It was a bright Sunday, the Eve of Chinese New Year (The Year of Monkey), on which the morning sun broke the cloud which had hung over for days. Under the sapphire sky and enveloped by the nourishing warmth exuded by the sun beam, my wife, Beibei, and I headed for breakfast delightfully. The breakfast found us engaging in a light-hearted conversation which led us to movies, Twilight and Van Helsing, with which Beibei had lately obsessed. The myths and legends surrounding vampires and werewolves then became the subject of our discussion. I said I had been haunted by a puzzle why vampires or other eerie figures who showed bloodlust and werewolves with whatever transformation or evolution had happened to them had persistently stuck to humans’ psyche but not any other monstrous creatures throughout history or even across cultures.
Beibei suggested that it was not surprising for our forebears who gathered and hunted in the wild without the security we were now enjoying to glorify creatures, like wolves and eagles, with whose characters or prowess they wished to identify. Besides, fear was the crucial response that secured early humans’ survival in an evolutionary sense. Without written languages, early humans’ contact with the nature was so direct and intermediate that they might be able to detect dangers which were oblivious to us modern humans. The fear was so real and would have been amplified after it was captured and spread in verbal images, through oral tradition or narratives. That’s how they become folklores and gave rise to worship of totems, beliefs in animism, shamanism, and other indigenous religions. The attributes they invested on creatures like bats, wolves, or other ferocious animals were probably derived from their observation when they went hunting. Those attributes helped them make sense of the creatures they were after and predators they tried to shun. Once such knowledge was incorporated with an inventory of survival kits collectively, it was bound to be passing down as technical know-how and became a form of doctrines to be followed even when the ensuing generations no longer knew why and how such doctrines had worked in the first place. That’s how the association with those creatures endured, said Beibei.
As time went by, such inventory of survival tips needed to evolve to catch up the transforming landscape geographically and mentally, that’s why magical elements were added to the templates from which myths or legends sprouted to ward off doubts of the conventional wisdom passed down from the predecessors. Once the beliefs in those myths and legends took roots, they fed on themselves and took momentum to thrive. Besides, those who had taken advantages of such beliefs and translated them into material interests or elevated social status would defend such beliefs, however ridiculous they had become in light of updated knowledge that ran contrary to the foundation of the beliefs, at all cost. That’s why the social hierarchy once formed and reinforces as thus is resistant to change, let alone collapse.
It suddenly dawned on me that the key not only to unlock the answer to my question but also a window to understand why we modern humans had been out of touch with the nature which we are destroying without much awareness or even concern. The rhetoric rendered by scientific tradition which re-emerged from Renaissance and the Enlightenment had disenchanted the long standing oral tradition of passing down symbols and knowledge that were conveyed in myths and legends for thousands of years and had shaped our minds and numbed our senses that had initially been keen on detecting the structures of nature. That’s why we are no longer capable of appreciating the ecological beauty which is embedded in the interconnectedness across species and everything else because we have renounced the vocabulary (i.e., myths and legends) with which our “unenlightened” forebears came to terms with their natural environment. Without the language which enlightens us of the nature of our relationship with the nature, we, in fact, become “savages” who only care our own survival, comfort, and interest but arrogantly think of ourselves as being the single species which is “civilized” and “enlightened”. It was the very reductive approaches that, some scientists championed, deprived us of the language. Then, isn’t it reasonable to ask if we need a new language that is good enough to integrate what science has informed us about human-nature relationship and what we have lost from mythology (esp., creation myths) and other narratives that gave us insight into the subjects? Will such language, if it happens to be created, help us shift our minds and become conscious of how critical the current crises, such as climate change, are and how we can make do?
Having read Ecopsychology, Carbon Crunch and Antidote, I found that the idea of interconnectedness among everything, which was an attribute of Buddhist teaching, had captured westerners’ imagination again and showed a sign of revival to challenge the empirical scientific enterprise. I just wonder why does the civilization where the idea takes root not thrive as well as other civilizations which sprang up under the auspices of technological advancement although they are reaping the bitter yields of currently environmental damages?