MYTHing In Action – Myth in Politics
MYTHING IN ACTION: The Effect of Myth in Politics & Globalization
Iona Miller, 5-2008
Jungian psychology is a heuristic process applied to analyzing the deeper hidden meaning of many aspects of life and the world. Heuristic (hyu-RIS-tik) comes from the Greek meaning “to discover.” The heuristic process means achieving some desired result by intelligent guesswork rather than by systematic formula. This strategy for using readily accessible information to initiate problem-solving is used in the fields of invention, computer science, psychology and law.
Heuristic thinking mobilizes intuition and generally results in reasonably close or plausible solutions or characterizations. It is a rule of thumb for solving problems, making predictions and gaining insight. The benefits are speed and expediency in revealing common underlying cultural and behavioral patterns. In psychology, heuristics reveal the rules of behavior or archetypal processes, which explain how people make decisions and judgements or solve problems. It enables understanding by moving from the known to explaining the unknown using the logic of discovery based on experience.
COVERT MYTHICAL THEMES: Myth reveals the character of reality yet it is not of this realm. Myth must be uncovered. It is a primal active force in the world and the missing dimension in the dynamic interplay of politics. Myth is a common unifying principle. Myth permeates our understanding of our past, present and potential.
Myth is a conceptual schemata embodying core metaphysical concepts and moral wisdom. Myths do cultural work. All societies live by myths. In myth-building any words or symbols can be modified from their original meanings to suit their new roles in a matrix of varied forms. Claude Levi-Strauss observed, nothing in today’s society is more mythical than political ideology.
Just as myth has always had a strong social and political element, so political movements and theories have mythical dimensions. American politics has a mythic foundation and a mass culture that supports it. We also find it in narrative formulas in fiction. Popular culture also functions as a political practice in “Prime Time Politics.” Mythical political talk masquerades as rational thought.
SYMBOLIC SYSTEM: Themes can be traced back to national myths and other cultural resources buried deeply in America’s origins and early history — from Francis Bacon’s Utopian dreams of New Atlantis, to Rosicrucian and Masonic Enlightenment, to revolutionary notions about Freedom. Among the mythical American core values, fundamental issues, such as liberty, responsibility and democracy have their mythical representations.
But our collective shadow shows in our egregious treatment of Native Americans and Blacks. Symbols can be fatal. Political history is largely an account of mass violence and of the expenditure of vast resources to cope with mythical fears and hopes. We still project our fears onto the unseen faces of domestic and international terrorists, in the name of the myth of the clash of cultures. All other nations have mythical histories, too.
The material world has a mythic nature with its dangers and ambiguous promise. Myth creates the vision of a future perfect world. We are largely unconscious of mythic operation and affects. Political myth has a narcotic quality that binds society together. It is the lens through which we interpret our individual selves. But myth also has cognitive and rational factors.
MYTHS OF NATIONHOOD: Being a good American means that you only subscribe to one version of the USA, Mythical America. That is the America, we have been told, that always puts the interests of the poor and downtrodden first. That is the America that would never strike first, and is a good world citizen, never polluting or using more than its share of the world’s resources. As far as countries go, Mythical America is as good as it gets.
Myth forces a certain “truth.” We cannot escape myth. It is the crucial way for us to move from our present state to a very different future. Myth can be revolutionary or reactionary. Myth has been called a “cultural troubleshooter,” a solution to cultural contradiction.
Political veils include political symbols, rhetoric, rituals, mythologies, and traditions. They veil the rough edges offering idealized images of the system. But veils always imply some degree of concealment of truth.
The language of politics is ineffective without mythic elements that are unverifiable, irrational yet motivational. Therefore, myth should be embraced with reserve. Myth has a virtual power in producing events, before and after the fact.
Mythic events burst through the status quo. We build our historical “truths” as healing or divisive fictions from a mythologized perception. It is neither false consciousness nor an unqualified positive force. Myth can serve subversion or the ruling elite. Oppression and subversion is the dialectical myth. The grand dialectic is between myth and history. History generates myth and myth generates history.
Political myth can be used as persuasive ideological discourse. It is a continuous process of unfolding narrative significance and collective social meaning. They help us orient and know how to act and feel about our world, whether we buy into them or react against them. From the banal to the extraordinary, they help us name the unknown and chart our direction.
Political myths differ from sacral myths in the forms they are presented in and the functions they serve. But these stories have the status of sacred in one or more social groups. They embody operative intentionalities, a narrative for ways of being in the world. The myths we embrace define our place in society.
But the modern political psyche is in the midst of a rite of passage where economics and imperialism take centerstage. Globalization is the foremost issue of the 21st century. Is the “clash of civilizations” myth just another propagandized view that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
The function of myth is essentially hegemonic but no individual or political group can occupy the seat of power that unites all society. Hegemony isn’t a description of the status quo but a description of the means of political change and opposition to domination.
INVENTED SUPERSTRUCTURE: Power, however, means the ability to define the social norms and meaning construction — the myth of the rule of law. Political myths must be separated from fact. They embody key political questions in images. Economic myths and myths of superiority need serious revisioning.
We have seen many myths come and go: Utopia, Manifest Destiny, Frontier Law & Order, Separation of Church & State, Melting Pot, New Deal, the American Dream, Consumerism, Cold War, Advice & Consent, “Yellow Peril,” Red Scare, Mutually Assured Destruction, Domino Theory, Population Bomb,
Capitalism, Free Press, New Frontier, the Right Stuff, Great Society, Civil Rights, the Welfare State, Conformity, the Evil Empire, Lone Gunman, Glass Ceiling, Trickle Down Economics, Star Wars, Counterculture, War on Drugs, Meritocracy, Technotopia.
Pax Americana, NWO, Beacon of Democracy, War on Terror, Shock and Awe, the Housing Bubble, Offshoring, Climate Change, Peak Oil, Postmodernism, Spin, Liberal Press, Political Pluralism, Diversity, Political Correctness, Fundamentalism, Ethnic Conflict, Free Trade, Gaia Hypothesis,
Conspiracy Theory, Secret Societies, Shadow Government, Plausible Deniability, Corporate Feudalism, No Child Left Behind, Homeland Security, Supply Side Economics, Red State/Blue State, Populist Politics, Transparent Society, Transnational Crime, Globalization, with more myths sure to follow. All justify a course of action.
MYTH OF MEANING: Political myth is meant to establish a system of values that penetrate into individual and family life, into culture, education and beyond to the politics of socialization. Both science and religion are used to “validate” political myths. Most are riddled with inconsistencies, paradox and hypocrisy. We always spin political myths about the opposition, about youth, about terrorists, about covert action, about money, about drugs, about foreign policy, about ourselves.
The new buzzword is “Change.” The debate centers around corporate bogeymen, special interest lobbyists, rising energy costs and the myth of the “divided nation.” Will you take the red (state) pill or the blue pill? Instead of political myths, we need political education and enlightenment to build a civil society.
Myth is the invisible ground of competing ideologies. Each political movement has its mythic base, vision and mission. And it has its characteristic rhetoric, the message it constantly drives home.
SOCIAL COHESION: Political myths define the ongoing narrative of each social group and provide significance for their experience. Myths deal with issues of leadership and vision, social organization, the needs of the one and the many.
Myths explain why things are the way they are as they have always been. Myth embodies patterns of information, culture, community, technology and the polis. Rather than meaning “stories that aren’t true,” myths embody truths of a different order from the dogmas of theology or the statements of philosophy. But political myths have a cognitive dimension and are always ‘believed’ by those who adhere to them.
Myth contains dramatic elements, such as the heroic mask, suspense and the characterological problems of the ‘fatal flaw,’ weakness or poor choices that lead to tragedy, through action or inaction. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The arrogance and hubris of the tragic hero invites catastrophe, from overbearing pride and self-assumed superiority. Collective catharsis promises purging, cleansing, emotional discharge, relief fom tension and anxiety, and spiritual renewal.
All political entities need myths. Politicians embody certain archetypal patterns that appeal to certain types who resonate with those themes. Politics itself is a belief system, a consensus reality promoted by “the system” and somewhat of a confidence game. He or she who compels the most confidence wins. Competing beliefs vie for the hearts and minds of voters.
Those who control the candidacies are the Olympian meta-controllers, the coldly calculating Plutocratic puppeteers behind the shadow government and political puppets, who need their endorsement to rise to the higher echelons of power. Outcomes are manipulated behind the scenes often long before the (s)election process.
THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL: Trends in patriotic dissent, rebelliousness, insurrection and respect for authority and leadership play out their oppositional dynamics. They are competing archetypes often revealed more clearly in the cinema than a mythology book. America’s war with herself between Titanic warmongering forces and her heartful conscience is exemplified in the latest blockbuster film – “Iron Man.”
Maybe Iron Man demonstrates the American political psyche. This iconic film of a flawed man (whose emotional and physical armor represents his strength of will) opened with a blockbusting $100 million gate. The ultimate martial man and arms merchant recants and becomes the ultimate technocratic superhero, the ultimate corporate watchdog enforcer.
Our national wealth has gone to build weapons. What does the martial state of the soul say about us? Our aversions must be set aside to get to the heart of the matter. The empirical mind-set is timeless, archetypal. It is a given that war is here, so what are we to do?
War isn’t just history, it’s a state of mind with its own myths, philosophy and psychology. War is dreadful and terrible so how has it become normal? Did the Cold War harden our perceptions into rigid dualism? No one wants another war, so why are we constantly programmed to believe it is inevitable? Isn’t war in the end just a failure of imagination? Imagine what could happen if we expected more.
IRON-IC: The paradoxical ‘man in the iron mask’ still has the soul of a damaged character even if his public persona is a superhero. What are we trying to tell ourselves about our aggression, impulsiveness and cultural imperialism? Why do we harbor such a terrible love of war?
War is primordial predation, territorial defense, conquest, and a battle for existence. War and peace is the primal dichotomy. The power of power is the power of myth, as Hitler’s reign showed by intentionally using heavy symbolism.
Myths embody and personify sacred truths, but the politicians possessed by any given theme are not necessarily truthful. Each reign of leadership has its mythic themes and style, from Martian Hawks and Venusian Doves, to civic-minded Athenas, and duplicitous Mercurials. Some are hailed as messiahs, others targeted as sacrificial lambs.
MYTH AMERICA CONTEST: Myth helps us recalibrate and envision our spirit that pulls us toward the future whether we operate from a platform of health or strength. It can drive conflict resolution and geopolitical strategies.
Power in business, politics and the world of work, to most people, implies competition, domination, control and reward. But we can reconceptualize power in terms of sustaining continuity, conserving, teaching, caring, bringing out the innate potential in each person or task.
For corporations, growth means bottom-line results, bigger equals better. But growth is also a process of shedding worn-out identities, cleaning up messes, pondering the implications of one’s actions for the wider world and for future generations.
Influence, tyranny, ambition, office and decision are also concepts modulated by the archetypes. There are many different kinds of power; the execution of power has many styles and nuances, including covert action, intelligence, diplomacy, veto, charisma and prestige. We need to understand when, how and why to deploy each. Power can also be used for the goals of service.
The political myth of a nation substantially influences the way people behave, the goals to which they aspire, and the rationale upon which common actions are taken and through which rhetorical identification can be achieved. Myth is the image at the center of a culture that is the ideal of the culture’s excellence.
Myths are not accurate descriptions of reality, nor are they totally separate from nor contrary to reality. Rather, they give order, definition, and evaluation to an otherwise chaotic reality. They provide a common ground of thought and perception that establishes ideal circumstances and boundaries of behavior.
The nature of the fundamental political myth of a culture and the scene that it creates poses three alternatives to those who seek to change the dynamics of society: 1) leaders can use the myths as the foundation of rhetorical identification; 2) they can change the myths and the concomitant scene thereby creating new requirements for sociopolitical action; or 3) they can reapply the myths.
Appeals that heighten the inconsistency between the perfection of the myths and their application, make society vulnerable to social change.
Classic questions are imbedded in the process of electing new leadership:
* What does a national election mask, hide, or insist stays below the surface of awareness?
* What wishes to be born through this same event?
* What lies beneath the surface language of campaigns?
* What myth rather than what person seeks election?
* What is to be preserved and discarded at such a threshold crossing?
* What values rise to the surface in times of change?
* What is the nature of leadership itself?
* What gods and goddesses are active in the polis, the state, and the nation in times of national transition?
* What wounds must be healed in times of national transition?
The Myth of the ‘Transparent Society’
Bruce Schneier 03.06.08
Explained in books like David Brin’s The Transparent Society, the argument goes something like this: In a world of ubiquitous surveillance, you’ll know all about me, but I will also know all about you. The government will be watching us, but we’ll also be watching the government. This is different than before, but it’s not automatically worse. And because I know your secrets, you can’t use my secrets as a weapon against me.
This might not be everybody’s idea of utopia — and it certainly doesn’t address the inherent value of privacy– but this theory has a glossy appeal, and could easily be mistaken for a way out of the problem of technology’s continuing erosion of privacy. Except it doesn’t work, because it ignores the crucial dissimilarity of power.
You cannot evaluate the value of privacy and disclosure unless you account for the relative power levels of the discloser and the disclosee.
If I disclose information to you, your power with respect to me increases. One way to address this power imbalance is for you to similarly disclose information to me. We both have less privacy, but the balance of power is maintained. But this mechanism fails utterly if you and I have different power levels to begin with.
Cameras make sense when trained on police, and in offices where lawmakers meet with lobbyists, and wherever government officials wield power over the people. Open-government laws, giving the public access to government records and meetings of governmental bodies, also make sense. These all foster liberty.
Ubiquitous surveillance programs that affect everyone without probable cause or warrant, like the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping programs or various proposals to monitor everything on the internet, foster control. And no one is safer in a political system of control. http://www.wired.com/politics/security/commentary/securitymatters/2008/03/securitymatters_0306
Political Myths & GLOBALIZATION
The phenomenon of creating, spreading, maintaining and disappearing of myths has been the subject of a great many philosophical and scientific researches. In modern science and philosophy, the myth is one of the central problems. New layers and dimensions of man’s mythical attitude towards reality have been clarified. Though modern science of myths has been dominated by the papers dealing with traditional forms of myths, there is a growing interest in contemporary myths.
Contemporary mythical thought is not equivalent to the primeval, original mythical thought. It is, according to myth explorers, a pseudo-mythical thought. The myths of the 20th century are not ‘real’ but ‘false’ myths, since the object of the mythical faith is not transcending, non-existing, ideal beings, but specific aspects of social reality. Processes of myth-creation in our century are present in all areas of social life. However, the greatest importance is paid to myths created and living in the political sphere. To explain creating and maintaining political myths, scientists and philosophers start with the premise that they represent the content of the social awareness, and that political myth-creating as a form of secular religiousness, by analogy to classical religiousness, is an ideological process unknown to those imputing godly attributes to different aspects of political reality.
Political myths are collective creations, a consequence of the collective unconsciousness and represent a spontaneous answer to social conditions on the part of members of a community. However, myth explorers also emphasize that the modern political myth is a complex and paradoxical social phenomenon. Political myths are complex and contradictory within themselves for they represent a result of a spontaneous ideological process, on one side, and they make up the essential content of particular political ideologies, on the other. Therefore, they should be comprehended as an artificial creation of individuals or small social (political) groups, with an emphasize their instrumental and manipulative role. Political myths are the myths created according to a plan with an aim to deliberately arouse religious feelings towards the chosen aspects in the political sphere. This moment is sometimes overemphasized while neglecting the other dimension of political myth-creating – spontaneous character of creating political myths.
A number of key archetypes should be stressed by a free nation’s mythology. An “archetype” is an idealized role, with which individuals might be compared or which individuals might aspire to. A key archetype is that of the person who knows that they are free, and who uses that freedom to best advantage. The archetypes of the providers of choice are also of prime importance. A provider of choice might be the creator or discoverer of new choices—an artist, scientist, philosopher, craftsmen, or explorer. These persons make known a new choice to the community, though they may not provide it directly to other individuals. Again, the possibilities are almost endless. It should be noted that the writers of the mythology themselves would be this type of creator. A political entrepreneurial myth for a free nation should encourage the formation of full-spectrum political networking by and for all citizens.
Ekonomski fakultet, Niš ; Teme
2000, Vol. 24, No. 3-4, pp. 269-280
article in Serbian
The theory behind a free nation’s mythology can draw valuable lessons from game theory. In game theory terminology, free nations should be portrayed as “positive-sum” environments. The term “positive-sum” is used to denote arenas where no one must lose, because the process of play results in an overall increase in “value” (defined in terms of items or conditions which players desire), as opposed to “zero-sum” or “negative-sum” situations.
A zero-sum situation is one in which the total “value” to be won is fixed—for one player to gain, another must lose. A negative-sum situation is one where the total “value” is diminished in the course of play, requiring at least one player to lose. The free nation’s mythology should stress that mutual self-interest is best achieved via positive-sum situations, that the individual should avoid zero-sum and negative-sum situations whenever possible.
“Superlative-sum” and “supreme-sum” describe even more desirable situations within the positive-sum arena. A superlative-sum situation is one where, in addition to the fact that play produces an overall increase in “value”, no single player loses “value”. A supreme-sum situation is one in which each player gains at least some “value” during the course of play. The free nation’s mythology should provide rich models of each of these positive-sum situations, teaching that the exercise of choice can be good for all.