Despite our agnostic protests to the contrary, we contemporary North Americans are controlled by our mythologies. Like our ancient Greek ancestors, we honour our gods and believe they rule our lives. The problem is our myths don’t work. In fact, they actually have an uncanny ability of getting in the way. For example, because we believe in a benevolent planet where all reasonable people think and act just like we do, when that literally never happens, we feel our world is chaotic, disjointed, out of step and out of control. This confuses us, but rather than questioning our myths, we reason that somehow we just haven’t been faithful to them and now the gods are angry. So, like all primitive peoples, we try harder to please our gods, sacrificing our common sense on the altar of appeasement. To butcher Shakespeare: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves.” Thus, when people act in ways contrary to the wishes of our myths, we look for something or someone to blame.
Here’s the deal. When Eddie, the local villain, breaks into our house and steals the iPod, iPad, iPhone and every other iSomething that isn’t nailed down, we want an explanation. We want to know why, in a benevolent world, this could happen to us; how Eddie, another reasonable human being, got thrown so far off the tracks? We wonder why our society has failed us, Eddie and the prescriptions of our mythologies. When we don’t get any answers, we feel angry and frustrated.
Unfortunately, the answers are exactly what we don’t want to hear.
First of all, we do not live in a benevolent world. There are people out there who actively want to do us harm. Open your eyes! The evidence is all around us. We can ignore it if we choose, but that doesn’t alter the facts. Secondly, under normal circumstances, people are not reasonable. It’s only the constraints of our society that make them so. You don’t have to be Charlie Marlow to understand that the tapestry of our world is woven of very thin yarn which breaks easily and unravels quickly. Finally, there are people all around us who don’t give a damn about the high-minded expectations we have for ourselves. They don’t care that we believe we’re good people. And this brings us to our final and most dangerous myth.
We believe that our mythology itself makes us morally superior. Now, before you relax and think, “Finally! I knew it. We’re all racist jerks!” think again. I’m not talking about racism. Actually, racism, in North America, is just a silly little word game we play with each other when the media gets bored. Compared to the tribes of Europe, Asia and Africa, we can take the Pepsi Challenge on racism any time –and come off looking good. No, our belief in our moral superiority has nothing to do with anyone else. It rests solely on the mistaken idea that our society has transcended its savage past. We believe so thoroughly in our inner goodness that any storm cloud in our Neverneverland world is cause for alarm. And that is precisely why we refuse to question our mythologies.
The truth is that if we do not live in a benevolent world where everybody is reasonable, then we are not the good people we think we are. We’re just techno-Visigoths, struggling to survive, and nobody wants to be a barbarian. Thus, when bad things happen, we think we haven’t been compassionate enough, or empathic enough, or reasonable enough. We go back to our false gods, pray for forgiveness and redouble our efforts to appease them. Thus, the dysfunctional cycle begins again.
It boils down to this. Either we quit sacrificing the way of life that got us here to a bunch of mythologies– and try to solve the reality of our problems, face-to-face– or our mythologies are going to kill our society dead as disco. It’s that simple.