Your browser version is outdated. We recommend that you update your browser to the latest version.

Mythology, Community, and Lifestyle

9th of August 2016

 

This article will answer the following four questions:

  1. What is mythology as a cultural phenomenon?
  2. What is the function of mythology and why every culture needs a functioning mythology to be sustainable?
  3. What kind of mythic stories do we currently have in our global culture?
  4. What kind of mythology do we need in order to be sustainable.

About culture

When I talk about culture in this article I'm not referring to the Finnish culture, European culture or even the Western culture. I'm writing about the culture of the global technological and industrial civilization. And by culture I mean the way a community organizes its life.

All around the world people are living in a culture that is basically the same. On the surface level there may seem to be different cultures as architecture, fashion, arts, and language can still vary. But in the majority of human communities life is arranged in identical manner: By contractual work, the monetary system, and consumerism. People go to work to earn money and they spend that money in order to get the goods they need (or want). Apart from the last remaining hunting and gathering tribes and some nomadic peoples we are all living in the same culture,

 

1. What is mythology as a cultural phenomenon?

In our culture mythology is usually defined as a fable or a fairytale. Myths are seen as stories that are not true. Because of this conception we don't see that mythology is actually a cultural phenomenon that is always present in every culture. It's a basic building block of culture and as it's one of culture's deepest layers, it belongs to the foundations of culture. It is the collection of stories about our existence and purpose.

As our current techno-industrial culture views mythology as superstitiousness of the past it has become blind to its own mythic stories that are repeatedly being told every day and everywhere. It means that our culture is unconscious about its deepest workings. And we have learnt from C.G. Jung that when you are unconsious about something you are at its mercy. Our global civilization is imprisoned by its mythological story.

 

2. What is the function of mythology and why every culture needs a functioning mythology to be sustainable?

To be sustainable over generations every culture needs to have the right direction, balance, and human effort. Mythology serves these purposes by answering the fundamental questions of our existence. Who are we, where do we come from, where are we going, and what is the purpose of our being?

If mythology functions well there is no need to be conscious about it. It would take the culture in the desirable direction and it would serve the culture as it's meant to. But our mythology is broken. Collectively we are still telling the same stories for our existence as we were telling back in the 50's when we didn't have such a clear picture of the environmental degradation we are causing with our way of life. Those stories were still functional as people didn't yet see the reality behind the myths. But now it's very clear that the way of life that is based on our mythic stories is devastating to the environment, humanity, and the Earth as a whole.

This creates a great imbalance and contradiction in our culture. Our mythology is telling us that we are doing the perfectly good thing here, but the reality is telling a different story. The way of life that our mythology teaches as good is actually disastrous when we take an objective look around us. This contradiction between our mythology and reality is one of the key reasons why our global culture is so impotent to act on the environmental disaster we are already living in.

If mythology is broken and the answers to the fundamental questions are in contradiction with the perceived reality people don't have a working cognitive map and compass to orienteer themselves in this mysterious and vast universe of ours. They become disoriented and lost without a meaningful purpose in their lives. This results in psychological suffering and social instability which leads to cultural imbalance and the lack of human effort to pursue the common good.

By answering the fundamental questions of the human existence mythology also sets the course for the culture. If the direction is wrong the culture is not sustainable over generations. It will perish to give space for cultures that have a functioning mythology and are viable in long term. Our global civilization has been postponing this by the heavy use of natural resources.

You can think about all of this as a boat. The hull of the boat is the culture that is carrying its people. The oars are the human effort that is taking the people towards their common goal. The rudder of the boat is the mythology, which sets the course for the boat. If the course is taking the boat towards an impassable rapid, people on the boat start to become anxious and instable as they little by little awaken to the fact that they are not heading for a treasure island. In this situation you need to step on a different boat and steer the rudder so that the boat will face some milder streams. And hope that more and more people will join you on the grand expedition to the river of sustainability.

 

3. What kind of mythic stories do we currently have in our global culture?

As we realize that our mythology is broken, we need to become conscious about it and leave its myths behind in order to create better stories for our existence. We need to first realize that the course is wrong before we can take a new one. What are the myths of our global civilization?

The following myths I'm presenting are only the main stories and there are of course many others. Some lesser ones and some that are as strong as these. These myths may sound ridiculous to some of us today but they nevertheless are the constitutive stories of our culture.

First of all we have the Myth of Rationality. It tells us that we have mastered our mind which we use in a logical and rational way. Because of that our doings as a culture are not affected by feelings or emotions. According to the myth our common direction is based on objective and rational thinking which is not sooted by superstitiousness or unconscious impulses. This also creates the myth of no mythology.

When we look at the reality in the objective and rational manner that our culture insists it's doing, we see that we certainly have the facts and the knowledge that in the future we'll live in a greatly impoverished natural world where even the ever precious economical growth will be impossible. And as a culture we are still unable to make decisions to adjust to this knowledge. Does this sound like a rational and objective culture? No. It sounds like a culture that is very deeply rooted in emotions and unconscious workings. So we can trash the myth that our current culture is rational as it clearly isn't.

Following rationality is the Myth of human separation from nature. It's the story that tells us that humans are somehow different and separated from the rest of the nature. This is a dangerous story as it makes it possible for our culture to continue torturing the Earth without feeling the suffering inside ourselves. We are able to clear cut and plow forests and blow up mountains without feeling any conscious emotions about it. When we disconnect ourselves from the rest of the Earth community we don't feel anymore that what we do to nature we do to ourselves. And the myth keeps the alienation alive and growing.

We already know scientifically that the separation is not true. But our pseudo-rational culture is refusing to listen to it's greatest tool and ally, when it's about to change the story of our existence. Where do I end as every moment I breath the air and all the life and matter contained in it? Where do I end as I'm constantlty absorbing my environment through my skin? Where do I end when microbes in my digestive system affect my mental health and even personality? Where do I end when being in a forest has immediate unconscious benefits to my psyche? Science is clearly pointing out that we are not separate from nature. We are one with it.

Then we have the Myth of Human Supremacy. The story about our rightful place as the rulers of the Earth. Not so long time ago this myth was backed up by the belief that we are from a heavenly origin. That we are made in Gods own image and he has given us the power to rule on Earth.

Of course this myth has taken a different form in our secular culture and nowadays we place ourselves as the rightful masters of the Earth because of our intelligence. It's because we are so smart beings that we have the right to rule this planet as we see fit. This is a very unfair trick as we have chosen our best asset as the measuring stick for who's on top. What about running speed? Or climbing skills? I think squirrels should be on the top because they are so good climbers!

So in the end it comes down to the tyranny of the strongest and the most violent to other lifeforms. We must see that it's not intelligence but violence that gives us the power to rule. And there is no nobility in that.

Finally we have one of the strongest cultural forces that have ever affected human societies. The Myth of Progress. This story is religious in its nature: It includes the origin myth, the salvation myth and it requires faith.

The myth of progress tells us that we have began as low as any other animals, but as we have used our rational mind and our rightful place as the rulers of the Earth, we have slowly risen from the miserable life of a wild caveman to a civilized and intelligent modern human who is no more at the mercy of nature. The story says that this has been our destiny and as we continue to use our rational mind and natural resources to fuel technological progress, we can reach a heaven on Earth in the future. Then everything will be stabilized and everyone is happy. We can even reach the distant solar systems and conquer the whole Universe!

We've been following this storyline already for a few hundred years. Are we closer to the technological utopia already or is it still somewhere in the distant future? Does it actually start to look like the technological and material progress are not very satisfying to our minds, bodies, and social life after all?

Think about the time when you will be old. What will the world be like then? Isn't it a bit upsetting that we have no clue about it? That the human world can now change completely in a matter of 10 years? Is that normal or desirable development of a culture?

We still have the mind, body, and social needs of a hunter-gatherer. When you think about our urban human world today, how well are we adapted to such an environment and lifestyle? It seems that a great number of our medical, psychological, and social ills have their roots in the fact that we have developed a way of life that isn't suitable for us.

To wrap things up, let's hear the mythology of our global civilization.

The Old Story that We Live:

We humans are unique because of our intelligence and that makes us more valuable than other lifeforms and also different from them. It means that we are the rightful masters of the Earth and that we have the right to use its resources and habitats as our rational mind sees fit. When we fullfill this purpose of ours, we will be heading towards a time when we have mastered nature completely and everything is happily in our control. Then we are truly the masters of our own destiny.

We have started from the bottom as wildlings who struggled for their survival, but slowly we have risen to fulfill our glorious destiny. We must continue on this path because a paradise on Earth is awaiting us and that is the only way we can take.

 

4. What kind of mythology do we need in order to be sustainable.

The creation of a sustainable story for our existence is task for all of us. There are no right or wrong answers as we are only at the experimental beginning of a journey that'll take many generations. But someone must take the first step and we can be the ones doing it.

We also have some guidance as we can respectfully turn to nature, our human nature, and our distant ancestors for guidance and wisdom. Many cultures knew the sustainable answers to the fundamental questions of our existence and we need to relearn them now. We must apply their wisdom to our times in a way that is useful and functioning now. There's no going back, but there are other alternatives than just a blind rush forward.

As the last part of this article I'll share the story of our existence as I see it now.

The New Story that We Need:

We are not alone. We are one with the generations before us and with the generations to come. Their wisdom guides us. We are one with the ever opening creative process of the Universe that has began to contemplate itself also through us. We are one with the Earth and all of its lifeforms. We are in an unnegotiable relationship with the web of life. Our life depends on it. By doing good to nature we do good to ourselves.

We are alive when the times for humanity and the Earth are unsure and demanding. By facing the reality with open hearts we see how the situation affects our spirit. At the same time we find new powers within us as well as new hope and strength. Because when we allow ourselves to feel the Earth's suffering, we allow ourselves also to gain its strength. We open up to a stronger connection, beauty, respect, and love.

We are facing the unknown. We are privileged as we are alive in this time when we have the possibility to help humanity make its most demanding change so far. We can all do our best. Our purpose is to do our own small but the most meaningful part for balance. By doing this and by remembering our place, we can participate in the grand celebration of existence.

 

You can discuss this article on facebook.com/sammalsielu.