From Myth and mind by Harvey Birenbaum

If myth is the creation of a special reality, then in the last analysis it is the linear mode of expression that is distinctly mythic.  The nonlinear may violate common sense, but it does so the better to approximate real experience…  What could be more mythical than the concept of objectivity, the peculiar assumption that we can get absolute and direct knowledge of the world through the human mind or through any instrument that the mind conceives — that we can see, in other words, with the eyes of a god?

Since all these forms of common myth have a kind of reality similar to that of traditional myth, they assert a like kind of ambiguous truth.  To our great experience, we force them too into linear molds and argue endlessly over their absolute worth or worthlessness.  Seeing them as myths, however, allowing them to float free — poised between truth and falsehood, revelation and deception, consciousness and unconsciousness, we can see richer value in them.  As versions of reality, they can be true without having to be the truth, and they can be “true” to varying degrees, in varying ways.  They can function, like all myths, as vehicles for our energy and channels of experience.  They can confront the world, revealing something of its nature and something of our own in a flow of involvement.

We need to gauge our myths to be as sensitive to reality as they can.  If they become to precise, however, they become rigid with error.  In a world of experience, which is composed from perspectives, in which the human situation must (happily) be particularized as your version and mine, in which we will always have second thoughts, third, and fourth, only partial truths can be true, only creative portraits can capture the original truly.

Heavy reading, idle hands

Along with the gardening this summer I have been doing quite a bit of reading in areas that I don’t normally read. It started off in the spring with “An Underground History of American Education”, and has lead into various other alternative voices and perspectives of history, education, and economics. I never really enjoyed reading history or politics, so this was a new direction. The difficult part, and part of the reason that I do not write much about it, is that it is disturbing to dig into the history of our systems and difficult keep an upbeat perspective. Now we can look back on the ideas and thoughts that were prevalent a century ago and see how wrong or misguided they were, but our world today is still run using systems that were based on those ideas that we find so disturbing now.

One of the impressions that I am getting is the brokenness (sinfulness?) of systems. At the beginning of the development of a system (at least in modern history), whether it is political, financial, or educational, there is generally some good intent or altruistic motives. Over time, that good intent, which was attached to some individual or individuals, is supplanted by institutional goals that do not necessarily reflect the intent of the individuals who are now running the system. The system has a life of it’s own, but those that are the agents of the system do not steer according to the original passion, so the system drifts, and is easily diverted by those that would use the system for their own purposes. In some cases we now have monolithic systems of which we don’t even understand the original intent, but which are kept in place because those that control the system benefit through it regardless of how beneficial or effective the system is.

I am even tempted to say that systems are infernal tools for maximizing the effectiveness of vice. It only takes small suggestions in key places to turn a system towards malevolent intent. One proud and selfish leader can cause misery for millions, but is soon overthrown. A few dozen chairmen, or board members with minor bouts of selfish ambition, greed, or cowardice can cause generations of misery for hundreds of millions, if not more.

What better places for demons to play? We wonder why we do not see more overt demonic activity in the world today, but there is no need here. It is through the subtle manipulations of organizations that we are possessed. Everywhere we look we see huge systems for controlling the population, from education to economics to opinions and beliefs. Overt demonic activity is still powerful in some places where the predominant beliefs lead to a fear of spirits, but here we have TV, consumerism, nationalism, and the pursuit of leisure. We would call an old-school demon possession a trick, a fake, or a “condition”, not a thing to be feared.

See what I mean about staying upbeat? So my current question is: “what do I do with this?” I am still working on that, but one of the directions is to remain focused on the life around me. I have a sphere of influence, and within that I will be Christ. While it is helpful to understand the underpinnings of our society, it can also serve as a distraction from the real goal of pleasing God, and being love. But I still say RESIST!

I am still at the beginning or in the middle of some big ones that may not be finished until well into fall. It is good for me, even just the challenge to remain focused, and to question my inputs.

Grateful

‘Tis the season to be thinking about thankfulness. I have been, along with a few other things that might not seem immediately related.

Leading into the Thanksgiving week I started reading The Paradox of Choice: Why more is less by Barry Schwartz, a slightly academic romp into why more options make us less satisfied. He goes into the psychology of making decisions, and what happens when we are presented with more options. Some of the ways that he gives to alleviate the stress of too many options are interesting in the context of our “give me options” culture: practice gratefulness, be content with “good enough”, embrace constraints on choice (more on that in a minute), make decisions permanent, and choose when to choose.

Those can be boiled down to this: gratitude, contentment, relationship, decisiveness, discernment, but I suppose the terms used above might be easier understood. These are all attributes of character. The most interesting of these is the “embrace constraints on choice” item. He elaborates on this, indicating that our pursuit of individual autonomy increases our options, whereas our acceptance of the constrains that relationship and community put on us reduces our options. Examples of this would be both marriage and church. When we accept marriage for what it is, we reduce our options for mates, housing, habits, food, sex, and sometimes clothing and style. The same is true of Church. The key word here is acceptance. If you don’t accept the terms of the marital contract, yet take the vows, you might not be very satisfied with the imposed reduction in options. The end result is that those who have accepted these relational and community constraints on choice are happier. The same with the list of character attributes listed above. The more grateful, content, relational, decisive, and discerning you are, the happier you are as well. I would add that happiness is not really the goal, but character is, and a stronger character leads to a better outlook on life.

Also in the book is a section about gratefulness, both positive and negative. Positive gratefulness would be thankfulness for what you do have: shelter, food, clothing, loving family. Negative gratefulness would be thankfulness for what you do not have: HIV, missing limbs, debt, the draft, a contentious wife. The positive is easy, but we still do not do it very often. The negative is not much more difficult, but in the end leads to a multitude of items on our positive list (relatively good health, the limbs I was born with, accounts in the black, the choice for peace, and a loving, industrious, beautiful wife).

Some of these ideas reassure me that we are heading in the right direction. We have constrained our options willingly, decided to be content with what God has provided, chosen to make commitments permanent, and realized that sometimes we can choose not to choose. As I think about what we are thankful for, I also started to realize that there are many things that I could complain about, but feel none of the anxiety that leads that direction. I am content. Not just with what we have, but also with the state in which we have it, used, patched, rough, ugly, lame, worn, old, second-hand, and unfinished. Part of my thankfulness is for things that do not demand status or prestige.

While I have mentioned a few aspects of the book, it goes into other aspects of the problem of increased options. I would recommend it, despite it’s academic nature.

Links:
TED video where Barry Schwartz talks about the paradox of choice
Google Books info on Paradox of Choice