Fouling the Water – Impotent Imagination & Poison Myths

Mytho-poesis is like a gun, you can take it out and train yourself through the controlled application of fire and force, or you can walk into a mall and expose your impotence in a violent and irresponsible act. Any time you attach an image to a conceptual framework and distribute that little package to the populace you’re playing with the cultural narrative. This can be used to help or hinder society, and when it’s done as an act of spite from an unrefined consciousness it starts to foul the collective mental waters.

Under the auspices of popular voices like Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, we talk a lot about positive myths, myths that uplift us and invigorate our lives. For scholars whose diet is strict and indulged in the company of profound minds past and present, this may be a proper perspective. When we consider, however, that there are other conversations that come to the community on the same neutral terms of mytho-poesis it becomes necessary to recognize that there are irresponsible ways to mix the voice and vision.

I was recently reminded of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” trope used by folks who feel burned by the mismanagement of organized religion. With all this mytho-poetic theorizing going on I suddenly realized that the FSM was actually a poisonous entity. It’s vacuous nature, devoid of any potent conceptual purpose, houses itself in the cultural narrative, creating a meaningless negation where growth could be found.

It’s the flip side of mystery, an infantile image aligned to a zombified corporate rationalism. Upheld as an image of intellectual freedom it exposes the impotent imagination of it’s exponents and their inability to reach a true  illumination of the intelligence.

A deep sense of compassion reaches out to these hurt intellects festering under the sway of a poisonous mythos. Lacking all beauty, empty of a Hermetic humor, the FSM is a cold cell for bitter hearts. With all the archetypes of critical intelligence to choose from, to center in on such a sad thought form represents a frantic misstep on the road to reason.

So take heed when your bile rises and your creativity is sparked. Aid in the movement of truth and resist the urge to create empty vessels that set sail to suck meaning from the collective consciousness.  The passage is fit with enough trials, we don’t need any more impotent arguments to foul the water.

Advertisements

20 responses to “Fouling the Water – Impotent Imagination & Poison Myths

  1. The Flying Spaghetti Monster (which I assume is what you’re talking about) is just a tool to demonstrate the flaws in popular religious arguments. It was originally devised to expose the vacuous nature of so-called “Intelligent Design” and it continues to be used in various other circumstances.

    Its main purpose is to isolate flawed arguments from a context rife with bias. An empty vessel is best for this purpose; it’s free of the emotional investment and cultural baggage that so often bog down discussions of theism.

    I agree that some atheists use it as a crass dismissal and insult. That’s a fair point. But I would say the really poisonous meme here is your comparison of insensitive rhetoric to physical violence. I’m seeing this kind of language directed at non-theists a lot lately and it concerns me. We are expressing our views, jut like you. Equating mere words to violent action is a stumbling block in the path to productive debate.

    • You’re right it is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I should have been more careful in it’s actual name. Thanks for helping me think through this piece a bit. It was triggered by a discussion on LinkedIn where the FSM was brought up in an arbitrary way.

      My comparison of rhetoric to violence is apt in the sense that the the device is weaponized on the conceptual field. The FSM is perpetrating violence on the collective mental space of culture.

      How this analysis translates into violent language at non-theists I don’t follow, I’m merely saying that there are positive tools that could be used to uplift a spirit of free inquiry beyond faulty interpretations of religious dogma and complete dismisal of mystery.

      If you’re getting a violent message out of “controlled application of fire and force” I was referring to sharp shooting in the context of using it to train hand eye coordination, learn chemistry and physics as it was originally implied by the medieval and Renaissance application of firearms. This probably should be clarified if it’s leading to the interpretation that I’m espousing violence rather than seeking to assuage it.

      The FSM is like a designer drug on the archetypal market. It leaves an imaginal lesion. It replaces the opportunity of a meaningful question with a vacuous joke. Debate is about testing ideas, not disarming them with a potent vaccination.

      You mention the concept of a meme which means that you know that ‘mere words’ are motivating elements in the society. Tying words with images, as in the FSM, creates a place for people’s attention to focus. If that focus isn’t directed towards development, and instead it’s given over to an empty vessel, a rupture in the cultural narrative is created.

  2. My objection is to the comparison of FSM to a spree shooting. Not only does that language unfairly demonize an opposing point of view, I would argue that it trivializes actual violence. Either way, it’s a manipulative technique which I think does much more harm to the discourse than the FSM itself ever will. I don’t think you’re espousing violence, I think you’re invoking it in a way that encourages fear and hyperbole rather than reasoned discussion.

    I think I get the general thrust of what you’re saying, but for the reasons stated above I don’t agree with it. The cultural narrative is not a physical structure to be ruptured or otherwise damaged, and I find the concept of an “imaginal lesion” to be suspicious at best.

    The FSM is, as I said, a discursive device that serves a necessary role in the discussion of religion. Something needs to fill that role in order for reasoned discussion to take place. I think in order to effectively argue against it you need to better substantiate and define the harm that you say it causes, and propose an alternative that accomplishes the same purpose while reducing or eliminating this harm.

    • As I said, if you use the term meme you should understand that words have more efficiency as a cause than you’re giving credit to in calling the FSM simply a “discursive device”.

      For how “imaginal lesion” is accurate I would recommend Eros & Magic in the Renaissance by Ioan Couliano and Giordano Bruno’s De Vinculis in genre:
      http://www.mastersjewel.com/masons/symbols/DeVinculis_english.pdf
      for an analysis or http://www.esotericarchives.com/bruno/vinculis.htm
      for the full text (in Latin).

      For a solution…legitimate debate:
      https://theeyelessowl.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/a-philosophical-rejoinder-by-prof-james-m-magrini/

      • Having read the two English language links I see no coherent definition of the type of harm you’re describing, let alone evidence of its presence or extent. I’ve explained why I think FSM is useful– and I did it in a few sentences of plain English. If you can’t do the same for the harm you imagine it causes (I know of nothing integral to the mere definition of “meme” that even suggests such) I’m not sure that legitimate debate is possible with you, at least on this topic.

      • “The demand that a scholar synthesize the totality of Jewish scripture into a few sentences is an absurd one. It becomes more absurd when the target of this demand is not an expert in a given topic, only a dedicated amateur. If quantum theory could be condensed into a post the size of this comments section the field would require far less study than it currently does. All academic disciplines defy such extreme summarization; quantum theory even more so than most.

        This is where that final sentence comes in. “Now go forth and study.” If you’re only willing to invest a few minutes of attention to the issue then your reward will be a few minutes worth of understanding.” – from The Key of Atheist, The Wisdom of Rabbi Hillel

        The cultural narrative is a unifying fabric that ties a society together. This narrative is created by stories, songs, symbols, myths, etc. that pass through society.

        Example: During the revolutionary period in the United States there was great difficulty in aligning the different ethnic groups and religious groups to the “American cause”. German settlers would say it wasn’t their fight, so would the Irish, French, etc. This problem persisted into World War 1, by World War 2 a lesson was learned and the Library of Congress started collecting, cataloging and disseminating folk music that began to create the myth of a unified United States. This process crystalized in the 1950’s with the image of an “American culture”.

        If we were to be singing songs about Flying Spaghetti Monsters our unity would be a bit silly wouldn’t it? Beyond that it would limit our ability to actually join with the organic processes that are necessary to hold a society together, human emotions, contemplation, intellectual meditation, etc. and it also doesn’t serve to connect us to the organic processes in the world around us. When there is already a crisis of meaning (fundamentalism is a reaction to this) it doesn’t serve society to introduce more thought forms that lead towards negation. To do so is to further cripple the cultural narrative in a way that continues the crisis of meaning from which violence, intolerance and censorship spring.

  3. Your misunderstanding of the FSM device is hardly equivalent to the Tanakh, at least I hope so.

    Your summary appears apt at least; I at least think I know what you mean now. Your mistake is to treat the FSM as a proposed religious belief. As I said in my first explanation of it, the concept is meant to separate logical forms from doctrinal biases that impair their sober analysis. It works precisely and only because no one is trying to unite around it.

    I would argue that the failure to objectively analyze faith-based beliefs is a greater impediment to cultural progress than any triviality like the FSM. This failure is also demonstrably tied to censorship and violence, a connection you have yet to even hint at substantiating in the case of the FSM.

    • As the Tanakh is a central source for the development of the Judaic myth, as well as the development of a Judaic apologetics against the cultural narratives of the Egyptians, Babylonians and Romans, I would say that I am indeed making such a shocking foray into mental adventure as to suggest that, yes, my (mis)understandings of the FSM and the Tanakh are floating in the same pool.

      I think we may have a division in our concepts at a very root level that’s causing all this confusion. To me the idea of objective analysis of “faith-based beliefs” makes no sense and isn’t supported by a close reading of most developed theological narratives or those thinkers who represent the pinnacle of their respective traditions. “Belief” is representative of the assumption that there are not concrete realities being explored, in terms of Western culture I can see how this would seem to be the case with most mainstream representations of religion, but these representations don’t do justice to their source.

      Our understanding of mytho-poetics seems at odds (or you’re not understanding what I mean by mytho-poetics). A rhetorical device is not the same as a concept tied to an image, Bruno’s De Vinculis in genre (and the analysis of it that I linked in a prior response) describes the process of tying a concept to an image in order to produce “erotic bonds” that focus the desires of a person or group and allow them to be pulled towards a set of behaviors.

      It may be that the origins of the FSM were simple, but by adding a branded image to it the effects become much greater. The Rosicrucian Manifestos were a “serious joke” put out as a satire on the state of science and politics at the time, this has lead to centuries of speculation and action from groups assuming the mythology of the Rosicrucians. It’s a process outlined in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum.

      Whatever the intent of the Flying Spaghetti Monster it has assumed the position in the cultural narrative of a myth, albeit a self-aware one. The problem is that traditional myths are based on correlations to organic processes, whether in the material world or in the development of human consciousness. When something like the FSM assumes the position of a myth without having the potency and correspondences it creates problems in the full range of the cultural narrative. Giordano Bruno discusses the manipulation of cultural myth types in his work Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast.

      “Your mistake is to treat the FSM as a proposed religious belief…” our understandings of religion seem to be quite different. You say in a later reply that the FSM is capable of “uniting atheists socially”, which would be all a religion is to me. A social force that motivates group behavior, the focal point of a religion being the defining point of that behavior, and the closeness of it’s symbolism to the organic process of being it’s level of validity. This is my point, the FSM is a stupid focal point, and takes the place where a more potent and unified focal point could be used.

      The problems that you see with religion are directly tied to this process of dumbing down the cultural narrative. Billy Graham’s vision of Jesus as a magic word for redemption has completely destroyed the complex archetypal understanding present in the New Testament. It broke the organic bonds of the story and created the same kind of empty image that the FSM is for atheists.

      Also it seems that you’re under the assumption that I’m taking an “us vs. them” mentality against atheists. I’m not sure where you got that as my critique is more “The FSM is stupid, a better myth would lead to better results” and has nothing to do with atheism vs. theism.

  4. To my understanding, the FSM was originally a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way to isolate the proposition of a divine entity from the various religious doctrines that already treat such a proposition as axiomatic. This was a good idea, because it is easy to get bogged down in debate over the validity of doctrine and to forget this fundamental proposition at the core of most religions: a god or collection of gods exist with observable traits X, Y, and Z. By substituting a new divine entity with no religion attached to it for one which does, we are able to focus our discussion on the ‘god hypothesis’ itself. I’m sure you can see why this would be a useful starting point for a discussion of religion.

    The FSM absolutely does have cultural meaning, I think. It is absurd. Many symbols of the FSM, from the parody of the famous image on the Sistine Chapel that shows the FSM reaching out to man and accompanied by the line ‘touched by his noodley appendage’ to the existence of a ‘Church of the FSM’, show how a group of non-theists have superficialy built the FSM into a reducto ad absurdum memetic analog to Christianity. The FSM meme is a product of non-theists’ frustration and bitter amusement at what they see to be the absurdity of religion and the notion of the divine, and so the FSM is now much more than its original form as a rhetorical device.

    • Okay, good. Now I feel like we’re getting somewhere. As I said, I agree that the FSM can be used as a tool to ridicule. I’m not sure that it amounts to reducto ad absurdum (since it actually jettisons the content of conventional belief) but that’s neither here nor there. The important point is that people sometimes use it to be jerks.

      What is the nature of the harm this causes, and specifically what differentiates it from the harm caused by ordinary intra-religious, inter-religious, and anti-atheist prejudice? I think the idea that people deserve to go to hell is a toxic one. I think the widespread acceptability of claiming atheists are immoral is damaging to the discourse. I think that religiously justified homophobia is harmful both to discourse and society.

      I’ll acknowledge that the FSM device can be used as an insult and that insults are often unproductive. But it seems to me that the utility of the device, both in debate and for uniting atheists socially, offsets whatever harm is done. After all, atheists are already viewed negatively by the majority of religious believers and historical precedent (especially in the LGBT movement) shows that even the most caustic activist voices can be a vital means of shifting the centre of a debate.

      So what is it about the FSM meme that negates the desirable effects and warrants critiquing this particular meme instead of one of the others I mentioned? Additionally, if we agree that it’s still useful to separate logical forms from doctrine for the purposes of debate, what would you recommend as an alternative? Is it possible that the real problem is the use of ridicule and invective in general, and that the FSM is essentially independent of these behaviours?

      • Caustic activist voices are fine, if they’re artful. George Harriman’s Krazy Kat and Ignatz is an artful cartoon, Garfield is not. I would say that the FSM is in line with Family Circle on this scale.

        Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs wouldn’t have developed the FSM. They were about as caustic as you get on the LGBT scene.

        Spinoza is what I would recommend, or Borges. But I’m a cultural snob. : )

    • “reducto ad absurdum memetic analog to Christianity” – perhaps I’ve read too much continental philosophy, but this is the exact problem that I’m trying to point out. A “reducto ad absurdum” is a black hole in the cultural narrative. The FSM is sitting in a place where real dialogue could be or where a real myth could be developed that would serve a positive function.

      “The FSM meme is a product of non-theists’ frustration and bitter amusement” – this is not a good place to start when creating a cultural movement. The plant is marked by it’s seed.

      • These are fine arguments against the FSM’s compatibility with your taste, but I’m still seeing no evidence that it does actual harm of that is doesn’t do good. You haven’t demonstrated that the FSM is incompatible with “real dialogue”. You haven’t even defined what “real dialogue” is to you; I’ve been treating it as if it means “productive dialogue” and I’ve explained how I think it does serve that end.

        I’m not sure whether you’ve read too much continental philosophy, but your argumentation suggests you haven’t read enough introductory philosophy. I can at least appreciate your high regard for Borges; his economical use of language is a great example for us all.

      • Perhaps a cut-up will clarify:

        “traditional myths are based on correlations to organic processes, whether in the material world or in the development of human consciousness. When something like the FSM assumes the position of a myth without having the potency and correspondences it creates problems in the full range of the cultural narrative.”

        “A “reducto ad absurdum” is a black hole in the cultural narrative. The FSM is sitting in a place where real dialogue could be or where a real myth could be developed that would serve a positive function.” This positive function being to bring the society or individual back in line with organic currents of development.

        “Bruno’s De Vinculis in genre (and the analysis of it that I linked in a prior response) describes the process of tying a concept to an image in order to produce “erotic bonds” that focus the desires of a person or group and allow them to be pulled towards a set of behaviors.” The FSM is a concept tied to an image that produces bonds.

        “You say in a later reply that the FSM is capable of “uniting atheists socially”, which would be a religion is to me. A social force that motivates group behavior, the focal point of a religion being the defining point of that behavior, and the closeness of it’s symbolism to the organic process of being it’s level of validity. This is my point, the FSM is a stupid focal point, and takes the place where a more potent and unified focal point could be used.”

        You began your critique assuming I was joining the theist/atheist debate and it’s colored your understanding of what I’m saying. Reading your critiques and my original post I am at odds to match the two. It seems you thought I was a theist equating the effect of the FSM to a shooting spree. I was discussing the FSM in terms of mytho-poesis. At no point in your replies have you given any indication that you understand the process of mytho-poetics. At every point where I’ve answered your questions you fall back on discussing rhetoric, I’m not talking about rhetoric. I can see how trying to discuss it in those terms by using a word like debate I may have muddied this a bit.

        Reading the aforementioned works by Bruno, and familiarizing yourself with Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum will give you a better idea of what I’m talking about. I’m not arguing anything, factually and without subjectivity, the FSM is a poisonous myth.

  5. I’m not treating this as an atheism/theism issue other than my first comment. The rest of my criticism has focused on our claim that the FSM idea is in some way demonstrably harmful and your subsequent refusal or inability to even describe this imagined harm.

    I can see that you have particular taste in myths as well as a rather broad definition of the word. I would call your definition of religion unacceptably broad since the one you’ve stated applies as much to popular competitive sports as it does to Christianity and atheism.

    I read the Bruno. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t advance a definition of harm that renders your argument cogent. The fact that you continually refer to outside texts without making any effort to show what you claim to be synthesizing from them is revealing.

    Any first-year can drop names to cover for a lack of substance. You of all people should be aware of this. Clearly there’s good money in doing what you’re doing, but your theory is, as the saying goes, not even wrong. At least we can agree on one point: You’re not arguing anything.

    • “Any first-year” – we’re not in school

      “there’s good money in doing what you’re doing” – seriously? When I start making money on this I’ll set you up in a hotel and we can host an all day event to discuss the pros and cons of the FSM. I’ll even design t-shirts and cute buttons.

      Popular sports are religious in nature, and their historical roots in traditional games such as the Roman arena bear this out. They represent local/regional cults of place and initiatory rituals for the culture. On a broader level they represent minor cults leading up to wider national cults. That’s why we have the Olympics and Olympic athletes. They serve the purpose of expression the prowess of the national cult and they are often taken from the major sports teams.

      As for not explaining how it’s harmful…How many different ways do I have to say that a meaningless archetype when put into meaningful conversation is harmful?

      Also I’d like to point out that my illustration has a man with a crab arm emerging from his mouth…and we’re discussing a cartoon character. Did you read this post in light of that? It could be your beacon in the dark here.

      The FSM promotes nihilistic dialogue, which leaves a gap for physical violence to emerge, or provides a distraction where a positive solution can be found. The FSM itself is not violent in a physical sense, but if we treat the cultural narrative as a reality (which you may not,) a nihilistic hole in the narrative represents a violent act. Do you consider the cultural narrative as a whole? As a reality that can be touched, lived, affected?

      Harm on the level of cultural narrative is in not focusing on community growth, personal development, environmental concerns, consciousness expansion, unification of differences, etc. Mythology provides an emotional framework for this, by putting up myth-types like the FSM, not only is this process degraded it’s ignored. The FSM is poisonous to the cultural narrative.

      This was my point in bringing up your reference to the concept of memes…do you use this word because you’ve been taught it? or because you understand what the concept means and how it is related to affecting culture?

      A Zen koan gives an “ah ha” moment through it’s absurdity, the FSM takes the place of a Zen koan, but fails to lead the encounter towards an understanding of reality. It is violent to the cultural narrative in it’s inability to provide enlightenment in those who use it or those who encounter it. Entire civilizations were built (for good or ill) on top of potent mythology, to waste time on developing something like the FSM shows a degraded consciousness which in the end leads to a degraded community.

      “Lacking all beauty, empty of a Hermetic humor, the FSM is a cold cell for bitter hearts. With all the archetypes of critical intelligence to choose from, to center in on such a sad thought form represents a frantic misstep on the road to reason.

      Learning requires attention and time, read the recommended books and learn something. I don’t care to win a debate, I’m interested in knowledge,wisdom and practice. Your immediate reactions (and mine for that matter) are no help to understanding, nor are your assumptions (or mine).

      Know any Freudians? We could really heat this up and see what their thoughts are on a cultural image that emerges from a fascination with Spaghetti-O’s.

    • To further my extensive referencing of other’s work here’s a piece by Brian Green’s blog discussing “Symbolic Violence” and it’s affect on cultural narratives: http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/mental-violence-and-toxic-narratives/

  6. Pingback: Mental Violence and Toxic Narratives « TheMoralMindfield

  7. @David
    I strongly “feel ” the value of your point, and I think your post works well as a “pars destruens” of FSM; at the same time, when you write:
    FSM is a stupid focal point, and takes the place where a more potent and unified focal point could be used.
    I am curious about what you mean by “a more potent and unified focal point” (MP&UFP). Maybe your post lacks of a “pars construens”: it’s easier to destroy than to create, so I am trying to find a good example of MP&UFP; any example from the history of thoughts/philosophy/theology?
    For example, consider the Monty Phyton’s “Life of Brian”. I love the way it teases faith; but at the same time, it is probably (again) a stupid focal point. Is it? What about a movie like “Religulous”?

    • Excellent point Mariano. I would say Rabelais, Jarry, Francois Villon, Chaucer, etc. have all lampooned the excesses of religion while still maintaining a direct line to an organic sense of our relationship to Being. Umberto Eco, Giordano Bruno, Paracelsus, Borges, Karl Capek, Artaud, Bataille, Bunuel, Fellini, etc.

      It’s important to keep the “maybe factor”, as Robert Anton Wilson calls it, open, so I think mytho-poetic and conceptual characters need a sense of mystery to them in order to keep that dialogue with reality going. Someone like Gustavo Rol, who I just discovered via your website, seems like he’s active in a similar way. What Jeffrey Kripal calls “Authors of the Impossible” in his latest book.

      In my opinion, Monty Python have always done a good job of satirizing dogma while leaving the door open to mystery.

      As I was considering Key of Atheists replies I realized that I myself hadn’t taken the advice of the article and had created, as you aptly point out, a “pars destruens” without a return to a deeper meaning beyond the destruction. It was an odd confirmation of the action/reaction of mytho-poetics, and a humbling lesson. It did lead to further thoughts on the ‘origins’ of the FSM imagery, which I think I might delve into on an expansion of this short post for Planetshifter.com and OpenMythSource.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s