Fleshing out a metaphor

Archetypes in Branding

Are 60 archetypes better than 12?

If you’re into archetypes and/or branding, Archetypes in Branding is a new piece of eye candy you might find interesting. The physical book is an impressive thing. Over-sized. Uniquely bound. And filled page to page with colorful visuals. When I saw one of these sticking out from a shelf in the art section of Barnes and Nobles, my heart leaped.

But soon my enthusiasm waned. After flipping through the pages, I felt that the authors, Hartwell and Chen, had taken an idea that was beautiful in its simplicity and made it intimidating.

In the branding sense, this book is really an extension of the work by two other authors, Carol S. Pearson and Margaret Mark. In their earlier work, The Hero and the Outlaw, Pearson and Mark are able to distill the storytelling narratives of dozens of “cult” brands into a straightforward framework of 12 archetypes, each positioned on a perceptual map to help you understand one brand’s story in relationship to others. In the new work, Archetypes in Branding, the authors had taken a relatively simple metaphor and exploded into more nuances that I felt were necessary. (Especially since Pearson and Mark already establish that each of the 12 archetypes would allow for countless sub-motifs and character names.)

harley davidson

Harley’s story is that of the outlaw.

Of course, we should probably give Hartwell and Chen a break. They acknowledge Mark and Pearson in the same way they acknowledge Jung and Joseph Campbell. Perhaps their work is meant to be an esoteric riff on archetypal branding, ideal for those already familiar with archetypal ideas, much like jazz is a medium best understood by musicians.

One wonders, however, if adding complexity to accessible foundational ideas benefits the author or the reader more?

We can apply this question to a variety of ideas that begin with simple insights, but then become intricately complex. Take, for example, the most popular religion in the US, Christianity. At its roots, Christianity seems to be a simple metaphor: a personification of basic truths (or at least, tendencies) about human nature:

  • Humans often harbor feelings of being incomplete or flawed in some way (humans are born with “original sin”);
  • But when a person stops obsessing solely on their own needs and begins to consider the needs of others, this has a tendency to relieve some of the psychological burden of feeling flawed (Christ died for humankind and took away that sin);
  • As we continue to focus on both our needs and the needs of others, and adjust our behavior accordingly, we begin to change the world and people around us (the path to “heaven” comes from embracing God through the teachings of his son).

I’m no theologian. I know these Biblical examples are crude. But the narrative elements are accessible. We get it. And yet, if you were to open any holy book, I suspect that you’d find a bit more content than the three bullet points above.

Which begs the question, why?

Many of my religious friends bristle at the notion that their faith’s narrative is a series of metaphors gone rogue. They insist that their beliefs are based upon historical events. Some go so far to say that their books are infallible — every word on every page is a literal description of the physical world (and supernatural world, too).

But every defense attorney will tell you that the more complex the prosecution’s case, the more opportunities there are to poke holes in it. I believe that my generation is turning to atheism more, not because the religions of our parents have nothing to teach us, but — in this message-soaked world — we are craving simplicity. Some religious belief systems are so complex and detailed, that they no longer serve to instruct. Young readers realize a flaw here and there, and the Rube-Goldbergian device falls apart. But while the pieces noisily fall, and the clouds of comical dust fly into the air, the simple foundations of truth that lay beneath become invisible.

Whether it’s tomes about archetypal branding or religious works intended to provide clarity, we humans sometimes (unintentionally) hide the truth as we flesh out the metaphors. That’s a shame.  Because beneath the now-broken stained-glass panels of complexity, the truth is still there. It’s just that no one can see it.

The Intruder in the Closet

There's a monster in my closetIt’s 10 pm. You’re watching TV. You’re alone in the house.

At a commercial break, you push the mute button on the remote. Then you hear it. A rhythmic sound is coming from the closet door behind you.

“Thump, thump. Thump, thump.”

Your throat tightens. Your heart skips a beat. You recognize the sound. Someone is inside the closet, rapping their hand on the closet door.

“Thump, thump.”

A hundred different scenes from late-night slasher films flash through your mind. Is it Jason hiding my closet? (No. That’s silly.) Is it a Ted Bundy wannabe?

“Thump, thump.”

With fear deep in your throat, you decide to confront the intruder. You throw open the closet door. And you see a small, wooden bar stool. It’s red, illuminated by a pale, red indicator light that sits atop the small seat. As your eyes adjust, you realize that the glowing, red dot is attached to the front of a  tape recorder. Now you can see the exact source of the sound.

“Thump, thump,” rings out from the tape recorder’s speaker. You click the off switch, shudder and close the door.

Up to this very moment – right before you flung open the closet door – you had a very different belief about the reality about to unfold. Your belief was that there was a person inside the closet. Was that a rational belief? Absolutely.

And at this very moment in time, this is a scene that millions of people are stuck in. People who believe in a god.

If you’re not convinced of the analogy, let’s take a closer look at the evidence theists cite:

  • Their religion has been embraced for thousands of years
  • Their parents, whom they love and trust, assures them of the truth
  • The physical universe, to their naked eye, seems as if it were created especially for them and other humans

The conclusion derived from these support points – there must be a god – is a completely rational position. Just like your belief in the intruder in the closet.

But what if you never opened that door? What if you ran out of the house as fast as you could? What if the initial evidence you experienced was so compelling that it felt like it would be irrational to ignore it?

This is the condition of the modern-day, Western-world theist. They are not, as atheists so often accuse, being irrational. Theists arrived at their conclusions using demonstrably strong support points. Their religion’s antiquity, ubiquity and authenticity, as shared by trusted friends and family members, are perfectly credible sources of evidence.

Was there better evidence that no one was hiding in the closet? Are there demonstrable, testable genetic and neurological dispositions that make humans susceptible to believing in detached consciousnesses?

Certainly. But those who understand that evidence must have dared to look inside to consider it.

The person who runs from the house, and the theists of the 21st century, are one in the same. They are not irrational.

They are scared.

Why I won’t call myself an atheist again

I’ve never been comfortable calling myself an “atheist.” It’s too negative, too provocative and too limiting. There are many things I am not. A theist is simply one if them.

But after watching this brief video featuring co-monikered research physicist, Sean Carroll, I realized two things. One, I think I’ll be much more comfortable calling myself a naturalist than an atheist.

Two, when someone else articulates your beliefs far better than you ever could, it’s time to start talking about something else.

Why many atheists needs a hug

Hey there, champ. Your mom tells me that you broke up with your beliefs.

I can’t say that we know exactly what you’re feeling, but we know you’re angry. We know it hurts to be mislead. We know how much we can invest into our beliefs, and how much they can matter to us.

Now that you’ve found out what your old beliefs really are, you’re bitter. Your beliefs let you down and you want them, and all its friends, to suffer, too. You want them all to suffer for all the pain, conflict and dissonance they caused in your life.

But, honey, this bitterness will only hurt you, not your old beliefs.

You’ve just made an amazing discovery in your life. You’ve realized who you really are. You’ve used your head and walked away from an abusive relationship. You’ve grown up.

Now it’s time to keep growing.

Your old beliefs, and all its friends, may have hurt you, but if you continue to carry the resentment, they will continue to hurt you.

You have a new life now. A new relationship. And, let me tell you, son, she’s a beauty. Thoughtful, clear-headed and honest. She’s a keeper. And she deserves your full attention.

So let your bitterness go. If you see your old beliefs and start to feel that old pain, think about the beliefs you’ve come to accept. And remember just how fortunate you are that the two of you met. You’re a different person now. A wiser person.

View your old beliefs with compassion – not simply for them or its friends, but for yourself. We all have a few bad relationships in our life. But you’ve moved on to something far greater.

Enjoy your new relationship, kiddo. I think the two of you are going to be very happy together.

The contradiction of collectivist atheists (guest post)

This is a long(ish) comment by polpaul to an earlier story that required its own space.

I’m not looking for the universal constant (well, I am, but not here).

My only point is to concur with the thesis of the [“Why Atheists act like Creationists…”] blog post, that non-theists cannot insist upon treating politics as if it is above the very system their logic claims produced it. If natural selection begets ethics, and ethics begets politics, then one cannot object to the notion that politics is a product of natural selection. Which begs the question why the term “social Darwinism” is a term of derision. [To dive deeper, another commenter suggests to read up on sociobiology.]

Not to stray from the topic, but I would go even further in agreeing that collectivists, especially those of an atheist stripe, tend to try to have it both ways. They veer toward statist politics that tend toward collectivist (read, coerced) solutions, while claiming that nature must be free to grow into its most productive genetic coding. I see an unholy alliance here between the theistic and atheistic collectivists.

But I digress from the central point…

There is a profound practicality to understanding the nature of ethics and politics. The most immediate example would be being able to spot a politician who is trying to get away with having it both ways–claim a non-theistic ethic, but use a non-natural system to explain (or impose) his politics or ethics.

Theists have it pretty easy here. They just point to their book, or what not, and they’re pretty much done.

Atheists bear an immense burden, which I think is assisted in knowing the nature of their ethical impulses and imperatives.

Why atheists are easy pickings for politicians

"Yay, let's all worship a new idol!"

Out of the frying pan, into the camp fire.

Politicians are having a field day with atheists and secularists, in general. They’re doing it by exploiting a weakness in humans to confuse ends with means.

To explain this position, I’ll need to back up for a moment and talk about religion.

When people believe in holy books, most ethical questions are conveniently addressed within the book’s pages. For ambiguities, an industry of clergy exists to assist with “interpretation” of the book. And the people who rule the masses can then, in turn, use the religiously based ethics to justify political actions. (see Iran or Saudi Arabia for conspicuous examples, the USA for an insidious one)

For politicians, the most useful aspect of religious philosophy is based on the idea of being your brothers’ keeper. If people are born into a state of perpetual obligation, politicians could simply exploit the meme to justify any behavior “for the good of the people.”

Today’s politicians are using same old argument, but supporting it in a secular fashion. You are still born a slave to everyone around you, but not because the bible tells you so. We have a new oracle for that.

The rationale that supposedly supports the new collectivism is “reason.” But reason is a method by which one arrives at a conclusion. Not a conclusion in and of itself. But if the conclusion is already assumed (“how do we maximize good for the greatest number of people?”), how can anyone disagree with reason as the method to get there?

And there’s the trap.

Once the collectivist gets you to bite on the new categorical position of “maximizing good for all” as your goal, you get politicians who believe in imposing higher taxes on those who work to subsidize people who don’t want to work because they’d rather be poets (thanks for that gem, Nancy).

This wonderful trick, convincing you of “maximizing good for all,” hides a dark underside, the presumption that you are born in obligation to the collective good. Theists say you are born in a state of obligation because you’re bad (a flawed sinner). Progressives say you’re born into a state of obligation because you’re good, a natural-born altruist.

Proponents of this position often invoke the idea of cooperation as a proof. They observe that humans are self-interested creatures who use cooperation to thrive. But they drop the “self-interested” part and focus only on the cooperation. Humans are cooperative, they say, therefore this is our highest nature.

Again, they’re confusing means to end. Humans use cooperation because it is often reasonable to cooperate to achieve our own self interests.

Atheists, in particular, are easy pickings for this flawed argument because few have arrived at their political positions by way of a metaphysical one. The thread of the political argument is easy to see for a theist.

God exists (metaphysical position)
God said that my purpose in life is to serve him and his flock (ethical position)
Serve God and His flock (political position, justified by metaphysical and ethical presumptions)

Now let’s try that for an atheist:

There probably is no god, I am probably simply a product of nature (metaphysical position)
My purpose in life is…? (ethical position?)
Serve the state and all humanity (political position)

Many attempt to use cooperation as their purpose in life. But as we’ve already shown, cooperation is not a purpose, it is a means to an end.

Often a secularist will say, the meaning of life is that which you assign to it. Well, if this is true, what if my meaning in life doesn’t entail forced obligation to strangers?

Seems like politicians are still eager to sell you an ethical position that keeps you obligated to others from birth. The college professors are the new priests and reason is the new divination.

And it seems like plenty of atheists are becoming true believers.

Why atheists tend to act like creationists in politics

Homer Simpson

So we should base our political model on centralized power? It all makes sense now!

Few biologists give much credence to the idea of a 6,000-year-old universe that was intelligently designed by a personified deity. (When I say “few” I mean practically none.) But a funny thing happens to people on the long road from a metaphysical position to a political one. They tend to forget everything along the way.

Many atheists accept that the theory of evolution is the best explanation for biological diversity on our planet. The earth’s flora and fauna is, biologically speaking, the net result of natural selection over billions of years. Species that exhibited traits that would help them thrive, did so. Groups within each species that exhibited traits that would help them thrive, did so. And so on and so on….

The entire idea of intelligent design – of a centralized source guiding every process – is discarded as naive at best. And yet, and I promise to not take this out of context, let’s look at what bioethicist Richard Dawkins said about politics and ethics:

“Let’s intelligently design our morality rather than trying to read what’s right and wrong in a 3,000-year-old book.” (Richard Dawkins, 4/1/12, addressing a group at Newport High School.)

Now, I completely understand how Dawkins is using this phrase. He is having a bit of fun with it and trying to re-purpose it for the sake of his ethical and political beliefs. In that, I grant him great leeway due to poetic license.

But I wonder if this comment reveals a deeper contradiction in the minds of many atheists?

“It’s a reprehensible and deplorable fact that many people buy into the preposterous idea that you actually need religion in order to be good,” Dawkins went on to say.

Dawkins was, of course, speaking to the metaphysical aspects of religion. Religious fables do poorly in ring matches with sciences on the physical universe. This is why the Catholic Church long threw in the towel on the whole age of the universe/evolution thing. There was simply too much evidence to resist.

But then think about what Dawkins does suggest with his playful use of the word “intelligent design” when it comes to developing ethics (and, by natural consequence, a political system). Is he not guilty of ignoring the model of the natural world – of natural selection – when it comes to being “good?”

He is saying, for billions of years, the earth developed according to random, natural selection, thus producing the rich, healthy, evolved biodiversity we see today. Based on this, is he suggesting for us to go ahead and ignore these principles and act like a theistic god and “intelligently design” our political systems?

What happened to natural selection?

Some people use the term “social Darwinism” as way to poison the well before this question can even be seriously considered. The presumption is that the process of natural selection, applied to ethics and politics, is barbaric. But this logical fallacy is simply an exaggeration of a position. Political groups, such as early Democrats who championed classical liberalism, had a far different take on social Darwinism (though they never would call it that).

Early Democrats believed in a political process that far more resembled Darwin than Dawkins. These classical liberals believed in the wisdom of the universe and applied that to democratic principles. They fought against the elitist view that only a select, few wise people should run the affairs of a nation. Rather, we should – in as much as we can – trust the natural dynamic of group interaction, keeping power in the hands of individuals, not a centralized state controlled by a small number of sages (or one) who intelligently designed its systems and policies.

I'll do whatever POTUS says

One early Democrat was John L. O’Sullivan, the man responsible for the phrase, “The best government is that which governs least.” This wasn’t an anarchist’s position. This was someone who believed in liberal (liberty) democracy. His model wasn’t intelligent design. It was nature itself.

Democrats have changed a lot since the days of Grover Cleveland and John L. O’Sullivan. Today, Libertarians are closest to what Democrats used to be (maximum social freedoms and limited centralized government).

If Richard Dawkins, or any atheist for that matter, really wants to build consensus around their metaphysical viewpoints on the nature of reality, perhaps they should strive toward more consistency. Maybe intelligent design should be ejected from both the science classroom and the civics one.