By Dr. Denise R. Ames
If you are like me, you are probably wondering what is going on today. I am trying to make sense of the turmoil, uncertainty, and rage. I find it is hard to get clear answers.
Upon closely following and reflecting upon this time of unrest, I have found that the rhetoric emerging from the progressive left reminds me of the making of a mythology. In response, I am drawn to exploring how progressives are actually formulating a mythology, rather than devising a new form of reality-based governance. This series of blogs will explore the making of a progressive myth. Here is part 2 …
Psychologist Carl Jung defines mythology as myths that are the expression of a culture or society’s goals, fears, ambitions and dreams. Folklorist Alan Dundes defines myth as a sacred narrative, “a story that serves to define the fundamental worldview of a culture by explaining aspects of the natural world and delineating the psychological and social practices and ideals of a society.”
What strikes me about Dundes’ definition is that myths reflect the fundamental
worldview of a society, and its ideals, values, practices, and goals. When talking about the progressive left we see mythmaking in action: taking shape, evolving, and adding new dimensions every day.
Myths are usually thought of as something that is untrue, fictional, or unprovable, instead of the broader definition that I described above. Congressman Jerry Nadler in July 2020 responded to questions about the violence associated with antifa in Portland, Oregon and he replied that antifa was a myth. In other words, it did not exist. This is the common usage of the term. But I would like to go deeper into the meaning and making of myth than its common usage allows.
Even if we don’t believe that our society has myths, they are still with us lurking in the hidden recesses of our minds and exploding at times when they are called upon to emerge. I have found that American society has abided by three main myths in our over 200-year history as a nation: scientific, Western traditions, and material progress. Let’s look at these three American myths before delving into the progressive mythology.
Although American society has pursued a more scientific/rational explanation for who we are as a nation, it is still a myth. Actually, Americans and Westerners in general have pursued a scientific mythology, where human actions, unknowable forces, and nature’s events are explained through scientific premises. It is a particular way of seeing the world: rational, logical, and analytical. Although this mythology could be incorporated into myth #2, its significance requires a stand-alone status.
Secondly, Americans have followed a mythology of Western traditions: liberalism, capitalism, individualism, Judeo/Christian religions, and the nuclear family. US and Western history and culture have a clear creation story emerging out of the traditions from Mesopotamia, Greek, Roman, and European culture. Merging together these traditions have given rise to a Liberal form of governance (representative government, bill of rights, and division of power), a capitalist economic system with recent regulations to protect more citizens, religious traditions that reinforce secular customs, an individualistic values system, and emphasis on a nuclear family rather than extended family.
Thirdly, for many years, the US has held to a mythology of material progress: through hard work, delayed gratification, and moral/ethical behavior, an individual and/or family can achieve the American dream of material rewards, safety and security, and respect if they follow these values and practices. It is a mythology that most American believed in and incorporated into their everyday lives. Although this narrative didn’t apply equally to all Americans (blacks, minorities, women, gay, etc.), it was extremely popular for many years nonetheless.
This narrative has been fraying for several decades but it has been badly damaged with the recent coronavirus isolation and protests involving the killing of George Floyd that a possible resurrection of the mythology seems unlikely at this point.
About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames
Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences— teaching, scholarly research, personal reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units, and conducted professional development workshops for the non-profit and its clients.
Dr. Ames is now developing her new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, and Reflection Nexus. Turn encourages life-long learners to see things with new eyes, learn from the past, and understand the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five colliding worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.
Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!
Divided addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.
It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.
Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books