Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Misusing Myth, II

I WANT TO BELIEVE ~ poster on Fox Mulder's wall in THE X-FILES

“What are the facts? Again and again and again--what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what "the stars foretell," avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable "verdict of history"--what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!" ~ Robert A Heinlein, THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG

"In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order. " ~ Carl Jung

I used to teach a course on UFOlogy for the Wichita Free University. I presented it in two sessions: the believers stories and the skeptics. I found that the believers, while accusing skeptics of being close minded, never showed up for the debunking session. This is something that UFOlogists have in common, and they share it with other believers, like religious fundamentalists and Bush supporters. They tend to ignore whatever doesn’t fit their mythology.

For example, UFOlogists tout the Barney and Betty Hill alien abduction case while ignoring the fact that the psychiatrist who brought out their repressed memories stated flatly that these were not real memories. The British crop circles and the Gulf Breeze sightings are still a big part of the lore despite the perpetrators being caught red-handed at their hoaxes. The Roswell incident has many witnesses but no one points out that none of them can agree on the date, the site or the number, if any, of alien bodies.

A friend sent me a posting she received from a religious group about the discovery of the Red Square Nebula.

The nebula is perfectly symmetrical, so much that it almost resembles a crystal. They suggest that the nebula is the "approaching City of God," based on Revelation 21:16, "And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal" and 20-10,"And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal." Since it is red, the post says, the red shift indicates it is approaching.

My friend asked my opinion. In this case, there is one fact that fits the City of God: the nebula is symmetrical. The facts that don’t fit are:

1. The Biblical quote clearly states that the City of God is twelve thousand furlongs on a side. That equals about 1300-1400 miles. Nebulae are hundreds of light years across. One light year equals 5,865,696,000,000 miles. So according to the Bible itself the nebula is about a zillion times too big to be the City.

2. A nebula is a cloud of gas from an exploded star. A cloud of gas is not a city.

3. Sorry, red shift means going away, not approaching. There is no evidence that the nebula is approaching the Earth. It has only recently been observed because our instruments weren’t good enough before now.

4. There are several scientific theories presented in the article that explain the nebula’s shape. A crystal is a natural formation, not a miracle.

Point 1 invokes Doctor Zen’s rule: if you take something literally, it has to all be literal: you can’t pick and choose. If the shape is literal, the size must be too. If you tell me part of it is metaphorical, then I can say it’s all metaphorical.

Back to UFOs, if you haven’t read WATCH THE SKIES!, Curtis Peebles brilliant dissection of UFOs as myth, I highly recommend it.

It is also interesting how closely the UFO mythology follows popular fiction. In a 1930 Buck Rogers comic strip, Buck's girlfriend Wilma Deering is taken aboard a spaceship by aliens with large heads and eyes, subjected to a physical examination and released; almost the prototype for the recent alien abduction stories. More of the groundwork was laid in 1950s movies like KILLERS FROM SPACE with abuctees memories being replaced, mysterious scars from alien implants, and memories of big disembodied eyes. Barney Hill's initial description of the aliens (before he changed his story to match his wife's) was an exact description of the "The Galaxy Being" from an OUTER LMITS episode he had just seen. People who claimed to have been taken into alien craft through the 60s reported walking up ramps similar to the ones in 50s flying saucer movies. After STAR TREK, they report being "beamed" aboard.

UFOlogists also use false logic a lot. Some points to remember: The possibility of other intelligent life out there in our galaxy does not prove they're down here or that they kidnapped your Uncle Bob last weekend. Just because a witness could not identify what he saw, that doesn't prove it was alien or a spacecraft. Being unable to prove that something isn't real doesn't make it real. Ask Carl Sagan about the invisible dragon in his garage, or try to disprove Santa Claus.

Some of the writers of books about things like UFOs, the End Times and other subjects like witch cults and Satanists are probably just making a quick buck. But what about the believers? Some, abductees and investigators alike, may live on the attention they get. Alpha-Girl at suggests that "for UFO believers and religious fundamentalists, I wonder how much of that tendency is due to needing to be right vs. needing to know there’s something other than our current state, whether it’s as God’s children on Earth or as the only known intelligence (or what passes for it) in the universe."

John Keel used to write books about things like UFOs, Bigfoot and such phenomena and he had a very interesting theory. He wondered whether such manifestations, leaving no physical evidence, were the universe's way of telling us something. The cool thing about this theory is that it works whether these are physical manifestations, hallucinations or imagination. We know from the common archetypes in stories that human minds can connect with images in the subconscious that have deep meanings for all people. Carl Jung suggested this in FLYING SAUCERS: A MODERN MYTH OF THINGS SEEN IN THE SKY. He wrote that such visions may be common in an era where humankind has its fate in its hands, and faces extinction. UFO aliens seem to warn us about dangers we already know about, like atomic bombs in the 50s and global warming now. The link between such visions and dreams and stories is a deep one, and it goes both ways. The pattern of alien abductions matches age old stories of meetings with elves, faeries and demons. John Ankerberg wrote that "the UFO phenomenon simply does not behave like extraterrestrial visitors. It actually molds itself in order to fit a given culture."

UFOs may not be aliens or even the universe speaking to us, but our own subconscious. As Jung said, "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Misusing Myth, I

“Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning” ~ Anonymous

" ... the Cold War was not some naturally occurring phenomenon but was created by U.S. policymakers in large part for the purpose of keeping a lid on social change ... " ~ Robert Jensen

"The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which (political pundits and tabloid journalists) have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor." ~ Henry David Thoreau

The image above is what Japanese people looked like during World war II - at least if you read American comic books. Comic books were one of the worst offenders for racial stereotyping back then. Japanese had bright yellow-orange skin, long fangs and claws... and were usually being killed by handsome American heroes like Airboy (pilot of Birdie, the only plane that flapped her wings). Chinese looked similar, only without the fangs and with huge buck teeth. It wasn't just pictures: one story had Japanese agents recruiting circus freaks to their cause because "the Japs are a race of freaks themselves." But it's one thing to use demons to symbolize the evils of Nazism or Japanese imperialism and quite another to depict a people as demons. Heroes like Captain America, The Patriot, USA, Captain Flag, V( for Victory)-Man and their like were wonderful morale boosters for Americans, but drawing "Japs" as monsters didn't promote peaceful understanding... any more than cartoons of "camel jockeys" help it now.

Like anything empowering, myths and stories can be misused, even abused. One of the worst examples is when stories go from archetypes to stereotypes. The lazy, cowardly Black, the inscutable Oriental, the greedy Jew, the helpless heroine and the effeminate gay man pop up in a lot of War-era fiction and beyond in a vicious circle: the stereotypes appear because people believed them and the stories reinforce the belief. Modern versions that sound more positive, like the streetwise Black, the kung-fu Asian, the sensitive gay and the man-hating feminist are just as bad because they're stereotypes. They feed the delusion that all members of a social group are the same, not individuals, and this can lead to real evils from profiling to genocide.

Stereotyping is only one way myth can be misused. I've talked about how believing in myths literally leads to the kind of hatred preached by fundamentalist religions from evangelical Christians to Islamic Jihadists.

People can use myths wrongheadedly to promote their own causes. Detractors of Barack Obama who call him "two-faced" like "the Roman god Janus" or warn of his Islamic leanings because his name means the winged horse (El Buraq) that Mohammed rode to Heaven have unknowingly given him pretty solid symbolic endorsements. Janus, as the Presidential Geek Survey at points out, represented not forgetting the past while looking ahead to the future. And El Buraq was a winged steed who brought people to paradise. It even represents a healing of religious wounds: on his arrival Mohammed was blessed by Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses and Jesus, and welcomed as their equal. (1)

Bush supporters who tried to paint him as Frodo or the Lone Ranger miss the point so far that they're laughable. The Lone Ranger never answered an Indian raid by wiping out their tribe (or, as with Bush, the wrong tribe, because they had silver mines he wanted). IMHO Bush is more like Sauron than Frodo. There's a fascinating take on THE LORD OF THE RINGS and American politics at making the point that Frodo's real battle was with his own dark side tempted by the Ring than with Mordor. Which is what myths are really all about anyway.

There are also people who will create a mythology and perpetrate it. These include groups from politicians to UFO believers to tabloid journalists to so-called prophets. I used to teach a Wichita Free University course in UFOlogy, and many of these diverse groups use a lot of techniques in common. UFOlogists will be discussed here in more detail later, because their mythology borrows from stories in popular fiction. What were Iraq's weapons of mass destruction but a created myth? Tabloids live by feeding us myths of the rich and famous

I'll get more into "creative myth," UFOs and such in Misusing Myth II.

(1) And the latest in their line of prophets: which reminds my geek side of “Into each generation a slayer is born ... a Chosen One. One born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Follow Your Bliss

"If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be." ~ Joseph Campbell

“Always, always, always, always, always, always, always do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Michelle Lombardo, actress on the excellent QUARTERLIFE series (see Link, but be careful... watch a few episodes and you'll be in love with all the characters and have to watch all 29 --to date-- episodes) says in her blog, "Our generation... you know, all of us.. are at this point right now where we can really change what's going on right now in the world... " I wish her all the best, but at my age this is about the fifth generation I've heard say that. From JFK's Camelot and the Flower Children to today. The world hasn't changed much, except technologically.

We still betray everything our dreams and our stories tell us. We teach children not to resolve conflicts with fighting, but when we are attacked, our leaders respond immediately with war. (Yes, 9-11 was a horrible act - but if our values don't hold up under stress they are utterly useless!) The rich still trample the rest of us in their singleminded drive for power, control and short term profit. We still waste the planet and ignore how that will affect us all.
(Well, our government is not ignoring climate change. The Pentagon has detailed plans for fighting over the last remaining resources. Nothing about preventing climate change, or working with other nations if worse comes to worst, just war as usual. Even the Klingons are smarter than that: "Only a fool fights in a burning house.")

The difference this time is that we may be one of the last few generations who still have a chance to change. It may be too late to reverse the damage to the environment or avert nuclear disaster or stop endless war once it gets rolling.

The blog has been missing for a couple weeks because I've been re-evaluating my life. I'm tired of working for minimal pay so that corporations can make money. I've probably reached a phase Indian philosophy calls Serving.
There are four stages in life. Learning, Earning, Serving and Seeking. Serving is about using what you've learned and earned to make you family comfortable and secure. Not just your blood family, but the world family.
I'm looking for a job that will allow me to serve or help people in some measure. Maybe even something that will help turn the tide of the world's rush toward self-destruction.I was not too good with the Earning part so I'd like it to pay the rent as well. Anybody knows of such activist employment, I'm open to suggestions.

I'm not happy with what I'm doing right now, but it's scary to quit a job that is keeping a roof over my head. Of course the only way to deal with that is to follow the advice of Goethe:

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

And, of course, Yoda said, "Do or do not. There is no try."

I think there's a measure of the fourth stage at work, too. Seeking, Samadhi, is about understanding yourself. Finding out what I am all about, what my part is in the big Mystery.
Robert A Heinlein's immortal man Lazarus Long wrote, "If tempted by something that feels "altruistic," examine your motives and root out that self-deception. Then, if you still want to do it, wallow in it! "

Maybe I just have a repressed desire to be a superhero.

The character in the image is Maggie (Magdelena Marie Neuntauben, superhero name Veda, forms humanoids out of solid earth to do her bidding) in a comic book called THE ORDER. She's talking about how helping individual children is the real way to save the world.

BABYLON 5 had a recurring theme about two questions we ask ourselves. "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" What was important was the order in which you asked those questions. If "What do you want?" comes first, you will never find answers. If "Who are you?" comes first, everything else including the answer to the second question, will come naturally.

There's another Indian saying that goes:

"The path we choose is who we are."