Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson: Part 38, Where is Your Myth Taking You?

Again, we are in the final paragraphs of Maps of Meaning where Jordan Peterson is summing up his main arguments. In the paragraph below he points us back to the truth we find in myth. Myths are not "make believe" or "pretend." Myths communicate information about reality.

Peterson takes this insight in the quote below and uses it to criticize thinkers like Freud who dismiss religious faith as delusional. True, Peterson says, imagination can tip into the delusional. But when imagination communicates truths necessary for human adaptation and survival, we dismiss it at our peril. Peterson observes:

For much of human history--after the Fall, so to speak--the individual remained firmly ensconced within the confines of a religious dream: a dream that gave meaning to the tragedy of existence. Many modern thinkers, including Freud, viewed that dream in retrospect as defensive, as a barrier of fantasy firmly erected against the existential anxiety generated by knowledge of mortality. However, the dividing line between fantasy and reality is not so easily drawn. It is certainly possible to disappear voluntarily into the mists of delusion; to withdraw into the comforts of denial from a world terrible beyond what can be borne. Imagination is not always insanity, however; its use does not always imply regression. Imagination and fantasy allow each of us to deal with the unknown, which must be met before it is comprehended. Fantasy applied to consideration of the unknown is therefore not delusory. It is, instead, the first stage in the process of understanding--which eventually results in the evolution of detailed, empirical, communicable knowledge. Fantasy can be used to create the real world, as well as the world of illusion. It all depends on who is doing the imagining, and to what end.

As a defense of fantasy giving us insights into reality, I think Peterson is making a point similar to the one Tolkien makes in "On Fairy Stories." Fairy Stories, said Tolkien, are not childish fables but a means of communicating deep truths about reality and the human predicament. 

I'm also struck by the final sentence of Peterson's quote. Who is doing the imagining, and to what end? 

As Peterson has repeatedly argued in Maps of Meaning, everyone is working with some sort of myth, either consciously or unconsciously. Myths are simply involved in the valuation of experience, turning raw sensory perception into meanings, purposes, values, and goals. And no one can escape this process. The only question remains: Who is doing the imagining and toward what end? 

Simply put, it's like Bob Dylan famously said: You've got to serve somebody. Everyone possesses a hierarchy of values. You are always moving toward some construal of the good. So the issue isn't to deny that we are engaged in this process, pretending that a scientific, rationalistic materialism somehow allows us to escape the necessity of valuation. The task is to lay your myth on the table for examination so we can determine where your myth is taking you.

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