Thursday, October 08, 2009

Myth of Progress (in progress) 2.0

Oftentimes the direction of a thought process occurs across various social networks, these days.

The other day I posted this to twitter:

@agent139 So long as our civ is driven by the myths of progress, & the industry that follows it, psych desire will stripmine ecological capacity

This was ported over to Facebook and it triggered a reaction from a friend, ""Myths of progress"? Go throw your computers and devices in the river, while your at it, toss in your clothes (also products of development and technology). Oh, and stop going to the doctor, next time you get a broken bone you just walk that shit off like a man."

This point is actually well taken, but follows (I think) from the first definition of myth I list in the IoM editor's intro that Reality Sandwich ran earlier this week. A myth like "progress" or "individuality" represents not a single belief but a complex belief structure, often with levels of strata that can be hard to excavate. Calling it a myth is no slight; however different results follow from different cultural complexes, different myths.

I'd like to explore this issue more, and hopefully expand on it in greater depth in one of my articles in the book.

My reply:
Every myth has positive and negative effects. The Enlightenment gave us a new license on science, it also brough about new possibilities for global conquest (& war)- science itself gave us both penicillin & the bomb. (Many other things too, you get my point.) If a myth of individuality & progress wasn't embedded in our culture, something else would be- which would yield its own +s & -s.

In my opinion there's a particular problem with marrying progress (a teleological obsession- towards goals / ends) with the myths that come along with capitalism. But that's going to take half a book for us to explore.


  1. glad I could help sharpen your argument. Sometimes the only way to get a deeper understanding of an idea is to defend it against criticism. It sends your mind in unexpected directions.
    (the throw your stuff in the river guy)

  2. completely. it's a constantly ongoing process. it can also be really insightful in terms of demonstrating where you haven't properly explained yourself (or your terminology.)

    if i absolutely had to boil "myth" down into the simplest terms it would be something like "the explanations we have for how or why things are as they are; often but not always presented in an allegorical form." so science would also be a "myth." admittedly it is more complicated to deal with science on those grounds because science also attempts to deal with the empirical world, where most myth deals more with psychology- and the overlapping between these things is often where a lot of issues arise on both sides.

  3. it's also worth saying that a myth is never true or untrue. more important is what results come from making it a part of yourself.

  4. worked with it a touch and, sure enough, it's working its way into the text of the book:

    "...I will try to give a provisional definition for myth that stands as a refinement of the common definition. Myths are our symbolic interface with the world, often but not always presented in allegorical form. Mythology is the system arising around that interface. We may use them to explore why something is the way it is, or what we are to do with it- but the myth remains just an interface. The effect that comes from taking that myth into yourself and giving it life is what makes it immanent. There is no transcendent realm beyond the symbols, and in themselves, the symbols are empty shells. The myth is living because we are ever-changing and transitory. In other words, we are living, and myth too is living. It is a part of us, our mirror. If this seems far-flung, consider for a moment this statement once again: coming world conflicts will be driven by ideological and cultural fault lines. In other words, by our ideas about ourself, others, and the nature of the world we live in.

    Science is also a mythology, dependent in part on its methodology. This is where most immediately run aground, as science attempts to deal with the empirical world (far-flung theoretical physics not-withstanding), and the real function of myth is to be found in the intersections between self, culture, and world. This misconception is how myth got misconstrued with untruth- in philosophical terms, metaphysics was mistaken for empiricism."



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