypal psychology, especially when it holds onto the Greco-Roman paradigm, but I’m now curious what archetypes we can introduce back into our society that will finally get the point across on a universal level. Harry Potter and some of my other favorites only hit a portion of the population. The meaning of Disney characters gets lost in the commercialism and analysis falls on deaf ears. We need balanced archetypes. Not just a Jesus, but a Mary Magdalene– maybe this is why she has gained new popularity in recent years – the psyche needs her to balance.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored Buddhism briefly in my classes. To many of my students, the concepts of the Middle Way and Compassion make perfect sense, even though they have no inclination to become practicing Buddhists (which I wholly support, since I think it involves a major lifestyle change that has to be right for the Western individual because it involves a sort of reprogramming of our priorities).

It all goes back to Balance. I think of the Sacred Cow of the Kali Yuga standing on one foot, trying very hard to not topple over. The paradigm shift is coming around the mountain, here she comes…

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