Sunday, April 06, 2008

Myth and Violence Conference

Anne and I spent Friday and Saturday at the Myth and Violence Conference in Santa Barbara. This is the annual Myth conference organized by The Foundation of Mythological Studies and co-sponsored by Pacifica Graduate Institute and Spring Journal. The conference does continue through today, but we both needed today off as we'd already taken in a lot in the first two days.

If you don't see the connection between myth and violence, consider that most of the world's conflicts right now have a religious basis, which means people are at war over their mythologies.

Highlights were Chris Hedges, who spoke intelligently and eloquently about his experiences as a war correspondent for the NY Times, spending 20 years reporting armed conflict around the globe. Having an MDiv from Harvard Divinity School (though never ordained) has also given him the perspective of a religion scholar and his two latest works, American Fascists and I Don't Believe in Atheists has earned him the sharp enmity of both the New Religious Right and the New Atheists (he writes that both groups have developed a fascist ideology that threatens American democracy). It's important to note that the New Religious Right is a Christian group that the U.S. hasn't seen before -- they aren't the current Evangelicals or Fundamentalists we are used to, these are Dominionists, who are working for one goal: a completely Christian Government in the US (the Bible would be the basis of our legal system, etc....). Scary stuff.

Sarah Hussain, a Pakastani-American poet read some of her works. Very powerful and moving. She has also edited an anthology called Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality.

Psychoanalyst and religions scholar Lionel Corbett talked about the spiritual roots of war. He also psychoanalyzed GW Bush for a bit, noting that with only a couple of exceptions, all American Presidents had terrible childhoods (fearful, abusive parent, abandoned, etc...). Corbett suggested that a President who is so willing to go to war is enacting a revenge scenario to compensate for such a childhood.

Psychoanalyst and Pacifica faculty member Aaron Kipnis talked about the Psychopathic Nation, describing symptoms that sound very much like the current state of the U.S. He described six stages to a psychopathic society:

1. There is a positive regard for each others' differences.
2. An "other" is created. Differences are articulated and highlighted.
3. The dominant view thinks the "other" might be dangerous (pathologize the "other").
4. Dominant group is afraid of minority and isolates them. Creates gulags.
5. Bridges are destroyed (between the groups).
6. The holocaust stage -- penetrates the gulags and genocide takes place.
We were left to contemplate at what stage the U.S. has achieved so far.

We both attended sessions on juvenile offenders, violence in American society, violence in Japanese society, prison issues, the war in Iraq, America's Titanic Complex, the Jonesboro, Arkansas school shooting (1995), experiences in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, scapegoating and American violence, psychopathy and training of American soldiers, and non-violent struggle.

There was a lot to consider and think about, taking today off seemed prudent.


mizzmyth said...

Thanks for the post about the Myth and Violence conference. It appears that it was highly informative, but I am wondering what the various presenters elucidated as what they saw as the mythology of violence. Also, I realize your post was a highlight, but it also appears as though the conference did not focus on the massive, pervasive, extraordinarily long-term and still present violence toward humanity's historic Other - women.

Chris said...

There is a full list of presentations at (I couldn't find a link to this page directly from the FMS site, so I Googled around a bit).

There were three parallel presentations going on simultaneously (outside of the plenary speakers) and there were quite a number of presentations about women and violence, but it was not the specific focus of the conference.

Spring Journal will be publishing an issue with proceedings from this conference later this year.