Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We need a new myth

We live by our myths. In this day and age? Indeed, it is true. Doesn't matter if it's dressed up with science, research, economics, or whatever. A myth is a myth.

Americans have the "American Dream." The belief that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. Your kids will have it better and easier than you did. The "American Dream" myth is often coupled with the "Progress" myth. We are at the top of the heap, the end result of a long path of steady improvement. It's all part of the idea that we can have infinite growth in a finite world. How can that work? As a myth, it seems to work just fine.

Then there are facts. Cold hard facts, we like to call them. The coldness and harness of a fact can puncture a nice warm fuzzy myth. No wonder facts are so unpopular these days. Fortunately facts can be fudged, taken out of context, be incomplete, or outdated. So be careful when someone is tossing those facts around. Have they got anything to do with the truth?

Self delusion will only get you so far. Observed reality is at odds with our myths. You've worked hard, but had your job sent on a one way trip to China. Your kid's lives are harder than yours and somehow they don't have good opportunities. Voting doesn't seem to change government policies in any significant way. Things just ain't the way we were taught they were.
Maybe it's time to trade in the old myths and formulate some new ones. Many of us out here on the fringe of things have been developing some mighty fine "myths" of our own. A retreat in the country is the way to save yourself. Guns will set you free. A years worth of food storage will get you through almost any disaster. Gardens are your salvation. Having a community or "tribe" is what you need for hard times. These are wonderful myths. They even have the advantage of having a lot of facts behind them.

The problem about myths, even good ones grounded in facts, is that they take on a life of their own. They can become much greater than the kernel of fact they were based on. That can be harmless, or it can be fatal. All depends on how severe the consequences. Believe what you want, but if you step out in front of a speeding bus, you will go splat.

We've all got to believe in something, right? Sure, why not? Myths explain the world. They take everything out of formless chaos and shape it into some sort of framework. Ideally, that framework will prove useful for day to day life.

The problem with many of our old myths is that they are no longer useful, and some have become down right dangerous. A man who totally believes in the American Dream, will close his eyes to the facts that don't fit -until he can't any longer. One day he wakes up and his job is gone, his pension is gone, his house is foreclosed, and the kids can't go to college without piling on huge debt. Then the Dream is revealed to be myth -a not particularly useful one anymore. Maybe it was useful at one time, but those days are over.

One of my mentors, "Talks with Stone People," would often end his teachings with the words: . . . and that's the state of my current ignorance. He realized the hugeness of the universe. No matter how many facts learned, it was impossible to know them all. Every fact and belief was sort of a working model, subject to change as new information came in.

It's the path of the warrior. It takes a brave person to see the myths we guide our days by as just rough working models of reality, not reality itself. In the days ahead, as old ways fail, we will need the strength to make new myths, and to break and rebuild them as necessary.



  1. Heh... Call me "myth buster". Folks don't like it when their bubble gets busted, but it's happening. "Reality bites"...

  2. Can't really argue with you that the American Dream has been beaten down. The benefits of all that hard work by regular Americans over a few hundred years were able to override the thieves and dictators. Not so much anymore.

    I still buy into the American Dream Myth, but when it is obvious that most of your countrymen do not, then it might be time to reduce it down to the "jjmurphy" dream myth.

    Not sure what the new myth will be, but it will still involve hard work, freedom and personal responsibility.

  3. A very good and truthfull post. Powerful stuff, give me something to thing upon.

  4. the truth shall set you free,well maybe,Blessings jane

  5. Myth is what creates society.