Myths - reflections of our cultural subconscious
The Colonel ordered the Regimental Sergent Major (RSM) to have us formed up on the parade ground in one hour. The RSM performed his magic, one hour later we were standing at ease waiting, wondering what the Colonel was going to tell us. The comedians in my platoon were all whispering jokes, you learn how to talk in the ranks without getting caught. “Stuff a sock in it. Get ready” barked the Sergent. We all shut up and got ready. “Attention”, barked the RSM, he then turned regiment over to the Colonel who then told us to stand at ease, stand easy. “Remember ..” the Colonel said. The moment I heard those words, I knew it would be bad news. Really bad news. I tried to make myself smaller, hopefully, they would not be asking for volunteers.
“Remember Dickenwald,” the Colonel said. In Pavlovian obedience our minds flashed to the battle of Dickenwald, the regimental history didn’t tell us why we had fought this battle just it was really important. Remember Private Doofus and how he fought off three hundred of the evil Snaffus with just his fork and spoon. Remember how Private Doofus threw himself on top of the grenade. Then the Colonel announced there would be a pay cut, but like Private Doofus, we must soldier on. Even if we only have a fork and spoon, we must be like Doofus and do our duty. Doofus was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, have himself blown to smithereens to save his comrades and the regiment. Money is a small sacrifice in comparison. Even though Doofus is dead, he will never be forgotten, he lives on through the regiment. After the Colonel finished his speech, the RSM barked “Dickenwald”. With Pavlovian obedience, we all started screaming “Dickenwald”.
While we were in garrison, we were given work assignments. On one assignment, I found a large black hard covered notebook with only a few of the pages filled being thrown in the garbage. I discovered if I walked around with this big black notebook tucked under my arm, I could go all sorts of places on base, and people wouldn’t question me. I would then forage for books to keep myself occupied. On one of these trips, I discovered the books by Derek Robinson who had served in the British Airforce as a fighter plotter. Later I discovered, I could hide the paperback book inside the black notebook, and then held a pencil in my hand while reading the book. The Sergent assumed I was doing something important and would give assignments to other Privates.
While reading Hornet’s Sting about an RAF squadron in WW1 and Piece of Cake about an RFC squadron during the Battle of Britain. The author mentioned that the initial problem the air force faced was a lack of myths and rituals. Today we take airplanes and air forces for granted. The British Airforce started as the Royal Flying Corps(RFC) and initially was part of the Army. It wasn’t until 1918 that it became a separate branch of the military as the Royal AirForce(RAF). The men initially assigned to these units usually came from the Army or Navy, both of these organizations have a long history, therefore they have rituals and myths. The air-force lacked a history, it came from a mixed background, essentially they had to create myths and rituals from start. In the drudgery of WW1, they became the gallant knights of the sky. The job of a fighter pilot was to get as close as possible to the enemy aircraft, ideally using surprise. Once he was within 50 yards and behind the enemy, he would spray the enemy aircraft until he either killed the pilot or set the aircraft on fire. Pilots did not use parachutes. The enemy pilot was then forced to make a choice, burn to death or jump out of the aircraft and plunge to his death. Of course, the newspapers would not report these harsh realities.
Organizations need beliefs values or principles to hold them together. An individual has a set of beliefs which are superimposed upon his group’s beliefs. Myths or stories are part of what Carl Jung referred to as the collective unconsciousness. They subconsciously shape our behavior. The stories themselves are framed to follow the organization’s values. In the fictional story of the battle of Dickenwald, Private Doofus despite having only a fork and spoon repels the evil Snaffus. The moral of the story, you are to do your duty, even if you lack resources. This is coupled with the theme of honor, a higher ideal, and hints at immortality. Even though Private Doofus is dead, he is still alive because he is remembered. As long as there is a regiment, Private Doofus will live on.
Stories allow us to transfer information, there is evidence that one of the first things our primitive ancestors did was tell stories. Our Neanderthal cousins went to great effort to make elaborate paintings. The paintings are stories. The famous attorney Gerry Spence in his book How to Argue & Win Every Time: At Home, At Work, In Court, Everywhere, Everyday talks about using story when presenting your case. An example of this is when he defended Randy Weaver an alleged Neo-Nazi. The lawyer’s job is to take the facts and then weaves them into a plausible story which will convince a jury. Gerry Spence uses story to explain why he defended Randy Weaver Gerry Spence On Why He Agreed to Defend Randy Weaver .
Gerry Spence when he tells the story of what happened at Ruby Ridge uses symbolism, Randy Weaver’s wife was dead, shot through the head while she clutched her child to her breast. With me, this brings up images of paintings of the Madonna clutching the Christ child to her breast. Possibly you might have different images but they will be colored by the previous stories of the ideal mother. Within the story, Attorney Spence makes references to other stories.
No one knows better than children of the Holocaust how the lessons of history must never be forgotten. Yet Americans, whose battle cry was once, “Give me liberty or give me death”, have sat placidly by as a new king was crowned. In America, a new king was crowned by the shrug of our shoulders when our neighbors were wrongfully seized. A new king was crowned when we capitulated to a regime that is no longer sensitive to people, but to non-people–to corporations, to money and to power. The new king was crowned when we turned our heads as the new king was crowned as we turned our heads as the poor and the forgotten and the damned were rendered mute and defenseless, not because they were evil but because, in the scheme of our lives, they seemed unimportant, not because they were essentially dangerous but because they were essentially powerless. Gerry Spence On Why He Agreed to Defend Randy Weaver .
Gerry Spence is comparing the case of defending Randy Weaver to the American people overthrowing a tyrannical dictator. He could have just said that but instead, he tells it in a story. He then describes his client, Randy Weaver.
Randy Weaver’s principal crime against the government had been his failure to appear in court on a charge of possessing illegal firearms. The first crime was not his. He had been entrapped–intentionally, systematically, patiently, purposefully entrapped–by a federal agent who solicited him to cut off, contrary to Federal law, the barrels of a couple of shotguns. Randy Weaver never owned an illegal weapon in his life. He was not engaged in the manufacture of illegal weapons. The idea of selling an illegal firearm had never entered his mind until the government agent suggested it and encouraged him to act illegally. The government knew he needed the money. He is as poor as an empty cupboard. He had three daughters, a son and a wife to support. He lived in a small house in the woods without electricity or running water. Although he is a small, frail man, with tiny, delicate hands who probably weighs no more than a hundred and twenty pounds, he made an honest living by chopping firewood and by seasonal work as a logger. Gerry Spence On Why He Agreed to Defend Randy Weaver .
By referring to myths of early America, Randy Weaver has become an American Frontier’s man, a logger. A hard working man who swings and Axe, the type of man who helped build America.
This man is wrong, his beliefs are wrong. His relationship to mankind is wrong. He was perhaps legally wrong when he failed to appear and defend himself in court. But the first wrong was not his. Nor was the first wrong the governments. The first wrong was ours. Gerry Spence On Why He Agreed to Defend Randy Weaver .
Now the stage has been set, Gerry Spence the presents his case. Yes, what Randy Weaver did was wrong but where his actions warranted? A court decided that Randy Weaver was innocent of the charges against him. Gerry Spence told a story while making references to other stories or myths. If Gerry Spence had used the same argument in a British court probably he would have lost the case. Britain has a different group collective unconscious from America. References to Robin Hood or King Arthur might be more effective.
Stories are events that are re-framed to our belief systems. I actually got to see how a myth was being created. A few years after I returned from my government paid travel tour I described in Breaking out of the machine I was sitting with some young Privates having a beer in a bar. One of them started to tell a story, which he heard from a guy who knew a guy who was there, about an event which happened on holiday tour. One of my fellow tourists stupidly got himself shot but somehow in this version, he became a hero.
I started to tell my version of the story but then I was interrupted. My version could not be accurate since it violated the young Private’s version of reality. Here we have a case of two realities like I described in Fish and fishermen occupy different realities. His idealistic view of the regiment differed cynical view. The group of young Privates now had a discontinuity in their reality which needed to be repaired. The Privates said, I must be suffering from PTSD and I can’t remember. Fortunately, a cute blond sitting at another table helped rectify this discontinuity. She came over and looked at me with her blue eyes her face surrounded by her blond curls and said you poor thing. You must have repressed memories, you need someone to comfort you. I said she could comfort me by sitting a lot closer, then somehow she thought it would be a lot better if she comforted me at her place. Since I was now suffering from PTSD, I decided not to argue with her. As I was leaving, cute blond in tow, the young Privates were whispering among themselves how horrible PTSD. It allegedly can cause one to suffer hallucinations.
Common myths frame our beliefs and they frame the beliefs of others in the group. The Colonel knows that all of the soldiers are familiar with the regimental history. He then framed why we should get pay cuts with a regimental story that involved sacrifice. By comparing our sacrifice with Private Doofus it makes it noble. What really happened at the battle of Dickenwald? It doesn’t matter since the myth has become stronger than the reality. But if you would dig deeper into regimental histories, you would find out initially there were conflicting stories about the same event. Over time these stories merged into one unifying story which matched the values of the group. Let’s examine some cultural myths that still exist today.
- Forbidden Knowledge - originates with the garden of Eden myth. The idea that certain types of knowledge should be forbidden. The debate that certain types of research should be forbidden because it poses a threat to people shows a continuation of this myth.
- Good and Evil - Jesus popularized this idea, that certain activities or things just by their nature could be broken into good or bad. This simplifies things for rules, we see similar arguments being used with gun control etc. Primitive cultures do not have this concept, things just exist.
- Money is Evil - again popularized by Jesus. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to go to heaven. Taken literally it is impossible for a rich man to go to heaven. What did Jesus mean? Eye of a needle was the name given to a narrow gate in Jerusalem, a camel could pass through the gate but it was difficult.
- Chivalry - probably originates with the King Arthur legends. That there should be some sort of higher conduct with warriors towards women and civilians. As the old testament in the bible shows, women and civilians were seen as prizes of war. Caesar in the Conquest of Gaul makes references to a number of civilians he captured. He didn’t capture them due to humanitarian reasons, they were captured so they could be sold as slaves in Rome. Caesar had no qualms about going on punitive missions where he would genocide local tribes to show the might of Rome.
- The Myth of the Noble Savage the belief that primitive cultures live in harmony with nature, they are peaceful. This myth originates around the 18th center. As the books The Myth of the Noble Savage and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, primitive cultures are extremely violent. They also drove many species of plants and animals to extinction.
- Happiness and Freedom are tangible objects - this originates with the US constitution, the right to peruse happiness. Happiness has become an almost physical object as opposed to a feeling. People who have taken LSD tell me they experience a sensation of happiness and freedom. This causes a debate about whether or not LSD happiness is real or not real. Whatever type of happiness or freedom you experience, it is a sensation or emotion in your head.
I find the idea of happiness or emotions being tangible objects intriguing. This echoes in our modern society. After Trump was elected, certain people were making comments about how they are now afraid. They insisted their emotions are real, they are not to be questioned. Emotions are a sensation generated in your mind in response to external events. These sensations are nerve impulses in your brain, yes they are real. What if Clinton had won the election but every night I have a dream Trump won if I experienced panic, is this emotion real? Obviously, it is. Whether the emotion is triggered by an external event or an illusion it still exists in your head. Looking at things from a Trump supporter’s perspective, they felt happiness and jubilation. Does this mean their emotions are not real? Here we have two realities, this was the point behind my previous post Fish and fishermen occupy different realities. The emotions are real but they only exist as electrical impulses in people’s brains.
Which reality is the real one? How are these realities created by our subconscious?
Myths themselves are not bad. The myth of the noble savage stopped the native people of America and later other primitive cultures from being genocided. Conversely, the myth has us yearn for when men were independent, happy and free. If you are asking which is the right answer? You are subconscious using the good and evil myth to make your decisions.
People always think they are too smart to be manipulated. The question to ask yourself, when you see a magician perform a trick, are your senses fooled? If you see an optical illusion, are your senses fool? The answer in both cases is yes. In my case, I had an idea of how myth works, yet I found myself screaming “Dickenwald”. Myself, I enjoy being manipulated sometimes, I enjoy going to Christian revival meetings with a traveling preacher. As he preaches, I am caught away on the group emotion, it stirs something deep within me. When he then asks for donations and passes the buckets around, I throw in a few dollars, even if I do not believe, the preacher has successfully manipulated me. In the future, I will continue to explore these concepts.
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