Dying Myths

by languageformulatingbrain

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To give a little perspective, the Commodore 64, one of the most popular mass-produced computers from the 1980s, could process at once 64 kibibytes (or 65536 bytes) of data in its RAM, often loaded programs from audio tape that had to be rewound and slowly loaded over the course of minutes, and supported 16 colors on the screen. A state of the art computer in 2022 could have 64 gibibytes, or (68,719,476,736 bytes) of data in its RAM and could display realistic graphics that could be interacted with in real-time and which were nearly photorealistic in quality.

A computer in 2022 could let you play games, watch movies, write papers, browse the Internet, do complex simulated physics calculations in real-time, create simulated worlds to interact with, listen to music, and any of countless other tasks you could throw at it. Science fiction long had anticipated various problems with technology running amok, and while some of it was based on exaggerated fears of the unknown, many of the fears that writers had about the effects of artificial intelligence and the upheaval of a human society that cannot adapt to a changing future were beginning to be seen.

In the 1980s, people warned each other of the effects of watching too much banal entertainment on TV, with studies about how much time was spent in front of the TV set written about in magazines and dutifully ignored. What was not spoken much about, however, was that like writing, TV was a constant stream of ideas in which some things about it were accepted as real, and other things were accepted as unreal.

Ever since the dawn of human communication, it was possible to say false things to someone. When the intent was to deceive, the communication was deemed to be a lie. When the intent was to create a story that was to entertain someone, it was called fiction. But when a communication was factual, it was true; it was considered to be an accurate representation of reality in the form of communication.

Straddling the line between truth and fiction in peoples' minds was myth and allegory. Myths were the stories of a culture that explained the unexplained or illustrated what was valued, featuring gods that were worshipped, heroes, demons, fantastical events, or other things of this nature. Though few in modern society would consider the majority of the body of myth created by humans to be true, myths were held so by many cultures, a large amount of which viewed the questioning of their myths to be a punishable offense. Myths, whether they sprung from the fancy of a storyteller or evolved over time were held to be important enough to a society that to question them put one at odds with the social order.

Modernity abandoned myth, or at least attempted to do so. But it seemed myth was a tendency that was deeply embedded in what makes human society function. People craved myths and it was possible to exploit this craving to influence the direction of human society (or at least manipulate people for one's own ends, if one were so inclined.) Many in the 1980s attempted to shun scientific rationalism for a traditional religious belief system, but to the discerning individual the attempts may have looked a little sad.

Here was humanity building a technocracy even as it had viewed industrial society as terminally flawed following the aftermath of World War II and as the threat of nuclear holocaust loomed during the Cold War. People craved to escape the reality of the dire situation humans seemed to be in, and made various attempts to resurrect the irrational in society, but most immersed themselves in the corporate-produced entertainment, as hollow as it rang in the psyche. The looming mortality of human beings was too difficult a pill to swallow, yet attempts to deny it seemed dead on arrival, almost as if very little effort was put into doing so because to think too hard about it would make one appear to oneself as insane or ridiculous, but to make no attempt at all was to fall into despair.

Somewhere around all this was the criminal Eden of drugs and sex, of nihilistic consumption and abandon. More stimulating and less depressing than alcohol, cocaine was the illicit prize of those who could afford it, smuggled into the United States from South America through a violent network of outlaws, corrupting governments and funding war. It was the stereotype of the newly minted wealthy of the financial trade that they would partake of the white powder, a status symbol that while illegal, seemed simply to be a merit badge for those whom the social system had treated well enough to elevate them to the heights of capitalistic consumption.

Cocaine addled the mind with a view of a world without limits, of self-aggrandizement and egotistical elevation above others. And for those who could buy into the illusion, it seemed true for a time. Amoral bliss, feelings of unstoppable sexual prowess, and visions of ultimate pleasure on top of the world--it was the ultimate companion to a corrupt world.

This was the new myth, the archetype of the successful individual who rose to the top of the world and cared not a whit for the poor or the helpless. The ideal person to aspire to seemed to become one of newly minted wealth, who drove a Porsche, owned the latest technology, and gave into whatever whim of greed or desire came to them. Cocaine brought death closer, but made it seem so distant, even as it left a trail of overdoses and murder behind it.

The archetype of the newly wealthy yuppie, however, was rejected by an underground of discontents. They tended to be young, but had their own values that were at odds with society. Various ideologies were a driving force, aiming to expose and mock the corruption of a world that either didn't suit them, or which they felt alienated from. There were many forces that would drive one to rebel: illusions were often shattered early by bad upbringing, sexual alienation, or disgust and frustration with existing in the capitalist social order. Yet there tended to be a different nihilism to the counter-culture of the 80s. The illusions of the mainstream were shouted against with vitriolic fervor. There were things that one was in favor of, ideas that brought people together, but it was more what people were against that was the rallying point. The music expressed ideas that were glossed over by previous music scenes, with lyrics that expressed anger, alienation, and disgust. Hardcore punk had a nihilistic veneer like the culture around it, but it was driven to violent anger by this nihilism, seeking to push boundaries and find new rallying points against the mainstream. Points of negation. It seemed to give life to the idea of bringing down society, to be brought together in a spirit of criticism and opposition to a sickening world. It didn't seek to transform society from within, but to create a new world outside of it, as if one could fall through the cracks in the pavement of cities into a different world, perhaps one which would eventually crawl out from the rubble heap of modern civilization and replace it.

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