American Dasein: The USA and Deep Identity in The Multipolar World
“The US is a community of deeply individualistic mystics,” says Alexander Dugin in his Eurasian Mission: An Introduction to Neo-Eurasianism.
We should get something out of the way at the beginning. As a thinker whose ideas have certainly influenced Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dugin is considered a dangerous individual by the US government, as well as by neoconservatives, conservatives, and the Left alike — in other words, by the most influential people in the USA today. The US government has only recently put sanctions on Dugin (he’s the only intellectual to face US sanctions) and radio host Glenn Beck has denounced him as a “one of the most dangerous human beings on the planet today.”
I encourage you to do your own research, and to make up your own mind, but I can say that Dugin explicitly denounces fascism (including Nazism), nationalism, and racism in Eurasian Mission. But here’s where the problems begin as far as the Western establishment goes: Dugin is also strongly opposed to “American liberalism” and the belief that Western values must be exported to every corner of the globe, and — while he believes White nationalists need to drop their racism — he also thinks that dissidents on the Left and Right need to work together to oppose the current global hegemony.
What’s important for Dugin is that cultures and civilizations are allowed to grow organically and to possess different qualities, beliefs, and characteristics. This doesn’t mean that they will be separated. Civilizations should cooperate, and they need not exclude peoples of other civilizations, races, etc. Muslims could live in non-Muslim countries, or Indians in the West, or Westerners in India, for example. But, without getting too technical, it means that there will be an American (or “Atlanticist”) civilization, a Muslim civilization, a European one, an African one, etc., all coming to their own fruition and working together. For Dugin, it will be a “multipolar” world, and not a “unipolar” one in which values currently popular in the USA and its allies are to be exported across the globe regardless of the feelings of other cultures, along, of course, with fast food chains, etc.
But, there’s another America with a “deep identity”: “The American exists by creating his personal god for himself,” says Dugin.
It is a rain that is falling upwards rather than down. This voluntary transcendence serves as a depth that can and should arise out of the banality of the ideology of modernity. It is a kind of secret side of liberalism where its limitations are transcended out of the heroic efforts of absolute loneliness. The US is the only place where such absolute loneliness is possible. To transcend that is obligatory.
As an outsider living in the USA Dugin’s take on the deep metaphysical nature of the nation — glossed over by the contemporary political zeitgeist — reminded me of what I felt when I first arrived there from Britain a couple of decades ago, and that, really, is why I wanted to respond.
As a teenager I was introduced, by a rather bizarre teacher, to the book about violent New York gangs Run Baby Run, as well as to actual murders and suicides in the city in the form of various black and white letter-sized photos. On reflection, such a person should perhaps not have been in charge of children, but, if I recall correctly, he believed this — and church — would save us. I decided that NYC was a cultural desert and gangland, and was surprised, when I arrived there years later, to discover a very different, and far more peaceful and creative place. I would have to say, however, that I feel that NYC is actually a little less creative and less edgy than when I first came to the US, but Dugin’s comments reminded me of a feeling I had at that time.
What struck me on arriving in the US was the interest in and presence of other cultures, especially in relation to spirituality. Spiritual, New Age and occult centers (or at least bookstores) existed and seemed relatively vibrant. Religion was also far more important than in England, whether that was Christianity, Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism, or something else. There was (and of course still is) a big Chinatown, where Chinese was spoken (London’s is tiny). I practiced Kung fu in the early morning at a park in Chinatown and went for tea at a Chinese place afterward; I went to read in a French cafe that was always empty and the owners were actually French; I went to the spiritual and occult bookstores; to the museums, to Japanese events with my Japanese friends; and so on. Moving to the US, my life was steeped much more consciously in the archaic and the “Traditional” than in the much older culture of England.
Capitalism, of course, always seizes on what is different and exciting, and repackages it for the mainstream, often destroying the culture-creating roots as a consequence. But, if we leave aside this aspect, and get back to the people, America’s history is one with as much depth as anywhere else. Indeed, while Britain and Europe ape the most crass aspects of the USA, Americans often look to something more integral.
There are a few qualities worth mentioning:
Exploration of new spaces
Perhaps the most American thing I’ve ever done was leave England for the USA, a country with much less government support for individuals, but, so far, more freedom to become oneself.
Americans and Europeans use two words differently that makes understanding each other very difficult. For Americans “ancient” is a century old, for Europeans it’s a thousand. But when Europeans think of a hundred miles it’s almost an impossible journey. For an American it’s a few hours drive.
America is vast. The country of Belgian has the about the same population as Manhattan. The deep American psyche is one, partly, of exploring the vastness or “infinite space,” to use Jean Gebser‘s term.
"You can't serve God and Mammon": Clint Eastwood as a mysterious preacher who appears in a small town and fights against a corrupt mining corporation. The title of the movie is a reference to The Book of Revelation: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him."
Still from the 1985 move Pale Rider.
Fraternalism and tribalism
While independence and freedom have always been hallmarks of the American experience, the creation of communities is another aspect, whether those communities are fraternities, communes, music and subcultural festivals, or artistic “happenings.”
At the time of the War of Independence, the fraternity of Freemasonry was a very significant factor in the life of men in Europe and the USA, and would become more increasingly important elsewhere. Though often regarded as a secret society with the keys to power, due to the first US president George Washington as well as a number of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence being Freemasons, it is generally overlooked that these were rebels who would have been hung for treason if they had lost. Washington advocated Freemasonry during the war, not for social climbing, but because he believed it instilled a sense of morals and ethics that were necessary for men of leadership.
After the war, Masonic symbols became a part of American culture, and were sewn into quilts by wives, and etched into walking canes by men. Other fraternities emerged, such as the Odd Fellows and Knights of Pythias.
Isolated religious movements, such as the Quakers and Mormons, appeared. During the twentieth century, they emerged in the form of self-sufficient Hippie communes, artists’ colonies, gangs, anarchist communes, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Burning Man, and — dare I say it? — of course social media groups.
It is no surprise to me that New York Times bestselling author Seth Godin is enthusing about how the new economy will be based on “tribes.” Tribes are part of the American DNA and they are part of the American future.
Independence and rebellion against external authority
Founded by revolutionaries, rebellion lies at the foundation of the country, and is embodied in the Constitution, in, for example, the first amendment’s prohibition on the government restricting speech or impeding the practice of religion. Relatively more freedom of expression in the US has been a factor in innovation, in terms of science, art, and culture, especially subculture — from break dance and Hip Hop to punk or proto-punk (e.g., the Ramones and Patti Smith).
Religion and spirituality
Leaving aside political correctness (which seeks to turn all religions into political clients, robbing them of their essential nature), the USA was, from the beginning, a refuge for religious renegades. Partly because of immigration, religion has remained important (immigrant societies are religious societies), and practicing religion or spirituality is more important in the USA than in, for example, largely secular Britain — a country with a much longer history and an established Church.
Among young people, in particular, we find an interest in Buddhism, meditation, yoga, etc., and several pundits have claimed in recent years that Americans are becoming “more like Hindus” than Christians, with the increasing acceptance of different religions as equal and valid. The roots of this shift in consciousness go further back, however, into 19th century Germany, where vegetarianism, sun worship, and yoga were popular in the so-called Wandervogel movement. Some of the more important figures in the movement later moved to Los Angeles, and laid the foundation for the Hippie movement.
Attachments to old continents
As such, the connection to ancient civilization is more important for many Americans than for many Europeans, who ignore even their own history. Not only have I found Americans more interested in their own family histories than Britons, but they want to connect to ancient civilizations, hence their interest in the Mayans, and, to some degree, in Buddhism, paganism, in Israel (for Evangelical Christians), and so on.
While this can be a kind of mental and emotional tourism, choosing what’s easy and what flatters the vanity, it means, nevertheless, that for more thinking Americans antiquity and tradition is important, even if America does not embody it. Hence, Americans either choose or invent tradition, from religious literalism to experimenting with psychedelic drugs as part of some New Age type religious movements.
Death: transcendent unity of self and landscape
Dugin sees another possibility for the discovery of an American “deep identity” in the confrontation of death. It is not insignificant, in my view, that Freemasonry places a great deal of emphasis on mortality, and reorients the initiate, so that his life is — to invoke Heidegger — a kind of “being toward death.” That is, he keeps his mortality in view, understands that his life is a journey toward it, and through it, to Deity.
Washington and other significant Americans, who were Freemasons, would have understood this. But, with the relative decline of fraternalism — as well as the trivialization of death as part of popular entertainment and referred to as “collateral damage” by the military — the American has replaced death with expansiveness. It is the landscape — often empty of landmarks — that reminds him of the vastness of being that is outside of him, and that he is, in other words, tiny in comparison to the universe.
Three examples of expansiveness in culture:
At the beginning of the 1969 movie Easy Rider one of the characters, Wyatt, takes off his watch and throws it to the ground. In the vastness, there is no time, no Hegelian teleological end point, and no Christian movement toward the “end of days.” There is only a mystic, Zen timelessness, in which life and death coexist. Hence Wyatt has glimpses of his own death days before it occurs.
In Pale Rider (1985) a mysterious figure appears out of the landscape to protect a small town from a corrupt mining corporation. Played by Clint Eastwood, the man on horseback turns out to be a preacher who deals out justice with a gun, exclaiming “you can’t serve God and Mammon.” Notably, the title of the movie is a reference to The Book of Revelation: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” The preacher is an ascetic, or a kind of mystic or gnostic warrior who draws from the landscape and the absence of civilization.
Again, we encounter this vastness in American Beauty (1999) in a suburban setting. Ricky Fitts, a cannabis dealer, shows his girlfriend a movie he has shot of a plastic bag being whisked about in the air, and tells her that as he watched it he realized there was a force behind everything and that “there was no need to be afraid.” “Sometimes,” he says, “there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it and my heart is just going to cave in.” It is a gnostic experience.
In its worst sense the replacement of vastness for death manifests as invasions of foreign countries, the building of skyscrapers, and so on, trophy hunting, etc., and at its best it is a going into the landscape and nature (e.g., Burning Man; neo-paganism; exploring how to harness renewable energy, etc.), going deeply into social, political, and cultural ideas, and into spirituality (meditation, etc.)
Exporting its most modern values and commercial culture everywhere, it is easy to think of the USA as a materialistic and hyper-modern state that elevates the trivial and the popular. Certainly this is how many in the world see it. But this does not reflect many of the American people or the history of the USA, which detached itself from an empire (the British Empire) to govern itself according to a Constitution that enshrined independence from government.
The American spirit, hidden beneath crass commercialization and superficiality, has several aspects:
(1) The will to go into the unknown, both in terms of the landscape and nature and in terms of ideas, art, and culture. (2) Fraternalism and tribalism: The creation of communities of like-minded people. (3) The will to live and prosper outside of the mainstream. Independent, creative thinking. (4) Spirituality, religion, and mysticism. And (5) a sense of rediscovering the archaic through all of the above.