I’ve not written for a while because I’ve been reading rather a lot lately. Jordan Peterson’s “Maps of Meaning”, Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift”, and an Anthology of Classical Science Fiction. There has been a lot to learn in these books, far more than I could fully present in a coherent report, but I thought I would start off by mentioning what I have learnt from Jordan Peterson’s huge contribution to people looking for meaning.
The first thing that occurred to me after just 20 (of 403) pages was the depth to which he goes to explain how people think and find meaning in anything. He portrays the transition from “What is” to “What should be” in such detail, providing diagrams to help, that it becomes apparent that there have been numerous professional people who have thought about this, and exponentially more, who haven’t. I, of course, belonged to the latter until now. The fact that we are all wearing a mask, which sometimes becomes our fixed identity, seems straightforward. But it is when people come to the end of their working lives and try to become themselves that they suddenly realise, how much they have become one with their mask. Something which I can personally bear witness to.
The purpose of mythology in society has been ignored in my lifetime, much of it thrown out “with the bathwater,” leaving us trying to find other sources of inspiration for our dull lives. Religion has either become redundant or become radical. The difference between the field of science and the field of mythology and religion being that the first provides a description of things, whereas the latter provides the value of things, why they matter. These two aspects of life automatically happen in our minds, without conscious effort. The question needs to be asked, what do we find valuable?
Sub-cultures have become overly important, sometimes the complete content of peoples lives. The elderly are left trying to fathom what is important in the apparently shallow lives of younger people. Other people are completely under stress because they aren’t aware of what is causing it and therefore can’t find a way out of it, despite countless self-help applications available. Looking for meaning has become terribly difficult after the ideologies of the twentieth century have failed. Many people are left without their lives having meaning, and the numbers of mental-health patients have risen rapidly. Depression and even traumatic disruptions of everyday lives are not uncommon.
The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, is an older book, but interestingly, it does try to help people find meaning in their lives. The Gift describes the way that gifts have been part of communal life for thousands of years, how societies were inspired by them to be strong collectives. The Potlatch is a ritual of this kind, designed to keep the members of the community in touch with each other. It also promotes generosity. Strangely, Hyde tells of opponents to the type of commerce based society that we have today, who were against making things into commodities that were previously gifts, which are now subject to buying and selling. These “anarchists”, as they were called, wanted to preserve the Gift community and knew that modernity was forcing another, inferior community upon them.