Conclusion to the series Myths and Dragons
Jordan Peterson, in one lecture, referred to his work as circling around something too big to grasp from just one examination. There is a story about a group of blind people trying to describe an elephant that makes a similar point. The first blind person might touch the elephant’s foot and give one account. Another might touch an ivory tusk and say something different. A third might grab the elephant by the hairy end of the tail and have a very different story to tell.
By circling around it, and getting all the different stories straight, we might not ever get things all figured out, but we might be able to get a collective picture.
I’ve deliberately tried to adopt a similar approach in this series, examining the elephant in the religious room in the way a group of blind people might grope at the beast. The posts have wandered from the original goal and have become somewhat disconnected. And there are things left unexamined that do deserve more attention. Would it have been better if I had done things in a more disciplined, consistent, coherent way?
Maybe that’s the next adventure.
I hope this list of points helps in some way. (This is the timid list. I have another list more aggressive and much more easy to tear apart. I do not trust bullet lists, but I will leave that grudge for another time.)
- Reality is much more complex than we have been able to fully grasp. It’s fundamental nature is unknown.
- In order to manage this complexity we have organized ourselves into societies and cultures that attempt to create predictability and order. This predictability allows individuals to act and helps make conscious our motivations for behaviour.
- Those maps of culture cannot ever be truly “complete” due to the nature of complexity, the inability to know everything, and the very nature of change. New information is always lurking.
- Stories are like maps. They frame reality as places of subjective actions rather than places of objective materials.
- Those maps of culture that have proven to be successful over time seem to have, at their heart, a story of an exploratory hero. That individual becomes aware of the incompleteness of their personal or cultural maps. This hero courageously faces that incompleteness or threat and goes through a process of change, usually involving education, discipline, teamwork, achievement of ability and creative application of what’s new.
- This very process is in some measure always a threat to those maps because any new information could bring into question the foundations upon which the cultural maps rest.
- This very process, if stopped, leaves a culture ill-equipped to manage any new information that arises from exposure to the world beyond the cultural predictability.
- We have reached a point where these foundations are constantly bombarded with new information. Practically every individual on the planet must come to terms with the conscious knowledge of the incompleteness in their culture, the vastness of the world and the inability to know everything with certainty.
- We are faced with a challenge
- uphold our incomplete cultures that provide predictability, thereby ignoring new information, and becoming tyrannical and servile to the past
- modify those cultures and therefore expose their flawed natures, jeopardizing our impressions of value, predictability and motivation
- tear down those incomplete cultures, dramatically threatening the predictability of individual behaviour and the ability to trust one another’s motivations.
- The way forward is not adoption of one specific story. This would stop the process. The way forward is not absolute certainty in one’s adopted story. Again, this could stop the process and place the importance of our manufactured cultures over the importance of the individual, exploring hero. Instead, we are now sharing and investigating all our stories collectively and all at once. Culture must reflect this or else fall apart under the pressures of outside forces and new information.
- Literacy, technology and innovation have made this sharing of stories faster and easier, but it has also made our cultures more complex, vulnerable and brittle. Each individual has the power, potentially, to bring down and build up the networks and foundations of culture we have produced, and our stories now seem to reflect that too.
- The exploratory hero faces up to what they don’t know or can’t predict, and seeks to learn from it in order to bring back some benefit for the group (which is now extended beyond family, tribe, and ingroup to include, literally, billions). The exploratory hero creates a culture of responsibility. Each individual, though constantly facing new information that could undermine all their predictable motivations for behaviour, would still be equipped with the attitude and abilities needed to manage whatever new information does arise. In short, the individual hero can still act in a beneficial way despite facing uncertainty. Culture must foster this attitude and be at the service of individuals over establishing static truths or maintaining arbitrary rituals and norms that prevent the hero’s process.
There is a lot in this subject I haven’t fully covered or uncovered.
I didn’t really know how I wanted to finish this series. I’ve become uncomfortable about it, and I think it’s because there is so much I haven’t included, so many threads still left untied. At this point though, I’d rather go on to something else than clean this up. One thing that gives me hope at this point is Nassim Taleb’s work. (Aside: I adore the simplicity of presentation on his site.)
He is introducing what could be called mythological consciousness to the field of economics. This could mean that today’s political, religious and academic leaders might become inspired to apply similar thinking to more fields of study. And that could mean tomorrow’s heroes, innovators, and the rest of us, might all be able to create a culture of responsibility that’s worthy of striving for.
(I’m trying to find a way to play with this question still: Then how do we measure our stories?
Do we evaluate stories just on how real or true they are?
A trip to Hollywood would suggest otherwise. Since there is a TV in almost every living room and bedroom in the Western world, I would think otherwise. We seem obsessed with what people do, be it ‘staged’ or ‘authentic’.
I think we measure stories by how much reaction they get out of us.
I think stories can be measured in some way by what they make you do.
What does the story make you do?
Does your story produce the desire the act?
Does your story make you face what is, or does it make you shy away or ignore what is?
Does the story make you want to change something? Commit to something? Take up a journey?
Does your favourite story make you want to be in the story?
Are you in it?
And are you ready, for what comes next? )