myth and poetry

What Is Myth Series


The Misuse of Myth by Maggie Macary

eros' arrowsdailyArrows

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

...for actually psychology is the means whereby myth may be wrested from the hands of the Fascist obscurantists to be "transmuted" for humane ends. For me this combination represents no less than the world of the future, a human community that is blessed by a spirit from above and "out of the depths that lie below." (Thomas Mann to Karl Kerenyi, Mythology and Humanism, February 18, 1941).

Thomas Mann and the great mythologist, Karl Kerenyi, communicated for years during WWII, often sharing insights about myth and about the misuse of myth by fascist regimes. Both men shared a horror of the cultural catastrophe that overtook Europe because of Nazism and looked toward what they called "humanism" as a saving factor that would allow a "transmutation of myth". This transmutation would occur when above and below unite in a human community.

Both Mann and Kerenyi were appalled by the misuse of myth to develop ideology as they watched Europe descend into flames. The Nazi's had successfully taken elements of Germanic mythology to establish an ideology based on racial purity, blood honor, and the building of a superior race.

Despite the warnings and the catastrophic outcomes of the misuse of myth by the Fascists in WWII, we find ourselves increasingly immersed in yet another experience of a Sorelian Myth. And it is taking place, not merely among the fundamentalist radicals of Al Quaeda, but also among the edges of both political parties in America. That is a fear of millennialism and Armageddon.

When you look at time as a linear structure, as we do in the West, then there must be an end time, a time when all the world will disappear forever. This isn't a new theme in the West - end-time fears have driven Western culture since the dawn of Christianity. But rarely has that mythic fear been used so successfully as it has in this election. The desperate fear running through this election season is fueled by both parties. That is an "end of the world" scenario if the opponent wins. The rationale for this feeling isn't important here. It is the recognition of a rather conscious employment of a myth in order to develop an ideological stance, that requires some contemplation.
At first I thought I was the only one recognizing the seriousness of this Armageddon undercurrent in the election, and then I realized that pollster John Zogby working with John Kenneth White is a Professor of Politics at the Catholic University of America, have already dubbed this election, The Armageddon Election. Zogby comments:
I have been calling this the Armageddon election now for months because we are so polarized, so split culturally, politically, ideologically, demographically, like almost no other time in American history.

Zogby looks at this election from a political point of view, describing the partisan emotions that are occurring at the thought of the other side winning. Each party is projecting that the other's win would cause a substantial problem, some going to far to subtly suggest that if the other candidate wins, the United States will suffer a worse terrorist attack.

While Zogby looks at this from a political point of view, I'm looking from a mythological point of view. They are two different ways of seeing and thinking, ways that Jungian Analyst Tom Singer calls an "inherent opposition" that "represents different ways of being in the world" (The Vision Thing 5). I certainly feel as if I represent a different way of seeing and thinking in the world. On the one hand, I have certain political views that I guess most people would assume to be liberal. On the other hand, I get angry letters from liberals objecting to my not being definitive about what I am saying here. "Too much is at stake", I hear over and over again, to sit back and merely analyze.
Are there myths in politics and politics in myth? Most certainly. But what about a purposeful misuse of myth in order to instill fear, patriotism and unity? 9-11 presented such an image of Armageddon, that this terrible disaster have been played over and over again in the media, in campaign ads, in our political discourse and its repetitive message is meant to ensure that the fear of end times is still raging through the campaign.

The media is feeding the fear with the use of mythic images and descriptions and screaming matches between partisan groups. No wonder people increasingly turn to Jon Stewart's Daily Show for the news. The one way to break out of an ideology is to break through its underlying misuse of myth and the best way to do that is with irony and farce.

I don't care what side of the fence you're standing on in this election, the same myth is being used over and over again to scare people. It is a doomsday myth that insists whichever candidate wins, Armageddon is sure to happen. The only way to transcend this misuse of myth is to look at it from a different way of seeing - to vote based truly on the issues at hand and one's belief in the leadership of a candidate. Don't vote out of fear of the other side, vote out of conviction of your choice. And watch for images that hide an ideology wrapped in a myth.

posted by Maggie @ 1:24 PM permission to reprint the essays of Maggie Macary has been granted by the executor of the estate of Maggie Macary. wishes to thank Doug Macary& Martin Macary for their generousity in making her essays available to you.

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