Heroes of Wilderness
I'm visiting Sami and Katri, and once again it has been a pleasant combination of planning and leisure, social life and autistic working. On the side I read a book which compares Western movies to the historical facts. And that got me thinking;
The central theme of the mythology of Wild West is the contrast between the untamed frontier and the organized society. And this contrast has been portrayed differently by different authors - or, sometimes, in different films by the same author. Basically, the tragedy is that the pioneers and other strong heroes of the wilderness help spreading the civilization, essentially building towards an organized society where there is no more room for the wild strong individualism of the frontiers. As long as there still is untamed wilderness, The Hero can ride towards the sunset - but once the railway reaches the Pacific coast, that's the end of the Wild West. So, is this progression of culture a good or a bad thing? Is the wilderness a brutal and violent land of chaos, where civilization brings stability and organization? Or, is the wilderness a land of freedom and honour, where the central government and big corporate tycoons bring forms of social oppression? And, of course, in some Wild West books and movies there is not a clear distinction, but both the Wilderness and Civilization is portrayed as having their vices and virtues.
I'd guess this is one of the themes which people find interesting in UnReal World. Also, these same questions play a central role in the Finnish culture and tradition, both on the mythical and factual level. For example, the area where I live was mostly uninhabited wilderness until early 1600's when the first houses were established. And the first houses weren't so numerous, the progress wasn't that fast. In the early 1900's the road network consisted mostly of one main route and a criss-cross of footpaths, the population was sparse. In the first decades of 1900's the local population was still growing, young families established new homesteads building houses with their own hands and turning forestland to fields. After the WWII Finland had a considerable population of refugees from Carelia territory which we lost to Soviet Union in the war - Carelian families were given plots to settle, and many families built their homes almost from scratch. So, the Finnish pioneer spirit has strong historical roots, and in some areas of the country it is only a generation or two ago when the wild woodland was turned into an established home or a small farm. The first major novel written in Finnish, Seven Brothers, opens with the theme of young men getting fed up with the surrounding society and establishing a hermit house in their backwoods forest land. The Hero of Wilderness is portrayed in lot of classic Finnish poems and songs. And a lot like in the Western movies, a certain ambivalence is present in the Finnish mythology also; on the other hand, pioneers of the wilderness are portrayed as heroic strong characters with solid moral values - on the other hand, civilization and organized society is portrayed as progress, rising from brutality to noble sophistication - and at the same time there is a tone of melancholy of heroism being lost as the centrally controlled organized society settled down making life safe but dull and boring. The song linked portrays a pure Hero of The Wilderness, glorifying the violence and dangers of the wild; wrestling with a bear is seen as a heroic feat, the cracking sounds of firearms symbol the strength of the hero - and the faraway organized society is just left to be forgotten.
So, what is my personal stance on this mythological dilemma? As, in my real life I'm actually living a modified and easier version of the mythical Seven Brothers hermit home in the woods - not quite building my homestead starting from untamed woodland, but still rebuilding a lot with my own hands, enjoying the semi-hermit location somewhat in the marginal of the mainstream society. At the same time I appreciate things like tax-payer funded public health-care and education, universally available for everyone - I'm not happy with our current right-wing government aiming to privatize a majority of health care. Well, instead of talking contemporary politics, let's approach this on the mythological level - as the way I see it, it anyway is our myths which guide our thinking and fuel the political agendas. Hehe, and again - I'm not writing this trying to convert anyone to think like me, so generally speaking I have no problem if any of you disagree.
I can imagine three major ways of seeing the dilemma;
1. The Wilderness is a good place where morally sound heroes tackle the challenges with their determination and skills, taking care of their families and treating their fellows with dignity. This freedom, morality and heroism is essentially lost with the organized society - albeit the organized society bringing some good things like advanced health care and improved technology, but maybe the price is too high and we should somehow go more back to the unspoiled moral ethos of the Heroes of The Wilderness.
2. The Wilderness was free but brutal; all kinds of robber barons and business tycoons hiring their private militias to fight rivals and to oppress lesser people, using violence to gain private profit. The organized society brings law and order, protecting the ordinary individuals against the unrestricted tyranny of the immoral strongmen. We should constantly guard against the rise of the 'law of the jungle', keeping the brutality in check and promoting high moral standards of rationality brought by education.
3. It is not black and white - both 1) and 2) are one-sided portrays, they both aim to glorify one extreme ignoring the ill effects of the side it advocates. So we need a middle way, we need to combine the best from both worlds. Or, then we need to admit that there is no answer to this dilemma, that because of human nature we are eternally doomed into non-satisfactory struggle, being torn between freedom/brutal tyranny - safety/boring&controlled life.
Personally, I can't identify with any of the above. So, to describe the way I feel myself, I need a fourth alternative. It would be something along these lines;
4. Let's assume there is some truth in the Hegelian notion of human culture advancing through a cycle of thesis - antithesis - synthesis (and synthesis becoming the new thesis, staring a next cycle). So; the mythical Untamed Wilderness had a lot of heroic good things, but it also had some problems. Those problems were addressed with the antithesis of Law and Order of Organized Society. The antithesis solved some of the old problems, but also brought new challenges. Instead of going back into either stages, we need to go forward to some yet unrealized stage of human cultural progress. And this can't be a simple 'compromise combining some elements from both worlds'. No, I'd guess we'd better re-imagine the whole foundations of this question; seeing the basic concepts of morality, the individual, and freedom in a new light, stepping into a new mythology which would give a rise of new kind of heroism.
Hehe, yes, in a way all of my blog writing can be seen as fragmentary inspirations of my own 'new mythology' which I found growing up being a rebel, willing to question all of the tradition handed down by parents and authorities, and also questioning all of the education provided by The University and Western Philosophy. Yet, for me, the essential part of my personal mythology is the idea of non-proselytizing - or, to put it in other words; even if I wished more people to agree with the same kind if mythology that I have, I'd think that forcing my values down the throats of other people won't help to spread the values. I don't believe in group morality - although on the psychological level I do understand the power of phenomenons like 'what is socially acceptable and what is not' - personally I'd just drop those notions and seek for morality which is less based on group pressure and more based on inner willingness to respect the dignity of oneself and others equally.
Um, maybe this needs a bit more clarification. The way I see it, the problem has not been 'the lack of law and order in the chaos of the wilderness', nor 'the deterioration of honour and morals in the centrally governed modern world'. For me, the problem lies within people who are willing to advance their personal goals disrespecting the dignity of others. And such people found their ways in the untamed wilderness - hiring a private militia is a very effective way to gain personal wealth, and to destroy innocent lives in the process. And equally, the social structures of the organized society - like legislation and law enforcement - are extremely powerful tools when harnessed to protect the immoral businesses of robber barons and their modern counterparts. So, what to do then? Well, a robber baron is powerful only if there are minions to hire. So, the more we have strong and clear-minded individuals, the less there will be those who are willing to join an oppressive mob. And the more we have people feeling satisfied and happy with their lives, the less there will be need to plan ways of accumulating excessive wealth no matter what the moral consequences. The more we have ordinary people treating fellow people with peaceful respect, the more there will be social groups which don't feel like stripping the individual liberty, freedom and dignity.
Hmm - I know, this is all rather vague, as I try to speak of the mythological level, which is essentially beyond verbal descriptions. So, an another view which also serves as a metaphor. Personally, if I would own a lot of of woodlands, I'd manage it in three segments; I'd leave some special areas completely untouched, strictly preserved. Say, something like 10% of the area. Then, the majority like 70 - 80 % I would manage in a continuous way - never clear-cutting an area in one go, but every year harvesting some trees here and there. And the remaining 10 - 20 % could be more heavily utilized, fast-growing trees good for raw materials of forest industry etc. And that is a lot like I see human situation in general; we aren't complete masters of everything, so it would be good to leave a sacred sites of untouched wilderness. And when we anyway need to alter our surrounding for our own needs, better do it in such a way which also leaves things healthy and good for fellow species and humans. And if we need just pulp or some other bulk-quality raw materials, that can probably be managed so that it won't affect too much of the whole thing. So what about having a human civilization organized more or less like this? Honouring the raw, wild, untamed heroic Wilderness, having mostly non-invasive ways or organization and co-operation?