This article is Part 10 in a series about Myth and Culture by Dennis P. Slattery
We can see as never before the bristling signs of growth and change everywhere in our thriving city of New Braunfels, Texas. On percentage, we are right now the second fastest growing city in the United States. Where there were once open fields and tree-filled lots, there are now buildings for both private and public use. Flourishing is not too strong a term for the city of New Braunfels as it expands and fills in the gaps of our city.
I am less a proponent of keeping New Braunfels “a quaint village where everyone knows everyone.” We are too far along and away from that image of who we are. I am more interested in looking at “development” as a myth that drives us and most of America generally. The general consensus is that what we hold of value identifies who we are and what we stand for.
The myth of development sits atop a larger myth—the myth of growth. Now because the word “myth” is so maligned today as meaning “untrue” or “false,” an unfortunate hangover from an older myth, the myth of facts and quantification, I hesitate to use it. But I must. Contrary to popular impugning of the word, myths are expressions of the ways I as an individual or we collectively as a city or a nation, organize our awareness and define our realities according to a set of values or beliefs that we hold close to us and are even willing to fight for and is need be–to die for. “Freedom” may be called one of our cultural myths. “Success” is another; “Efficiency” another. And yes, “Development” is another. Now the trouble with myths like “Development” is that, like a bad but relentless television commercial, it can reach extremes if left unchecked so as eventually to be accepted as the only show in town. It can cloud or eliminate other ways of organizing our awareness and ways of thinking about something, and about discerning alternatives. If the myth that rests behind “Development,” which is I believe another way of asserting the myth of progress, another major part of our communal and collective mindset, then perhaps we must question seriously whether that part of the myth is still a valid, or predominantly most accepted way, of organizing our awareness and perceiving what is of most value. Might there be other forms of growth that do not rest on expansion of more products?
“Development” is itself a powerful and prevailing myth that measures, finally, how we relate to the earth, how we steward the land, and how we measure our standard of life. When we literalize the myth into new housing developments, wider streets, more access for more people, without contrary energies that take in limits, boundaries, restraint and sustainability, then we begin to sense that its prominence should be countered by articulating its shadow: seeing the stresses and fractures already prevailing on the infrastructures of our city and region, its toll on the resources of water, open space, traffic, crime rates and all the less discussed elements of our home.
There is also, in addition to culture’s expansion, a myth of the earth and the land, of the value of leaving the earth in large swatches to be part of the infrastructure of quality of life. “Development” as a myth implies that the earth is not good enough as she is—she must be improved, i.e. developed. “Development” and “Growth” are loaded terms, splitting the land into the dualistic positions of “undeveloped” (not good), and “developed” (good). We must question the myth first before moving into literalizing it in additional venues of filling in and filling up the limits of this beautiful land and its virtues that do not need to be developed so we can assign it supreme value. It has value in itself, if our myth will allow that perception in.
Dennis P. Slattery
Dennis Patrick Slattery Ph.D., has been teaching for more than 50 years, the last 26 of which has been in the Mythological Studies Program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California, where he is currently Emeritus Faculty.More Posts by Dennis P. Slattery