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Pine Gate:
Vol 6 Issue 2: Spring 2007: Joseph Campbell and Failsafe 

"Failsafe "is being made into a documentary film. Two film studios in Florida, who have made award winning documentary films are working on this project, which will include Al Gore, James Lovelock and aboriginal spokespeople. This is an extract from the manuscript.

Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking work on mythology, The Hero With A Thousand Faces way back in 1949, contained a highly radical agenda, which was somewhat obscured in his later works.  In the Epilogue of the 1968 edition he carefully mapped the reality of the Hero’s quest in modern times.  With the insight of impermanence Campbell shows that times have clearly changed, that meaning no longer resides in the community or nature but in the individual.  This makes the hero’s quest a radically different and more difficult venture as without the support of community, nature or religion the hero’s quest is to save the planet – not the bounded community or nation - and transform the entire social order of the world.  Campbell is adamant that the great religions of the world cannot assist with this task, as they are complicit in the partisan fracturing of the world carried out by factions that curry favour with outmoded expressions of cultural nationalism. Their “monkey holiness” is not the stuff that can aid the hero (1968: 389), who now has a somewhat solitary task because the center of gravity of mythology has changed from nature and locality so that humanity itself is now the mystery to be unravelled.

Yet despite all this, according to Campbell, the hero has the “all” within him, within her.  The particular cultural and national characteristics do not tell us anything about what it is to be truly human.  And so the task is to step beyond these boundaries, discover through experience that there is no separateness, thus gaining the knowledge and insight that can transform humanity.  The influence of the Vedas of Ancient India and their non-dualism is clearly with Campbell in that he feels it is essential for humanity to see the same redemption in different forms – Truth is one and the Sages call it by many names.  Thus the propagation of any form such as fundamentalist Islam or fundamentalist Christianity becomes highly dangerous.  Campbell is certainly correct about the world’s religions that require belief in a God, culturally and nationally defined – “monkey holiness.”  Yet the instruments of mindfulness practice in Buddhism with their intent on freeing the human mind from suffering may have some pertinence, as the practices are free of the stigma of cultural nationalism – or should be if the Buddha is listened to carefully!  Cultural nationalism is a redundant and obsolete force in the 21st century - that is for the task of transforming the social order of the world.  However, the religious right in America and their identical twin – the Taliban in Afghanistan – and other religious groups like them refuse to recognise that they are obsolete, still appealing to the ignorant and fearful.  Thus the hero’s task in the modern era is ominous and lonely.  Campbell (1968: 391) in the last paragraph of his classic states:
The modern hero…cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, of fear, rationalized advice, and sanctified misunderstanding… It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse.  And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal – not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.

And thus Failsafe was written as it strikes chords with Joseph Campbell’s insights from half a century ago.  Its genesis is in line with Campbell’s views, though I doubt if he anticipated the present global ecological emergency.  This slim volume endeavours to provide understanding, issues a call for the adventure of transmuting the existing world social order by bringing the reader to a deep spiritual understanding of what needs to be done, and finally casts the hero’s mantle on all of us.  Transforming the fabric of the entire social order asks citizens of the world to do the work of becoming spiritually responsible rather than remaining spiritual captives.  …the problem is nothing if not that of rendering the modern world spiritually significant (Campbell 1968: 388).  This is so the revealed knowledge and wisdom gained from this adventure can be applied to society and the environment.

In concert with Joseph Campbell Failsafe asks of everyone, including myself, to be a modern hero and heroine for our time.
Understand the challenge
Accept the challenge
Listen to Nietzsche – “Live as though the day were here.”