04 February 2012

Myth and Cultural Programming

Myth, says Levi-Strauss, is a bricolage.  It bears the vestigial marks of old, forgotten uses and ideas and is perpetually adapted to resolve our ordering of reality into functional categories.  Only bad myths are cut from whole cloth (i.e., are engineered), because a myth derives its efficacy in large part from its familiarity in the culture.  Myths have been passed around from one hand to the next, so that when someone reshapes them slightly to show a different significance or functionality, they can still rest easy in the hands of the many.

What we have said about myth can easily be expanded to most of the components of culture.  One might say that the art of political success is in producing a myth flexible enough and compelling enough to be adapted in a hundred different ways — one for each major sector of the voting public.  "Change you can believe in."  Likewise there are silent myths which shape the way we see the world.  We might call them prejudices, except that "prejudice" is a key player in one of the dominant spoken myths of our time.  Certain ideas are simply 'in the air': that the movement of history is progressive; that intelligent people do not believe in God; that freedom is the highest human good.  One might call these beliefs "arbitrary" or "groundless", but they form the philosophical foundations of the masses, and no one is capable of defending them except with clumsy retorts: "God is dead." "Look at human progress in the past few centuries." "Would you like to be unfree?"  And the universal refusal of the culture to engage its critics becomes its greatest defense.