The violence of myth, the myth of violence

I am thinking about Cheri’s question: If children accept as natural the violence in the Greek myths and other old stories (Bible!), why do we adults reject it?

Part of the answer, I think, is in Steven Pinker’s talk, below. (It doesn’t show up in RSS readers.) It has to do with the stunning drop in violence in our human history. The ancients had violence all around them, so it entered their stories naturally. Even our great-grandparents still saw a lot more violence than we do, so they accepted it in their stories naturally. And we, as Pinker says, now have standards that have run ahead of actual behavior, so when we are being all grown-up and modern, we can’t deal with it anymore.

But the child within us ‘remembers’ the world of raw experience, before these standards. And, as Cheri has said, different people are childish to different degrees. The ‘child’ in my own personality is rather outsized, so perhaps that is why I connect to the old stories rather easily. (Emphatically not, however, to the vulgar and gratuitous violence in Hollywood).

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11 thoughts on “The violence of myth, the myth of violence

  1. Bingo, Andreas. Nicely put.

    And I might add that the language and violence of Hollywood has been designed to satisfy and gouge that unsatisfied and bored teen within each of us. Not our kid, not our adult, not our parent. Our teen.

    The lesson? Ask yourself about your teenage years. How were they?

    Consider these words and how they make you feel, not what they make you think: curious, mystery, sparkle, delicious, monkey, tickle, pout.

    Which ego state do they appeal to?

    Kid, adult, parent?

  2. “…….the language and violence of Hollywood has been designed to satisfy and gouge that unsatisfied and bored teen within each of us. Not our kid, not our adult, not our parent. Our teen……….”

    Cheri, you seem to be addressing this to teens generally, or to the teens locked up inside the adult.

    But is it not true that the language and violence of Hollywood is almost exclusively a male thing, as is violence generally? Remember, it is well-nigh only males and particularly males under 25, who kill, and perpetrate violence generally.

    As giving birth and nurturing are to you women; so violence and killing are to us men. Thus is Eros balanced by Thanatos.

  3. Pinker’s a compelling speaker, isn’t he? If you liked this talk, you might be interested in Azar Gat’s War In Human Civilization, which covers similar ground.

  4. I will check out Azar Gat, Kenneth.
    Incidentally, I clicked through to your site and it brought back memories. I studied IR around the corner from you, at the LSE. Hung out with a few people from King’s…..

    Phillip Phogg, I do think there is something very male about things blowing up in Hollywood, but I have always found things blowing up boring. What I quite like about the ancient myths and folk tales is that goodness, wit and cruelty, and violence, are quite evenly shared among males and females (and gods and humans, etc).
    Think of a Medea, a Clytemnestra, the witches and step mothers in the Grimm tales…..

    • Very thoughtful essay, Bob.
      …In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence…. (sounds a lot like Hobbes)

      …Redemptive violence gives way to violence as an end in itself. It is no longer a religion that uses violence in the pursuit of order and salvation, but one in which violence has become an aphrodisiac, sheer titillation, an addictive high, a substitute for relationships. Violence is no longer the means to a higher good, namely order; violence becomes the end….

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