Myth, Herds and Masonry
Why Can’t We All Just Agree?
Having been accused of being a liberal far more times than a conservative, I’m drawn again to the impacts of what professionals refer to as “socialization” where communities, cultures – even celebrities without credentials – strongly influence the general attitudes in place.
There are areas of my community, of my county and state that are in many ways strongholds of political or social philosophies with which I am not in total harmony, but none contain individuals whose opinions render them unworthy of my regard or respect.
I was nurtured and grew to adulthood inside a culture – both social and geographic – that has tended in recent years to combine social and political conservatism into one identity. Living outside that culture now for most of 40 years, I’m still drawn emotionally to some of the feelings and values that I carried with me when – unknowingly as a young missionary – I left the area, never to call it home again.
Just as I’ve mentioned to those who have assumed that I am socially and politically “liberal,” I struggle sometimes to relate to friends and family whom I assume to be “conservative” when in fact the label may be totally meaningless.
Whether we admit it or not, every definition of life we possess is an assumption. Every reasoning behind what we choose to do and how we choose to behave is based on assumption.
Our assumptions are the authors of our own story, that personal mythology from which we navigate our lives.
Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox years ago addressed this subject with excellence and I have paraphrased their writing to discuss what in essence are the different herd mentalities that inform who we are, perhaps who we used to be, and who we might become.
Our assumptions are usually based on that informal and formal set of teachings from which we authorized our answers to the following questions:
Where did I come from?
Why is there evil in the world?
What happens to me when I die?
With whom do I belong?
How close should I be to others?
What are my obligations?
What is taboo and to be avoided?
Whom should I imitate?
Who are the heroes, villains, enemies and allies?
What are the stages along life’s way?
What is disease?
How can I be healed?
What should we do with bounty and surplus?
What is our relationship with nature and the animals?
Why do we do the things we do with the feelings that we feel?
In so doing are we vitalized or bleeding away emotional energy? And does what we do leave us feeling validated or merely accepted?
Our lives are living myths of our own creation. Our companion is our personal story, all the stuff inside we use tell us who we are and tell the world the same.
“Myth” is a word given too much work in how we share knowledge with one another.
Defenders of religious creeds use the word “myth” to characterize religious beliefs that conflict with their own, saying
“Your, assumptions are not as valid as my assumptions. In fact, your assumptions are myth while my assumptions are truth.”
What do we deny if we refuse to recognize our own assumptions?
How much are our individual lives shaped by inner scenarios based on assumptions we have been taught to accept as absolutely true?
Do we live an inner myth that reflects how we’ve been taught that the real world is defined by our personal societal culture rather than how we’ve discovered the world to actually be?
Our personal mythical scenario is always on and is always running. Sam Keen has described myth as referring to
“an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community or culture.
The myths we carry around inside include unspoken consensus, the habitual way of seeing things, unquestioned assumptions, and our ‘automatic stance’.”
A society lives on its own unconscious conspiracy to consider a myth the truth, the way things really are. Do we belong to the majority who are literal without thinking; men and women who are not critical or reflective about the guiding “truths” – myths – of their own group?
As Keen implies,
” To a tourist in a strange land, an anthropologist studying a tribe, or a psychologist observing a patient, the myth is obvious. But to the person who lives within the mythic horizon, it is nearly invisible.”
I also like this quote from Carl Jung:
“I asked myself, ‘What is the myth you are living?’, and found that I did not know. So … I took it upon myself to get to know ‘my’ myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks … I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me.” -C.G. Jung, The Portable Jung
In a herd, members usually instinctively choose behavior that corresponds to that of the majority of other members. They do this through imitation, mimicry, citations or quotes as “authority”.
people often do and believe things merely because many other people do and believe the same things. The effect is often called herd instinct. People tend to follow the crowd without examining the merits of a particular thing.
As more people come to believe in something, others also “hop on the bandwagon” regardless of the underlying evidence. The tendency to follow the actions or beliefs of others can occur because individuals directly prefer to conform, or because individuals derive information from others. – Wikipedia
Herd behavior as a social study can describe how individuals in a group can act together without planned direction. There need not be strict control from upper echelon or hierarchy – individual cultural members tend to be the strictest enforcers of cultural norms and group-think. Herd behavior includes spontaneous moments such as riots, demonstrations and protests. However, herd behavior manifests itself consistently at religious gatherings, sporting events and organization meetings.
Where do I as a Mason find place in all this?
Lewis Monical, a Past Grand Master in Arizona, wrote the following (courtesy of Masonic World website):
In the first degree, we are charged to be true to our government and just to our country. From Morals and Dogma we are told: “This degree teaches us that no free government can long endure, when the people cease to select for their magistrates the best and the wisest of their statesmen; when, passing these by, they permit factions or sordid interests to select for them the small, the low, the ignoble and the obscure, and into such hands commit the country’s destinies. There is, after all, a ‘divine right’ to govern; and it is vested to the ablest, wisest, best, of every nation.
“A democratic government undoubtedly has its defects, because it is made and ad-ministered by men, and not by the Wise Gods. It cannot be concise and sharp, like the despotic. When its ire is aroused it develops its latent strength, and the sturdiest rebel trembles. But its habitual domestic role is tolerant, patient, and indecisive. Men are brought together, first to differ, then to agree. Affirmation, negation, discussion, solution; these are the means of attaining truth.”
Our present government is seen by many to be crumbling into ruin, It has lost much of its effectiveness because Americans have lost trust in it. The crisis has been long in the making. Long before the present flagrant corruption and moral bankruptcy in our government, it was axiomatic with sophisticated citizens that first-rate people seldom make a career of politics.
Because we have entrusted civil government to men of mediocre ability and shabby morality, we now have the reverse of what we want, yet we’re “asking for it” by our cynicism.
This nation has reached a point in distrust of government beyond which it must not let itself drift apathetically any longer. We now have two apparent options: (A) Let “government of the people, by the people and for the people” run right on down the drain; or (B) take a full turn-about and return to the kind of government our forefathers designed for us.
If the choice is Option A, there will be a time of anarchy and chaos. Then the “Savior of the Republic” will ride up to the “rescue. ” Government will be restored with a vengeance, and it will be for the people, but not of and by them. Nations drift into despotism and dictatorship. As Chesterton said: “A despotism is a tired democracy.”
If the choice is Option B, it will be up to Masonry, the church, and other institutions which influence the public mind to re-educate the nation about the worth and dignity of public service in government. It is a truism and a notorious fact that a nation gets the kind of political leaders it deserves; and its deserts are determined by its expectations and demands. If we expect third-rate people and demand nothing better, that’s what we get. If what we get in the end is Option A, it will be because in that fleeting moment, when we were still free to choose, we wrung our hands and said: “Well, that is politics. It’s a dirty game, so we have to put up with the dirty people who play it for the rest of us. Who wants a saint in the White House? ”
Masons today, especially the younger ones, desire to act together as a Fraternity, not as individuals only. We have fostered this idea in DeMolay and continued it in our own Craft. Historically, Masonry steers a wide path from involvement as a Fraternity, but as individuals, we do the Fraternity a great disservice if we do not involve ourselves in the task of bettering our schools, our community and our government.
We return to the definition of the problem. How can our beloved Craft find its way out of this predicament without radical change? Radical change is not desirable, nor is it necessary.
Nothing forbids the members of the Craft from joining others within the Masonic family to act in civic duties. From Morals and Dogma again: “Masonry is action and not inertness. It requires its initiates to work, actively and earnestly, for the benefit of their Brethren, their country, and mankind. It is the patron of the oppressed, as it is the comforter and consoler of the unfortunate and wretched…. It is the advocate of the common people in those things which concern the best interest of mankind…. Its fidelity to its mission will be accurately evidenced by the extent of the efforts it employs, and the means it sets on foot, to improve the people at large and to better their condition. ”
A diverse culture will by definition have a diverse set of values, assumption and yes, mythological stories ranging from origin to culmination.
It is only when we assume that we individually or as members of a specific culture have the one true point of view and morality that we in fact weaken the whole of our entire society.