When we put together the Applied Mythology course 7 years ago, the lead in our ads for it was Thoreau’s quote, Read not the Times, read the Eternities and if there is any advice I would give as general suggestion, it would be that. One of the great modern mythologists was Mircea Eliade and his most famous book is called, The Myth of Eternal Return, which is, as might be surmised, centered on the cyclical understanding of time that particularly prevails in most tribal mythology as well as Hinduism and many other cosmologies.
One of my practices during the month of Ramadan is neither to watch nor read nor listen to any news. This is in the interest of one of Ramadan’s main purposes, which is to quiet the feelings, cleanse the soul of hysteria and re-immerse oneself in what is most centrally important. It also presses me to read longer and deeper and farther afield without disturbance from all the twittering. I came across this in an interview with the very interesting Zia Haider Rahman, who has made quite an impression with his first book In the Light of What We Know:
Every general election anywhere seems to mark a turning point, we’re told. Or something is a landmark event. Every military surge is a new initiative that will turn back the tide. The consumption of news would fizzle out if it did not bear the sense that what is happening is new in the sense that it is bringing in change, is going to alter the way things are. We all like to plan—we can plan like no other animal—but our ability to plan goes hand in hand with an appetite to learn what’s new, what’s news, what might affect our plans. News media feeds this appetite endlessly and would do itself out of a living if its reports ran along the lines of, say: Such and such happened today and it’s terribly similar to what happened ten years ago and also to what happened forty years ago and everybody thought then that it was going to change everything but it didn’t.
There is hubris in regarding ours as the pivotal moment in history—a shocking hubris given that every age has thought this way—but it is vital to the sale of news to maintain this pretence. To see the repeated patterns may not actually make it easier to resolve the problems we now face—after all, the most common repeated pattern is one of failure—but I have wondered whether it would lead to a feeling of familiarity, which would have a calming effect, a sense that we are not at the edge of a precipice without parallel. Of course, this is a nightmare to those who rely on us feeling frightened all the time.
Zia Haider Rahman