Seeking New Prophets: Bob Dylan and Volodymyr Zelenskyy?
I believe in science and the scientific method, testing each hypothesis to see if it is true. And, most important, as more evidence accumulates, changing the theory to stay in synch. There is no doubt the phenomena science studies, it knows well. But for the rest, it knows not.
That’s why I’m always open to a more intuitive and more inclusive source of knowledge, the kind written about by Michael Mead: He is a scholar of mythology who has an uncanny ability to tap into ancestral sources of wisdom and connect them to the stories we are living today.
For the same reason, I’ve always had a soft spot for Carl Jung, one of the most renowned psychologists of the 20th century. He went beyond where traditional science was willing to go. He believed in synchronicity, that everything happens for a reason; and he thought that we have a collective unconscious, a more profound way of knowing that humanity holds in common. Furthermore, he thought this collective unconscious could manifest itself in certain individuals.
It happened to Jung himself when he fell ill in 1913. He thought he was going insane because of his reoccurring, bloody visions of worldwide carnage and destruction. Soon after, World War I erupted out of nowhere with unimaginable bloodshed — over 22 million lost their lives. Jung no longer questioned his sanity, realizing his dreams and visions were a premonition of war.
Well, maybe, you say, that was just coincidence or the rambling of a deluded, old, pointy-headed intellectual. Okay. Then let’s take another example: Bob Dylan, son of a furniture store owner from a gritty mining town of Hibbing, MN, a nomadic waif who hitchhiked to NYC at age 20 to become the voice of his generation, the oracle who could express what was blowing in the wind, something we all felt but tongue-tied to say.
One could make the case that Dylan’s words were another manifestation of Jung’s collective unconscious. His powers defied science and logic. From the beginning, he played only what he wanted to, not necessarily what the audience called for. And he was superbly gifted: the magnificence of his lyrical prose earned him the Nobel prize in 2016 “for his unique ability to prove that lyrics can go deeper than simple rhymes: they can become works of literature.”
His talent came from a source somewhere beyond himself. In an interview on 60 minutes, he said his songs flowed from a mysterious “wellspring of creativity.” He took no credit for writing his lyrics, saying they magically came to him. To me, his songs appear to be a manifestation of our collective unconscious, the wisdom we hold in common, the wellspring of our humanity.
His songs cut through the clutter of evening news body counts and talking head blather to look straight into the face of the existential crises we face. The perils of the past loom larger each day. One song, in particular, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” could not be more topical. Dylan wrote it during the Cuban Missile Crisis when we feared our world was coming to an end.
“And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall”
Scientific equations and high-tech algorithms can’t solve the enormity of our problems. What is needed is access to the deeper knowledge as expressed by Dylan and mythology in general, described so well in a recent review of Michael Mead’s latest book:
“As nature rattles and culture unravels, mythic imagination tries to return to the world, for endings and beginnings are particularly mythic. When “the End” seems near, how people imagine the world becomes more important; how people imagine humanity becomes of the utmost importance. Meade shows how “myth makes meaning” and helps a person find the meaningful path through life…
“When it appears that there’s no time left, it isn’t time that people need, but the touch of the eternal. While explaining how culture renews itself from the dreams of youth and the visions of elders, Meade introduces the concept of becoming ancient again by connecting to the eternal youth and the old soul within.”
Remember what Dylan predicted, “For the loser now will be later to win for the times they are a-changin’” We must honor the deep wisdom of our new prophets like the folksinger from Hibbing and the comedian from Ukraine.