#247 – The Myth of American Innocence with Barry Spector


Barry Spector is a Harvard grauduate who writes about American history and politics from the perspectives of myth, indigenous traditions and archetypal psychology. He has published three articles in Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche and is the author of the 2010 book, Madness At The Gates Of The City: The Myth Of American Innocence. (www.madnessatthegates.com)

Barry’s essays can be found on his website, www.barryandmayaspector.com.

Barry and his wife Maya have performed in The Great Night of Rumi, Rumi’s Caravan and The Great Night of Soul Poetry, regular celebrations of recited poetry and music, for many years. To hear them and others reciting poetry, see http://dzola.com/berkeley_poetry_hear.asp. These events, held in the San Francisco Bay Area, attract audiences in the hundreds. Although not a poet himself, he feels that the revival of spoken poetry and storytelling is a key to cultural renewal. He and Maya also present Oral Traditions Poetry Salons at their home (the only rule is no reading!) and conduct an annual Day of the Dead grief ritual in early November. Bay Area residents are encouraged to email him to get on his mailing list for these events. Barry runs a furniture moving company, but he would rather move your soul.

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A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.



  1. John Knight
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    My goodness, I’ve never heard these thoughts from an American (excluding unbalanced, rabidly anti-authoritarian types of course), and in so much more succinct detail than independent foreign observers. Like any powerful nation, the culture is founded on some strong central dogmas, and for Barry to have run such an analysis shows an incredible independence of thought and self awareness that’s breath taking.

    What is this ‘Manifest Destiny’ I keep hearing about? It’s not a term I’ve heard in other countries…

    I can’t really offer anything particularly intelligent to such a great podcast, but perhaps I can highlight my own nation’s Shadow, and maybe Americans can find some parallels with our own.

    In Australia we have some strong xenophobia and underlying racist issues that we don’t like talking about too much. In terms of genocide, we had something called ‘The Black War’, where the white colonists of the time exterminated the aboriginal population of our island state, Tasmania. To this day, racist slurs such as ‘Abboe’ remain, and while most of Australians have become more culturally aware, a strong undercurrent and certain fears can still be detected in people’s actions and conversations.

    Regarding xenophobia, Australia has a problem with what we call ‘Boat People’. Despite the fact that we get less than 2% of the world’s refugees, all of the major media outlets and political parties continue to demonise them and portray them as a threat (without necessarily saying why, might I add). With continued campaigns from “Shock-Jock” radio DJs and the like, these “Boat People” have been totally de-humanised; to the point where the average Australian doesn’t seem to know what an Asylum Seeker really is – or what to “seek asylum” actually means. If these people were Australians undergoing the same inhumanities as these refugees, Australians would be completely indignant with rage at the injustice – but by separating these people with an “Us and Them” mentality, they don’t seem to notice.

    Ever noticed that white Australians are also ‘Boat People’? There’s Shadow for you.

    So ingrained is this thinking, that both our major political parties had “Tough on Asylum Seekers” policies this election (so no real choice then for the voter), because they knew it would be critical to receive votes. And it took the BBC, *a foreign organisation* to point that out! One of the Liberal Party’s slogans this year was:


    Isn’t that horrifying? Hopefully other nations can learn from our Shadow.

  2. Barry Spector
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comments, John. The phrase manifest destiny (meaning that God had literally intended America to expand) was coined in the 1830s and is in common usage among historians now as it was among politicians well into the 1890s. You can google it for more info.

    Clearly, the American and Australian stories have much in common, not the least of which is the long shadow of Anglo-Saxon imperialism and racism. Now the commonality is of timid political parties and the media.

    But we don\’t have the luxury of simple reductionism. Neither story is finished, and it\’s up to us to tell it differently. Peace, Barry

  3. John Knight
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    Just found a great excerpt from Jung’s CW:8, par. 50:

    “How firmly such things are rooted can be tested by anyone who has attempted to dissolve such a structure, for instance to uproot a prejudice or change a habit of thought. In the history of nations these changes have cost rivers of blood.”

  4. Petr
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Hello Mr. Spector. This is an interesting topic and I agree that there are many myths and omissions in the perception of the United States that are often used to excuse some terrible things that the state has been doing home and abroad.

    But I have trouble understanding your connection between individualism and everything that is bad about America. Aren’t racism, slavery and wars essentially collectivistic things? Also I understood that you would like to have the community set the purpose for everybody instead of each individual pursuing what they want. But isn’t military draft or slavery a good example of community setting purpose for its members?

    Aren’t you in fact suggesting to follow the community “needs” unless it is against your own individual belief? In my opinion that would be a pretty individualistic stand.

  5. Barry Spector
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi Petr — The struggle between the needs of the individual and those of the community occur in all societies, and each society resolves it in its own way. What I’m suggesting is that radical individualism (not individuality — that’s something else) has been taken to its extreme in America, most especially in the economic and religious spheres. But because of this extreme expression, the shadow of individualism also appears regularly — in our inquisitions, cold war and anti-terrorist repression and our attempts to legislate morality, as in abortion and gay marriage.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that the community should set everyone’s purpose. One of the functions of a true community is to help each individual recognize their own individual purpose. Because no modern societies do this anymore (we no longer have real initiations), millions of us don’t know who we are. And we become subject to media manipulation — advertising — which tells us how to think, what to buy and whom to hate.

  6. harmsie
    Posted March 6, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    i’m in a hurry so no time for an intelligent comment. just wanted to say this was AWESOME!

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