March 18, 2008


Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

The theme at Goat Rope this week is myth and what it means. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post. You'll also find links and comments about current events.

My working definition of myth is a story that conveys deep meaning.

Throughout history, narrative has been the most common means of making sense of the world. We're all caught up in stories, even when we sleep. Myths in the sense of BIG STORIES were especially important in non literate societies where there weren't a lot of other ways of recording and storing information, but they are alive and well today, although ours probably aren't as cool as the old ones.

One reason why we may be mythologically challenged today is that we've inherited the relatively modern Western idea of the distinction between fact and fiction, with fiction have the connotation of falsity. The problem with that is that we can only make use of facts when they're part of a cognitive, emotive, and socio-linguistic process which organizes and interprets them.

In overvaluing "facts" at the expense of narrative, we've kind of become like Dickens' character Gradgrind in the novel Hard Times, who wanted to create “a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact.”

Stories, on the other hand, can convey truths that no shopping list of facts can do, which is why people like Jesus frequently conveyed teachings in parables.

Another fairly modern tendency that gets in the way of our understanding of myths and narrative is literalism. You can't really get a lot out of stories or myths if you take them all literally, which is one reason why fundamentalisms tend to be legalistic and spiritually impoverished.

My advice is to respect the world of facts but also to lighten up every so often and appreciate the truths in humanity's BIG STORIES. Don't myth out.

THE COST of the unnecessary war in Iraq is the theme of three items from The Nation. Here are articles on the war and the recession; war and the working class, and the economics of war and peace.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND SOCIAL CHANGE is the theme of this item by Bill McKibben.


RECESSION HITS THE STATES. Here's the NY Times on how many states are slashing services in the wake of the deepening economic downturn.


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