September 30, 2013

My latest op-ed at Al Jazeera English was inspired by the stuff of myth & as all about just such stuff. Here's how it begins:

The US needs to adopt a new mythos that's not at war with facts. From guns to health care, conservatives push a mythically-driven politics that's actively hostile to facts.

Antoinette Tuff is the NRA's worst nightmare. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre infamously said, "The only way to stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun." But when Tuff talked Michael Brandon Hill into giving up his gun and surrendering to police on August 21, she showed the whole world just how wrong LaPierre was. A good woman with no gun did the job perfectly, thank you very much.

Where LaPierre saw the answer in a hail of bullets, Tuff saw it in treating the shooter like a child-like her own child, in fact. "It's going to be all right, sweetie," she said. "I just want you to know I love you, though, OK? We all go through something in going to be OK."

It's not that Tuff disproved LaPierre. It was something much more basic than that. Disproving LaPierre's statement would imply it was a factual claim, when actually it was not. It was, instead, a form of mythic utterance, a ritual incantation, a drawing down of higher powers, into the holy vessel of the gun. In the introduction to The Battle For God, Karen Armstrong distinguishes between two radically different forms of knowledge: logos, which has to do with how things work in the world, and mythos, which has to do with ultimate meanings. Regarding mythos, she explained:

Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning. Unless we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall very easily into despair. The mythos of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal.

What's more, she explained:

Myth only became a reality when it was embodied in cult, rituals, and ceremonies which worked aesthetically upon worshipers, evoking within them a sense of sacred significance and enabling them to apprehend the deeper currents of existence.

But no one should think that mythos belongs only to religion. It belongs anywhere where questions of meaning and purpose arise - which is to say, in virtually every human realm. Mythos in this sense is precisely what the NRA traffics in - not just the NRA, but the entire range of movement conservatism. And they all replicate the modernist mistake of fundamentalist religion - which is a disaster for them in terms of producing workable policies. But it's their salvation in terms of selling themselves and their reassuring vision. While liberals and moderates focus their attention on facts, conservative activists like LaPierre simply ignore whatever doesn't fit their view of the world, and pound repeatedly on mythic, meaning-making statements, regardless of whether they have any foundations in fact.

Read the whole piece here.

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