Tag Archives: Cultural Narrative

Culture is Not Commerce

Culture is not commerce, meaning is not made by money…

Our current economic situation is most often characterized by discussions of unemployment, loss of sales and the dissolution of organizations unable to weather the storm. These short term effects, existing on the surface of the issue, provide an easy platoform for pundits on all sides to manipulate the situation to political and personal advantage.

When someone looses their job the immediate shock forces them into a situation where survival becomes their only focus, any thought to the survival of future generations or the long term effects of immediate actions are abandoned. It’s hard to think 100 years ahead when you are hungry now.

In such a situation it’s impossible to expect that a society can have the foresight necessary to assure that what is done in the moment isn’t going to cause drastic harm to future generations. These are times when that oft cited 1% sitting above the economic maelstrom is expected to step forward with reasonable solutions, not gorge themselves on the blood and desperation of the culture that rests in their care.

Making employees out of citizens

Skimming the surface of the issue hides deeper currents that not only affect the immediate social climate, but bear on the continued health of our global society as it moves into the future. Commercial interests have used this opportunity to encourage colleges and universities to focus on programs that provide technical skills, rather than put resources towards the humanities and arts.

This is proposed as a solution to the economic decline by training individuals in things that are useful to the corporations, as these corporations are said to provide the economic viability of our society. Never in this discussion is it mentioned that technical skills, unattended by a deeper understanding of culture, leave people at the whims of corporate interests which have no intent on providing a meaningful existence for their employees or bringing more meaningful dialogue into the culture. Technical skills do not make a citizen, at best they make an able employee, at worse this myopic focus creates a society of slaves.

Unfortunately this is simply how corporations are run. There is no need for them to focus on anything other than revenue, and the excuse is made, that while there is no prime focus on social needs, this focus comes about by market drivers forcing corporations to provide products suited to their society.

The weakness in this argument is revealed with even a cursory glance at neuroscience and marketing. Any mass of individuals fed enough well crafted information can be forced to assume positions that in the long run are detrimental.

Why worry about Wikileaks when the banks have looser lips?

We hear constant messages regarding terrorism and the dangers we face as a society from extremist elements. However, this danger is not only found in lingering fundamentalism, it also exists in the cold calculation of profit. The outcry over Wikileaks ignores the fact that in this  instance there are individuals who can be held responsible for the security breach. What is not discussed is that the actions of the banks have also caused the dissolution of numerous independent organizations that have been contracted for services by national intelligence. We needn’t worry about lone gunmen when the organizations that provide social cohesion are dropping bombs our continued survival.

Official pundits are shocked that individuals would be so bold as to release secure information to the public, however they don’t bat an eye when commercial interests force companies deeply embedded in the intelligence community into bankruptcy. As these companies are dissolved the information that they have access to is left vulnerable, the normal safeguards abandoned as an necessity of abstract fiscal manueverings.

And then there’s the libraries…

This week it was announced that the Ritman Library, which houses the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, is in danger of being put up for auction. The irony in this is that the very same social forces at play today caused the destruction of the Hermetic social experiment in Bohemia nearly 400 years ago. The egalitarian dreams that Frederick V envisioned for Europe was left to hang by economic interests resulting in the 30 Years War, and continued tension into the 20th century.

Hermetic science is not something that we are, as a society, especially familiar with, however it represents the very cultural heritage of the West. For all our truth seeking in Eastern mysteries, we’ve ignored a rich tradition that is directly related to our culture. In recent years more focused study has been given to these subjects and the Ritman Library stands at the center of this effort.

When the Taliban destroyed centuries old Buddhist statues the media went into a frenzy, now as banking interests are tearing apart our own cultural heritage the media stands mute. Professor Woulter Hanegraaff of the University of Amsterdam has created a petition to stop the destruction of the Ritman Library. As one signer put it, the idea that a library housing one of the largest collections of rare manuscripts from our collective cultural heritage would be put up for auction at the decision of a bank is not fit for a society that calls itself civilized.  Please consider signing the petition: Petition to Save the Ritman Library.  It’s a small act of social conscience, but every step towards peace and social sanity is a step worth taking.

This is the world where Raven stole the Sun for us all: A Critique of the Fantasist, by Zac Odin

As we, as a culture or as a counter culture, attempt to reclaim our past, our worlds, our realities, we are turning quite rightly to myth.

This is an obvious and admirable decision; the searchers look and the searchers define but it seems as if they are often looking in the wrong places and defining the wrong things.

There has been recent discussion of science fiction and fantastic literature as the repository of our living mythology.  This is a mistake; world-building fantasists are not engaging in real myth, but an empty rather truncated form. Myth is the Reality in which the culture lives.  It is Reality.  Period.

Do you think that the Kwakwaka’wakw of Canada’s Pacific Coast (http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/aborig/nwca/nwcam25e.shtml and http://www.umista.org/) thought they were involved in some so banal as world building?  No.  Obviously they were (and are once more) participating in the mythical world, a world more real, a foundational world, a world that built their world.

The dance is a supernatural dance, mythical beings representing abstractions of realities (supernatural birds, ‘The Listener’ from the Dance of the Forest Spirits – making physical abstract concepts) and solidities (bear, other forest animals – abstracting and mythologizing the physical), and all the people were seeing it as it was.  Real.

This is not cosplay; there is no suspension of disbelief here, no LARP emptiness, but pure Reality.  Because this is the world in which they lived.  The Listener was in the Forest Dance because the Listener really is in the Forest.

This is the world where Raven stole the Sun for us all.  The people saw Raven every day as a constant reminder of the mythological foundation of their world, the First Time was a different time, celebrated in myth.  It was a time when animals and humans were indistinguishable from each other.  It is this world:

“I will talk about the middle between our world and the upper side of what is seen by us, the blue sky where the sun and moon and stars stay, that is what I mean, the names of the various birds of the Rivers Inlet tribe, the Crooked-Beak of Heaven and the Huxwhukw of Heaven and the Screecher of Heaven and the Ugwa’xta’yi, and many others whose names I do not know, the various birds above the clouds”. (http://www.umista.org/)

And it is this world at exactly the same time.  There really is no difference.

So where are our myths?  I don’t think we can find them in the world building of science fiction.  Our myths are so much a part of our reality that we are unable to disentangle them enough to study them.  But sometimes, if you look hard enough, you can see.

In this case the impulse that leads us to play at world creators is mythic, not the world that has been created.  Just because Tolkien references the Jungian Shadow with Sauron does not make The Lord of the Rings mythic on a level like the Kwakwaka’wakw dances.  Not even close.

That which leads us to create worlds, that drives us to be Apes of God, is the Myth. It is playing at Demiurge, every writer an Ialdabaoth.  That is the Myth not the content.