Towards the Polymyth
Recommended listening for this post:
The Monomyth is a Lie
The hero’s journey - or monomyth - is a dangerous lie. As a template for storytelling it dutifully gets the job done, but the the problem is that it doesn’t work in real life. This is a rhetorical generalization, but: we tend to anchor our personal narratives in the media we consume.
As an aside, I think this is one of the reasons why representation in media become a subject of discourse lately. A superhero fan I am not, but I couldn’t help but notice all the positive responses from people of color in regards to Black Panther, all the little girls in regards to Wonder Woman. Storytelling 101: we relate to characters who are like us.
The monomyth is dangerous because it transitively promulgates the myth that you are a solitary hero. Locked in some struggle of man v man, man v nature (more on this one later), man v god, or man v self: it is all up to you.
This myth of radical self-reliance is further reinforced by folklore such as the American Dream and aphorisms like, “you are responsible for you,” or “early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Many facets of our culture are built on this idea. In Capitalist Realism (2009), Mark Fisher pointed to “the privatization of stress,” - this notion that we’ve accepted it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress which our society and/or culture created.
Student debt? Your problem. Neigh! Your responsibility! No one gets a free ticket! Addiction? You didn’t get enough love as a child. Depression? Must’ve been your childhood, too. Or maybe your genetics? Anxiety? You’ve made bad life decisions. Change your circumstances.
Too many of those I love suffer from some or all the above. And too much of their suffering is further exacerbated by the guilt that they can’t fix it themselves. (!)
In summary, we’re taught that we’re the hero of our story. We’re responsible for the circumstances in our lives. And we’re responsible for digging ourselves out.
This is the monomyth. And the monomyth is a lie.
Again, a superhero fan I am not, but I think The Avengers is successful because it offers a plausible challenge to the monomyth. It is an ensemble cast overcoming hardship together. Individual arcs and heroics remain, but the core appeal of the franchise is the team. Their relationships, their banter, their chemistry. I think this paradigm is is more resonant with how humans actually are in the world.
You wouldn’t exist without your parents. You depend on vast logistics networks for food. If you’re in the developed world, other people work 24/7 to supply you with clean water, electricity, and waste services. You’re reading this post only because of the infrastructure maintained by the good people at GitHub who I’ll never meet.
If you work at a company, you have co-workers. If you’re self-employed you probably have clients or customers.
We are the polymyth.
We all need each other and we always have. The notion that you’re an island leads to isolation, guilt, and anxiety. Not only does this myth isolate us from each other but also the planet itself. Humans are not somehow separate or transcendent or “outside” what we’ve come to call nature. We are natural. Computers and technology are also “natural” - everything you’ve ever seen or thought about is natural. As the lyrics go, “All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be.”
It all exists within the same reality. I do not find the distinction of “artificial versus natural,” a very useful one.
Just as we need each other we also need the earth. We always have. Geo-engineering isn’t going to save us. The climate crisis is our crisis.
I am convinced that our civilization is already falling and this fall cannot be prevented. What we can do, however, is create seeds for something better. Now is the best time for doing this, as we still have plenty of spare time and resources especially in rich countries. We especially need to propagate the seeds towards laypeople who are already suffering from increasing alienation because of the ever more computerized technological culture. The masses must realize that alternatives are possible.
Bands, Collectives, and Communities
Working together can be hard. For each project listed in my discography there are probably twice that number that are unlisted. Failed, false-started, disbanded, dissolved. I’m an atheist and music venues have always been my places of worship. The communal experience of music is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever felt.
I write, release, and perform music for two reasons. Firstly for myself - because I love the craft, I love the expression, I love the joy of creating. Secondly for you - as an offering, a gift, a chance to have experiences like those I’ve had in mosh pits where I’ve simultaneously lost and found myself.
This year has marked a huge shift in my practice. I still write music, but I’ve gravitated towards programming tools for others to write music. Cascades, Conway Music, Markov Music, dronecaster, and arcologies are each expressions of my aesthetics translated into code. Making tools for others is fun, and watching what people make with them is totally surreal.
All these pieces of software share a common thread, and that thread is monome. A long time ago I saw the grid and knew one day I would get one and make really cool shit with it. The monome community has helped me stay anchored to myself through the solstagia, anxiety, and depression of 2020.
(The irony of the similarity between the words “monomyth” and “monome” is not lost on me.)
I haven’t made this many genuine friends in this short of a time since college. We visit on Zoom, send memes, talk on the telephone. Share our worries and fears and struggles and hopes. These are people who I support and who support me.
None of that software I built this year would exist without the support, mentorship, and generosity of the members of the community. They are a persistent reminder that I’m not alone. So let this be you’re reminder that you’re not alone. And don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.