The Sibling Society

The Sibling Society

Book - 1996
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In his phenomenal bestseller, Iron John, Robert Bly captivated the nation with the wisdom embedded in a thousand-year-old fairy tale, creating both a cultural movement and publishing history.Now, in Silbling Society, Bly turns to stories as unexpected as Jack and the Beanstalk and the Hindu tale of the Ganesha to illustrate and illuminated the troubled soul of our nation itself. What he shows us is a culture where adults remain children, and where children have no desire to become adults--a nation of squabbling siblings.Through his use of poetry and myth, Bly takes us beyond the sociological statistics and tired psychobabble to see our dilemma afresh. In this sibling culture that he describes, we tolerate no one above us and have no concern for anyone below us. Like sullen teenagers, we live in our peer group, glancing side to side, rather than upward, for direction. We have brought down all forms of hierarchy because hierarchy is based on power, often abused. Yet with that leveling we have also destroyed any willingness to look up or down. Without that "verticle gaze," as Bly calls it, we have no longing for the good, no deep understanding of evil. We shy away from great triumphs and deep sorrow. We have no elders and no children; no past and no future. What we are left with is spiritual flatness. The talk show replaces family. Instead of art we have the Internet. In place of community we have the mall.By drawing upon such magnificent spirits as Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Emily Dickenson, and Ortega y Gasset, Bly manages to show us the beautiful possibilities of human existence, even as he shows us the harshest truths. Still, his probing is deeper and more unsettling than the usual cultural criticism. He finds that our economy's stimulation of adolescent envy and greed has changed us fundamentally. The Superego that once demanded high standards in our work and in our ethics no longer demands that we be good but merely "famous," bathed in the warm glow of superficial attention. Driven by this insatiable need, and with no guidance toward the discipline required for genuine accomplishment, our young people are defeated before they begin.It is the young and disenfranchised who are most victimized by the sibling culture, our children and out elders and those marked as "not us" by race and economic circumstance. In a phrase common to the ancient stories Bly uses to illustrate his themes, it is these people who we all to easily "throw out the window," but it is also these disenfranchised who will be waiting for us on the road ahead to claim their due.A wake-up call, an inspiration, brilliantly original, The Sibling Society will capture the imagination and enliven our nation's cultural debate as no other book in years.
Publisher: Reading, Mass : Addison-Wesley Publ., c1996.
ISBN: 9780201406467
Branch Call Number: 306/BLY
Characteristics: 319 p. ; 25 cm.


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Oct 19, 2015

It is hard in a sibling society to decide what is real. We participate in more and more nonevents. A nonevent transpires when the organizer promises an important psychic or political event and then cheats people, providing material only tangentially related. An odd characteristic of the sibling society is that no one effectively objects. Some sort of trance takes over if enough people are watching an event simultaneously. It is a contemporary primitivism, “participation mystique,” a “mysterious participation of all the clan.”

Kierkegaard once, in trying to predict what the future society would be like, offered this metaphor: 'People will put up a poster soon saying Tonight John Erik will skate on thin ice at the very center of the pond. It’ll be very dangerous. Please come.' Everyone comes, and John Erik skates about three inches from shore, and people say, “Look, he’s skating on thin ice at the very center of the pond!” A lecturer says: 'On Friday night we will have a revolution.' When Friday night comes, the hall is filled, and the radical talks passionately and flamboyantly for an hour and a half; then he declares that a revolution took place here tonight. The audience pours out into the street, saying, “Tonight we had a revolution! Tonight we had a revolution!”

Oct 19, 2015

It’s the worst of times; it’s the best of times. That’s how we feel as we navigate from a paternal society, now discredited, to a society in which impulse is given its way. People don’t bother to grow up, and we are all fish swimming in a tank of half-adults. The rule is: Where repression was before, fantasy will now be; we human beings limp along, running after our own fantasy. We can never catch up, and so we defeat ourselves by the simplest possible means: speed. Everywhere we go there’s a crowd, and the people all look alike.

We begin to live a lateral life, catch glimpses out of the corners of our eyes, keep the TV set at eye level, watch the scores move horizontally across the screen.

We see what’s coming out of the sideview mirror. It seems like intimacy; maybe not intimacy as much as proximity; maybe not proximity as much as sameness. Americans who are twenty years old see others who look like them in Czechoslovakia, Greece, China, France, Brazil, Germany, and Russia, wearing the same jeans, listening to the same music, speaking a universal language that computer literacy demands. Sometimes they feel more vitally connected to siblings elsewhere than to family members in the next room.

When we see the millions like ourselves all over the world, our eyes meet uniformity, resemblance, likenesses, rather than distinction and differences. Hope rises immediately for the long-desired possibility of community. And yet it would be foolish to overlook the serious implications of this glance to the side, this tilt of the head. “Mass society, with its demand for work without responsibility, creates a gigantic army of rival siblings,” in Alexander Mitscherlich’s words.

This book is not about siblings in a family; we’ll use the word ‘sibling’ as a metaphor. We’ll try to make the phrase ‘sibling society’ into a lens, bringing into focus certain tendencies, habits, and griefs we have all noticed. Adults regress toward adolescence; and adolescents—seeing that—have no desire to become adults. Few are able to imagine any genuine life coming from the vertical plane—tradition, religion, devotion. Even graduate students in science are said to share this problem. The neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky writes:

‘My students usually come with ego boundaries like exoskeletons. Most have no use for religion, precedents, or tradition. They want their rituals newly minted and shared horizontally within their age group, not vertically over time. The ones I train to become scientists go at it like warriors, overturning reigning paradigms, each discovery a murder of their scientific ancestors.’

Perhaps one-third of our society has developed these new sibling qualities. The rest of us are walking in that direction. When we all arrive, there may be no public schools at all, nor past paradigms, because only people one’s own age will be worth listening to.

There is little in the sibling society to prevent a slide into primitivism, and into those regressions that fascism is so fond of. Eric Hoffer remarked:

‘Drastic change [has produced] this social primitivism . . . a new identity is found by embracing a mass movement . . . [the] mass movement absorbs and assimilates the individual . . . [who] is thereby reduced to an infantile state, for this is what a new birth really means: to become like a child. And children are primitive beings—they are credulous, follow a leader, and readily become members of a pack. . . . Finally, primitivism also follows when people seek a new identity by plunging into ceaseless action and hustling. It takes leisure to mature. People in a hurry can neither grow nor decay; they are preserved in a state of perpetual puerility.’

The society of half-adults, built on technology and affluence, is more highly developed here than in any other country on earth; but in other parts of the globe the same tendencies are growing fast. We can’t be definitive, but we can glance at some of its characteristics.


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