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The Western Quest for Camelot: How Arthurian Ideals Mirror Our Search for a More Perfect Union

When I was a child, I was fascinated with the legends of King Arthur.

I loved the stories of knights and magic, honor and chivalry, swords and battles.

What’s more is that King Arthur, Camelot, and its Knights of the Round Table stood for ideals that were almost democratic.

They were “the good guys.”

Instead of a tyrannical king who simply told everyone what to do and enforced his will with intimidation and an iron fist, King Arthur brought others up to his level by taking an equal seat at the Round Table. All sat on the same level, and the table itself, by nature of its roundness, had no specific head, which symbolized equality.

True, the king was still the king and decision-maker. But it’s almost as if it approached, in spirit, a representational form of government. The king sat with his noble knights, heard them and counseled with them.

In our modern times, representational government has become the government of choice throughout most of the world. And in my own country (the United States), there is a strong heritage of democratic values.

We retain the pride of being the first modern democracy, and the first modern government to enshrine principles of equality and liberty in our constitutional charter. The ideas of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the Declaration of Independence echo the kind of fairness and justice in the rule of law given during the legendary reign of the benevolent King Arthur.

These Arthurian ideals have remained a powerful inspiration in the West. Numerous stories have been written about Arthur and his knights and their tales have been told and re-told in print and film.

Indeed, it can be said there has been a kind of collective, societal longing to return to the idyllic era of Arthur. So much so that when John F. Kennedy became the youngest American President to be elected, the news press branded his administration, and by extension the kind of nation we were now living in, as “Camelot.”

This was in part because Kennedy was youthful and full of energy, good looks and charm, much like the young Arthur.

But also, in the post-World War II years, the United States yearned for an era of peace and pageantry.

The standard of Camelot was a wish hoping to come true.

But sadly, that daydream died in a dash of bullets when Kennedy was suddenly assassinated.

America was forced to wake up to a cold reality: that good and plentiful times bring out the enemies from within.

And ironically, this was what destroyed the Arthurian Camelot as well.

No nation or empire destroyed Camelot. It was treachery, intrigue, corruption and betrayal.

Essentially, Camelot destroyed itself.

Are we, the United States of America, or any modern nation of freedom and plenty, really so different?

Currently, the developed world is facing cultural division like never before, on a wide array of issues. And not only are we at odds, but our means of communication are breaking down as well.

And yes, incivility of speech is certainly an issue, but that is the least of our problems.

What is a much bigger problem is that corporate news media, as well as social media, have largely become echo chambers of selective information driven either by self-serving algorithms or the market-driven need to create sensation, uproar, ratings and viewership.

They are designed to keep you hooked, and they profit off of outrage.

Communication and diplomacy are the things people use to compromise, reach win/win solutions, and prevent bloodshed. When they break down, society breaks down.

We are well-along in the process of destroying ourselves, and the corruption of values in our media is only accelerating it as we race full speed ahead to our metaphorical Battle of Camlann, the battle that ended the Arthurian era.

What can we do to save ourselves?

The first step to recovery is usually along the lines of recognizing you have a problem.

The second step is similar — identifying exactly what the source of the problem is.

We all seem to know we have a problem, and in an encouraging sign, it seems that many people are waking up to seeing exactly what the source of it is. More and more people are tuning out of mainstream news or openly questioning the veracity of their reports.

But we must be careful, because although there are stark divisions in our society, it’s not just corporations that would seek to divide us, but individual politicians as well.

It is human nature to submit to the cult of personality in politics. We want to believe in leaders who can be heroic and iconic to save us. And some may be.

But the greater truth is that everyone is both human and corruptible, and no one leader will save us alone. We are all part of the process, and all must contribute to saving ourselves. We can do this by identifying when organizations or people seek to divide us, and by placing emphasis on the things that actually unite us as a people.

Indeed, focusing on what unites us can be an extremely powerful tool, and what’s more is that once you start focusing on that angle, it becomes apparent that the things that unite us are much more than we may have imagined.

Most of us want peace.

Most of us want prosperity.

Most of us want fairness and true equality.

Most of us want our basic human rights respected.

Most of us want to be able to agree to disagree on various issues, and not be persecuted for believing differently.

These are powerful concepts. We take them for granted, but they are fundamental to our freedom.

If we can just preserve these values and remind each other of them, our differences may suddenly seem much smaller than the Outrage Machine tries to make them.

But if we lose ourselves in the noise and the constant, hypnotic drum beat of divisive forces, we will lose the life and world we hold dear.

The West, like Camelot, has experienced unprecedented peace and prosperity.

But our greatest enemies have not been outside foes, but ourselves.

This is the lesson of Camelot, and if we are to save ourselves, it must be remembered.


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