Tuesday, April 24, 2012

States of Being

Like many cultures, New Americans distinguish moral from immoral behavior through allegorical existence. However, instead of a separate planes, like heaven or hell, they emphasize how the individual lives, his state of being.  In essence, the individual becomes one of three archetypes: the astronaut, the cowboy, or the zombie. It is hard to say whether the states of being are incentives for living morally, or merely a way to explain how the world works. Through the story ceremony, individuals identify the archetype, and often attach to one, revering it more than other. The individual then aspires to become more like that archetype, changing his or her behavior and outlook on life.
It is speculated that an individual can 1) transcend into the state of astronaut, 2) descend into the state of of a zombie, or 3) continue living in the realm of the cowboy. However other scholars speculate that the states of being are analogous to the Hindu states of consciousness, where individuals reside in particular states of being depending on their individual awareness and actions. This model suggests astronauts as the enlightened, zombies as the unaware and ignorant, and cowboys somewhere in between. Regardless of the believed purpose of these archetypes, we see them appear not just in the story ceremony, but in most all aspects of the society.
Before proceeding with the descriptions I would like to clarify several points. The archetypes are just that, archetypes. Unlike a god, there is no absolute set of rules that define each state. There is a generalized belief that separates the three, but even then we see the roles overlap, especially in the cowboy archetype. Similarly, typified realms exist for each state, but they act as scenery and each state is found in multiple realms within the mythology. That is, we usually see the cowboy in the open landscape, but that does not exclude the possibility of the cowboy in space. Finally, these archetypes are found cross gendered, but for simplicity sake I will be using the pronoun ‘he’.

[This is not the final post on the archetypes. Eventually, I will explore the two archetypes more in depth and specifically. ]

The Astronaut
The astronaut may be the most revered archetype among American society. Key aspects of the archetype color the astronaut as self-contained, alone, and existing within an infinite realm, yet aware of his dependence on others and the importance of whole. Characterized by innovation, initiative, and investigation, the astronaut contributes to society from afar; physically or psychologically existing within an infinite space. His discoveries reveal the unknown and unexplored, but often with more questions than answers. Cognition and the constant need to explore is the foremost concern to the astronaut.
Technology, seen as a representation of collective knowledge combined with cooperation, ties itself with the astronaut archetype. An individual transcends into the role of the astronaut through technology’s ability to carry (physically or psychologically) him into the unknown. In return, the astronaut sacrifices security in order to gain knowledge, which he then passes to the whole again. Occasionally, the astronaut himself creates the technology, negating the society’s contribution to the individual. However, even in this case the astronaut strives to better humanity or expand the wealth of knowledge through his actions.
Isolation sets the astronaut apart from typical society, signifying both transcendence and solitude. Seclusion gives more credence and sanctity to his discoveries, indicating them as more important than everyday findings. Solitude implies the individual’s importance within the collective efforts of the whole, rather than an ascetic’s self imposed exclusion from the whole. In a sense the solitude is a way of lifting the individual up from the masses, denoting the astronaut as a higher being. His actions, therefore, influence everyday life directly or indirectly. Influential actions the astronaut takes, however, must be selfless; to do otherwise places the individual within the cowboy’s realm. The astronaut must reside in a place between humility and bravado.
The collective turns to the astronaut for revelations in order to better understand the world. This never ending quest drives the astronaut further into the unknown, sometimes to the brink of no return. The astronaut must explore this unknown with the understanding that he may lose his life or ties to the Earth. This is the most important component of the archetype; knowledge before self. The astronaut has the capability to sacrifice his individual needs to explore beyond the current boundaries for the greater good.
In the story ceremonies, we sometimes the astronaut’s resolve tested. He must choose between further discovery or returning to Earth (the collective whole). Abandoning Earth may seem like a selfish act, but we can liken the action the transcendence into a buddah. The astronaut’s bodily possessions become irrelevant, and he completely gives himself to the unknown. A parallel option has the astronaut sacrifice his pursuits in order for Earth to survive. The second option, the act of returning to Earth, also becomes a positive choice. The astronaut brings new, useful knowledge back to the collective in order to bring a new era. This options encourages a astronaut-oriented community that prospers and lives peacefully. Some interpretations believe the returning astronaut akin to the returning of Christ.

The Cowboy

If society reveres the astronaut the most, they celebrate the cowboy most often. Part of cowboy's popularity derives from its broad definition. Essentially, the cowboy questions authority, follows his own morality, and controls his own destiny. The self always comes first and foremost, favoring self preservation over most anything else. His surroundings mix natural/chaotic and man-made/ordered elements to create a visual tension that he struggles with and against at various times. He prefers the untamed and unexplored because of its potential, but unlike the astronaut he must return to civilization. Distinctly human obligations (family ties, addiction, sustenance, or legalities) bring the cowboy back from the wilderness. In other words, the cowboy struggles with what it is to be human and must balance between expectations and natural inclination.
 As the most variable archetype, the cowboy never conforms to a single cannon, which plays up his  chaotic aspects. His natural instinct governs most of his actions, which strive for self preservation and glorification as well as the propagation of his ideals. In a sense the cowboy exists in a purgatory state, where he can define himself as good, evil, or neutral. His actions determine where he lies on the morality, but they can fluctuate and adapt to his situation.Lawlessness emphasizes a need for personal morality over societal, which informs his questioning of authority. If he deems his surroundings as immoral to his own, he will fight to change this.

Unlike the astronaut, the cowboy exists only as an individual, unconnected to a group and unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good. Because of his individuality, the cowboy remains open-eyed his surroundings. The cowboy has the ability to recognize social disparities, mendacious intent, and other easily overlooked conduct around him. Whether or not he acts upon his observations depends on the particular cowboy.

If the cowboy chooses to act upon his surroundings because he disagrees with them, he incites chaos and fights for his beliefs. Alternatively, he can choose to leave and enter the chaos of the unknown landscape in order to create a new order. Deeming his actions good or bad depends on the particular situation and his intentions. Either way, the fight or flight options highlight the cowboy's instinctual nature.

The Zombie

Lastly, we find the zombie as the most deplorable archetype. Mindlessness, consumption, apathy, and a non-influential lifestyle characterize the zombie. He does not contribute anything to society, and takes from it more than necessarily. The hoard mentality of mentality influences his actions: following whatever orders or actions the person near him does without regard to individual wants or needs. Personality decays into lustful coveting until only the shell of a person remains.

Lacking vivacity, the zombie shuffles along life without point or purpose. Occassionally, the zombie sees something it wants. A rash pursuit of the object proceeds, until the zombie obtains and obliterates the object. Sometimes this chase turns towards non-zombies, who can turn into zombies themselves if caught. Non-zombies ostracize such mindless, cosuming individuals in order to reduce their chances of becoming one.

The zombie usually finds himself in conjunction with astronaut or cowboy. In stories withe the astronaut, the zombie reverts back to consciousness through technological means. More often than not the cowboy kills the zombie, ridding the world of its presence. In addition to further defining the astronaut and cowboy roles, these actions encourage viewers to foster a personality, take action, and not to covet. The zombie can also be seen as obedient, acceptable, and unobtrusive. Americans, however, do not consider these positive values.

As a representation of the undesirable, zombies do not appear in American Mythology as often as the first two archetypes. It is also the newest archetype (cowboy the oldest), and not as nearly recognizable as the other two. That does not make the zombie irrelevant. Contrastingly, its youth shows America's recognition of new ideologies within the society. From the observer's viewpoint, the zombie must be the most important of the archetype.

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