Sunday, August 4, 2013

Do Our Stories Prime Us for War?

According to Joseph Campbell all mythologies are "someone else's religion." The stories we call myths  were truths to someone.

Hunter-gatherers all had religions based around the primary emotional thing they had to deal with: killing animals. Their religions involved stories of how it came to be that humans ate buffalo and why it was okay with the buffalo for us to eat them. Hunter-gatherers usually worshipped the animal that was their main form of subsistence. Their myths, religion and/or fictional stories instructed people in how to deal with what they were doing, how to feel about killing those animals: we are all one; the buffalo gives himself to us willingly and when we die, we become the grass for the buffalo (gross simplification). In these societies people shared the most political equality mankind has ever seen because of the simple fact that if anyone didn't like what anyone else was doing, he could "vote with his feet" i.e. he could move elsewhere.

Farming cultures on the other hand worshipped the main plant they ate, the earth that brought them their food, the celestial patterns that controlled their food production. They were obsessed with everything about fertility and most of their myths, religion and/or fictional stories instructed people in how to deal with a sedentary farming life. These societies saw a great deal of equality between men and women but there were more social pressures and rules and people could no longer move as easily. It was more important that they learned to get along.

And then came the war religions--the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims. The purpose of their myths, religion and/or fictional stories was to help people deal with killing one another. These religions create an "us versus them" kind of thinking. They say, "We are right and good, they are wrong and bad, it is okay for us to kill them." Because in battle men were so much more useful than women, women saw themselves fall miserably in status until for more than a thousand years, they were little more than property. But war worship doesn't just create inequality for women, in war worship we conquer our friends, our lovers, our businesses--status, winning, that's what we do.

Why am I writing about this? Because it is important to understand that the main culture we grow from today is based on war worship. It is based on "us versus them". It is based on victim thinking followed by the worship of the hero who "saves" the victims. It is based on competition worship (since that is a kind of war).

So a couple things:

-We wonder and wonder and wonder why it is so hard for us to have healthy relationships with one another yet it makes perfect sense to me that, having spent a lifetime thinking in terms of good guys and bad guys, winning and losing, the art of relating and treating people well... is nonexistent. Isn't the only point of treating people well to get them to like you so you can... get something? It's not actually about relating.

-We wonder and wonder and wonder (as a culture) why we are sexually oppressive but it is obvious to me. We worship war. Sex is a distraction. Unless sex is being used for the war in some way (to create more of us or to distract a bad guy) sex will never be what it was for the hunter-gatherers (something so normal you barely notice it) or what it was for the ancient farmers (something so important it was worshipped).

-We wonder why women can't seem to get on an equal footing as men but it is obvious to me that when women as useful in battle as men, they will finally be equal. But in a culture that worships war and wars heroes, women will never be equals until they are the war heroes.

-I wonder about organized sports. The government started pushing organized sports after the civil war so that they would have better soldiers in the next war--not just more physically fit but able to step into that us versus them, "go fight win" mindset that is so important to win a war.

-The history we teach our children (hypothetically so that they are not doomed to repeat it) primes them for war. It primes them for us versus them and hero worship. The fiction we read and watch is almost always a war story--bad guys versus good guys. We even think about stories that way--a story without a protagonist and an antagonist wouldn't be a good story, right? Not shockingly, you will find no protagonists and antagonists in stories before war cultures came into being. And it's not because ancient people were less smart or not good story tellers, it was because they couldn't conceive of thinking in that way, that way of thinking that we take for granted as normal.

-Children's fiction was invented in the 1800's (simplification) to illustrate to children how to be. Fiction back then was very clear about the morals and values it was teaching. Today fiction is the same. Fiction is no different from any myth or religion--it offers a way of seeing the world, it rewards certain behaviors and punishes others, it sells a certain vision of hero to the reader that the reader will then internalize and strive to become more like.

-Does the fiction we expose our children to prevent them from developing authentically? How well does it succeed in selling a certain version of hero to them so that they strive to be more like the hero in the book and less like themselves? Most importantly, do the stories teach war thinking because we wonder and wonder and wonder how we can have a free and peaceful society... but it makes perfect sense to me that as long as we think in a war-worship paradigm, we will be a war-worshipping society.


  1. You wrote that organized sports was a governmental push after the civil war to create better soldiers. You also wrote that fiction was invented in the 1800's (simplification) to illustrate to children how to be.

    Are these your own conclusions? Is this information cited anywhere? I've thought this, but I've not seen it written anywhere before, at least not that I remember.

    I'm excited to read your book when it comes out!

    Thank you.

    1. Hey! I am re-replying to this because I was leafing through some of my books on the history of child rearing and it actually says pretty clearly that fiction was invented to keep children under control, to give them something to learn about since they were not allowed to learn about the real world, and yes, of course to give them people to strive to be like. Check out Huck's Raft or Our Little Darlings or A Social History of Family Life.

  2. Hi, I read about the governmental push for sports in Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood. It was casually mentioned, a minor detail to the author. For the invention of fiction it is my own conclusion but based on everything I have read about the history of childrearing. In Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods: Evolutionary, Developmental, and Cultural Perspectives I learned that Hunter-Gatherers would get pissed at white people teaching their kids about fictitious animals like cats and dogs, in Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life I learned how children used to be a part of the world and how the Victorians removed both them (and women) from it to live in a fantasy, from Joseph Cambell I learned about storytelling, that all myths were truths to someone at some time, from wikipedia I learned that though we have been "telling stories" for all time... they were never deliberately fictional until very recently (and the church was very against it), from The Child in the Family and Ayn Rand's essay The Comprachicos I learned how detrimental fiction is for children and from The Underground History of American Education I learned how detrimental teachers thought all the fantasy fiction books were when they first came out. I am still studying fiction--I may yet read something that changes my mind but for now, everything I have read has led me to the conclusions you read about!