An interesting interview with James Hillman appeared in Huffington Post last month. In "America and the Shift in Ages," Hillman talks about the decay of American mythologies like the myth of American exceptionalism, futurism, and Christianity. The mighty efforts underway to preserve these myths (ie, fundamentalist thinking) is proof, Hillman says, of their lack of vitality.
Hillman is a stimulating thinker and important source for my own work and I encourage you to check out the whole interview. But I want to pull out this one bit on freedom because it relates to our current conversation about earned character.
Hillman: One would have to think about what needs to die in this culture; what attachments need to slip away, such as white supremacy, male supremacy, and the sense that we are the really "good people." America has a certain hubris about its virtue. Another thing would be our "unanalyzed" understanding of the word freedom. Probably one of the striking things in the dying of your father was his dependence on help, like nursing homes and nurses and crutches -- yet out of his lack of freedom arose another kind of freedom.
(Interviewer) Pythia: My father was particularly stubbornly American in that regard. He wouldn't even go into a hospital because then he wouldn't be "free" to smoke or drink. But you seem to be saying that as we lose one kind of freedom, there arises the possibility of another kind of freedom.
Hillman: I'm saying that we haven't thought about the idea of freedom enough. It needs to be internalized as an inner freedom from "demand" itself: the kind of freedom that comes when you're free from those compulsions to have and to own and to be someone. For example, think of the kind of freedom that (South African president) Nelson Mandela must have experienced when he was imprisoned. He completely lost his freedom in the outer world, yet he found freedom within. That's an example that broadens our current limited idea of freedom: that I can do any goddamn thing I want on my property; that I am my own boss and don't want government interference; that I don't want anybody telling me what I can and can't do; that we've had too much regulation, and so on. This is the freedom of a teenage boy.
Our definition of freedom is at the heart of our political divisions. The Tea Partyer's, for example, have merely thrown the issue into sharper relief. Feedom is also the central challenge and opportunity in the quest for earned character. The freedom that you grant yourself is connected to your self-definition and way of living; it reflects your highest values. Sometimes willingly obligating oneself is the path to personal freedom. More on this in the next post...