Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
My take is that, in a very broad sense, reality is myth. The construction of reality is purely mythical. Science is mainly mythical.

No, reality is real. Interpretations of reality are mythical.

Which is why you can tell that some interpretations are more reliable and consistent than others. If I lose a tooth as an adult and put it under my pillow, I won't find it replaced with money in the morning, no matter how convinced I am that the tooth fairy exists. For an adult, a tooth fairy myth is wrong, and not realistic.

The difference is easy enough to see with a trivial example. But it's much harder with a myth like - Once Again The EU Heroically Opposes the US. Or - Liberal Reform is Economically Good.  

My take on it is that myth and narrative are almost synonymous. If you control the narratives that people use, you control their world view. This is almost obvious, but it's not until you start to realise just how incredibly dominant nonsensical narratives are that you realise how big a problem it is.

And myth is just narrative with a supernatural, metaphysical, or abstract element that pretends to be inevitable and impossible to argue with. Functionally, all you're doing with the metaphysics is making your narrative more memorable and persuasive. This works fantastically well. But I don't think there's a lot more to it than that.

One thing that's not so well known about narrative is that it moralises. It's the most important and powerful way that human primates perpetuate values and enforce codes of behaviour. When you get annoyed by an op-ed in the Economist, it's because the author is trying to foist their neo-liberal morality on you. They may also be factually wrong, but the real anger comes from being told you should be living your life according to someone else's beliefs about how you should behave.

Worse, realism isn't what gives narratives their power. What does that is presentation - the correct delivery, supported by signifiers of dominance, aggression and high social status, and personal emotional appeal, is more likely to be convincing than a narrative based on factual accurate predictive argument.

So it's almost true that myths create reality. But not quite. What creates narrative reality is the signification of status and dominance in social relationships. The narrative details aren't nearly as important as the relationships they can be used to promote.

So there's the fist, and there's the glove - the story you tell that disguises the naked power of the fist. If you can condition people to respond to the glove, it's enough to imply the fist. If you can make your story say 'God says...' or 'Markets want...' or 'Destiny and history prove...', well, that works well too.

But reality is still out there, and it's not a good idea to assume that just because it doesn't have a glove it doesn't matter. Because reality always has the biggest fist of all, and it's really, really smart to get along with it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 09:58:21 PM EST
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