Did you hear about the 9 year old who wowed Boston hockey with a spectacular goal? It looked like he was figure skating, spinning … the goalie didn’t even know what happened … or dove the wrong way … or was it a 7 year old? Anyway, did you hear about it?
No, of course you didn’t. But you might have seen it. Someone might have emailed you about it. You might have found it on Youtube, between “Rubber Face Girl” and “Drunkest Guy Ever Goes for More Beer.”
As long as people live near each other, there will be rumors, but legends are something else. Fantasy meets possibility, and imaginations are both illumined and created in the telling/re-telling. With Youtube, and other internet sources, there is less need for story-telling; instead, it is replaced by rapid popularity and consumption. We can actually see the real deal, and who wouldn’t want that?
Max Weber said one of the main characteristics of modernity is the demystification of the world. We have learned, and now know, that the trees do not speak to us, and that no human has special powers. We have deciphered how religions were formed, and where our mental pathologies come from. The impossibility of belief was not felt first by the postmoderns of the last few decades, but by a generation of men in the 19th Century. They knew their botany, and could no longer believe the forest was alive.
But seeing and knowing isn’t actually the real deal. The “moment” is created by the participation of everyone involved: the building of anticipation, or the boredom followed by surprise; the common expectations of the crowd; the commitment to team or nation or belief. The solution to the loss of legend and myth is not to believe lies or inaccuracies, but to understand that our ability to know abstractly (and this includes enjoying a hockey goal vicariously, by video) is completely dependent upon participations and interactions that we do believe in. Measuring the size of the galaxy is fascinating because we have measured our backyards. We laugh at the hidden camera videos primarily because we have learned to laugh at that sort of thing, and the learning took place elsewhere.
I’m not laying down an a priori argument for belief, so much as saying this: the only trustworthy philosopher is still a mystic, the only value in consuming media is derived from our actual interactions with the world, the only power of disbelief is rooted in the imaginative and animating world of belief.
Without accounting for the relationship between these two, Weber’s demystification (and ours) only regards the logical explanation of things, and not the participation and commitment that creates any “moment” or thought worth having.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.