Sunday, June 29, 2014


I like mythology.  I hate mythology.  I don't know that there is any other way to interact with it.  By mythology, I mean the sum total of stories we tell about the world around us to explain it to ourselves and that we assume in some way to be true/useful or that in history at some point someone assumed to be true/useful.

For an example of why I love and hate mythology, take the Greek and Roman mythology.  Much of it provided some way to try to make sense of the supernatural forces that were assumed to pervade reality.  Much of it describes events happening which are frankly brutal and disgusting and gods in general who are capricious and difficult to respect in any kind of normal human moral context.  But the world is a scary place with lots of things happening all the time that are brutal and make no sense in a moral context if you assume someone is responsible for all the random stuff that happens to you, so the brutality and amorality actually probably to many made the myths more compelling- not less.  The myths also provided a sense of common identity, a model for how idealized inter city interactions might take place, and a sense of traditional enemies and how they might be viewed and treated.

Some myths don't have to be believed as real to be viewed as useful.  A long time ago in a website far far extinct a completely fictionalized myth was created for people on the autism spectrum.  While nobody viewed the mythos as "real" in any literal sense, the "Aspergian Island" mythology created a sense of community and a common way of expressing the frustrations of living an autistic life and resonated widely and spawned a whole family of web forums and other communities which were very helpful to many people during a darker time of autism acceptance just not being a very high social priority and where it wasn't uncommon to hear about people claiming poison such as that anti bullying measures weren't needed because autistics didn't have emotions anyways.

So where's the problem?  Well, humans tend to form into tribal groups that want to love the people inside of them and hate the people outside of them.  Myths often are the language spoken to express the justification for these barriers.  Also, myths form the expression of how to punish and how to justify punishing someone who doesn't conform to the in group.  We can limit the needless destruction by trying to make our myths as accurate as possible and subjecting them to revision such as in science.  But as imperfect human beings, our will to punish or exclude traitors or outsiders easily overshadows the usefulness the myths provide. And that is why I hate myths.  Life in its totality is a mystery.  We all, in a sense, live in Plato's cave.  And the more we are sure we have the correct story of how the world works then the more we are willing to justify the emotional and social abuse heaped on ousiders or traitors.  And the more we are sure we are right the less willing we are to open our minds to the possibility of being wrong and needing to make course corrections.

So as I said before, I love and hate myths.  I don't know that it is possible to completely due without them, but to resolve the basic tension between loving everyone and loving only those we are like you a head on attack on the reliability of the myths must be made.

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