Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Mythology Might Inform Socioeconomics

In the early 1990s, I belonged to the Society for the Advancement of Socioeconomics (SASE). One issue they took up was how an individual tried to seek their own happines or maximize their own utility in the context of trying to be part of a group or larger community. I came across something in the book The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers that I thought might be a solution to this socioeconomic conflict. That book is based on the TV series in which Moyers interviewed Campbell. Here is the exchange:

Campbell: My general formula is "Follow your bliss." Find where it is, and don't be afraid to follow it.

Moyers: Is it my work or my life?

Campbell: If the work you're doing is the work that you choose to do because you are enjoying it, that's it. But if you think, "Oh, no! I couldn't do that!" that's the dragon locking you in. "No, no, I couldn't be a writer," or "No, no, I couldn't do what So-and-so is doing."

Moyers: In this sense, unlike heroes such as Prometheus or Jesus, we're not going on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves.

Campbell: But in doing that, you save the world.

Reading this lead me to write a paper called "Mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the Socioeconomic Conflict." It was published in the Journal of Socio-Economics in 1994. Here is the abstract:

This article shows that the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell indicates a solution to what might be called the socio-economic conflict: the conflict between self-interest and the individual's need to be part of a community of shared values. That solution is to "follow your bliss" or the wisdom of your own heart rather than the dictates of some impersonal social system. This rule brings an individual the greatest possible happiness while at the same time it revitalizes his or her community of heroes following their bliss whose values are that of personal creativity and integrity. Campbell's own scholarship exemplified the ideals of socio-economics since he considered himself a generalist who read widely in many fields looking for and finding a transcendent message.

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