Monday, August 20, 2012

Beginning My Mythmaker Analysis (Long Delayed)

       Back on March 31, 2012, I wrote the first post in this series, entitled "Who Are the Mythmakers and Why Do They Matter?"  In it I discussed the role the Mythmakers played in setting up the moral foundation for the resurgence of civilization in the 27th century.  The Mythmakers were an anonymous group of writers and artists whose works were preserved in the Underground Archives (the system of knowledge preservation undertaken by groups of far-sighted individuals during the Second Dark Age -- see the separate page My Future History for background; it's an excerpt fron my novel "The Termite Queen"). I printed the Twenty Precepts in that post and it would be helpful if you re-read it, or read it for the first time, before you continue here.
       I'm don't pretend to be a trained philosopher, social scientist, or historian, and I'm sure professionals in those fields could tear the following presentation to pieces.  I do, however, have my opinions and beliefs, which the Mythmaker ethic reflects, and I feel I have something to contribute to modern thought.  Therefore I'm going to throw my ideas out there and hope they might be reflected upon and even discussed.  It would be great if we didn't have to endure a Dark Age and wait six centuries for these tenets to be accepted and put into practice!
       Since religion plays such an important (and distorted) role in the 21st century, I'm going to start my discussion there.  The Mythmaker ethic is humanist and the resultant 27th-30th century society is based in humanism.  In this post, I'm going to discuss Precepts 1-5, which relate to the idea of gods.   Precepts 10-11 discuss the role and nature of religion and should be considered in tandem with 1-5, but this post was getting too long, so I'll treat those in my next essay into the subject. 
1.    No one can know deity; neither can it be proven that it does not exist.

       Right away we establish that the Mythmakers are not atheists.  They simply do not know what god is, or even whether there is a god or gods.  After all, they are called Mythmakers for a reason.  Myth always incorporates ideas of the supernatural.  The supernatural answers a need evolved in the genetic structure of humanity -- the urge to explain the unexplainable, an urge that  is often answered by science as humans advance intellectually.  Ultimately, however, there is always something that science cannot unexplain.  One of the traditional attributes of god is that he/she/it is unknowable.  If you can never know what this entity is, you cetainly can't demonstrate anything about it using scientific methods.  You can neither prove nor disprove the existence of god or define its nature.
       This is exactly what I believe and why I call myself a "spiritual humanist."  I don't reject the possibility of unknowable spiritual forces.  It would be impossible to write fantasy if I did.  There would be nothing to write about.
2.    Humans have within themselves the ability to see beyond themselves and hence to act rightly without supernatural stimulus.

3.    Since the purpose of deity for humans, or even whether it had a purpose for humans, is unknowable, it is incumbent upon humans to look within themselves and find the way to right action.       
4. Humans must take responsibility for their own behavior, not seeking to put blame on imposed rules (of deity or human) or on fate, chance, or the intervention or willfulness of deity.
       These three introduce the humanist element.  They belong together and reinforce one another. 
       No. 2 emphasizes that the ability to understand  right action is inherent in the human identity; evolution initiated a drive toward altruism, and we don't need a god to tell us what kind of behavior is moral.
       No. 3 emphasizes that since we cannot know (in the scientific sense) the purpose of deity, it becomes even more imperative for human beings to understand that they must look for and find that inherent morality that exists within themselves.
       No. 4 concerns the importance of taking responsibility for one's own actions, a central tenet of all Mythmaker literature.  You can't blame the rules laid down by an external entity for your bad behavior (saying, the gods demand a sacrifice, for example, so killing this woman is justified; or, the government has decreed that practitioners of Judaism are evil, therefore the killing of Jews is justified).  Likewise, you can't say, fate has decreed that we should kill this enemy; the Mythmaker philosophy recognizes free will.  While chance and coincidence do exist, you can't lay blame on those things; you can't say, I have no responsibility for this accident, because chance caused this child to run in front of my car when I was too drunk to stop in time.  And you can't blame or praise a deity for the fact that my house burned and my neighbor's didn't (that indeed is an instance of chance, where no intention can be assigned).  You also can't say, God isn't consistent; it saves one person from the bullets of a crazed assassin and not another.  Therefore, god must be evil or it must simply not care.  Neither can you say, god must love me more than it loves that person and have some special purpose in mind for my life.  You can't make any absolute statements about god; you can't even know if any god  exists, so how can you ascribe any intentions or motives or purposes to deity?  "God" may be simply an underlying Life Force, will-less and indifferent. 
       To summarize: The focal point of these first four Precepts is the phrase "without supernatural stimulus" in no. 2. Human beings have the innate ability to find the Right Way; they don't need an external supernatural being whose nature they cannot know telling them, do this and don't do that. They don't need to have imposed or forced on them a set of Commandments that are purported to come straight from a benevolent divine tyrant. They have to work out their own positive human ethic.
         So might one present the caveat that the 20 Precepts are a set of Commandments?  They are not that at all -- they are a set of ethical guidelines that can be thought about, debated, rejected, or altered. They are not rules laid down by a deity; the Mythmakers are not deities, as Kaitrin Oliva keeps pointing out so vehemently in "The Termite Queen." 

       To call oneself a humanist, one has to remain an incorrigible optimist, especially with the behavior seen in the world today (or for that matter, in any period of history -- it's just that the evils of our own time -- the Aurora theater massacre and the shooting at the Sikh temple are only two examples -- are so much more vivid to us than are the evils that have faded into the dry texts of history, like the Holocaust or the Cambodian atrocities or the Bibighar Massacre of British women and children in 1857 India.  One has to recognize that humanity has the ability to deny the very qualities that make it admirable.  To remain a humanist, you have to believe that human beings really can look within themselves and find the Right Path.  You have to believe that the essential altruism of humanity will prevail.

      Of course, the Mythmakers recognized humanity's shortcomings; they lived in a period when it was all too apparent.  They were realists; they understood that human beings are fallible -- suffering under the rampant ego, as well as from misunderstandings, lapses in judgment, inadequate education, mental and genetic aberrations.  They never expected the attainment of perfection, but they did insist that people keep trying.   Therefore, they demonstrated their compassion and realism by adding the following precept: 

5.   Humans will never succeed absolutely in achieving these goals; nevertheless striving for right action is its own purpose.     


  1. I'm having a bit of trouble posting a comment on here, hope this works. I’m going to post this in two halves...

    Your posts are great fun, and really interesting. Lots and lots of food for thought! – hence this long-winded comment I’m afraid.

    OK, you said on Twitter that "Man's sense of right comes from within, but that doesn't preclude the existence of something other than himself - something spiritual." No, absolutely, I agree it doesn't, there could be all sorts of things out there that we haven't come across yet – Russell’s flying cosmic teapots circling the sun for example. But just because Man’s internal sense of right and wrong doesn't preclude the supernatural, it doesn't necessarily mean that the supernatural must therefore exist. The only way I could be convinced of something ‘supernatural’ existing would be if evidence of it could be shown to me. But then if there was evidence of it then it wouldn’t be ‘supernatural’, or outside nature! – you can see my problem, by definition something ‘supernatural’ can not exist in a natural world!

    In your March 31, 2012, Who are the Mythmakers and Why Do They Matter? post you say " ... science with a truer meaning: the hunger for knowledge ..." But I would say that science isn't a 'hunger for knowledge', but rather it's a proven methodology for revealing answers to questions that can be relied upon. The methodology is repeated testing of a hypothesis until a conclusion can be reached, and then peer review to try and disprove it. The 'hunger for knowledge' is just a human characteristic that drives the motivation to use the scientific method to find the truth. Just me being pedantic as usual!

    You then say " ... Myth and gods are not science; they are faith-based..." Absolutely, again I agree. And basing something on faith rather than evidence is another way of explaining the meaning of the word 'hope' - so something faith-based is that which we hope is true, it's wishful thinking, or fantasy. But just because we hope something is true doesn't then make it true, although I wish this wasn’t the case – if only wishing something could actually make it come about!

    And also you say "Myth and gods are .... a truth, which the individual recognizes by some instinct built into the genes." Well, isn’t this more accurately our human trait of ascribing meaningful patterns to inexplicable events? We have always wanted to understand the world around us. But now we know that lightning isn't angry gods - we have explained these natural events, so we can give up the explanations that we used to use before we learnt better explanations – we now know angry gods don't cause lightning. But unfortunately it takes time to throw off these learnt religious beliefs because we were taught them when young and impressionable, and they are deep seated in our psychology. But I’m not sure that they are genetic – I don’t think there's a god-instinct gene is there? I maybe wrong on this one – there’s been a lot of research on this recently in evolutionary biology – so please correct me if I’m behind the curve on this one.

    1. So pleased to have finally aroused interest! Discussion is what the philosophers who compiled the Mythmaker Precepts would have wanted! The Precepts were not intended to be commandments or laws like "Thou shalt not commit adultery" or "You are not allowed to drive through an intersection on a red light." They were meant to be guidelines and to provoke discussion.
      Response will require some thought and maybe a new post, but at the moment I must finish getting The Storm-Wing published, so be patient. I especially want to address that peculiar and enigmatic No.16. which even puzzles me at times! I talk about it in The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars at a couple of points.

  2. Part two, hope this works!

    You then go on to say " ... That means there is no one truth... ". But surely there is. Where we have applied the scientific method to a question and reached a conclusion, repeated many times, and peer reviewed without any amendment, and the consensus of the scientific community holds the conclusion to be valid, we have a 'truth'. It can be superseded by further research and new evidence, but meanwhile it becomes the best explanation we have about the question. I guess I’m thinking about the nonsense of creationism being taught in schools alongside evolution when 99.9% of the scientific community have accepted evolution as ‘truth’ for years. But the excitement of science is that new research and evidence can overturn current truths at any time, as long as it passes the rigorous scientific empirical testing.

    Number 7. of your Mythmakers’ Twenty Precepts states: “ If a human have nothing else, it has its own soul, which must remain inviolate.” As always a really tricky one for the secular in me! Despite all the literature I’m still not aware of a ‘soul’. What is it, and where is it located? And number 8 of course has the same problem; I see no evidence for the existence of ‘souls’. Is it our experience of self-awareness that makes us think we have something we call a ‘soul’? Maybe, but it’s never been identified or seen. Or are you referring to something else?

    I have a real problem with number 16. “Animals neither punish, seek revenge, forgive, nor blaspheme, nor recognize a need for any of these things.” as we humans do all these things, and we are part of the animal kingdom and directly related to every animal in the world. And there’s some recent research that suggests some other animals can recognise unfairness, and react to it

    You next post, August 20, 2012 ‘Beginning My Mythmaker Analysis’, was also really interesting, although I struggled with what “ "God" may be simply an underlying Life Force, will-less and indifferent…” means. What is a ‘Life Force’?, where is it located, and what does it do? Just not something I’ve come across before.

    Finally you say “ … To remain a humanist, you have to believe that human beings really can look within themselves and find the Right Path….” But what is this ‘Right Path’? Are there ‘Paths’, right or wrong? It’s tempting to think that we have the choice of deciding how to behave. But don’t we have a sense within ourselves that it’s unnatural and counter-productive for us to be cruel and overly selfish? We have certain behaviours we have inherited that have proved to be helpful in our survival, and therefore the survival of our genes, such as altruism, group co-operation and empathy. But I’m not sure I would call them self-chosen ‘paths’, just behaviours that allowed us to survive to this point that we instinctively use, without self-reflection. Environmental change may change these behaviours if different ones prove to be more successful in ensuring our survival in the future. We have no impact on this – it’s just the process of evolution, and we are the mere vehicles of this process along whatever ‘path’ survival takes us. And evolution doesn’t know we exist, and doesn’t care for our feelings. That’s the stark, but wonderful, nature of reality!

    Thanks so much for the stories and posts though – they’re wonderful! – keep them coming!

  3. Number 16? ... "16. Animals neither punish, seek revenge, forgive, nor blaspheme, nor recognize a need for any of these things." I'm with the animals on this one! Anyway, how can you be confused?, you wrote this!

    1. You know, it was almost like that list of precepts came out of nowhere and wrote themselves. I always say (tongue-in-cheek, I feel obliged to add!) that I've channeled my stories from the future! I'm about to start the formatting for my Kindle version of The Storm-Wing and when I finish that, I'm going to write a post responding to all this.