Archive for May 21st, 2012

A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world.  –  Alan Watts

I often write about the meanings of words, and how writers replace neutral terms like “escort service” with negative ones like “prostitution ring” in order to stir up negative feelings; the “goodies” do this just as often as the “baddies” do, and for the same reason.  For example, I often use the term “murder” to describe cases in which cops kill citizens, while most journalists go the opposite way and use passive-voice construction to create the impression that the event was just some sort of natural phenomenon which wasn’t anyone’s fault:  compare “he was killed” with “it was raining” and you’ll see what I mean.  Words are tools, and tools are amoral; it is the use to which they are put by sentient beings which defines morality, which is one of the reasons that laws against inanimate objects (drugs, weapons, “proceeds of crime”, etc) are so morally repugnant.

This is why it’s important to cultivate a healthy degree of skepticism.  When most people read an essay in The Honest Courtesan (or any other blog) they expect some editorialization,  but when they read something which purports to be objective, there is a tendency to overlook sneaky emotional manipulation accomplished via word selection; they don’t recognize that a cop who refers to a suspect as a “perp” has already biased his audience by casually using a word that denotes factual guilt rather than the mere suspicion of guilt.  One of the reasons I favor very strong language is that I never want to be thought of as emotionally manipulative; in other words, if I’m going to appeal to your emotions I want y’all to recognize that I’m doing it.  My aim is to convince you fair and square, not to trick you with doubletalk and propaganda.

Recently, I came to the realization that a word I use frequently might be misinterpreted, so I want to make its intended meaning absolutely clear:  that word is “myth” (and by extension, “mythology”).  In common parlance, the word is often synonymous with “lie”, but that isn’t what it means at all; lies are sometimes used to support myths by those who employ them as tools of control, but that doesn’t mean any given myth is itself a lie.  A myth is basically a framework or paradigm used to explain and interpret observable phenomena in the absence of (or contrary to) hard data, usually via the involvement of a supernormal force or entity which is not discernible by ordinary means and therefore must be taken on faith.  Mythology is a body of related myths and procedures derived from those myths which act together to provide a faith-based world view.  So even though a myth is factually untrue, those who actually believe in it are not willing parties to deception; they are simply trapped in an irrational mode of thought which values belief above fact and are thus easily manipulated by those who know the myth to be false and promote it with deliberate lies in order to further their own agenda.

Let’s take the religion of Imperial Rome for an example.  The Roman people believed in their gods just as people today do:  some devoutly, others less so.  But there is considerable contemporary evidence that many of Rome’s ruling class had ceased to believe by the time of the Caesars; they recognized religion as an effective tool of social control and so promoted it despite that disbelief.  Furthermore, even those who did believe in the mythology as a whole were perfectly willing to promote the “big picture” by falsifying specific details in order to shore up the framework of myth in the minds of the people.  Even the most devout atheist had to accept that thunderstorms existed; that was a verifiable fact.  The skeptical mind recognized that the undeniable existence of some phenomena attributed to Jupiter did not automatically prove the truth of all statements the priests made about him, nor that he was the anthropomorphic being described by the poets, nor that he existed at all.  And even if a believer’s faith in Jupiter’s existence was unshakeable due to answered prayers or other such manifestations, that still didn’t prove that the lightning actually had anything to do with him as opposed to some other entity, or to a law of Nature to which even the gods were subject.

The problem, of course, is that the average believer in Roman mythology, or Norse mythology, or Christian mythology, or Buddhist mythology, or the elaborate mythology prohibitionists have built up around prostitution, does not have a skeptical mind. He is therefore unable to discern the difference between fact, fiction, faith and falsehood and accepts them all as supportive of his belief system; having embraced it, he is also unwilling to consider any alternative explanation for any phenomenon encompassed by the mythology.  Faced with evidence that multiple aspects of his faith are demonstrably untrue, he will continue to cling to it like grim death and point to the few indisputable facts as evidence of the entire mythic fabric; it’s a bit like insisting that a raisin on the kitchen table constitutes proof of one’s allegation that Queen Elizabeth II, Barack Obama and Elvis Presley had held a tea party there which included raisin scones.

Nobody denies that some women are coerced into prostitution, that some hookers are underage, that some women in desperate circumstances are tricked by evil men via false promises and usurious debt, that the conditions under which whores in developing countries work are frequently deplorable, that there are some predatory men who use violence to steal the earnings of sex workers, and that some women are undoubtedly harmed by the experience of prostitution.  But accepting these facts does not in any way necessitate accepting the paradigm into which prohibitionists have fit them, nor claims that they represent any but a minority of cases, nor the existence of invisible international criminal cartels making billions from the sex trade, nor the pretense that women who refute the mythology are either lying or delusional, nor the evil doctrine that the personal, sexual and labor rights of all women everywhere must be violently suppressed by armed men “for their own good”.  The people who promote this mythology, like the ruling classes of Imperial Rome, either don’t believe the mythology at all or else feel that lies are an acceptable means of encouraging others to believe in it.  In either case, they are dishonest and their efforts to aggressively promote their own agenda do nothing but confuse the populace and obscure the truth by cloaking it with an elaborate, destructive and false mythology.

One Year Ago Today

A “Parable” is in a sense a type of myth, but while the latter is meant to be believed the former is simply a tale intended to illustrate a specific moral point.

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