Trying to live a practical, but compassionate life towards all living creatures (animal, mineral, vegetable, humanable) without being a self-righteous ass.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Joseph Campbell, and What Did I Learn in Schoolz?

I wrote earlier that I wanted to get back to my Book Club of One (you'll see I've even made a tag for it.) And one thought was... have my thoughts or ideas changed since studying developing areas for 5 years since the last time I read these books. Not that I wasn't thinking about issues of development before, but, my knowledge is better fleshed out now.
So. Before I went back to school I believed you need to keep a proper perspective on both the individual and the group. But I'd say that schoolio has given me a deeper perspec on this. My awareness of just how extremely individualistic western society is has been heightened--everything from the way we build to "Human Rights" language.

I think what many westernee people really miss when thinking about issues of women's property rights, clothing, legal rights, whatever, in say Muslim societies (but not restricted to-) is how strong your identity can be in the group.

Since the Enlightenment we've been on a one-way track to the individual, and we take it as a gien that individual identity and therefore rights is always the best thing. Certainly I think it comes with a lot of Great Things. But we're so entrenched in it that we end up on this Moral High Horse about the way everyone else lives or thinks or legislates, and it's almost impossible for us to understand.

In postcolonial studies we talk a lot about The Other: Ways in which we make other people/societies into something so different, apart from, and foreign to us that we can then stand outside and judge, or feel superior to, or use, or stereotype, or steal from. Well the ultimate examples of Othering might be the way the Nazis portrayed the Jews, or how Americans (and I mean all, from South to North) saw Africans when they enslaved them. That's where this thinking will get you--you dehumanize people.

I think we do some automatic dehumanizing when we read a Scandalous Headline about a stoning in a North African country, and we see the men involved as monsters. I'm pretty out for stoning people but... what the hell do I know about having a collective sense of identity, where one person's acts might shame everyone else's? Having been raised by young, not really religious, white parents, I have no concept of this. I don't mean I no longer have the right to believe it's wrong to kill someone for having sex outside of marriage, but I think there's still a difference between my beliefs, and my ability to understand and have compassion for other human beings. To not be so fucking judgmental.

And maybe I don't always have the right ideas on how to balance the personal and the collective. The thing that struck me most when I read a travel diary of a Canadian woman in Iran (Honeymoon in Tehran) was the collective nature of everything. She'd be arguing with a cab driver about a fare, and half the passerbys would stop and take sides. It usually ended with someone taking her away to their own car so they could drive her for free, but while she's at it she should come for supper, and come meet my family, and next thing she knew she'd have spent the day with strangers rather than at some monument.

Now imagine immigrating from a society like that, to a Canadian city. How cold we must seem! (Except my husband, who does talk to strangers and take them around town. Which is one reason I love him.)

So that's one thing that's changed. I like it when Joseph Campbell expresses the idea of being simultaneously an individual, and part of the whole world; and people who still live in strongly communal societies are surely much better at conceiving the "with the world" side of that equation than I am.

***The Campbell Portion of This Posting***

In Hero With a 1000 Faces Campbell writes about this idea, re. the hero journey. The hero Theseus was given a thread to unravel as he walked through the labyrinth, so he could find his way out again after slaying the minotaur. But Campbell argues that although the last step of the Hero Journey is always taken alone, you're never really alone:
"Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; and where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."
Ah. My FAVE Campbell quote of all time.

1 comment:

Aluwings said...

Rest in me as I am in you...