A Modern Myth
Mythology, or the study of myth, is a history of stories that we human beings have told ourselves about who we are, what the world is, and what our role in the world is. Today, archetype psychology revolves around the old myths in the same way that archeology revolves around old artifacts. Jungians treat these old myths with the sense of reverence and mystery that ultimately leads toward a greater understanding of the Old Ways. This attitude has benefited us immeasurably. What archetype psychology lacks, however, is a Modern Myth. To be sure, modern myths exist, the most prominent of which is reiterated in science fiction flicks and tech-blogs the world over: Man ascends to mastery over his world and then populates the stars. This myth and others like it are, however, unconscious myths. It is a by-product of the many technological advances that have changed our picture of Reality, combined with some persistent old myths and the few philosophies that have made some sense of the onset of science and technology.
To my knowledge, the only man who attempted to provide a genuine modern myth, a myth that is conscious of itself, is the one who invented the study of Archetype—Jung himself. But he left far too much undone for us to consider his work a functional mythic account. Indeed, he has fallen into ill-repute among contemporary psychologists because his account is vague and mystical.
Although we human beings are famously attached to our beliefs, archetype psychologists today know that once our current religious attitudes fall into disuse, they, too, will be described as “myths” and studied alongside their older counterparts. Each believer, of course, tends to think that only the other religions will fall into disuse, but, this caveat notwithstanding, we all at least share with the archetype psychologists the intuition that religion and myth are formed from the same mold.
Joseph Campbell, who appreciated the similarities between current religions and old myths, attempted to extract what he called a “Monomyth,” the story of human experience that every culture tells. While Campbell’s effort reaches toward a functional Modern Myth, his Monomyth still remains firmly fixed in the archaeological attitude: virtually all the mythic content Campbell worked with was pre-technology, and so his study amounted to dusting off ancient artifacts and reassembling them into a coherent picture—a picture we have more and more difficulty relating to.
In order to tell a Modern Myth, we need a narrator who is capable of seeing all the elements of the story. That narrator exists within all of us, but we forget how to make her lips move. We are often so absorbed in the psychic swirl of myths, both old and new, that we lose touch with the self that is capable of recounting an unbiased story. We are so fixed within our religious, political, and philosophical convictions that we are either unwilling or afraid to set them aside, to place them into the “uncertainty” bin, in order to see what our experience tells us when we look at it without an attachment to the end result.
So what story would we tell about ourselves if we looked at our experiences honestly? Would it be an atheist story? Would it be a Christian story? A Jewish, Hindu or Muslim story? A Communist story? Or would it be something different altogether?
The Architecture is an attempt to tell that story, to provide the missing Modern Myth. The Modern Myth, however, is not my own. I may be the Story Teller, but I didn’t invent the story. This is the story that we are all living, whether we know it or not, and all of human civilization tells it again and again. This time, however, the story will be re-told without using ancient pots and scrolls. I, the Story Teller, the Bard, will sing this story once more, not in Latin but in English; not with violins, but with dub-step beats; not through Gregorian Chant, but through rap.
And you will join me. But first, you need an unbiased perspective.
The Alien Observer
Imagine that you are a member of a highly advanced alien civilization. Your species is so advanced both technologically and evolutionarily that human beings appear to you as cats and dogs appear to humans. Pretty awesome, isn’t it? To you, human beings seem to be operating primarily on instinct. While everyone in your alien species has a different job, yours is to observe and record the humans. You want to understand how they work, why they do what they do, and hopefully how to predict their actions at least to a useful degree.
You notice that they have a set of basic drives that propel them forward in their lives, and that they never escape the force of those drives. Like cats and dogs, humans move toward survival, procreation, companionship, and social order. Unlike cats and dogs, however, humans dramatically change their environments, engaging in large-scale social efforts both to build and to destroy. While human beings, like their pets, seem to follow an instinctive track, it appears to be a different track from that of the pets.
As you observe them, you notice that they tell some very strange stories about who they are and what the world is. You notice that these stories are so important to them that they are willing to kill and die for them. Some of the stories are about divine beings that the humans imagine but have never met in person, other stories are about about the best ways to live, and still other stories give detailed accounts of how one must not live. You, of course, have a much more refined story of your existence than any of the humans tell. Their stories seem like children’s faerie-tales to you, so you don’t really agree with any of those stories any more than you agree with a faerie-tale. Yet you know they would not understand your story if you tried to explain to them the bigger picture of Reality, so you just watch. Besides, you want to understand their story, not force feed them yours, advanced though it may be.
Because you are a highly evolved alien, you have developed a technology that allows you not only to read the minds of the humans, but also to know what they are feeling. You can see how some of their thoughts and feelings are conscious and some unconscious and you marvel at the unusual ways that their thoughts and feelings split into one side or the other. You wonder to yourself why they avoid feeling and thinking about some things and fixate on feeling and thinking about other things—but you still observe amidst your amusement.
As you observe, you record. You record the stories they tell and the feelings they feel about their stories. You record the things they do, regardless of which stories they tell. You record the patterns of their building and destroying, of the gargantuan death ritual they call “war,” and the gargantuan life ritual they call “society.” You record their feelings about life, death, good, evil, right, wrong, God, loneliness, love, loss, and all the other things the poets write about. Your also record their beliefs about these things, how their feelings respond to their beliefs, and how their beliefs respond to their feelings.
Having observed all of these patterns, you now set to work articulating the instinctive rules that humans follow. You have enough data by now to make some reasonably accurate judgments about the instinctive tracks that humans follow. You know that every human is different, just like humans know that every cat and dog is different, but you also know that they are somehow all the same. Your description of their instincts must therefore describe the rules they all follow but allow for the great variation you see in their following of these rules. You notice, for example, that every human being has a conscious and an unconscious. (You, of course, do not have this inner division because you are so advanced; you know exactly who you are and therefore do not experience the strife of a split self.) Despite all humans having this similarity, none of their conscious selves interact with their unconscious selves in the same ways. You find that there are many, many similarities between human beings, despite the many, many different expressions these similarities take. And you are pleased. This tells you that you have are accurately articulating the instinctive rules.
The Alien Observer is an expression of the inner unbiased perspective. If you are able to put yourself in the place of the Alien Observer, you will find that you have the ability to listen to and tell the story of the Modern Myth. The Architecture is a thing in its own right. And by “Architecture” I mean the actual Architecture of the Human Experience, not my writing, which I distinguish from the Architecture itself by the italicized title “The Architecture.” The Architecture of the Human Experience is the pattern that our Modern Myth will attempt to capture in its song. It is the complete set of human instinctive rules. It is the sum total of all that makes us human and therefore all that makes us similar to each other. The leeway within the Architecture—our ability to move from room to room within the building—is the sum total of all that makes us different from each other.
As we explore this Architecture through the Modern Myth, I hope you will see all the familiar patterns that move in and through your life. You will see love and loss, right and wrong, God and absence, but I hope you will look at these things with fresh eyes: with the eyes of the Alien Observer who just wants to understand, and not the eyes of a devoted believer who does not want to entertain a different story.
Let us begin.