Saturday, April 4, 2015

Joseph Campbell & Marshall McLuhan - Myths We Need

Marshall McLuhan - The Medium Is The Message
Joseph Campbell once said, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”

Therefore, it's our own indvidual responsibility to attach meaning to life if we wish to enrich it. That takes education (not necessarily formalized), engagement (at least with the self, and probably with others too), and along with a host of other potential factors that might enrich your life, narrative.

Mythology and narrative are no different. 

From Campbell:

“If you do 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. Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.”

As I agree with Campbell wholeheartedly here, we can't follow our bliss blindly. We need structure and purpose to some degree. Some people cry foul at the words "structure" and "purpose" and the words that cling to them, words like "discipline" and "routine," and I understand the gripe that comes with those concepts. If we aren't careful we can dull our wits, our critical thinking skills, and our creativity when we get too bogged down in routine.

But think of our ancestors -- those brave souls that managed to survive for thousands of generations because of fail-safe routines of hunting, gathering, sheltering, and so on. They teach us the value of structure, and they also teach us the value of adaptation. When the climate changed or when the food source levels dipped, they weren't too proud or stuck in their ways to not pick things up and simply move on.

We need to have that same mentality. We need to be rigid yet loose. Some call this the tao of living. Others call it having flow. In one of the coolest videos ever, Bruce Lee calls it being like water. I would like to suggest that this tao -- this flow -- came to our ancestors not through their day-to-day survival routines, but through their myths and creativity.

Each evening our ancestors sat around a fire in a camp full of music, warmth, and storytelling -- individuals in a community, connected. Bodies touched, eyes locked across dancing orange flickers, and words -- sounds -- became magic.

Magic doesn't exist outside of consciousness. Consciousness, rather, creates magic.

So that begs the question: what myths do we need? Campbell outlines some myths that we should be living by, and I urge you to read his stories and take his words into your life and practice them. That book, however, is fairly old. What I mean is: the old myths don't stick like they used to. They don't grab us by the scruff of the neck and shake us like in days of old.

Or, just maybe, we are resistant to them. Maybe many of us always have been. Though, it is said that people are waking up in droves, but I have yet to see definitive proof of this. I still believe that we -- mankind -- have a lot of work to do, a lot of bricks to lay for our offspring. After all, we are ancestors to some, so let's give them myths. Let's give them dreams. Let us not be bashful of our enthusiasms as our culture begs us to be.

But how?

"The medium is the message," said McLuhan. “We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” We no longer sit by campfires to share our messages, and the old mediums are now in wheelchairs.

We need sharper tools, more powerful mediums. For one, I see the stories on TV getting better because the medium is changing. Yes, we still stare idly at a screen placed carefully in the center of our universe, but the infrastructure dictating how the messages arrive on the screen is changing radically with VOD services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO GO. Users are given a vote because they're given a choice in what they watch...and when.

Podcasts are also on the come-up. Anyone can produce content and broadcast it to the world, and it can be done quickly and cheaply, all from home.

But these can't be the mediums that usher in the future. There must be new ones to come. Virtual and augmented realities seem to be the top contenders. In the meantime, keep telling your stories. Keep creating content and affecting the conscious thoughts of other sentient beings. Play music, write poetry, make jokes, narrate the great novel that speaks to all of mankind, brush the strokes of the paintings that will drop the jaws of ISIS chieftains and cave dwelling hermits alike. Create magic.

To part, take in another fantastic McLuhan quote and decide how you can apply its message to your life:

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is a hallucinating idiot...for he sees what no one else does: things that, to everyone else, are not there.”

Give yourself 15 minutes a day to start. Write a haiku or strum a few notes on a ukulele, and consider messages that hark back to our ancestors, that mirror their lives of activity, nature, and creativity. Urge our ancestors to do the same, and also to look within as often as they look without, for that space is equally vast. Start with a message and let mankind -- the collective message-makers -- let them perfect the medium. Let us devise the medium together.

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