Making Myth

April 13, 2016

How shall we make Myth morally complex? Part Four

Filed under: Intro to Myth Making,Theory — Tags: — Myth Maker @ 7:11 pm

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Straw Targets

Most of us are familiar with the straw man fallacy. You set up an argument that your opponent is not really making and then act as if refuting it is refuting your opponent. It is common for creators of morally simple mythic tales to do something similar that we shall call setting up a straw target. A straw target in mythic world is any moral idea has no real basis in the world that the myth creator is making.

For example, let us image that communism is imported into a mythic world with no real poverty and no robber barons who work politics for their own benefit. In this world, communist are nothing more than a group of losers who hate successful people and want to take away freedoms. What does this accomplish?

By creating communists in a world that lacks the things that historically caused communism to be popular, the myth creator is creating a straw target. Of course it is easy to make fun of communism in such a context. But it also makes the story morally simple because the real rise of communism took place in the context of failed and corrupt states. By removing that supporting complexity a mythic writer turns a real moral issue into a straw target.

Of course, few myth creators import Karl Marx wholesale into their mythic worlds so that they can make fun of him. But it is quite common for creators of morally simple mythic worlds to make mistakes similar to one describe above. The following example is how a straw target is more typically set up (and is taken from a real mythic tale that shall remain nameless to protect the guilty)

Imagine a world where at least half of all positions of authority are occupied by females. Imagine that in this world there is a mix of fantasy races (humans, elves, dwarves, trolls, etc). In this situation, there is a military unit that is 50% female. A female 8ft troll is appointed to be new NCO in this unit. She overhears one of the human males in her new unit joking that she is like a mountain; “Beautiful but dangerous to climb.” Feeling insecure about the sexual innuendo and thinking that she needs to prove herself she beats up the much smaller and weaker man to such an extent that he has to be in the hospital for over a week to recover.

The absurdity of this is obvious. If an 8ft male had beat up a small female over a remark like that it would be so bizarre that it would not even make a good villain. If an 8ft male troll had beat up another human male over a remark like that it would most likely be used as evidence that the troll was homophobic. The only thing you can do to make sense of the story is to ignore the fact that she is 8ft tall and superhumanly strong, ignore the fact that she lives in a world where female command is common place, and ignore the fact that she is an NCO (which is an experienced soldier who normally has already “proved” themselves). Then you might be able to understand why she might react the way she did.

The problem this author had/has is that they want to create a world in which they can have it both ways. They want to explore the vulnerability of being female in traditionally male environments and at the same time explore a world where there are no traditional male environments or height/strength differences between the genders. And while you can successfully accomplish either one of those goals in myth, you can’t try to accomplish both of them without creating straw targets.

And this is a common problem in all morally simple stories. You have fictional people believing things that have no basis in the fictional world solely so that the story creator can preach. The only way you can have moral complex stories is to have morally opposing ideas that are well grounded in the fictional universe in which the story is set.

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