Mythology and the New Feudalism

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

I am a regular subscriber to the website WhoWhatWhy written by investigative journalist Russ Baker.  Recently he ran a response by one of his readers, Dave Parker, to a video Russ posted of Nick Hanuer, a billionaire venture capitalist  who gave a talk at TED, which is an acronym for the non-profit, Technology, Entertainment and Design, TED holds conferences around the world on business/societal issues that relate to its theme. In his talk Mr. Hanuer dispelled the idea that the Rich create wealth and instead said it was really the middle-classes that drove the economy. He disparaged the idea that it is the entrepreneurs who are the “job creators”. Although the talk was well received by the conference attendees,    TED curiously chose not to publicize it as it usually does with other such talks. Perhaps their decision was because Mr. Hanuer’s thesis goes against the current widely accepted mythology regarding job creation and  entrepreneurship. Here is a video of his talk:

In his comment on this video, Dave Parker used the writings of Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell was:

“an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience.” 

My reading Dave’s article was the type of moment where you can imagine me slapping my head and exclaiming: “Damn, why didn’t I think of that”. Indeed, I’ve read all of Campbell’s books and seen all of his famed PBS series of interviews, done with Bill Moyers. What follows is my jumping off from Mr. Parker’s excellent comments and any credit for what I’m writing here goes to him for his perception. In applying Campbell to Mr. Hanuer’s comments, Dave solidified a concept for me that’s been playing in my head for years about the 1%’s need to increase the disparity between themselves and everyone else . The Rich are trying to create a new kind of feudalism where Lordships are won not on battlefields, but in corporate boardrooms. The rest of us need to be impoverished because without serfs to worship them, having everything ultimately becomes boring. Some of the 1% no doubt are less ego-driven and have empathy for those not on their level, but even they are beneficiaries of a mythology in creation. I believe that this mythology is the result of a campaign waged since the supporters of Barry Goldwater went down to an inglorious defeat. 

Joseph Campbell spent his life studying and teaching about mythology. This is a word that usually evokes images of the Hindu, Greek, Roman and Norse Gods. In a way, for some, mythology has become conflated with paganism. To Christians,  Muslims and Jews of fundamentalist beliefs mythology is the other guys religion, when in fact it is also true of their own. However, Campbell did not stop with religion as mythology, he saw it as a driving force shaping human behavior and thus also studied the effects of cultural and political beliefs on human societies.  Below is his sense of the role mythology plays in shaping ourselves and our societies via what Campbell calls the “Four Functions of Myth” taken from Campbell’s: “Pathways to Bliss (Novato, CA: New World Library), pp 6-10.”, I will discuss how these functions play out today to shape our collective views of the world.

One salient piece of Campbell’s history should be looked at before showing how these elements of mythological creation have been used in America, to lay the groundwork for a Corporate Feudalism, that will leave enthrone 1% as our Nobility. Dave Parker gives a side of Campbell that I was not aware of and I feel explains much:

“Campbell himself lectured for the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute for Decades, beginning 1956.……………That tells me that ever since the greed heads and warmongers at State and elsewhere have been steeped in a perverse reading of Campbell’s work. They read it for its utilitarian value in pursuing “National Security”. And the “successes” of the Feds are envied and emulated in the world of corporate propagandizing”

My suspicions are that we are being led via popular culture and the redefinition of celebrity, into a mindset that opens the door for Corporate Feudalism and indeed shapes the attitudes of most people. These are Campbell’s Four Functions of Mythology (.pdf):

1. …the first function of mythology [is] to evoke in the individual a sense of grateful, affirmative awe before the monstrous mystery that is existence

2. The second function of mythology is to present an image of the cosmos, an image of the universe round about, that will maintain and elicit this experience of awe. [or] …to present an image of the cosmos that will maintain your sense of mystical awe and explain everything that you come into contact with in the universe around you.

3. The third function of a mythological order is to validate and maintain a certain sociological system: a shared set of rights and wrongs, proprieties or improprieties, on which your particular social unit depends for its existence.

4. …the fourth function of myth is psychological. That myth must carry the individual through the stages of his life, from birth through maturity through senility to death. The mythology must do so in accords with the social order of his group, the cosmos as understood by his group”

As sentient beings, self-involved, the fear of our inevitable demise is primary to our existence. This gives rise in us to yearnings for meaning in our lives and purpose to our lives. Most of us need the comfort that when our inevitable end comes, we will continue to exist in some form. Beyond religion though, we are essentially social beings, who have learned the benefit of co-existence with other members of our species. In shaping our society it is essential that we have some over-arching concept that something exists around us to keep us safe from the terrors that are the legacy of our predatory past. We develop words like Republic, Democracy, Islamism, Libertarianism, Fascism and others of that ilk that provide individuals with a sense of something larger than themselves that provide protection for us and give meaning to our lives. In tandem to those words connoting societal structure are conflated words relating to the economic systems we live under such as Capitalism, Liberalism, Socialism, Communism etc. In truth all of these words meanings varies with each individuals perception of their meanings.

Most Americans have been inculcated with a set of mythological buzzwords if you will, that connote our Country’s notion of “exceptionalism“. We have been taught that America is a “Republican Democracy” thriving under a “Capitalist” economic system that provides us “Freedom”. We use symbols such as our Flag, our Anthem, and our Constitution to invoke the “grateful, affirmative awe” that Campbell describes. We are proud to be Americans and most importantly we feel protected by our mythology.

These mythological symbols have been translated by our government beginning in WWII and throughout the “Cold War” into awe inspiring emotions within us. Even as I try maintain a skeptical distance between myself and the myth of America’s Dream, I am also emotionally stirred by the evocation of this mythology, that approaches the “grateful awe” of which Campbell speaks. My sense of that awe is limned by my understanding that America’s Constitution nowhere mentions Capitalism, or even sets up a national economic system, so when I see this economic theory conflated with the notion of Freedom my hackles rise. I imagine this is not true for the majority of Americans and this has led to the widespread belief in the “American Dream” and our viewpoint that even the least among us can achieve untold success.  People seem to not want to vote in their own self interest. It is this notion of the “American Dream” that has allowed taxation to become inequitable to the point where the rich pay a lesser percentage of their income than the rest of the people, yet many of those shouldering this burden are lured by the siren call of  “no more taxes” for fear that they will be burdened once their own success is achieved.

This matches well with another piece of the American mythological order in that there is the widespread concept of a “free market” being the apex of economic freedom. Thus all economic problems can be solved by ensuring that the “free market” is allowed to reign undisturbed by  selfish manipulations of the government. The argument about whether there even is such a thing as a “free market” I’ll leave for another day. It is incontrovertible though, that this is a belief of a large majority of Americans and certainly has fared well in the political context. In the notion though of a “free market” comes a further notion that those who partake in the market’s freedom, indeed the movers and shakers of the market itself, are the “real heroes” of the “American Dream”. The Entrepreneur is held up as the most meritorious among us, because it is the Entrepreneur whose efforts create all of the blessings we share in common. The definition of entrepreneur of course is quite stretchable and leads from people of modest birth like Buffett/Gates, to those whose fortunes have been inherited like the Koch Brothers/Walton’s/Trump’s.

If our society is driven by these entrepreneurs then of course their status is rightfully at the top of our particular American food chain. They become sources to be venerated, copied, modeled after and of course envied. I believe they are well aware of this, luxuriate in their Alpha positions and assume the trappings suited to their status. Interestingly, many of the scions of “Old Wealth” in this country eschew the immodest lifestyle, thinking it gauche and nouveau riche. While their living standard reflects the elite into which they were born, they don’t feel the need to flaunt it like those parveneau’s such as Trump. For the masses of us we understand on some level that the Mellon’s for instance, are better than we, even though they don’t comport themselves in a way that draws publicity. Our role models for wealth come from those such as Donald Trump, who beyond his money and/or accomplishment, branded himself as the epitome of wealth and living luxuriously, even though his example is one of gaudy ostentation in the worst of taste. He is the entrepreneur as version of the Movie Star, which has been so confused with success and the “American Dream” that one became President and another the Governor of California.

Awe can be described as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”.  This in truth is the way many of us view the elite of this country. This has been reinforced time and again by both media and by those in Academia who have functioned as their minions. It has also been the thrust of a massive propaganda campaign to disparage “liberalism” and turn the country towards what was redefined as a “conservative”viewpoint. I believe  that viewpoint is less about political philosophy and more about solidifying the hold upon this country of a newly defined aristocracy. We are in “awe” of these our bettors, just as much as the medieval peasantry was in awe of the nobility of their day. Back then the gossip about the local Dukes latest mistress was as interesting and as titillating as Tom Cruise’s divorce, or The Kardashian’s TV show.

In medieval times entertainers were considered to be much less reputable, even while sharing relatively wide fame. Shakespeare was considered disreputable despite his fame in his day. Today entertainers are lionized as members of the elite which is mainly to conflate their fame with that of the Corporate/Inherited Elite, thus borrowing their glamour for the latter. In our society today the doings of the super-rich and other celebrities has become mainstream news. HGTV, for instance, has three programs dedicated to lovingly show the housing of the rich in New York, LA and London. The edifice homes, some costing as much as $50 million are displayed to us peasants for what reasons exactly, if not to inspire us with awe at the lives of our “betters“? Can we all remember the adulation poured out on the passing of Steve Jobs? He certainly was a man who made many contributions, but from his deification one would think he was directly transported to Valhalla. There is deification of our Armed Forces as the heroic exemplars of all that is good and true in America, yet are true gratitude is such that 50% of their families are on Food Stamps.  Remember the hushed tones in which the news media portrayed General Petreus?  That polls have shown many Americans to believe Ronald Reagan was our “Greatest President” is yet another example of the conflation of celebrity with supposed greatness. Neither Petreus, nor Reagan were either super-rich or super-competent, but they were treated with the deference of nobility and that is the point. We hold all these symbols in awe and the underlying message is one of gratitude to them for showing us what to aspire to and by leading us benighted fools through example. Jesus is of course the ultimate myth since in the opinion of many his decisions control our lives for eternity. “What would Jesus do” is a question asked by multitudes and many have been led to believe that if returned today he would be our ultimate entrepreneur.

This returns us full circle to Mr. Hanuer dispelling the idea that the “rich” create wealth. They are not in the end the “job creators” that Mr. Romney and conservative “wisdom” would have us believe. Yet I must acknowledge that a sizable number of Americans would take exception to that assertion. I think too that the “creator” part of that meme is one fraught with connotation. Just as religion deems that God created the world, isn’t there a strong inference with the term “job creator” that would lead one to feel that the Entrepreneur created America. Doesn’t the mythological creature in that reference stand above the Founding Fathers in our current mythological reference of America being the most exceptional country in history? I believe we are blinded by this American mythology to such an extent that the problems we face as a society will not be fully recognized until it is too late and we will collapse in the shattering realization that so many of our life perceptions are mythological in origin.

Adolph Hitler took a shattered country with a hyper-inflated, impoverished economy and through the brilliance of a master of mythology, Joseph Goebbels, created a world power with the potential for empire. NAZI Germany’s destruction though came about chiefly because the mythologists began to believe, along with those they had gulled, that their mythology was absolute truth and that they the “Master Race“ would prevail against all odds. Fresh from the incredible triumph of World War II and with the evidence of the most impressive military/industrial buildup in history, our politicians and public became convinced of the “exceptional nature” of the United States. We discovered another implacable foe to oppose and fought a new kind of war on a global basis. That having ended with the USSR’s collapse the country’s elite searched for new “enemies” with which to keep our military occupied and our defense industry rich. Perhaps the culmination of the idea of our country’s exceptional nature came with the writing of the “Project For The New American Century” a design to make the United States into an Empire in the Twenty-First Century. The two main guiding architects of that manifesto were Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield, who also were the architects of the two wars in which we are still enmeshed.

Joseph Campbell correctly believed that mythology serves as a glue to maintain human beings in the close relationship of society, to give meaning to our lives and to give us inspiration to progress and achieve heretofore unthought-of accomplishments. Mythology though can also be the undoing of a society, community, ethnicity and religion. I believe that in the case of our country I see the signs of our common mythology seeding the possibility of disaster. For the dream captured, however imperfectly, in our Constitution, to culminate in a feudal system dominated by Corporatism, would seem to me tragic. My hope is that this piece will initiate some creative thought in the reader, just as Dave Parker’s comments did with me and I’m interested in how others view this concept of mythology recreating the Feudal System.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

386 thoughts on “Mythology and the New Feudalism”

  1. Hello every one, here every one is sharing
    these experience, so it’s pleasant to read this weblog, and I used to pay a visit this website everyday.

  2. @Bron: It is hard to decide, with animals, when something stops being an automatic response and starts being a voluntary response.

    There are ground squirrels in California that use different sounds to alarm for different predators, and there is some evidence (from captivity experiments) that this language (not in quotes) is learned; that young squirrels learn the right actions to take and sound to make for different predators. That makes the vocalizations symbolic, not instinctive.

    For example, some predator snakes are a danger to pups nests, and when they hear the symbol for that the adults take action to defend pups and nests. But hawks are a danger to adults, not pups in nests, and when they hear the symbol for “hawk,” instead of bolting for their nest they bolt for cover from aerial attack, and look to the sky for the bird.

    So while the beaver tell could be a simple general alarm call and evolved on both ends (transmission and reception) as you suggested, the squirrel communication is learned symbolism. They learn the right word to associate with “hawk” or “snake” and say it. They also learn that word MEANS “hawk” or “snake” and take appropriate action even if they cannot see the predator (proven by playing a recording of the word when no predator is present).

    I believe the voluntary aspect is probably there, too, although it is hard to figure out with the wild squirrels, it does seem present in bird experiments. For example, the parrot ALEX (A Lexical EXperiment) was taught symbolic language, and in experiments that was proven (it wasn’t cues from handlers, it wasn’t a Clever Hans effect or an effect of reading body language to get the right answers). However, in filmed experiments, the bird sometimes had its own agenda, and vocalized it or refused to answer, using the phrases “no more” and “I am tired” in their appropriate context. That suggest voluntary action to me; when he got tired of working (and eating nuts or treats for right answers) he changed the subject.

    As for Dredd, in my opinion Dredd believes in a mystical world (or mythology) of some kind of tiny bacterial consciousness. When generalized this cognitive trap is actually common; many people have difficulty in understanding how there can be a fundamental difference between the small and the large, or the simple and the complex.

    In this case, I assume Dredd cannot fathom how simple mechanical cells can form something as complex and wonderful as humans, so to solve that puzzle he just attributes the qualities of humans to microbes. Voila! Problem solved, microbes are like tinier, simpler people, but what is in people is just a magnified version of what is in microbes; the essence (or soul) is there all along!

    That is a variation on the homunculus argument. In the middle ages, scientists thought sperm was actually in the form of a person and just grew larger in the womb to become a baby. When it was learned the brain was the seat of thought, some thought there would be a little man in the brain operating the controls like a steam engine (and never mind the infinite regression that suggests). Alternatively, in this higher tech age, I would call that the “holographic” error. If you break a hologram in half, you end up with two holograms that each contain the full image but with half the resolution. So the holographic error is the mistake that thinking the qualities of a large object are contained in its components, it is like thinking if you cut a car in half you will get two smaller but functional cars, or perhaps two motorcycles.

    That same problem occurs in reverse, when people fail to understand that some simple things that work in the small scale will fail in the large scale.

    For example, consider engineering tolerances: If we are making a simple gear box where the mechanical transmission is never more than five gears long, our manufacturing tolerances do not have to be that good, and we can afford to spend less money making something functional. We can get 0.5% tolerance with simple die-cut gears, we do not have to cut them larger and grind them or finish them, and in a five gear train we won’t be more than 2.5% off; and that is good enough that all the gears will engage and work gets done.

    But if you try that on something much more complex, the “one percents” will build up and you will find gears that don’t fit in their spot, they are too small or too large. They may themselves be within tolerance but because of built-up errors they slip, or bind, or the turn pressures an axle that eventually breaks from fatigue.

    In engineering drawings for a part we specify tolerances for cuts, holes, or features from a common edge or corner or “key” point, seldom from OTHER points that have their own tolerances, for precisely this reason. If hole “A” is 1.1 inches from a reference point, plus or minus .01 inches, and hole “B” is 1.1 inches from hole “A” plus or minus .01 inches, then hole “B” has a tolerance of plus or minus .02 inches. That might still work, if one degree of separation is all you have between “B” and the reference point. But if you scale that kind of error up to even ten degrees of separation, then mating parts won’t fit together at all, you can’t put a bolt through the supposedly mated holes because the hole overlap isn’t wide enough to fit the correct bolt through.

    Not all working models scale up, and not all functioning things can be scaled down. Even though that is obvious in many respects, people still make both mistakes repeatedly, primarily because it gives them an easy answer, even if it is wrong, and for some reason that gives them comfort.

    Much like mythology.

  3. Tony C:

    which is why I put “communicate” in quotes.

    But thanks for trying to set me straight. I dont think a beaver slaps his tail because he wants to warn Fred and Wilma over at the lodge. It is some sort of instinctual response to fear.

    I also dont think plants are purposefully warning their neighbors.

    I also doubt Dredd thinks that bacteria are communicating in the sense we do. And I am absolutely sure that Bassler doesnt think so either.

  4. I believe that the words “mythology” and “feudalism” disappeared from this thread several hundred entries ago.

  5. Tony, you are referring to the Dunning–Kruger Effect, which has been discussed here before. It has come up several times in the context of trolls who wandered into information black holes about which they had no clue, but could not figure out how to escape.

  6. Gene and Tony, maybe those microbes are getting quantum messages from the event horizon of black holes. All the information that ever was is being stored there. Heh!

  7. @Gene: I think the less a person knows, the less he realizes how little he knows. The more one knows, the more one knows what is unknown.

    🙂 Here is Isaac Newton: “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

  8. Wow. It’s rare to see someone who manifestly doesn’t know what he’s talking about in the light of evidence illustrating he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about rush right ahead and not only continue to claim to be right but a hundred years ahead of the curve. You’re a legend in your own mind, Dredd. Nobody else’s mind, certainly, but you are seemingly impressed with your ignorance to the point you think it is superior knowledge from the future!

    Way to go, McFly.

    Between you and Jim Bradley, this thread runneth over with examples of what the victims of mythological thinking look like.

  9. Hey, I am not against the haughty (gene H) or the wholly See virus (Tony C) from Dr. Nobel Price’s place way over there on the island.

    It is just that I like handling those little thingy things in the test tube of great science, where they are exposed.

    Exposure is good.

    You guys will discover it in about a hundred years.

    Meanwhile, the economies of feudalism can’t seem to fathom efficiency, because they do not see it as a part of economy.

    I would say that must be a function of grants from the Heartland Institute, which I hear is now forced to become an ObamaCare Hospice.


  10. @Dredd: Let me teach the bigot to read. She said, “I guess there was this sort of snobbery — among bacteriologists and among scientists in general …

    See, when a scientist says “I guess,” they mean they do not really know, they are speculating. Of course her speculation is partially correct and partially wrong. There definitely was snobbery, or human centrism, in the beginning of most sciences. Like children, we humans once thought we were the very reason for the universe and at its center, both figuratively and physically, that it was all put here for us. That snobbery has been difficult to let go of, even when some people accepted evolution instead of creationism, they STILL held to the idea that we humans were the pinnacle of it. Even today there are still scientists that will deny animals (primates or otherwise) have consciousness, emotions, language, abstract thinking ability or humor.

    However, she is wrong in another respect: even ONE century ago very few scientists had the equipment, foundation of knowledge, or funding to conduct the experiments she can conduct. Heck, refrigerators were not even commercially available in 1912, a practical refrigerator was only available (and damn expensive) in 1918 or so.

    On top of that, most scientists know that even today, the number of scientists in any particular tiny specialty of publication is often a small community of perhaps a few dozen.

    The real reason she is finding new things is probably because she is looking where nobody bothered to look before, not because of snobbery but because they are also looking in places where nobody has bothered to look before, they have found their own little rich landscape of discovery that interests them, and they are happily exploring it. Her results may be an interesting read and food for thought or inspiration, but at the end of the paper they put it down and go into their lab to check on their own culture, and see if they are getting the precipitate they wanted. Why jump on Bonnie’s claim and play catch-up if you can develop your own? She already has 18 people in her lab, why risk competing with them or duplicating work they might already have in progress if you can do your own thing that nobody else is doing?

    The number of “fronts” in science is innumerable. Four hundred years from now I expect interesting discoveries to still be made, and to me there is no mystery in why they aren’t being discovered today: We do not have the equipment, funding, knowledge, manpower or organization to learn everything at once. We did not have it a hundred years ago, and I doubt we will have it a hundred years from now.

  11. Or you can continue to display that your your self-generated mythology about bacteria have blinded you to your factual ignorance, Dredd.

  12. Your problem is you don’t understand physics, chemistry and biology.

    The microbes didn’t “write the rules”. Neither did humans, dumbass. The “rules” are physics and mathematics. They came with the universe.

    Find a clue.

  13. I am wondering what quorum sensing the gene from Dr. Nobel Price’s lab uses:

    What Tony said.
    What Gene said.

    That is so social!

    Evolution, gotta luv it.

  14. The lady professor knows the bully religion too:

    How could this have been missed for nearly 390 of those years? I guess there was this sort of snobbery — among bacteriologists and among scientists in general — that because bacteria seemingly live this mundane primitive life, and they have so few genes, and are so tiny, that we could not imagine they possessed this level of complexity and sophistication.

    Anything so tiny must be weak, so lets bully the hell out of it.

    Next thing you know they got your amygdala by the nuts.

  15. Oh, the boys are backtracking but dragging a tree behind their trail.

    Old Indian technique, and a good one.

    But, as the lady professor says, the microbes wrote the rules, not humans.

    That is your problem.

    You still think you write the rules.

    You don’t.

    Find some love.

  16. What Gene said. Nothing she found violates anything I said previously. In fact, I subscribe to her hindsight “of course” judgments. After about three billion years of evolution with generation ages measured in minutes and population counts measured in quadrillions, we can expect evolution to have evolved extremely efficient survival mechanisms. That does not change quorum sensing (or any sense-and-respond system) into a “language.” There is no abstraction there, no representation or models, there is no decision made by a bacterium to respond or not. It is physics, not thought.

    I am with her on the idea that the complexity can be surprising and sometimes beautiful or delightful. So is the Grand Canyon. That doesn’t make it conscious.

  17. @Dredd: “a lady professor …”

    That seems like an odd formulation to me; why do you feel it necessary to qualify the word “professor” with the word “lady?”

    It isn’t like the female gender is under-represented among professors or researchers; in my university more than half of students are females, and in botany, biology and medicine there is certainly no shortage of females engaged in research.

    In fact, I am pretty sure my colleagues would look at me askance if I referred to them as “lady professors,” as if that were unusual or perhaps something different than a real professor. Even in your sentence, the pronoun (“her”) would have done the job for you.

    Qualifiers tend to be used for a reason. Do you think of fundamental research as a male domain?

  18. “The microbial world practices the economic principle of efficiency”


    What she said doesn’t mean bacteria practice economics or the economic principle of efficiency. It simply means they operate in a chemically efficient manner. Which, duh, is how energetic systems operate in nature – they seek the homeostasis of the lowest possible level of energy expenditure, i.e. follow the path of least resistance. Physics applies to chemistry.

    That’s how biology operates when you know what you’re talking about instead of blowing smoke out of your ass.

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