CXXVII – Myths, Fables, Fairy-Tales, and the Real World

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The
safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle
slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings,
without milestones, without signposts.

~
C.S. Lewis

Just
before Christmas, my three daughters, their husbands,
and I went to see the movie Narnia. I have
never been attracted to fantasy: listening to
politicians and other collectivists spin out the
blueprints of their air castles has been enough
for me. It is for much the same reason that, unlike
so many of my libertarian acquaintances, I have
never been the least bit interested in science
fiction. Contrary to what others might think,
I am not a utopian. I am only interested in discovering
the kinds of realistic social arrangements that
can overcome the destructiveness of our institutionalized
conditioning, and foster the free, peaceful, and
cooperative qualities that provide what the late
Joseph Campbell termed the u201Cinvisible means of
supportu201D to life. In this search, I have found
a number of thinkers quite valuable as catalysts
for the development of my own understanding.

Human
cognition and conceptualization of the world is
inherently divisive (i.e., we categorize our experiences
in terms of the u201Clivingu201D and u201Cnon-living,u201D of
u201Cfurnitureu201D and u201Cnon-furniture,u201D etc.). Our minds
are probably incapable of functioning in any other
manner. At the same time, however, we are able
to be aware that this is how we think.
Such an awareness allows us to intuit a wholeness
to the world that transcends the dualistic patterns
upon which our conscious minds insist.

There
is an intrinsic interrelatedness to what our minds
tell us are irreconcilable u201Copposites.u201D The meanings
of u201Cviceu201D and u201Cvirtueu201D are as dependent upon one
another as are the two blades of a pair of scissors.
As Einstein informed us, u201Cmotionu201D has meaning
only in terms of the relationship of one body
to another. The u201Cpovertyu201D of which politicians
love to prattle has meaning — and will always
have meaning — only in this relative way. Judged
by the relative standards of medieval society,
most of America's u201Cpooru201D enjoy material standards
that no monarch could command: central heating
and air conditioning; electric power with its
radios, televisions, and VCRs; modern plumbing;
automobiles; and telephones.

C.S.
Lewis and Ayn Rand come to mind as two persons
who have played a role in the transformation of
my own thinking. I am not a u201Creligiousu201D person
(at least in the conventional sense of that word),
nor do I consider myself an u201Cobjectivist.u201D Nonetheless,
I have found an exploration of the intelligent
religious inquiries — such as provided by Lewis,
Joseph Campbell, Elaine Pagels, et al. — and the
atheistic writings of Rand — along with Robert
Ingersoll, George Smith, and other intelligent
minds on the topic — most helpful in the development
of my own thinking.

If
one pushes the thinking of C.S. Lewis up against
that of Ayn Rand, one can discover an area within
which the seemingly irreconcilable u201Coppositesu201D
of u201Creligionu201D and u201Creasonu201D can dissolve into a
kind of interrelatedness that is integrative,
rather than divisive, of the qualities
that are conducive to life. So informed, life
takes on a deeper spiritual dimension than can
be found in the well-memorized doctrines and dogmas
that accompany the fragmented and isolated pursuit
of understanding.

A
willingness to explore this interrelatedness of
apparent opposites does not involve a weakening
of either approach to learning about ourselves:
on the contrary, in allowing us to see beyond
the limited boundaries set by our dualistic thinking,
we are able to gain an enhanced sense of who we
are. When isolated within the confines of any
belief system, our sense of u201Creligionu201D can become
warped; as it was when Pat Robertson prayed for
Supreme Court vacancies, urged the assassination
of the president of Venezuela, or interpreted
Ariel Sharon's stroke as divine retribution for
the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Likewise,
a u201Creasoningu201D that has been partitioned from the
spiritual dimension can lead one to such pronouncements
as were made by the Ayn Rand Institute's Leonard
Peikoff. In response to the attacks of 9/11, Peikoff
endorsed a virtually unlimited exercise of destructive
force against any nation involved therein. This
included a willingness to employ, if need be,
nuclear weapons against even u201Cthe countless innocents
caught in the line of fire [who] suffer and die
because of the action of their government in sponsoring
the initiation of force against America.u201D Robertson
and Peikoff each exhibit the violent and destructive
nature of the self-righteous thinking that can
arise when rationality and spirituality do not
inform one another.

But
how is this exploration of seeming opposites to
occur? We live in a world in which people find
it increasingly easy to rationalize all kinds
of torture, butchery, despotism, and theft against
others. As we have seen, there are secular and
religious voices alike prepared to lend their
sanction to such dehumanized behavior. We live
in a world in which, to borrow from Cole Porter,
u201Canything goes.u201D There appear to be no depths
of absurdity to which statists are unprepared
to go in testing the foolishness of Boobus
Americanus. The Federal Aeronautics Administration
has proposed regulating the commercial space tourism
industry in order to (yes, you've guessed it)
prevent terrorists from using such spacecraft
as terrorist weapons! In a world that revels in
such nonsense — provided it comes from exalted
institutional sources – how are we to distill
a basis for proper behavior in our dealings with
others?

One
means by which such ends might be accomplished
is through the use of myths and fables; stories
that have been used to help children learn to
distinguish u201Ctruthu201D from u201Cfalsehood,u201D u201Cgoodu201D from
u201Cbad,u201D and u201Cvirtuousu201D behavior from u201Cwrongdoing.u201D
Aesop's Fables, fairy-tales, folklore,
and other means have long been used to help children
learn to make moral judgments about the variety
of choices that are available to them in life.
The Narnia
and Star Wars films, among others,
and such stories as The Wizard of Oz, are
some of the better-known vehicles for such instruction.

The
problem I have with such stories relates to how
they are presented to children. An important
aspect of learning how to explore the interrelatedness
of apparent opposites has to do with how we think
of ourselves. Carl Jung is one of many persons
who has focused attention on the human tendency
to u201Cprojectu201D personal characteristics onto others.
Most of us are familiar with this practice in
projecting our u201Cdark sideu201D fears onto u201Cscapegoats,u201D
who we then punish for the shortcomings we have
about ourselves. Politics could not survive without
our largely unconscious willingness to project
fears of our own dishonesty, violence, laziness,
bigotry, greed, irresponsibility, or other self-doubts,
onto others, against whom the state promises to
act.

But
we have virtuous qualities that we seem equally
desirous of projecting onto others. Each of us
has the capacity for exceptionally creative, courageous,
or even heroic behavior, but a lack of self-assurance
often gets in our way. And so we look to others
to express such qualities in our stead: a hero
or heroine drawn, perhaps, from the motion picture
or television screen, an athletic field, or a
news story.

Whether
we are projecting positive or negative
traits about ourselves onto others, we are
rejecting our personal sense of self. In so doing,
we take ourselves out of the world as actors,
and content ourselves with being spectators at
a show scripted in our own minds from u201Cheroesu201D
and u201Cvillainsu201D of our casting. This is a principal
reason that the entertainment industry seems to
thrive during the decline of civilizations: individuals
become content with moral, intellectual, and existential
passivity, preferring to live their lives through
projected extensions of themselves with whom they
identify.

Properly
employed, myths, fables, and fairy-tales help
children learn to distinguish the polar differences
offered by such stories — not for the purpose
of trying to identify u201Cheroesu201D and u201Cvillainsu201D
upon whom to attach ones' sense of being, but
for the purpose of discovering and accepting such
traits within oneself. A person who regards himself
or herself as capable of generating the values
for living well, will be disinclined to call upon
the state for such purposes. Likewise, one who
acknowledges and accepts his or her u201Cdark sideu201D
is less disposed to act upon such traits and,
as Jung informs us in his work on u201Cindividuation,u201D
less likely to become part of the u201Cmass-mindednessu201D
that statists find so easy to mobilize through
the use of fear.

Such
an expanded personal dimension to the use of myths
and fables might also help to overcome the only
objection I had to the Narnia film — as
well as to similar stories. When children learn
to discover themselves as active moral, intellectual,
and creative agents in the world, they may no
longer find satisfaction in the terrible message
offered at the end of this film: that the reward
for heroic behavior is getting to have political
power over others.

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