Organizing Myths

Just finished skimming Ernst Cassirer‘s The Myth of the State.  The thesis isn’t (as I originally thought) “the state itself is a mythical construction;” rather, it’s “each state has its organizing myth.”  This is a truth we seem to have forgotten, that’s worth revisiting.

Any human organization larger than the immediate family develops its organizing myth.  Clans worship ancestors, tribes (two or more clans) have their totems, two or more tribes together end up with some version of a divine-right monarch.  It wasn’t until the 17th century AD that a competing myth arose and had enough power to challenge divine right: The idea of natural rights, and from it, the social contract theory of government.

Since we’re stewed in it from birth (and because our educational system sucks), we forget just how much of a myth the social contract really is.  Read Hobbes, for instance.  As much as I love him (I consider Hobbes pretty much the only political philosopher worth reading), he’s just wrong about some fundamental ideas.  There never was a State of Nature.  Life in mankind’s dawn was nasty, poor, brutish, and short, all right, but it sure as hell wasn’t solitary — people are evolved monkeys; we have monkey firmware; monkeys have the most elaborate social structure in the animal kingdom.  If ever there were a “social contract,” it was between meta-monkey troops living in nearby caves.

Which raises another obvious question: If there are such things as “natural rights,” where along the evolutionary chain do they kick in?  Could Australopithecus consent to be governed, in either the Hobbesian or Lockean sense?  What about Homo erectus?  “Natural rights,” it’s clear, really mean “God-given rights,” minus the messy theological baggage.  It’s a way to talk about organizing a government without having to re-fight the Wars of Religion (which is where all this Locke vs. Hobbes stuff comes from).

This myth has been with us right down to the present day.  To contract, in either the Hobbesian or Lockean sense, one must be able to know what one is agreeing to.  Thus, humans are presumed to be always and everywhere rational, and in full possession of their faculties.  That’s simply wrong — we’ve always known it, but after Freud there’s no possible way around it.  And yet, all the great social systems, from Capitalism to Communism, assume that rationality is the baseline (forget Freud; if you want to know how wrong the idea of basic human rationality is, look at Communism.  Why is it that the self-proclaimed most rational, logical, scientific system in human history is the one with the biggest body count?  You’ll  never find a more elaborate fantasy than Communism; they’ve never been within 12 parsecs of reality).

The problem now is, replacing this myth with a better one.  As Cassirer says, Nazism’s weird techno-feudalism was one fairly successful attempt to do this (Nazism was, obviously, a victim of its own success).  It only works in Germany, though, or in a world completely dominated by Germany.  The myth of HBD — yes, y’all, it IS a myth, in the “social contract” sense of myth — isn’t going to cut it, either.  There’s no buy-in from most social groups, so unless you’re going to go out in a blaze of Thousand Year Reich, we’re going to have to find something else.

It’s not about what people really are.  It’s about what you can convince them they are.  The Left, bless their moronic little hearts, have conclusively disproven the social contract / Enlightenment myth.  It’s up to us to find a new one… or else.

Loading Likes...

4 thoughts on “Organizing Myths

  1. Nate Winchester

    The problem is there are no new myths. So good luck. 😉

    Thus, humans are presumed to be always and everywhere rational, and in full possession of their faculties. That’s simply wrong — we’ve always known it, but after Freud there’s no possible way around it.

    No that’s…

    Anytime someone says, “people aren’t rational” you can bet it will eventually come out as “everybody is irrational but me.”

    I mean, you’ve eaten at some point today, right? Why? Because you were hungry, your body needed fuel and supplies. So did you eat ground glass? Drink cyanide? (well if you did, I doubt you’ll be replying) No. Why? Because you’re rational and you know “I need food” and “this is food.” What is at debate are sorting priorities and data sets.

    You have the desire to look good, so you decide “I will eat X and not Y.”
    I have the desire to enjoy taste, so I decide “I will eat Y and not X.”

    BOTH ARE RATIONAL. And the great recent tyrannies have all arisen from the idea that somebody besides you can take a look at your life and decide that they know what you desire most.

    So a more accurate phrase would be:

    Everybody knows best what they want most.

    See also:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8PVf5ZSffE

    Reply
    1. Severian

      “everybody is irrational but me.”

      I write things on the Internet for seven regular readers, half of whom only read it to tell me how wrong I am. Trust me, my friend, I’m perfectly aware of my own shortcomings in the rationality department. 🙂

      I mean, you’ve eaten at some point today, right?

      Surely you’re not suggesting that “eating when you’re hungry” is a rational act? It’s literally the most instinctive thing you can do!

      So did you eat ground glass? Drink cyanide?

      Category error. No animal eats things that aren’t food. Not only would an animal not choose to eat ground glass, you couldn’t force it to. You can hold a gun to a starving dog’s head, and it still won’t eat ground glass. Now, if you were to hold a gun to a human’s head and say “eat this ground glass or I’ll kill you,” the human might eat it… and that would be a rational decision. You see the difference, I trust?

      And the great recent tyrannies have all arisen from the idea that somebody besides you can take a look at your life and decide that they know what you desire most.

      False. All the great recent tyrannies don’t care about your life at all. The individual is meaningless, compared to the glorious collectivist future, whether communist or racial. That’s precisely why both Commies and Nazis could murder millions without blinking an eye — they don’t care what YOU desire; it’s what the collective needs.

      Reply
      1. Nate Winchester

        You can hold a gun to a starving dog’s head, and it still won’t eat ground glass.

        It will drink antifreeze though – which is poisonous to it. I’ve also watched dogs eat literal shit. Yes the act of eating is instinctive, but those that eat instinctively will eat anything that approximates food. The rational being selects which food it might eat (if able) and distinguishes between what is actual food or not.

        False. All the great recent tyrannies don’t care about your life at all. The individual is meaningless, compared to the glorious collectivist future, whether communist or racial. That’s precisely why both Commies and Nazis could murder millions without blinking an eye — they don’t care what YOU desire; it’s what the collective needs.

        That’s exactly what I’m saying, the “collective” YOU, not the real, actual YOU. So the tyranny looks at you and says, “rationally you need food – so it’s not rational for you to do something other than farm, go be a farmer.” Never mind that from your life choices, you suck as a farmer and have made a choice to (for example) help your farmer buddy with something you’re best out why he does the farming he’s great at.

        I mean I can start quoting from some of the depths of the socialist internet if you wish but the common thread is pretty clear: “THEY are not rational, therefore someone should help them…” It’s practically the foundation of every leftist argument. “We need to ban…” [smoking, check cashing places, guns, excessive profits, etc] Why? “Because people are doing those things.” Why? “Because people are irrational so we need to save them from themselves.”

        You could sum up the left and collectivism with: “We have to take away choices because people will choose wrong.” There’s two ways to measure a “wrong” choice. The first is that it’s morally wrong. Very little debate there. The only other way for a choice to be wrong (and were the fights are) is for it to be irrational.

        Reply
  2. Stan Erickson

    The obvious extensions: Are there some organizing myths that work better at preserving the society that uses them; and, is it intrinsic qualities of the myths that make them work better, or is it the methodology of how they are used by the society that makes them work better. “Preserving the society” probably needs a good definition.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *