Saturday, November 24, 2012

A myth understanding

Achilles killing Penthesilea
I had my regular column on the ABC yesterday: 'A myth understanding'.

I'm arguing that 'myth' shouldn't just be shorthand for 'false'; that myths are a form of understanding, which ought to be appreciated in their own way (but not as factual statements). A sample:
We are myth-making animals; creatures of enchantment and embellishment. Some more than others, of course - for every Homer or Joyce there are a hundred pedants. But even pedants have their fantasies and illusions, coupled with primal passions like fear and envy: the ideal of perfect grammar, for example.
We need myth because all these illusions and delusions have to be known and understood, and our less savoury urges sublimated. We need places - literally and figuratively - to play, knowingly and with a kind of childish seriousness. This is perhaps why Fascism and Nazism had such poor art: all their imaginary demons and angels went into the lie of the nation, and its fictional superiority. 
Without a healthy imaginary life, Australia does not lose its mythic impulses: they are simply gussied up as 'traditional values', 'the bourgeoisie', 'illegals', and other vague but powerful political abstractions. Fiction remains, but it becomes 'common sense'. 
The point is not that we all need to become amateur archaeologists or classicists. The point is to cultivate a better understanding of human thought and expression; of their quirks and verities. If the sleep of reason produces monsters, the sleep of myth can make a monster of reason.
(Image: black-figure amphora showing Achilles killing the Amazon Panthesilea, by Exekias, courtesy of the British Museum)


aquaduck said...

I know not where the monsters of the night proceed to enter the dreams of the mind, or whether they are already there from terrors unknown from the visible or invisible world, past or present. Are they real in the mind…can it be proven, do you believe the person that says they have had a nightmare as they share their experience with you. Dreams & sleep don’t always go hand in hand.

Mythical science, mythical belief…its more than the imaginary. The delusion of facts & reality still battle it out, as does real science & real belief.

Francis A Schaeffer (How should we then live?) asks an interesting question of society as it seeks to subtract Christian principles from the equation. In terms of balance…take something away & you need to replace it with something. Gauguin’s painting “Whence Come We? What Are We? Wither Do We Go? Is a good question but I don’t envy his personal life choices. Schaeffer sums up well the condition of the society we live in from a Christian perspective

Rolly Christian said...

Good afternoon Damon,

Further to your Drum discussion on the value of myth, imagination and it’s potential to improve or supersede old “traditional values” and “common sense”, what is your assessment of the After-birth abortion paper. Is this recent paper an improvement in social thinking with the use of reasoned academic imagination or a sleeping morals monster or both or neither?

“After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live? Paper by Alberto Giubilini,1,2 Francesca Minerva3 ABSTRACT: Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

I would offer that if terminating new, innocent, otherwise healthy human life is deemed “acceptable” it logically follows that the timing for carrying out this decision may be up for debate – hence the paper fleshes this out.

Before birth or after-birth, the moral decision line has already been crossed. This sad paper for me gives some mis-constructed moral credence to the long-held threat of many a frustrated parent at their wits end;

“I brought you into this world and I can take you out!”

Of course our children are autonomous, free and valuable human entities in their own right – Should this value on identity now come with an abstract time-window? This old destructive, possessive mythical threat is clearly invalid.

For some “common-sense” I would offer that abortion is at least an undesirable decision to consider and academic imagination could have been better spent thinking of ways to reduce its overall prevalence in the Australian community, saving time, money and grief all-round. Are you aware of such a paper along these lines – Is modern Australian secular academic thought only trained down one wide path – extending the range of destructive options?

The “common-sense” that abortion is largely accepted should be challenged.

This myth could be replaced with a new “value”. Abortion is largely an adverse condition that should be reduced.

Hence the “values” exploration for what is “good” and “best” vs. what is “adverse” and “bad / evil” in “the system” is a simple timeless dialog we should all engage with – hiding from a “values” discussion is really a poor “open” discussion – now going back to your theme on asking more questions about “personal faith-belief” from political leaders via another Drum piece. We all can’t just shift this into some blank denial like our good friend Mitor often wishes to.

Apparently we now have+ 90,000 abortions and only 45 adoptions annually in Australia.
Truly an unimagined reality. A modern dilemma?