The Persistence of Myth

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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14 Responses

  1. Doctor Jay says:

    Well, my family is not a family with an important political legacy. So after I was an adult, most of the older members of the family spent more time telling me “what really happened”. Such as how my uncle (the oldest child of my grandparents) told me how he was 5 months “premature”. While giggling about it.

    It’s kind of fun to see an 80-year-old man giggle.

    About the only subject that’s taboo is exactly what happened that landed a different uncle in jail for molesting his grandparents. We do not understand ourselves as pure and good, but rather as outlaws and miscreants who are mostly good. This is a lot more comfortable, and indeed a lot more truthful, existence.

    Another cousin, once told me the frank story of how his “adopted” father was in fact his biological father, it’s just that his mother was married to another man at the time. She divorced him, married my uncle, who then went through legal adoption of his biological child.

    We probably do have some myths, I suppose. Everyone does. But I so appreciate the down to earth quality of them.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      @doctor-jay Midwives used to say that “first babies are always early.” A lot of social conservatives think that in the days where pre-marital sex was more rare, couples had sex for the first time after the wedding ceremony. This wasn’t actually true. Most couples were allowed to start having sex after they became engaged. Birth control being less available and reliable back than resulted in many brides being pregnant by the time of the actual wedding ceremony. Sometimes visibly so. This wasn’t only for the lower and middle classes. Even in the upper class and aristocracy, where inherited wealth was still very important, couples had sex shortly after the engagement. Based on the relationship between Winston Churchill’s birthday and his parent’s wedding, Winston was probably conceived about a month or so before the actual wedding ceremony of his parents.Report

  2. Damon says:

    “and that the media at the time connived with the President’s political aides and his family to keep it all hush-hush and out of the public eye.”

    So the desire for access vs actually doing their job has been a component of the journalistic class since forever then huh?Report

  3. Brandon Berg says:

    I think there’s something similar to insistence that secession to form the Confederacy wasn’t about slavery. It’s not that (most) people waving the Confederate flag around hate black people—it’s that they love their culture and don’t want to believe that it was so, so bad.

    Ditto Japanese revisionism about the Rape of Nanjing.Report

  4. I think this OP is spot on. One of the hard things is that it’s very difficult for us (i.e., me) to always know when we are thinking mythically.

    Also, “myths” don’t have to be false, at least not necessarily. It’s more that their value as a story to explain things supercedes whether they’re false or true. At least that’s how I look at it.Report

    • Thanks for the link to the “principle of charity,” by the way. Not only is the link itself interesting, but the further suggested readings look interesting, too, although I haven’t read them.Report

    • That’s precisely how I have used the word “myth” in this post. A myth can have value based on its emotional power, and that can be a good thing.

      To offer an example, in the United States, we have a myth about the enduring wisdom of the framers of the Constitution. In fact, even people who are not US citizens see wisdom in their actions, so this myth seems to be well grounded in truth. But we elevate the Framers’ wisdom to something godlike in our mythology. The myth nevertheless serves us well: among other things, by causing people of all political alignments to pause for breath and thought when the constitution is invoked against them, and to exercise a degree of caution when assessing proposals to amend the Constitution offered for political consideration.Report

  5. Saul Degraw says:

    I don’t know if this is a myth as much as it is forgotten history from one of our least ranked Presidents. His mistress published a memoir after his death and from what I’ve read that memoir contained a lot of accurate details about the Oval Office ceiling. She also posed for pictures with her daughter from Harding. Funds were set up but eventually this went into the sands of history because all we really learn about Harding is “return to normalcy” and Teapot Dome (Harding died at the height of the scandal but before it could bring him down).

    I’ve also read that there were rumors that Mrs. Harding and a doctor allegedly poisoned Harding as a way to save him from disgrace (both his affairs and Teapot Dome) and once he allegedly answered the call of nature in the Oval Office fire place. In front of a foreign dignitary!Report

  6. Stillwater says:

    I think that’s just what it is to be a human being: we love our myths so much, we hold on to them even when we know they aren’t real — and this puts a barrier in the way of persuading others.

    That’s true even in the case of an individual’s self-mythology. Eg, via TPM, State CCer Cindy Gamrat had this to say about getting caught cheating on her husband and kids with another CCer:

    “I know that I have made some poor decisions as they relate to my personal life that do not line up with who I am or what I believe.

    Myths, man. They run deep.Report

  7. Dan Scotto says:

    Because no one has commented on it already, I feel that I must: the alliteration in the front-page excerpt is about as good as it gets.

    Also, this was a very good post.Report