Contents - This Great Society - Issue 5, Mythology - December 2009/January 2010
Thoughts and Analysis
Joel Bentley
From the Ashes of Valhalla
Illustration by Joel Bentley

Why can we embrace the abstract facts of quantum physics and theories of economics “because it just is that way,” but so easily call the greatest claims in the universe ridiculous superstition? Why should we leave behind Valhalla and all that goes with it if the alternatives prove no more logical or edifying?

Dark clouds and fire streaked the skies over the spray from the wine-dark sea. Thunder rolled, and Øybiorn and his Viking compatriots sternly accepted this proclamation of Thor as a blessing of their victory.

Across all time, literally everyone has justified their existence on a substantial mythical, even mystical foundation. This is true today, though the fact is not as readily observable as in past times. Nations are not directed by oracles. Sensible individuals don’t read entrails or the stars for direction. No modern city sacrifices livestock for its protection.

This is the un-poetic reality. But while the poetic life burnt with Valhalla, the ghosts of the old pantheon remain with us.

George paid his taxes, mortgage, and telephone bill, sighing at the brackets around his account balance at the end of it all. Nobody told him that “leveraging his assets” meant most of his income would go as interest to the bank for thirty years of his life. Nobody told him that this, plus a great pension and benefits plan, would chain him by “the golden handcuffs” to a job he’d grown to hate. Could he drop it all? Have a mid-life crisis and go buy a Corvette, quit his job and work in a dive shop in Bermuda?

A tremendous place to find evidence of the role of myth in our society is in money and security: more or less the aim of today’s politics and society. These goals feed on the three great political emotions: fear, greed and hope(lessness). If the first decade of the 21st Century proves anything, it is that a fear of the future is still alive and well. Dark eschatological visions of varying scenarios—economic uncertainty, political over-control, global warming, BPA in drinking bottles, H1N1, poorly-policed pharmaceuticals, even some day in 2012—definitely resonate with the contemporary mind.

Predictions of doom may resonate so deeply with us because we are uncertain that our comfortable Western material reality will last. History tells us that comfort is fleeting, ephemeral. Perhaps we share a society-specific angst. Aware of historical precedent, Western society both embraces comfort, and radically distrusts it.

The Dow was over 10,000 again, and the mere thought of a steady bull market readied Jeffrey Alexander Wentworth for another day swimming amongst the sharks of Wall Street. His Lamborghini sang down the urban streets in the dim light before the dawn.


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