Myths, culture and people
22. ‘If you can keep your head…’
‘…or not make dreams your master’, elsewhere continues the poem the caption’s taken from, If, by Rudyard Kipling.
Minds immersed in the prevailing cultural environment think in a particular way. History contains tremendously strong trends born from reports of survivors’ encounters with reality that still shape people. Hypotheses were invented all over the world as a result of speculation to try to come to terms with what was experienced and perceived. Originally these were often converted into myths and religions that both assured and frightened those who chose or were coerced to follow them. More recently, they’re translated as stories and theories as religion’s place is taken by culture.
Joseph Campbell’s work has shed most light on this area; his insights are shared in books and interviews like this. He researched and recorded guiding myths from far and wide, and commented on them in the context of how they apply to individual and modern lives. One of his conclusions was that these stories have no inherent meaning until those who hear them subscribe in full or in part. René Girard‘s extreme theories detects scapegoats compulsively sacrificed as necessary victims for society’s self-preservation.
Irish writer John Moriarty also wrote about enlightening the earth with its mythic and geological past, interweaving the varied stories of the human species. Moriarty’s concern is the modern dilemma of the human race: how it acts like a refugee from the living earth, not knowing how to connect healthily with it any more. The way back, he showed, is to find a way to assimilate the dislocated parts of ourselves and come home to our ecologically grounded common destiny.
Lucidly leaning on his wealth of learning and his keen observations, Moriarty retrieved outdated modes of comprehending the world and burnished them so that they take on a modern and urgent sensibility. Sylvia Plath’s life and poetry exemplifies the dilemma of struggling exhaustively to find meaning and make sense of multiple paradigms, to endure the conflicts they create. In Mediated, by Thomas de Zengotita, how the representation of information shapes its reception is vividly and convincingly explored, giving the impression that the media is largely responsible for the resultant hall of mirrors. The distortion of packaging of knowledge arguably extends to all areas e. g the self-help field, as analysed in Sham, and psychiatry, exposed in Crazy Like Us.
While the old ways and convictions that previously carried mass consciousness through existential terrors don’t work much any more, Moriarty expressed hope:
“Recovering our nerve, we might find it in us to stand to our full moral and spiritual height and this we will do when we acknowledge: that our transtorrentem destiny is upon us; that in us our planet can be an evolutionary success”.
The Buddhist concept of dukkha refers to hardships and turmoil encountered to some extent by everyone due to distorted assumptions and perceptions ingrained in the human condition. More is explained in dukkha impermanence and unsatisfactoriness . Because of it people tend to confuse impermanent, finite and dissatisfying phenomena as being permanent, infinite and satisfying. There is a constant stream of material in the environment reinforcing views right and wrong. Taking a deliberate step back to train in right view pays most people back in clarity and equanimity. Then it’s easier to stay balanced and unruffled in the face of any strong impressions or spin being peddled, no matter what happens.