Sunday, May 31, 2015

Remix: Democratization and Myth-Making


Democratization and Myth-making of all types

Coming home from church, I was listening in (I jumped around since one of the interviews was disturbing) to The Best of Our Knowledge. They had two sessions called “Dangerous Ideas.”  One was that there should be a reality show about the real lives of teachers (p-12), which is something I thought about a long time ago.  But the guest admitted there would be too many privacy issues involved in that.  They other was about a fellow saying that role-playing board games were an example of democratization of myth-making, where we no longer have to depend on “priests or emperors or ivory tower elites” to write our myths for us.

As someone who studies and teaches the epublishing phenomenon, and who just wrote a grant proposal for an open source textbook, I think about this a great deal.  I call it the democratization of creativity.  There don’t have to be gatekeepers any more for any thing.  The ability to create a book and get Amazon to publish it (assuming you go by their rules and can figure out how to format your text for them, something I am struggling with right now!) is open to everyone.  Everyone is (potentially) an author.  If you don’t want to be on Amazon, get a website and sell pdfs on it with PayPal. 

If my colleagues and I get this grant, we will publish an open source textbook that others can “remix” with their own content, as long as they give us credit for the original.  This is what Creative Commons, digital publishing, and generous grants allow.

Additionally, I just learned about WattPad, an interesting way to get readers for short pieces of writing that can even be done on one’s phone.  (Too restricting for my fat fingers)  We don’t have to mess with publishers any more!  We can get (according to the commercial for WattPad on YouTube) tens of thousands of readers overnight (doubtful).,

It doesn’t end there—musicians have their outlets. So why stop at publishing and music.  The creativity explosion open to all is now extended to faith.

It is not that we don’t have to go to the traditional religious sources to say, “I am one of those,” but that we can remix.  We all have a Creative Commons license when it comes to our beliefs systems.  A colleague was telling me about her experience speaking to a class about her religion, which was Judaism.  She said that one student, a male, was particularly inquisitive and tried to pin her down about specific beliefs, but her view is that being a (fill in the blank) is not the same as the faith itself.  What matters to her is that she tries to be a good person and is connected culturally to her faith tradition.  In the same sense, for many being a Catholic, or calling yourself one, doesn’t mean you follow all or even much of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.  That is a common view today.  I would say more than a few Baptists and Presbyterians follow this thinking

This is not the same as people who are nominally Jewish, Catholic, or Baptist.  The people I am talking about in the previous paragraph think about spiritual issues and those are important to them, but they cobble together what seems right to them and discards what is not. 

Every man and woman is now his/her own mythmaker, religion-creater, standard bearer, faith-originator.   They are their own gatekeeper, just like I will be my own editor, book designer, publicist, and critic when I publish the two books through Amazon I plan to publish this summer, one a novel and the other a study of leadership in Daniel.

As a conservative evangelical, I notice this phenomenon and have two thoughts.  One is that such a thing is not an option, really, for Christ-followers, but even so is a really strong temptation.  We don’t get to make up our own myths and beliefs.  They are passed down to them.  Take them or leave them, but you don’t get to make them up and remix them to suit.  You don’t get to add reincarnation to the doctrine of penal substitution, transcendental meditation to intercessory prayer.  If you do, admit to the syncretism but don’t say it’s Christianity.

Second, our faith is based on historical fact (although some dispute that, which is odd), not myths we make up.  I can see wondering about this Darius the Mede character in Daniel 5 (because he is not found in secular texts), but not denying Jesus Christ lived (especially if you don’t deny Buddha or Mohammed). 

I am not interested in creating my own set of beliefs based on me and what suits me at the time.  What would be the basis?  My experience?  My emotions?  My reflexivity?  My education?  My limited travels?  Thousands of smarter minds than mine have gone before to create the Christian tradition and theology. This is not a refusal to think for myself, but a recognition of the limits of considering oneself a source of knowledge. 

However, I write this because I see now so much more clearly how central this “remix” mentality is to the modern age.  Maybe that is a definition of postmodernism, but it sounds like the very old description of Judges:  Every man did what was right in his own eyes.  Every man believes what is right in his own eyes, and does not defend it because there is no need for defense because everyone does and believes what is right in his own eyes. 

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