The Dragon Paradox

October 27, 2008

“Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

So said G. K. Chesterton in an oft used quote that supports the theory that fairy tales are an important method of patterning young minds.

I recently read the inspirational book, Soil and Soul by Alastair Mcintosh who I met at an excellent VINE – ‘Values in the Natural Environment” conference back in March earlier this year. The book is very readable and mixes ecology, sustainability and storytelling (three things now dear to my own heart) and details his successes as an activist against Corporate power. Campaigning with the residents of the Isle of Eigg as they became the first community ever to clear their laird from his own estate.

What interested me most was his explanation of how individuals who think they are working for the common good can suddenly head up a perceived and often real force for evil which ignores individuals and looks to all intents and purposes to exist only to fulfill the selfishness of the leader. Historical figures a plenty fit this description but I have seen this a number of times in recent months and its apparent ignorance of the damage it was causing has caused me great concern. Alistair says:

What is sometimes called the ‘system’, or, more explicitly, ‘the Domination System’ then is an emergent property of ordinary human failings and commonplace darkness. the monster is created bit by bit by individuals, but its emergent properties transcend us all. This perhaps, is what our forebears meant by ‘the devil’ … The flaws in our nature that allow such emergence – that indeed make it inevitable – are so common place as to pass normally unremarked.”

He goes on to speculate that recent studies of “authoritarian personality suggest probable links between the need to dominate others and the ‘loss of soul’ in early childhood“.

In the book Alistair then explains how he became a fan of the Walter Wink approach. Walter Wink , a theology professor who came up with three ways to engage with such powers:

1. naming the powers
2. unmasking the powers
3. engaging the powers

Now I realise this is beginning to look like something out of Merlin but if you are at all interested in the details of these methods I strongly urge you to buy and read the book. Winks approach seems to boil down to the fact that such authoritarian regimes cannot tolerate dissent; it cracks their spell of consent. That is why fascist regimes have to be totalitarian, all-embracing, they have to have undivided obedience from their subjects.

I am instinctively drawn to this material as if it contains some hidden truth of which we are not aware but should be. It seems to me explainable as an attempt to dissolve the feedback mechanisms of the system at source and suck out the energy, that feeds the ‘dragon’ at the centre. Alistair believes that the ultimate challange to such systems might come from the bardic order, ie storytellers. The common task of the bard being “to get out and help to constellate (group meaningfully together) an alternate reality“.

Therein lies the paradox where storytellers need to work to remove dragons from the public conscience and not introduce them.

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