August 22, 2013

Symbolism, not history?

As I mentioned yesterday, I decided to read Joseph Campbell's famous book on myths, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I am not a Campbellite and have some political and other issues with him and his ideas, but he makes some interesting points.

One of his intellectual habits that probably shocks people who associate their religion with actual historical events is that for him the story is all, not what really happened.  At one point, after quoting the story of Jesus' Transfiguration, he writes,

We may doubt whether such a scene ever actually took place. But that would not help us any; for we are concerned, at present, with the problems of symbolism, not of historicity. We do not particularly care whether Rip van Winkle, Kamar al-Zaman, or Jesus Christ ever actually lived. Their stories are what concerns us: and these stories are so widely distributed over the world--attached to various heroes in various lands--that the question of whether this or that local carrier of the universal theme may or may not have been a historical, living man can be of only secondary moment. The stressing of this historical element will lead to confusion; it will simply obfuscate the picture message.
It is true that insisting on literal facts can kill the point of the story, but I think at some points what actually happened does matter, to the extent it can be known.

My main problem with Campbell is summed up in the phrase "local carrier of the universal theme." I think a respectful study of myths and folklore doesn't reveal a universal theme; it reveals all kinds of themes. He believed in a mono-myth. I prefer multi-myths.

SO HERE WE ARE IN BISMARCK. Well, I guess I can scratch "visiting North Dakota" off my bucket list. I tagged along when a delegation of WV legislators visited the state to learn about its Legacy Fund. We've been pushing for something similar here for a few years now. Here's coverage from the Bismarck Tribune. The hospitality has been great, as have the accents (a little like Minnesota). I think all of us who came have learned a lot--I just hope we seal the deal in the legislature.

GOOD NEWS FOR WV FAMILIES. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced today that he is requesting that federal health regulators allow the children of public employees to sign up for CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program.This move will save families and the state a lot of money. This is something my friends at the WV Center on Budget and Policy advocated in a recent report.

I would blog more, but this is a good local beer town. Don't wait up.

August 21, 2013

The power of myth

There's no getting around stories. We seem hardwired to tell them, hear them, and make them up (consciously or otherwise). A while back, a friend loaned me a book titled Winning the Story Wars: Why those who tell--and live--the best stories will rule the future by Jonah Sachs.

I think the title makes a good point. A great deal of politics is about controlling the narrative. I enjoyed the book, although I got a bit lost in the weeds. Sachs based a great deal of his ideas on those of Joseph Campbell.

I have to admit that I am not a Campbell fan. I dislike his politics and disagree with his view that somehow all cultures are part of a mono-myth. I don't think the whole human race is watching one movie. Still, I decided to check out his best known book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Official Goat Rope verdict: 35% very cool; 65% not so much.

Still he has some good lines in there. Like this one about myth from page 1:

Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.

SO HERE'S WHERE I'M OFF TO: North Dakota (!).

AND HERE'S ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT of creating a Future Fund for WV.

NOT THE NEWEST NEWS, but this protest against the Master of the Universe WV Attorney General was interesting.


NOTE: I'm on the road so posts may be irregular and links may be behind the times.


August 20, 2013

Voice of thunder

What is it about Abraham Lincoln that makes him the subject of such endless fascination? I would have trouble counting the number of books I've read about this or that aspect of Lincoln's life. If he was like most people, at some point I'd have my fill.

I love Bob Dylan, for example, but I think my life total for books about him is three. I've probably done that many Lincoln books in the last year, including one I just finished, Doris Kearns Goodwin's justly famous Team of Rivals. It wouldn't surprise me if I hit another Lincoln book or two before the year is out.

There is something epic and, to use an overused word, awesome, about this man and the time he lived through.

One thing that strikes me now is that Lincoln is how his life illustrates the power of stories. One thing that many people loved about him--and that drove some people crazy--was his constant use of stories. Some of these shed light on a situation. Some were just silly. Some perfectly summed up a complex situation.

I remember reading yet another book about Lincoln several years ago by James M. McPherson that suggested one reason the North won the war was that Lincoln was better at metaphors than his counterpart Jefferson Davis.

I think he has a point, although in fairness I must say, as Confederate General George Pickett once did about why his famous charge failed, that the Union Army had something to do with it.

I may return to that theme of the power of story in the next few posts, which may be irregular as I'll be on the road.

UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT. Here's the Washington Post on the impact of the sequester on the Head Start program, its children and their parents.

INEQUALITY MATTERS. From CNN, here's a suggested list of things to read about it.



August 19, 2013

Lean, mean, green

I have mentioned before that a major hazard at this time of year for people living near gardens is an attack of summer squash, an aggressively imperialist species.

The above picture is living proof if more was needed of the dangers of these pernicious plants. Not content to lie there like most vegetables, these green miscreants are about to slither out of the basket and rampage over an unsuspecting world.

DEAL WITH IT. Here's Krugman on the Affordable Care Act and the right wing's state of denial.

THE LATEST JIHAD. It looks like it's true love between WV's anti-gay uterus-police and its attorney general. I figured the latter would be busy recusing himself from cases started by his predecessor which challenge abuses of sleazy corporations.

WOULD THIS BE IRONY OR HYPOCRISY? Although the same WV AG mentioned above seems to be deeply concerned with the personal decisions of women, he pretends to believe that some parts of the Affordable Care Act threaten  privacy. Judges? Personally, I'm leaning towards hypocrisy.

ONE MORE WV AG RANT. As I've pointed out before, this was the same "pro-life" person who expressed regret at Governor Tomblin's decision to expand Medicaid, despite the fact that around 223 West Virginians die prematurely every year because they don't have health coverage. I think that would be another one for the hypocrisy column.

PATRIOT. Union miners overwhelmingly approved an agreement with Patriot Coal. I think it's a pretty big win for the UMWA and would like to congratulate union members and allies who made a bad situation better.