Truth & Myth Revisited

To the Editors:

I am responding to an article published in the November, 2000, issue of Antenna entitled “Truths & Myths & Firsts,” by Basilio Catania. “We should never forget,” according to Mr. Catania, “that people want some certainty, they being hungry for knowledge, for true knowledge, and they hate myths.”

Notwithstanding the misuse and abuse of the word, a myth is not a lie. American society, not to mention all cultures in general, are solidly and squarely built upon foundations constructed of myths. An explosion of the word myth reveals the unavoidable conclusion that myth plainly and unmistakably denotes belief. People may hate lies, but they love myths. No matter what direction their myths may take them, people use myths to harmonize their lives with their perceived realities; this has always been so . Even in our technologically advanced society, Americans rely upon their myths. For example, American Exceptionalism is a myth, but this myth has had enormous impact upon, not only American Society, but much of the world as well.

I agree with Mr. Catania in the sense that people are searching for something, but it is not the search for meaning to their lives, it is the experience of meaning in their lives. The idea that meaning is out there somewhere and all we have to do is search for it, hoping someday to find it, is at the root of many social and personal problems. The unresolved social issues associated with the external search for meaning include the high rate of dissolved marriages, the steady rise in psychotherapy, the unfinished conclusion to racism and sexism, and the much touted education reform movements in society; not to mention the usual suspects of poverty and wage slavery.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all involved in a sweeping social and technological transformation. Perhaps one of the most important issues emerging from this transformation will be whether or not we, as a society, can adopt new myths to replace our old myths which are becoming weaker by the day. History is replete with examples of humans struggling to adopt new myths in order to maintain their mental stability.

Mr. Catania exhibits his own myths when he claims that Dante had special knowledge of human purpose, claiming that humans “were created to follow virtue and knowledge.” How did Dante Alighieri know what humans were created for? What is the basis for Dante’s special epistemology? Who has a monopoly on the “Truth?”

Virgilia Peterson said that “Not only are there as many conflicting truths as there people who hold them; there are equally multitudinous and conflicting truths within the individual.”

Leslie D. (Dan) Caldwell is Adjunct Faculty in the History Department, University of Colorado Denver, and a doctoral student, School of Education, also at CU-D. His research interests include the history of
Appalachian coal miners, American Victorianism,
and the philosophy of history.

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