LIFE AS MYTH

Index

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JOURNAL

Index

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JOURNAL 2009

v

A feminine myth

Creating a new myth

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SPRING 2009

Mythology of other

Index 2009

A network of mutuality

Ambivalence and attraction

The marriage code

The scapegoat

The second scapegoat

Witch hunts

Leaving the rim of the glass

The gift of now

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LIFEWORKS

About

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ARCHIVES

Index

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SPRING 2009
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LEAVING THE RIM OF THE GLASS

Reflexive obedience to authority. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard recounts J. Henri Fabre's observations of the instinctual herding of pine processionaries. Pine processionaries are moth caterpillars which travel through pine trees along a group-generated silk strand. Their bug parade is head-to-rear in one long unbroken procession, hence the name. Fabre noted a troupe of such bugs, stuck for days on the rim of a vase in his greenhouse.

"The caterpillars in distress," he concludes, "starved, shelterless, chilled with cold at night, cling obstinately to the silk ribbon covered hundreds of times, because they lack the rudimentary glimmers of reason which would advise them to abandon it." Annie Dillard quoting Fabre, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (pp. 67-68)

And what would happen if just one of those bugs had chosen the "road not taken"? Well, as it turns out, a lone caterpillar did navigate off the rim of the vase, a few caterpillars inching forward behind her. Fabre had placed pine needles within reach of these pioneers but it was to no avail. Mere inches from the pine needles they turned and rejoined the group in its caterpillar death march.

These processionaries seem an apt metaphor for the tendency of human groups to act collectively or to hold group beliefs which exhibit little or no individual conscious reflection. (Related terms are mob mentality, groupthink, herding instinct and bandwagon effect.) Fearing retaliation or isolation, desiring to avoid conflict, deferring to authority -- whatever the reason -- human herd behaviors can be just as entrenched as the circling of head-to-rear processionaries. The cycle can be broken when group assumptions are challenged and analyzed. But first it is required that one person consider leaving the metaphorical rim of the vase.

 

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Rosa Parks

In 1955 Rosa Parks (pictured with Dr. Martin Luther King) was an Alabama seamstress who refused to relinquish her bus seat to a white passenger. She was subsequently arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance. Most historians designate Ms. Parks' act of noncompliance as the beginning of the modern civil rights movement.

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