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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The postmodern myth

Since we think by painting images, which appear on the framed canvas of our mind, the only way to cross the boundaries of no longer relevant images is through new, refined, or expanded images on an expanded canvas. Our imaginative order is transcended only within a new imaginative order. In other words, the only way to think outside the box is by building a new and bigger box (that we soon will need to think out of). The myths of the premodern human mind, including the external forces of spirits and gods, have been replaced by higher-level, comprehensive myths of modernity, which include essences, natures, laws, and reason.

What then is the myth that is developing for the postmodern age beyond theology and metaphysics? The new myth is in process of being told in novels, films, music, and dance. It is being formulated in our scientific theories of the birth and development of the universe, the evolution of life, and the sharing of information. It is being constructed by elements within our religious and philosophical traditions of golden rules, universal human dignity, and mindfulness. Most importantly, the elements of the new myth are being collated through the contact of persons, groups, communities, and cultures sharing their stories.

We can preview or at least guess some of the themes of this new developing myth that will hopefully provide us the values, norms, and standards through which the human species might advance. They include:

  • Empathic, universal consciousness
  • Criticism without end
  • Respect for diverse traditions and expressions
  • Inclusive, unifying stories
  • Transcending boundaries by setting new ones
  • Wholistic and organic development
  • Transparency and self-critique
  • Problem solving in broader contexts
  • Provisional and falsifiable conclusions
  • Holding tension among polarities and uncertainties
  • Adventure in the common quest for life, meaning, and solidarity
  • Collective decision-making on the values and norms we agree to live by
  • Freedom and justice for all--in deed, not just rhetoric

Whether this myth is expressed by artists, scientists, historians, philosophers, parents, or teachers, it weaves together what is important to diverse cultures and at the same time is open to continual questioning and change. The developing myth will assume the religious, economic, and political myths by which most of us live today and which change us in the process.

There are three pitfalls for the postmodern myth to avoid:

1. Nihilism. By acknowledging that our belief-systems are fictions, we are in peril of becoming relativists without firm values and norms. We then believe nothing and are committed to nothing. Nihilism and hopelessness ensue. This will lead to non-engagement with our fellow citizens of the world, to passivity and depression. Or it will lead to the "all is permitted" reaction of another true belief like Nazism or Stalinism and other types of fascism that uses force and cruelty to bring some measure of stability and meaning in an uncertain world. It could also lead to a transhuman future (Orwell's 1984, Fahrenheit 451, the Matrix) that we have not thought though and that destroys the values we want to hold dear.

2. Elitism. We elevate our postmodern (secular, humanist, liberal) myth to a new dogma in which we divide ourselves as the enlightened intelligencia from those who cannot "get it." Our speech and behavior to show how intellectually honest, courageous, and smart we are incites reaction by those who are comfortable in their accustomed ways of speaking, with the beliefs and rituals that help them cope, and with the propositions by which they make community. That reaction and counter-reaction can take brutal form.

3. Inevitability. Qué sera, sera. Progress is inevitable for those on the "side of history." This accompanies shallow thinking that might criticize belief systems, but avoids consideration of the social structures which reinforce those belief systems. It leads to irresponsibility where we attempt to change hearts and even minds without the messy engagement of social change.

If we are truly postmodern, we can accommodate diversity, openness to expression, and above all empathy with all cultures as we intend and act for a more global culture and open society in which we too will learn and be changed.

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