Myths and the Mythspace
There are objects and there are facts in the world. Everything else is myth. So practically everything we talk about is myth.
Infact, there is so much myth that we really have to divide up the mythspace into first tier myths which are global, unquestioned, unquestionable, invisible and essential. ie myths that it is in everyone’s interest to believe.
I can’t really talk about the global myth although one might be summed up as:
“We aren’t animals”. (and all that is thought to mean)
There is second tier myths which are myths built on other myths and which serve some interest groups. Some of these may be recognised as myths by some people. e.g race.
Then there are third tier myths which are so implausible that they are actually called myths such as ‘urban myths’ as well as myths that children are told such as of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
From the perspective of first tier myth I am going to examine some second tier myths.
Where there is a case of disputation of myth there are two possibilities: The first is a rationalisation – what I call myth purification where the most outlandish aspects of the myth are washed away to leave a more plausible myth.
An example of this is the reformation, when the Catholic church stopped selling passes for people to get into heaven.
The other possibility is to fall into a counter myth where an idea is opposed from the point of view of another myth. An example of this would be during the Cold War with the ideas of communists verses the ideas of McCarthy. (both being mythical)
A myth might be defined as a culturally relevant falsehood, which serves some purpose. They function by having some kind of emotionally motivating semantic content, which people believe and act on the basis of.
The reason why we have these myths, is that we need them in order to have the kind of advanced society that we do. But we don’t need all of them. I believe that we actually only need the first level global myth. It might also be an advantage if the global myth was known to be mythical – but (none the less) necessary.
Imagine for instance if you were watching a play or movie, but you believed it was all true. In that case you would be in the same situation as practically everyone is in regard to society.
You don’t run out of the movie theatre if a train comes towards you (as early filmgoers did) and yet you don’t find it all completely dull as you might if you thought it was just a pure lie.
This example will also show you that there can be a level of disbelief about such things but yet we can still get some social use out of them.
Often it is thought that if any believe is a myth we should instantly do away with it. And I know examples of ‘atheists’ for instance who laugh at the foolishness of religious believers, when any atheist I’ve ever spoken to believes in a whole range of moral myths themselves.
Actually, If any individual was to wholly disregards myth they would ironically be regarded as crazy. This is not generally a cause of insanity however, but rather people developing their own unique and thus unacceptable myths.
Infact what we call ‘madness’ may often be the use of a particular myth to indicate some kind of social distress. It was once a kind of madness to believe that your body was made of glass and would break if you moved it. We don’t have that kind of madness any more.
Social dialogue belongs to the myth builders. The person or group that can build the most convincing myth will be able to gain the most power.
Why believe a myth instead of the truth? And why do people often choose another myth competing myth, when they don’t want to believe a particular myth?
The root of all mythical belief is an emotional appeal. Myths are emotionally appealing and action inducing. Merely exposing the myth as false is emotionally empty, so you have competing myths around emotional topics in order to determine the ‘meaning’ of these topics.
e.g we have natural emotions around death therefore we have many myths around death. The same is true of birth and sex. What is called ‘romance’ for instance is just a set of myths around sex and coupling.
Since there is no absolute reason to do anything; we only ever have emotional motivation to do things. Myth connects the semantic to the emotional by providing larger than life appeals to our basic instincts and motivates our actions.
The 911 myth
The official Bush administration myth was that there was a global network of terrorist sleeper cells headed by Osama bin Laden and connected to Saddam Hussein. On Sept 11 2001 one of these cells attacked America most notably the World Trade Center in New York.
An invasion of Iraq was then necessary to stop any of his massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Now we know that that is all pretty much false, except for the fact that some people did actually attack the towers and the Pentagon.
That falsehood should be enough, but for the counter culture that is not enough because it merely waters down the Bush administration’s case. After all some bunch of Arabs with something to do with Osama Bin Laden did attack America. Which Arabs? Ah, who cares about that?
No, they have to turn it around and say that the US government is so evil and insane that they actually staged an attack on their own military and economic headquarters. Now that’s a reason to be against the US government!
So myth and counter myth, each basically false but each emotionally resonant to some people.
A feature of many myths is uniqueness – That some people or event has a unique feature that makes it worthy of worship. After all if something is not unique why think about it as opposed to the something of the same kind?
For instance in Christianity the suffering of Jesus is thought of as a unique event in torture and cruelty as opposed to a routine feature of Roman execution.
‘The’ Holocaust is thought of in this light. I remember reading in the Guinness book of records that the greatest holocaust is the Mongol extermination of Chinese peasantry . But guess what? That’s not the one we think about!
In the case of 911 the unique feature was flying a planes into buildings.
In the Lord of the Rings it was the one ring.
End of part one