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The Power of Myths

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Al Jassas View Drop Down
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    Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 20:02
Hello to you all
 
 
How did popular historical myths turned into historical fact and helped shape our modern history as we know it?
 
I came to this question following the current astronomical rise of the Tea party movement in the US.
 
This movement have already shook the political landscape by eliminating some very powerful politicians in the republican side and putting in jeoprady the careers of several politicians on the democratic side and forced probably the entire republican party to adopt a populist tone like never before.
 
This movement built its image and doctrines on a myth that is infact the exact opposite of what the Tea party movement stands for. The Boston tea party was about the illegality of taxes imposed by a legitlature that they did not elect and its cry was "No taxation without representation". Yet the Tea party movement flipped the entire even over its head to make all taxation even if it was sanctioned by an elected body illegal.
 
Indeed the entire American revolution which was basically a bunch of aristocrats and merchants who wanted their own state where no one can tax them but themselves (remember that the franchise was limited but taxes were not) a reality that differs completely from the myth that makes the revolution a struggle for liberty.
 
Another myth that is also quite popular (though less than the previous one) is that the American civil war was a struggle for the freedom of slaves despite that the emancipation proclamation came only in 1863, two years after the war began. The real reasons are of course too complicated to mention.
 
Yet while myths are powerful in the US cultural scene entire nations built their history around mythology that has no merit, myths that unlike the US lead to wars and destruction and probably no country represent such myths as Israel and Serbia. One legitimises its existance based on a religious text written 700 years after the fact and the other on a battle of mythical proportion where the reality was the exact opposite.
 
So why myths have such power?
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 20:16
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
Indeed the entire American revolution which was basically a bunch of aristocrats and merchants who wanted their own state where no one can tax them but themselves (remember that the franchise was limited but taxes were not) a reality that differs completely from the myth that makes the revolution a struggle for liberty.
 
 
That's totally incorrect.  The Declaration of Independence and American Constitution are the core documents that inlfuenced the development of "check and balances" based state organization, and "the rule of law" concept for all the centuries to come. American revolution was one of the most significant milestone in the historical development of democratic instutions.
 
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

Another myth that is also quite popular (though less than the previous one) is that the American civil war was a struggle for the freedom of slaves despite that the emancipation proclamation came only in 1863, two years after the war began. The real reasons are of course too complicated to mention.
 
Well. "The emancipation of slaves" was definitely the whole goal of the Civil War, simply because the emancipation was ruining the agriculutre based Southern economy and made the union stronger. This is the fact.
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

Yet while myths are powerful in the US cultural scene entire nations built their history around mythology that has no merit, myths that unlike the US lead to wars and destruction and probably no country represent such myths as Israel and Serbia. One legitimises its existance based on a religious text written 700 years after the fact and the other on a battle of mythical proportion where the reality was the exact opposite.
So why myths have such power?
 
All the national histories are built around historical myths. Because every nation wants to be strong, significant and great, nobody wants to feel inferior even to every slight degree. And it's impossible to achieve such a result without the creation of historical myths.
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 20:42
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
Indeed the entire American revolution which was basically a bunch of aristocrats and merchants who wanted their own state where no one can tax them but themselves (remember that the franchise was limited but taxes were not) a reality that differs completely from the myth that makes the revolution a struggle for liberty.
 
 
That's totally incorrect.  The Declaration of Independence and American Constitution are the core documents that inlfuenced the development of "check and balances" based state organization, and "the rule of law" concept for all the centuries to come. American revolution was one of the most significant milestone in the historical development of democratic instutions.
 
That is exactly what I am talking about. Those guys who gathered in Philadelphia had the interests of their own class, merchants and aristocrats, in their minds when they said the "persuit of happiness". Remember they refused to end slavery despite a majority of delegates wanted to and refused to extend franchise which only a couple of Mass. and New Hampshire radicals wanted. Remember that most of those "revolutionaries" refused to rise up in the first place or support the radical proposals of Franklin and others of uniting the NA colonies in a single entity. It was only after the intolerable acts when their direct interests were threatened that they revolted.
 
 
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

Another myth that is also quite popular (though less than the previous one) is that the American civil war was a struggle for the freedom of slaves despite that the emancipation proclamation came only in 1863, two years after the war began. The real reasons are of course too complicated to mention.
 
Well. "The emancipation of slaves" was definitely the whole goal of the Civil War, simply because the emancipation was ruining the agriculutre based Southern economy and made the union stronger. This is the fact.
 
The emancipation of slaves was never a part of Lincoln's, or any republican politician for that matter, manifesto or program. In fact even after the war began it was officially to combat the rebellion with assertions that slavery will not end. Only when it became politically, and militarily, expedient to use the slave issue was the emancipation proclaimed and even that was distorted (which is another myth that shaped American political psyche). Only the slaves in 10 rebel states were emancipated while the slaves in the rest of the country remained property to be liberated by the 13th amendment.
 
The civil war was about economy first and foremost. The US back then had two economic systems, a free enterprise industrial based system and a plantation-agrarian system that depends on slave labour. The striking down of the Missouri compromise by the supreme court meant that competition with an industrialised south will be damn near impossible because of the advantages of slave labour. It also meant that farming in the newly settled states will be much cheaper and thus more economically attractive for prospective migrants whom the industrilised north depended on for low cost labour.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jul 2010 at 00:24
Please excuse me my esteemed colleagues if I conclude that both of you are suffering from the effects of over-exposure to Media Madness. No matter what the barkers of the political agitation that have labeled themselves as Tea Partiers might claim, as they attempt to sell their new elixir, their tonic has nothing to do with history (even of the mythical type) and everything to do with the art of salesmanship. Yes, they are hoping to raise a big carnival tent by appealing to flag, motherhood, and apple pie but their supposed effectiveness is illusory to most except to the world of the media mavens that live off of such froth. When you get right down to it the contemporary electorate is responding to an old tendency: the electorate decides in terms of their pocketbooks! All you need show is that someone is attempting to pick their pockets and boy will you have a party!

Edited by drgonzaga - 18 Jul 2010 at 00:25
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jul 2010 at 10:53
Myth or no myth the Tea Party movement isn't going anywhere. Such movements never do, esecially in the US. Too much of their program goes against the interests of the groups that decide elections.
 
With regard to the American revolution al Jassas is pretty well right about the motivations of its leaders: it's certainly wrong to claim that "the Declaration of Independence and American Constitution are the core documents that inlfuenced the development of "check and balances" based state organization, and "the rule of law" concept for all the centuries to come."
Even the declarers and framers didn't claim that. The Declararion is essentially a restatement of principles held by the writer to be part of the English birthright, which is a list of claims that the King had broken an existing constitutional framework: it has much in common with the Dutch Abjuration of Philip some 200 years before.
 
The principles of 'checks and balances' come direct from Montesquieu, who, rightly or wrongly, quarried them out of British consitutional practice.
 
On the other hand I agree with Sarmat that all nations need myths to give their histories significance: in fact it goes deeper than that because people in general need myths to justify most of what they do in general, not just in politics.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jul 2010 at 11:17
Hello to you all
 
It seems that my point earlier has been misunderstood.
 
I already mentioned the tea party people have nothing in common with the original tea party. What I said is that these are guys with a fundamentalist libertarian agenda who failed previously to forward their agenda directly so they resorted to mythology and symbols.
 
These guys projected the Boston tea party on their movements and portrayed both incidents as one and the same, a struggle for "liberty". And just as the first party lead to the glorious revolution this one will also lead to a revolution where people will regain their "liberty". And according to polls and votes it worked.
 
People who support the movement have no idea what the movement is really about yet it is the myths and symbolism that had the greatest impact on the support. Since when people were against the cause of "liberty"?
 
Anyway, a question to Sarmat (and by the way I totally agree on his point on the need for myths to legitimise history). It seems that every third church in Russia is named for Alexander Nevsky and he is hailed and the greatest Russian military commander etc. Reading about him I wasn't that impressed since his greatest exploit was clearly a myth and he was in fact a vassal for the Tatars. So why is Nevsky so revered in Russia?
 
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There's not much to add to the above other than advise that myths never do turn into history but nevertheless the mythical often reflects the historical far better than the assorted facts.
 
The books to read on just this topic--if they have not been read already:
 
J. G. A. Pocock. The Machiavellian Moment (1975)
 
Garry Wills. Cincinnatus. George Washington and the Enlightenment: Images of Power in Early America (1984)
 
In a nutshell the dominant motif is the corruption that comes with power and the search for virtue as the temper that dispels this danger. Anyone familiar with the history of the political cartoon in American public life will grasp the point. Let's all give three cheers for Parson Weems...


Edited by drgonzaga - 18 Jul 2010 at 11:55
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jul 2010 at 19:46
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
That is exactly what I am talking about. Those guys who gathered in Philadelphia had the interests of their own class, merchants and aristocrats, in their minds when they said the "persuit of happiness". Remember they refused to end slavery despite a majority of delegates wanted to and refused to extend franchise which only a couple of Mass. and New Hampshire radicals wanted. Remember that most of those "revolutionaries" refused to rise up in the first place or support the radical proposals of Franklin and others of uniting the NA colonies in a single entity. It was only after the intolerable acts when their direct interests were threatened that they revolted.
 
How does this neglect the facts that the documents they produced and the system they created was a milestone in the historical development of democratic insitutions?
 
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
The emancipation of slaves was never a part of Lincoln's, or any republican politician for that matter, manifesto or program. In fact even after the war began it was officially to combat the rebellion with assertions that slavery will not end. Only when it became politically, and militarily, expedient to use the slave issue was the emancipation proclaimed and even that was distorted (which is another myth that shaped American political psyche). Only the slaves in 10 rebel states were emancipated while the slaves in the rest of the country remained property to be liberated by the 13th amendment.
 
The emansipation was always a part of the "radical" republican wing program. And while Lincoln was moderate he always was oposing the expansion of slavery.
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

The civil war was about economy first and foremost. The US back then had two economic systems, a free enterprise industrial based system and a plantation-agrarian system that depends on slave labour. The striking down of the Missouri compromise by the supreme court meant that competition with an industrialised south will be damn near impossible because of the advantages of slave labour. It also meant that farming in the newly settled states will be much cheaper and thus more economically attractive for prospective migrants whom the industrilised north depended on for low cost labour.
 
How does it disprove the fact that the abolution of slavery was only in the best interests of the North?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jul 2010 at 19:54
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

 
The principles of 'checks and balances' come direct from Montesquieu, who, rightly or wrongly, quarried them out of British consitutional practice.
 
Of course, "the founding fathers'" ideas were very were built on Montesquieu, English political systems and popular thoughts of the period of the enlightment. But their document was the first written modern republican consitution in history and the system created by the American Constitution is quite different from the English system. American system formed a presedential republic, while British system was a parliamentary republic.
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Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
Anyway, a question to Sarmat (and by the way I totally agree on his point on the need for myths to legitimise history). It seems that every third church in Russia is named for Alexander Nevsky and he is hailed and the greatest Russian military commander etc. Reading about him I wasn't that impressed since his greatest exploit was clearly a myth and he was in fact a vassal for the Tatars. So why is Nevsky so revered in Russia?
 
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What exactly is a myth you're talking about? His victories over Swedes and Livonian knights were quite impressive and of course his peaceful relations with the Horde are regarded as very wise policies which allowed Rus to preseve its internal independence and cultural survival.
 
As for me (and also many other Russians I have to say) Tatars were much lesser (if even) evil for Russia than the aggressive and blood thirsty West.
 
So, yes, Nevsky is a great Russian leader victor over the Western invaders and wise friend of Tatar suzerains.


Edited by Sarmat - 18 Jul 2010 at 20:04
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jul 2010 at 20:11
Sorry if I have offended you in anyway and I do agree he saved Russia from the Germanic knights for better or worse but from what I read most of the battles although they did occure were much less glamourous than they actually were (and indeed the same is true for nearly all "famous" battle of history).
 
Don't you think that these achievements were indeed polished to create a national hero especially that the interest in Nevsky was magnified during the ramanticism of the 19th century?
 
Indeed in my opinion if there is anyone who can be called the true Russian hero it would be Peter the Great.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jul 2010 at 20:29
Al Jassas, nothing was offensive there.
 
I don't think his battles were "glamorous" at all, they were quite bloody with heavy casualties on both sides. But he gets credit for saving the Russian identity. Swedes and Germans would destroy the Russian way of life just like they did in the Baltic region.
 
Of course, Nevsky was romanticized, he definitey, wasn't such a light and powerful angel and described in many of the popular Russian sources. But this is topic for a separate thread.
 
Peter the Great was also a Russian hero, but he is even more controversial than Nevsky...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Roberts Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 00:55
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

 
What exactly is a myth you're talking about? His victories over Swedes and Livonian knights were quite impressive and of course his peaceful relations with the Horde are regarded as very wise policies which allowed Rus to preseve its internal independence and cultural survival.
 
As for me (and also many other Russians I have to say) Tatars were much lesser (if even) evil for Russia than the aggressive and blood thirsty West.
 
So, yes, Nevsky is a great Russian leader victor over the Western invaders and wise friend of Tatar suzerains.


Oh Please.
The battles on the scale of battle of Ice 1242, were fairly common skirmishes between Livonian Order or Bishops of Livonia against Pskov or Novgorod through out the centuries till Novgorod and Pskov were absorbed by Moscow. When trade relations broke down some fighting ensued. But all out conquest of Pskov and Novgorod by Teutonic knights representing "blood thirsty west" was never their goal nor they were capable of it even if they wanted.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 01:24
Very interesting opinion, but not really supported by the mainstream historical science...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 04:08
I find it interesting that the historical is actually taking a back seat to the mythical here. Nevsky had about as much to do with shaping a Russian identity as abolitionists being the precipitants of the American civil war. But even making the assertions really miss the point as to the mythical in History. We are discussing symbols totally divorced from the perceived realities of their past dressed up for the anxieties of a discomfitted present moment (which in itself could be a past historical moment).

Edited by drgonzaga - 19 Jul 2010 at 04:09
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 08:41
The fact that we're not in fact discussing the nature of historical myths but rather the veracity of a few choice ones shows us the power of myths; uncertainty.

Edited by Reginmund - 19 Jul 2010 at 08:42
Sing, goddess, of Achilles' ruinous anger
Which brought ten thousand pains to the Achaeans,
And cast the souls of many stalwart heroes
To Hades, and their bodies to the dogs
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 15:56
Originally posted by Reginmund Reginmund wrote:

The fact that we're not in fact discussing the nature of historical myths but rather the veracity of a few choice ones shows us the power of myths; uncertainty.
 
Could not your observation be rephrased as the power found in exercise of the Big Lie for transitory political expediencies? Recall that what we are really doing is traipsing around an uncomfortable fact integrally asociated with the rise of Mass Man and the incubation of indoctrination though Media. The tools have grown more efficient since the days of les philosophes and their brood 19th century Romantics, but essentially what we are discussing is the dream of Auguste Comte and control over public opinion.
 
The present has always had a nasty habit of misrepresenting the past for the sake of its own expediency and there the reason for national myths...gobbledygook all! Stalin would be chuckling hard over this little Internet fluff:
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 19:12
I don't know how you dig them up, Dr G. Smile
 
All countries find something to mythologise.
 
However It's really true that Sir Francis said 'We've time to finish the game first." I know because I've been to Plymouth Hoe and seen the statue Ermm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 19:26
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

I don't know how you dig them up, Dr G. Smile
 
Me tooSmile.
 
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

All countries find something to mythologise.
 
 
 
Well is that actually true? For some countries (England and the UK in general included) I can't seem to find anything that actually constitute a myth that affects the national psyche like the countires I mentioned above (except maybe for the Armada).
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 22:25
Anyone with elementary nautical experience and the problem with sails would find nothing profound or even mystical in the purported words of that notorious international terrorist and professional thief, Francis Drake! No matter how fast those sea brigands made it to the shoreline, they would just have to twiddle their thumbs ashore until the tide turned (I know, awful pun, but hey we're discussing things English). Anyway, everyone knows that Drake was the Ibn Ladin of his day!Evil Smile
 
As for Al Jassas purported absolution of the English as immune from "myths affecting the national psyche", what can I say except ROTFLMAO!LOL All you need is a passing acquaintance with one William Shakespeare to understand that the Tudors were sans pareil in the doctoring of history for the sake of the "national psyche".


Edited by drgonzaga - 19 Jul 2010 at 22:28
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 22:36

Well Gcle, as for how "I dig them up" let me borrow a catch-phrase from the visual medium: "Ay, los links!"



Edited by drgonzaga - 19 Jul 2010 at 22:41
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 Jul 2010 at 13:11

I have to agree with Dr G about British/English myths.

However with regard to Sir Francis and his colleagues, the myth doesn't run counter to the allegations of piracy. In fact they're rather an important part of the national myth.
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