The Need of Myth

We are used to hearing about Myth as untrue, and also as “a special kind of truth”. I like the religious definition of “a story that tells a sacred truth,” as this cuts to the heart of it. That’s really, one suspects, what Tolkein was getting at with Middle-Earth: telling a story that told deep and real truths. In this sense, Myth becomes a kind of synonym for Art.

Let us now, by way of comparison, imagine abstract man, wihtout the guidance of myth – abstract education, abstract morality, abstract justice, the abstract state, let us imagine the lawless wandering, unchecked by native myth, of the artistic imagination; let us imagine a culture without a secure and primal sacred site, condemend to exhaust every possiblity and feed wretchedly on all other cultures – there we have our present age, the product of that Socratism bent on the destruction of myth. And here stands man, stripped of myth, eternally starving, in the midst of all the past ages, digging and scrabbling for roots, even if he must dig for them in the most remote antiquities. What is indicated by the great historical need of unsatisfied modern culture, clutching about for countless other cultures, with its consuming desire for knowledge, if not hte loss of myth, the loss of the mythical home, the mythical womb? Let us consider whether the feverish and sinister agitation of this culture is anythign other than astarving man’s greedy grasping for food – and who would wish to give further nourishment to a culture such as this, unsatisfied by everything it devours, which transforms the most powerful, wholesome nourishment into “history and criticism”?

Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, pg. 110

I have often found Nietzsche to be a passionate and entertaining mountebank: he talks nonsense, but he does so in a way that hits upon realities, incants the inexpressible. I have read that he was intended for the ministry; he makes a fine shaman. And this passage hits upon a reality. Why is our age so devoted to superheros? Why do we fight over them as past ages fought over gods? Because of the need for myth, some emotional primality, some ur-sense. The more we bust Myths, the more we long for them.

We are not, and never will be, as rational as we imagine. Some part of our deeper brain has needs that abstraction cannot satisfy. Words are not merely vehicles of argumentation, but of entrancement. This does not exist for no reason, or devil’s anti-reason. That which exists, fulfills a need.

We dramatize the weather, the traffic, and other impersonal phenomena by employing exaggeration, ironic juxtaposition, inversion, projection, all the tools a dramatist uses to create, and the psychoanalyst uses to interpret, emotionally significant phenomena.

We dramatize an incident by taking events and reordering them, elongating them, compressing them, so that we understand their personal meaning to us – to us as the protagonist of the individual drama we understand our life to be.

David Mamet, “Three Uses of the Knife”, pg. 3-4

The greatest sin we can commit against ourselves is to refuse to be human, to demand godhood of ourselves. We are not gods, and God forbids us to think of ourselves as such. Myth invits to share in what is greater than ourselves, not to supplant it.

Gun Laws and Other Acts of Folly

This is several days old, but since I greatly enjoyed David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge: The Dismantling of American Culture (Have you not read it? You must), it would be remiss of me not to link his brilliant, hilarious essay for the Daily Beast, “Gun Laws and the Fools of Chelm.” It contains many useful arguments about the nonsense surrounding the gun control debate, such as this oft-quote graph:

The Left loves a phantom statistic that a firearm in the hands of a citizen is X times more likely to cause accidental damage than to be used in the prevention of crime, but what is there about criminals that ensures that their gun use is accident-free? If, indeed, a firearm were more dangerous to its possessors than to potential aggressors, would it not make sense for the government to arm all criminals, and let them accidentally shoot themselves? Is this absurd? Yes, and yet the government, of course, is arming criminals.

Of course they are. Because if it was not a perverse unintended consequence, the government would not be doing it. To wit:

All of us have had dealings with the State, and have found, to our chagrin, or, indeed, terror, that we were not dealing with well-meaning public servants or even with ideologues but with overworked, harried bureaucrats. These, as all bureaucrats, obtain and hold their jobs by complying with directions and suppressing the desire to employ initiative, compassion, or indeed, common sense. They are paid to follow orders.

This is the truth the progressive cannot admit. Forever they call for “sensible” laws, “reasonable” regulations, emphasizing the adjective in unspoken testimony to their own sense and reasonability, even though they may have little or no knowledge about the law passed or the thing to be regulated. Then the law and regulation is handed over to an indifferent functionary who knows perfectly well that if he fails utterly to achieve a goal, his superiors will insist that lack of funding is to blame. Forms will be filled out, and reports will be filed, and we will be exactly where we were the day before. Except the paper Leviathan will be that bit bigger, and we that bit less free, just as fifty years of Drug War has made drugs exactly as available as they were in 1960, except for the massive expenditure, slow erosion of the Fourth Amendment, and a prison population to rival Stalin at his most paranoid.

Such a thing can not be explained as public policy. It even strains ideology. There is something deeper in this, a surrender to fear that I remember the Left warning us about incessantly after 9/11. This bespeaks and emotional need to “do something” when tragedy strikes, and an almost willful ignorance of whether the thing done will accomplish anything at all.

An “assault weapons” ban will not prevent a single murder from happening on the streets of Baltimore tomorrow. You know that, I know that, everyone knows that. It will not prevent a single robbery. It will not prevent a single rape. And it will not prevent a single mass shooting from happening anywhere in the country. And when that mass shooting happens, as it will, we will fall all over ourselves being sensible and reasonable and attempt to ratchet up the regulations a step further, like Johnson dropping ever more and more bombs on North Vietnam, because what’s been missing is more of the same.