How Do We Create Humanist Myths And Traditions?
It may seem obvious that imagined reality has far greater possibilities than our current reality. However, humanity has a tendency to protect what we think is true now, rather than consider that most of the systems we hold sacred have gone through an evolution and continue to do so. We have arrived at our idea of truth only through the constant revisiting of our preconceptions, assumptions, and biases, daring to push back ever so slightly on what is considered sacred. The greatest resistance to this has always been an appeal to traditions.
Appeal to tradition works because of the appeal of traditions. We see, for example, the merging of traditions when religion meets culture; an amalgamated tradition is created, two seemingly immovable, separate entities, coming together to create off-springs that may not resemble either of them. This evolution parallels natural evolution including the resistance to change, the role of chance, the effects of the environment and the central driver of survival. Naturally, appeal to tradition also appeals to nature. For example, we find in defense of the divine rights of Kings or the hierarchies of countries and companies are references to other hierarchies found in nature, invoking the naturalistic argument.
Appeal to tradition works because it is also an emotional appeal. It appeals to our need for stasis in a dynamic fast-paced world. When all is unpredictable, we can rely on tradition to be the locus from which we can find our bearings. In a young republic, when the experiment of democracy, for instance, is working out its kinks, the main arguments presented will be an appeal to the days of the past when we were ruled by kings and priests. Similarly, whenever the boundaries of modern medicine are met by people, you will hear the appeal to the past and to traditional herbal remedies. In both instances, data doesn’t matter. Our frustration is all that counts.
Appeal to tradition is essentially also an appeal to existing paradigms, an opposition to change and a defense of the status quo. This defense trickles down from the top of the hierarchy and is reinforced with promises of social mobility and threats of anarchy. The greatest defenders of capitalism, for instance, come from the 85% who collectively own as much wealth as the remaining 15%. The only defense they give is that it works. As to who it works for, it is another thing altogether.
In all this, tradition and the myths that surround them have been the binding force in most societies, creating a convergent point of commonality for many with diverse and divergent backgrounds to latch on to. Nation-states, tribes, and even High School affiliations become such powerful binding forces created out of traditions and their surrounding myths. There is no greater example than we find in sports, where the wins and losses of your team cut across all other identities, binding all together as one, at the moment.
Is there a way to ethically create myths and traditions, factoring in the various appeals of tradition but considering our humanism and humanity as paramount? I believe so and I believe there are various examples of this. We have secular systems in place presently for marriages and contracts, trade, scientific inquiry, and as mentioned above, sports, etc. Can we create a common myth that binds all humans together? What stories are we to tell, what threads are we to weave through in creating this tapestry of humanity? Would our stories lie in our common threats from climate change and AI, our shared will to be happy and loved, or our ability to imagine all these possibilities?