“All men are capable of reason. That is the fundamental principle of democracy. Because everybody’s mind is capable of true knowledge, you don’t have to have a special authority, or a special revelation telling you that this is the way things should be” (Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p. 31).
Some people are content. They’re happy enough. They play on their phones, they share pictures with their friends on social media, they watch their streaming shows, they take selfies, and they wait in line for the midnight release of the newest MUST-HAVE item.
They work a tolerable job, they marry and have a few kids, they pay lip service to their gods (whoever or whatever those gods may be), perhaps they vote or perhaps they don’t. They get through school, they work, they procreate, they get old, and they die.
They find the diversions and activities that they enjoy, like sports or hanging out at bars or shopping or swimming in pools at over-priced luxury resorts in impoverished countries. They wear brand name clothes or advertise their favorite icons, they dress their kids to look “cute” for photos to post online, they take the little whipper-snappers to ballet classes or soccer matches or to see the hot, new Top 40 teen star in concert.
To quote the band, The Godfathers: “Birth, school, work, death.”
Throw some diversions into the mix, perhaps a minor tragedy or two, and maybe a half-hearted attempt at FAITH in some nebulous spiritual system (that they never REALLY delve into beyond Sunday service and a few holidays—if that much…) And that’s a LIFE today.
Is that it? Is that enough? Is the Super Bowl and MAYBE a nice house, and a promised trip to “Heaven” all anyone needs? Most people seem happy enough. Just look at all those smiling pictures online!
(This is all FIRST WORLD shit, of course. If you spend your day looking for food to eat, then you don’t have to worry about having the newest smart-phone or whether or not your TEAM is going to make it to the play-offs.)
What are the VALUES of a modern, “FIRST WORLD” society? Do most MALL SHOPPERS spare any thoughts for what a “LIFE WELL LIVED” might be? Buy the new thing! Drive the nice car! Live in the big house!
Where do we learn to EVALUATE our actions? To Investigate WHAT IS REAL? WHAT IS TRUE? WHAT IS WORTHWHILE? WHAT OUR LIVES MEAN? These questions aren’t covered in school anymore, and in “church,” they are at best frowned upon. (OTHER people already know what is good and right, and they will TELL you how to live. But what if they’re WRONG?)
“On the immediate level of life and structure, myths offer life models. But the models have to be appropriate to the time in which you are living, and our time has changed so fast that what was proper fifty years ago is not proper today. The virtues of the past are the vices of today. And many of what were thought to be the vices of the past are the necessities of today. The moral order has to catch up with the moral necessities of actual life in time, here and now. And that is what we are not doing. The old-time religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe” (Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p. 16).
It was common, before schools started teaching kids how to take tests on computers, for kids to read actual literature in classes. If you watch the classic holiday film, A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s teacher is about to discuss Silas Marner by George Eliot to a class of nine year olds. Reading Victorian literature (something far too few people do anymore,) you see children talking about mythology, reading John Bunyan, and being instructed in Chaucer as a matter of course. It is through literature, through mythology and philosophy and poetry, that our minds engage with deep questions, that we consider ethical concerns, and that we learn to empathize and imagine.
When we stopped having children engage with these works, when ADULTS stopped engaging with these works, the deeper topics that myth and poetry and literature addressed faded from our consciousness. (They’re probably still there, just buried, but without the LANGUAGE needed to discuss them, they become little more than shadows or vague anxieties in most citizens.)
The current administration in the U.S. does not value education, the arts, science, equality, or TRUTH. Cutting funding for education (in favor of dogma), gutting the dissemination possibilities inherent in the internet, killing the Endowment for the Arts, banning certain terms from government correspondences (“evidence-based” is no longer an appropriate term for a CDC budget?), and butchering the concept of objective reality in favor of propaganda and lies, these are the horrible acts of a DICTATORSHIP, which wants a citizenry who are incapable of reasoning or thinking for themselves. We can’t let this happen.
I’m calling for a CULT OF INFORMATION, a new mythology based on an understanding of stories, dreams, symbols, and the expressions of human creativity from all cultures. We will read and share and teach each other. We will consume history, philosophy, poetry, psychology, science, cosmology, mythology, and as much of the literature, visual art, and performed work that we can. We will NOT let the deeper questions go unexplored any longer. We will teach our children to VALUE stories, to express themselves, to analyze and evaluate information, and to form and cherish relationships and communities. We will write our stories, sing our songs, paint our pictures, dance our dances, and share our works with anyone who might want to experience them with us.
The New Dark Ages are upon us, but we will be the LIGHT that shines in the darkness, until the cultural values shift again, and the world WAKES BACK UP.
We will fight against ignorance, falsehood, corruption, greed, manipulation, segregation, racism, sexism, homophobia, and classist discrimination. The best way (that I know of) to fight these EVILS is with KNOWLEDGE.
“When you see the earth from the moon, you don’t see any divisions there of nations or states. This might be the symbol, really, for the new mythology to come. That is the country that we are going to be celebrating. And those are the people that we are one with” (Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p. 41).
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)