Mythology and the New Reality

It’s hysterically ironic that, while pop culture has elevated the End of the World Mayan Calendar to pseudo-scientific status, the real history of the decline of the Mayan civilization is largely ignored.  The thing that makes this doubly funny is that the collapse of Mayan society two millennia ago actually offers some insights into our current situation, whereas the more celebrated Calendar is simply fatalistic hocus pocus.  However, as with a frightening amount of analysis in our contemporary world, facts are largely irrelevant in the face of overwhelming mythology.

The Mayans were a hugely successful civilization that flourished for a couple of thousand years in the Yucatan peninsula, Guatemala and Belize.  These people lived in a well-structured, sophisticated society at the same time my ancestors in Northern Europe were still cracking each other over the head with stone axes.  (Not really, but you know what I mean.)  The scale of Mayan urban development is absolutely breathtaking – even today.   Unfortunately, somewhere around the time of the birth of Christ, things started to go to hell for the Mayans.  A number of theories explain why, but rather than debate them here, suffice it to say that the glory days of Mayan society were over by the time Augustus ruled Rome.

The Mayans faced a series of severe economic, environmental and social changes they simply didn’t understand.  Instead of adapting to these new realities, they insisted on clinging to their old way of life.  They demanded that their leaders call on the gods to maintain their world.  In Mayan society, that meant human sacrifice – more and more of it.  Eventually, however, the old ways were simply unsustainable in a new age, no matter how much blood was spilled.  Out of mindless frustration, the people stormed the pyramids of power and tore their society apart.

It’s a bit of a stretch to compare the later day Mayans to contemporary North Americans but like the Mayans, our society is going through some massive changes that most people do not understand.  Those same people seem intent on preserving the old ways, come hell or high water, and they’re relying on some serious mythology to do it.  We might not be Mayans, but we have a lot in common.

The big myth we’re faced with these days is income inequity.  This is the pointed stick that everybody with a grievance keeps waving.  The problem is … it’s a myth.  It has no factual base.  However, it’s being touted as not only the cause of all our problems but also the solution.  Prevailing wisdom says too much money has been gathered into too few hands.  The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting screwed.   Therefore, to preserve the old ways, we must redistribute the cash through the newly minted “Robin Hood” tax.  It sounds good, but Robin Hood is a fictional character.

The reality is very few people with a tendency to protest have studied economics.  They figure somehow that the money supply is just a big bag of gold coins somewhere, and a bunch of greedy billionaires got there first and took them all.  They also believe that all we have to do is make the billionaires give them back and everything will be fine.  Then there’ll be enough for everybody.

The problem is these ideas are crap.  There is absolute no connection between the fact that George Soros can buy New Hampshire and I’m coming up 45 bucks short on my credit card payment.  I could personally ask George for the $45.00 but I don’t think I’d get past his roomful of secretaries.  Besides, why should he give it to me in the first place?  The idea is absurd.  Yet, it seems to gain immeasurable credibility when it’s distributed across our entire society.  The whole “Robin Hood” tax business is just a bunch of people asking the government to throw their muscle behind all of us poorer folks, asking the George Soros of the world to pay our credit card bills for us.

In actual fact, it doesn’t matter how much money George Soros or any of the other billionaires have; it matters how much us poorer folks don’t have.  The Haves aren’t taking anything away from the Have-Nots (or even the Have-Lesses) but that is the myth that sustains us.  And that’s the real problem.  As long as we abide by our mythology, we can’t face the reality that our world is changing.

Back in the golden days when western economies ruled the world, our government’s largesse was endless.   There were innumerable programs, loans, projects, subsidies and payments.  There were high-paying jobs and whole careers based on government intervention.  Those days are gone.  They didn’t survive the new global economy, and unless we quit whining about it and adapt to this new reality — like the Mayans — neither will we.

2 thoughts on “Mythology and the New Reality

  1. It’s a dangerous notion that the economy is a zero-sum thing and that in order for one to succeed, someone else must be held down; it’s just not true and it’s not that hard to find out about it. For me, it speaks to the the lack of basic economic understanding among many influential social critics who forgot to study history. After all, history is a bunch of white men observing the world from their places of privilege – ha!
    (probably been spending too long on a Thomas Sowell book called Intellectuals and Society; he’s often labelled right wing but he’s more than that).

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