“With increasing abstraction and breadth of representation, the essential features comes to dominate the particular. As Eliade points out: traditional (that is, nonliterate) cultures have a historical memory that may be only three generations long – that is, as long as the oldest surviving individual is old. Events occurred previous to this are telescoped into something akin to the aboriginal Australian’s “dreamtime”: into the “trans-historical” period when ancestral heroes walked the earth, and established the behavioral patterns that constitute the present mode of being. This telescoping is the “mythologization” of history – and is very useful, from the perspective of efficient storage. We learn to imitate (and to remember) not individual heroes – and not the “objective” historical figures of the past – but what those heroes represented: the pattern of action that made them heroes.”
-Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan B. Peterson
We live in what is or what is approaching a post-literate society. That is not to say we can’t read, though literacy is decreasing, but that we do not record cultural knowledge in a literate manner. Ask yourself, will a child educated in a top grade private school have accurate knowledge of his great-grandparents? When they become adults could they explain the objectives of their great-grandparents? Could they imitate faithfully their patterns of actions? No it would be nearly impossible. When our ancestors are attacked as racists, do we have a defense? They were racist. Yet as we know that does not explain their actions or lives. It is reductionist. This reductionism breaks any mapping of meaning from past generations.
One of the problems of a group of people who do not create new mythology, that is to say create new stories, is that they cannot impart the context, culture or goals of the present to the future. I’ve seen this first hand. We have an organisation, it was formed in a trial by fire. It’s primary mission is survival and a maintenance of closeness. Closeness allows for great acts of sacrifice for the group, survival or adversity, but most importantly the ability for group introspection. Due to the nature of this group it has natural and unavoidable turnover. I come in what we will regard as the third generation. This means that I have one generation to experience the wisdom and experience of the founding generation.
With the fourth generation we see people who have access to the second generation and therefore only indirect access to the experience of the first. They have a sense of the objectives of the first but little sense of what it meant to them. They have a hazy picture but they can see what it means to the second via the stories that they know but cannot fully form into narratives.
With the fifth generation there is only one generation left that has indirect experience with the foundation myth. At this point the majority of the organization has never even met the founders. Of course the organization only has facts. These things happened. Yet as they imagine themselves they do not necessarily see themselves as in the same category as the founders. They do not see the danger, they cannot through narrative experience the survival ethics. As such they have no sense of what was lost. They do not know that the organization ever functioned differently. Nor can the third generation fully impart this knowledge nor do they formalize myths to impart it. They have not experienced the lost golden age through narrative and cannot process what it once was.
There is an outside organization: the interloper. It tells a myth, it presents a future for the our organization. The organization listens to the myth. It doesn’t have an alternative. It doesn’t connect with the myth but none-the-less it has no reason to oppose a goal, goals are great. It expends energy in pursuit of goals other than survival, it bears costs. As more energy is expended outward it loses coherence and begins to deteriorate. It forgets what made it great to begin with, because it never told itself why? Some in the past saw it, and now it is gone? They cannot articulate it but they could have. And so chaos destroys order. Is the organization dead? No. Does function based on the objectives of its founders. No. Can it replicate that forgotten past? No.
We are not told the story of why FDR went to war, what his justifications, his visions, his objectives were. We are not even told what narrative was trotted out to the public. We are not told the story of WWII we are told the story of the holocaust oh and there was a war. This reframing beyond being dishonest creates a modern mythology. The problem is the modern part not the mythology part. Narrative of history is to one degree or another always mythology. A modern mythology is a projection of modern or more recent values onto past events. Even contemporaneous historians are removed from events, yet they possibly exist in a context where they can understand FDR. A modern student, a modern narrative has no set context, nor do they care. They are drawing forth their moral lessons from history, not the lessons of those who experienced those events.
The problem with conservatism is that it sees an imaginary past. It sees the past as a continuation of modern conservative values. Certainly some of those values are shared, but what it cannot do is articulate why the founders of post-war conservatism felt the way they did. What caused them to act? What was the glorious future they wanted? I can tell you for sure it wasn’t third world immigration and the country tearing apart. Conservatism has imported parts of the ideology of the past while losing all of the essence. It has forgotten what made life worthwhile. To reboot ourselves we must understand what future our ancestors saw, and create the legends which will pattern the behavior of generations to come. Without a golden past or a glorious future we are nothing but decay.