WAKING UP WITH THE HOUSE ON FIRE

A conversation with psychologist James Hillman-- about kids, shrinks, mythology, and death.

          CP: Well, you've got to have expectations and you've got to have disappointments. But I think--one thing I've learned is that I can and must make my outreach, make my world, bigger than I used to try making it. It's got to involve more people, more action. One has to reach out to life more voraciously than most people are accustomed to doing in order to have a balanced life.

          HILLMAN: That was the old idea of being a public figure--that was the Roman ideal, and an American ideal. In the Old South, that was the highest ideal, to be a public servant. You realize how that's really gone? I'm not the only one who's said that, that's been said by [Richard] Sennett and a lot of people. That's an idea that's terribly important. This sabotaging of government that's been going on by the media has reduced the notion of being a public servant. It's almost disgraceful to run for office. Which is really extraordinary. We still admire the hometown man who works for the Lion's Club...

          CP: But increasingly, we don't want to be him.

          HILLMAN: We don't want to be him...

          CP: I think of people like Eleanor Roosevelt, or a friend of mine who I feel very fortunate to know--a 90-year-old black woman who's been a life-long labor activist and civil rights activist and still has an incredible amount of vitality. In the time I spend with her, I realize that she's simply wired very differently from me or anybody else I know. There is a sense of--

          HILLMAN: Different acorn.

          CP: Yeah, a different acorn, but a different class of oak, too, really...

          HILLMAN: [laughs] Aha.

          CP: There's a way in which she takes in energy from public activity that I don't. And I wish I did.

          HILLMAN: Well, I think Clinton does. I think he does. I think it's mixed up with this thing...

          CP: But his is a sociopathic version of it.

          HILLMAN: Maybe. Or it's being the pastor or something, too. But taking in energy from being a public actor...

          CP: It seems the only people who do that anymore--maybe you think more of Clinton than I do, but it seems the people who do that now are grifters, you know? People on the make? Of course they've got to interact with, and con, a great many people. But the public person motivated by a vision of possibility, of humanity, barely seems to exist anymore. Or to exist in insignificant numbers.

          HILLMAN: Maybe that's true. Maybe they do exist, but it's statistically insignificant. And they're not heralded. That's a big part of it. The press pays no attention. The press makes celebrities, so it takes an astronaut or somebody, a girl who's 12 years old and breaks her ankle in the Olympics. And not to degrade those people--it's only that the images put forth in the old schoolbooks, of Horatio Alger or whomever, it wasn't just that they were self-made people. They were people who stood for certain things. We can't hope to go back to that, or we'll just be William Bennett. It's not a matter of going back to the way it was, because it wasn't really that way anyway. It's a lot of bullshit.

          But... it's more important to face the ship going down. That's what will bring out the important virtues today. Not looking back on the good old days when the ship was sailing away. Now the Titanic is sinking. That calls forth the virtues of Joseph Conrad and things like that: courage, dignity, mourning, remembrance, ritual. All kinds of other virtues which could come out of recognition of reality.

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