Evil in Modern Myth and Ritual
204 Pages

Evil in Modern Myth and Ritual



Richard Stivers' concern is with the social construction of evil, that is, with how modern societies, in a partly unconscious way, create evil as a category of the sacred and how symbols, myths, and rituals of evil are related to this. He is interested, moreover, in how modern societies provoke individuals to commit evil actions.
This fascinating and stimulating book is the first attempt to work out in detail how the concepts of the sacred, symbol, myth, and ritual form a cultural configuration in modern technological societies, and not just in traditional societies.



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Published 28 April 2020
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EAN13 9781532686252
Language English
Document size 20 MB

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Wipf and Stock Publishers 199 W 8th Ave, Suite 3 Eugene, OR 97401 Evil in Modern Myth and Ritual By Stivers, Richard Copyright © 1983 by Stivers, Richard All rights reserved. Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-5326-8623-8 Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-5326-8624-5 eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5326-8625-2 Publication date 4/27/2020 Previously published by University of Georgia Press, 1983
The social sciences purport to give us an understanding of society. My own experience as a sociologist convinces me that an unrealistic understanding of one’s own society is not principally the result of the wrong choice of theory or of method, although they can play a role, but of ideology. The latter distorts reality and justifies it by providing society with an ideal image of itself. InLectures on Ideology and Utopia, Paul Ricoeur observes that ideology is not just something we think, it is something within which we live. Ideology is related to a society’s deepest, most cherished cultural beliefs. And these include the sacred, symbol, myth, and ritual, which both form a cultural configu ration and comprise the unconscious basis of all cultures, not just traditional cultures. Every culture, then, is ultimately “religious.” As I argue in the book, sociology has been influenced by the prevalent cultural beliefs. My chapter “Sociological Symbols of Evil” claims that sociological concepts such as “social problem” are simultaneously symbols of evil. If I am correct in my assessment, sociology conceals these cherished cultural beliefs rather than revealing them in their varied manifestations. I maintain that these sociological symbols of evil are embedded in the myth of progress and technological utopianism. This would seem to demonstrate what some sociologists (too few) have observed: Sociology either unconsciously accepts and confirms the ideology and cherished beliefs of the society in question, or exposes and contests them. Sociology (and all the social sciences) is either for or against a society. To reject an ideology is tantamount to rejecting the society which it has idealized. Originally I had sociologists and fellow social scientists in mind first and a general educated audience second. I came to realize, however, that I was really writing the book for a general educated audience in attempting to expose society’s cherished beliefs and in so doing criticizing my own discipline’s cultural capture. Needless to say the book has had no impact on sociology. In chapter 1, “Advertising and the Media,” I did not emphasize the importance of visual images in the media to the extent I do today. When I wrote my book, Jacques Ellul’s seminal workThe Humiliation of the Worldhad not been published. In it he distinguishes among the spoken work, the written word, and the visual image. For him the spoken word is primary, for it places us in a facetoface relationship with others. The spoken word is essential to nurture the love of others, to create and sustain community, and to raise the question of the meaning of existence—truth. The visual image relates us to empirical reality. It is essential to acting in the world and for the advance of mathematics, science, and technology. The written word stands some where between the spoken word and the visual image. It is more impersonal than the former but is still able to raise the question of truth. The visual image in art can create meaning only by participating in the symbolism discourse provides.
The overwhelming dominance of artificial images in the media (visual images we create with technology) has led to a great reversal in which discourse is now subordi nate to visual images. An executive at Facebook recently said she expects almost every communication to be made exclusively through visual images within five years. A technological culture is predominantly visual, and the images in the media are the “language” of technology. Technology manipulates material reality and attempts to make material that which is not through quantification and visualization. Words are “explained” by visual images. Discourse has been moving in opposite directions simultaneously. Because of omnipresent advertising, public relations, and propaganda, many words have become vague and retain only an emotional meaning. The word “democracy” can refer to almost any political regime (especially if it is an ally); the word “revolution” to any innovation, e.g., a revolution in laundry detergents. Either the vague word has too many referents, or it does not refer to anything that exists. But along comes the visual image to provide an operational indicator of the word. Now love “means” a visualized hug or kiss. The complexity and subtleness of love are lost. This produces concrete thinking in which we associate image with image, instead of word with word. The upshot of this is that writing the book today I would place greater emphasis on the visualization of symbol, myth, and ritual. For instance, in the chapter on socio logical symbols of evil I might have explored how the media visualizes a social problem, e.g., showing us an urban riot or the inside of a homeless shelter. Visualiza tion reduces a social problem to its most simple material aspects, thus rendering it a problem technology can solve. Ritualized evil usually takes place in the context of the festival. The festival makes obligatory the violation of sacred taboos (the sacred of transgression). InMan and the Sacred, Roger Caillois demonstrates the sacred of transgression is bound to the sacred of respect. Each needs the other; what is sacred is the relation between them. The festival institutionalizes the sacred of transgression as a way of renewing society (move ment from evil to good). The festival occurs mainly in the media and needs be visual ized. Life is in the media. Reality is always somewhere other than in my personal life—it is in the media making my life virtual and vicarious. As a daily occurrence in the media, the festival is now “on demand.” Violence is one part of the sacred of transgression in a technological society, the other being sex. My account of the sacred follows Jacques Ellul’s inThe New Demons. He identified technology as a sacred of respect and sex and violence (to a lesser extent) as the sacred of transgression. Sex and violence in the media are set over against the technological order. Sex and violence are the most powerful human instincts; by contrast technology is rational power. Our unleashed instincts would appear to be a threat to the rational order of society. Instead the display of these instincts in advertis ing and programs in the media makes us desire and demand the goods and services technology provides. Sex and violence in the media thus reinforce the technological order.