Towards the beginning of the pandemic, Charles Eisenstein wrote a long essay called “The Conspiracy Myth.” Don’t tab away, this is important. We’re going to make a key distinction that Eisenstein makes in the essay between a “myth” and a “lie.”
A “myth” is a story that gets at a truth. When you think of Greek myths, those normally had a point. They’d take the thing they were trying to say and wrap it up in a story. In one instance, you have a god pretending to be a swan so he can rape. Some myths are complicated.
A “lie” is, well, a lie. An untruth. It’s not a story that intends to illuminate something. Instead it’s a story that intends to obfuscate.
You can poke holes in myths just as easily as you can poke holes in lies, because the nature of a story is that it’s going to be incomplete. Much like attempting to explain a joke or observe a quantum particle, the thing you’re trying to grasp disappears as soon as you try to explicitly observe it.
We have a firm grasp on the lies our government and the media tell to us, especially when it’s the other side telling the lies. We have a firm grasp on the myths our side tells itself. If you don’t believe me, start poking holes in those myths. The response will usually be, “you just don’t get it.” If it’s starting to sound like a joke, that’s because it is.
A myth is necessarily a lie of omission, but I’d like to suggest that more importantly, it is a lie of analogy. Analogies are lies that are making their way toward perceived truth.
What are the limits of myth and analogy when it comes to understanding the world?
What happens when we adopt metonyms to stand in for bigger, more complex problems? I’d argue that we find ourselves butting up against the key problem of online discourse: that we’re exchanging becomings, processes on their way towards a truth that our opponent does not want to reach.
Let me put it this way: as I’ve written before, my dad is convinced that Antifa was behind the Capitol Bloodbath Insurrection Rebellion. That’s because my dad doesn’t understand Antifa as a loose collection of different people with different agendas who have grouped and been grouped under the same umbrella. For him, Antifa means “Soros-funded agent provocateurs who want to institute Sharia law.” Swap out “Soros” for “CIA” and “Sharia law” for “corporate dominance” and I’d almost be willing to meet him somewhere in the middle of this swirling analogy. But of course he’s leaving out all the regular people who genuinely believe they’re fighting fascism, the people who are in it for the clout, and the people who just kind of like to set shit on fire. The analogy falls apart.
“Fascist” is obviously the left-wing version of calling someone “Antifa.” I mean, it makes sense. It’s right there in the name. But “fascist” is a broken analogy too, in a similar way. It’s a “myth” the way “communist” is a myth.
What are the myths we tell ourselves about the other side? What structures of analogy do we take for granted? Who is served by these blanket generalizations?
I’ll leave it there for today. Something to think about! Or maybe…it’s some bullshit. Could be. The worst myth of all is thinking that you’re right.