was generously hosted at Gav & Pauline's beautiful Bonnet Bay home - Thank you both!
Sharing of triumphs
and tragedies and miscellaneous yarns.
In the spirit of "applying general semantics principles" to our lives, as opposed to dwelling in theory, we considered members' accounts of observations and applications relating to the principles and formulations of our discipline.
Today's Discussion: "Urban Myths and legends"
In order to stimulate some
preliminary thought on the subject, we had some rather arduous
homework to complete, thus:
preliminary consideration of some notions of “urban myth”, for
discussion on Sunday.
Could you please think about
some of the widely-held notions that we
may not have been “rationally” established and maintained,
and which we may not even be consciously aware of?
Don’t worry too much about definitions of “myth”, for example
ideas / notions / assumptions / precepts (as
Milton might say) are true or
false, rather just that they
are widely accepted without necessarily arising
careful observation and study For example, Captain Cook
1770 that the island continent was terra
nullius “no man’s land”, despite
the presence of probably
over 750,000 Aboriginal people in residence there.
commonly consider this notion “a myth”. The Biblical account
six-day creation of the world ("before God rested on
the seventh day”) is
considered by most of us to be
mythical. Some people (sadly) do not believe
Claus: Does that make "him" mythical?
So why do we
create stories to explain what we do not understand? Please
consider the few examples below, and some of your own, and
answer a few
questions on each, eg:
1. What sort of
a statement/question is it, eg: Value judgement / True /
Probably true / Probably false / False / Answerable but
Unanswerable / Meaningless / Metaphorical?
Is it a useful notion to maintain (eg “Does human activity
climate change?”) or interesting but not
useful (eg “How big is the
general-semantic formulation/s can be brought to bear in
this ("Non-allness, awareness of the levels of
4. Can/should we be active in
questioning commonly held understandings that
may not be
5. Is it worthy of the status of "myth" (widely
held belief), or just a
statement / question / assertion
A few examples ...
* “Too much sugar makes us
* “Smoking causes lung cancer”,
* "Men are from
Mars, Women are from Venus",
* "Australia: the lucky
* "The red peril" (or yellow peril" etc),
"The streets are more dangerous these days",
youth are less respectful / more lazy / selfish / intelligent
/ idealistic etc) than when I was a child",
million angels can dance on the head of a pin”,
"Earthquakes are more dangerous than white ants",
"Freedom of speech is more important than controlling hate
* "Road accidents kill more people than suicide in
* "Autism is on the increase in Australia",
* "Ned Kelly's last words were 'Such is life' (or similar)",
* "GS is exciting",
* “There is a god/s”,
* "The plant
Earth is round (almost spherical).
etc, etc etc ...
Thanks for your engagement in this exercise!
forward to see yous all on Sunday at B.Bay.
Well - What's this all about, anyhow ... ?
An urban legend, myth, or tale, can be considered to
modern genre of folklore. It usually consists of fictional
stories associated with the macabre, superstitions
and other narrative elements.
Just as Little Red
Riding Hood and Goldilocks were spread by oral tradition,
urban myths are spread by word of mouth; much like
traditional folklore, modern myths are embellished or altered
as they are retold.
Writing about myths is much like
walking through a mine field. No matter what one writes, it is
certain to offend many readers. (GS Happiness principle: lower
Expect to be offended.)
Part of the problem is that the
word "myth" has two distinct meanings.
story, especially one concerning the early history of a people
or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically
involving supernatural beings or events.
In the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) there
are many stories that meet this definition: Stories about Adam
and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God making the Earth and
heavens in 6 days and resting on the seventh,
the worldwide flood of Noah, the exodus of the ancient
Hebrews from Egypt with the large wave killing all who
followed them, etc.
•A widely held but false belief or
idea. False to
factual observation. A person or thing having only an
imaginary or unverifiable existence, e.g. the Superman myth,
The unicorn is a myth.
Contributing to the difficulties
associated with myths is that:
People readily identify
the myths of cultures different from their own as stories
about events that never really happened historically, but
which may develop a person's worldview in that culture.
When it comes to the myths of their own culture or
religion, people often firmly believe them to be true
recollections of actual events. For example, there are
followers of Abrahamic religions who:
* Search for
the remnants of the Garden of Eden, or
* Search for
the remains of Noah's Ark on the mountains of Ararat near the
border of Turkey and Iran, or
* Try to prove that
the Earth and the rest of the universe is only about 6
millennia old or that the speed of light went faster in the
example of one mechanism:
University of Paris in 13th
century tried to answer the question of whether oil left out
on a cold winter's night, would congeal by searching the works
of Aristotle rather than experimenting to see what real oil
would do under these circumstances. Similarly some
theologians searched the Bible (who begat who, etc) to work
out the age of the Earth and the Universe (e.g.4004 BC)
instead on experimenting on and observing reality to find the
Well - metaphors and Subculture Conflict
“Metaphors we live by” By Lakoff et al, talks about the
myths of Objectivism and Subjectivism, which can be related to
Bois Epistemological levels 2 and 3. Lakoff’s solution
is very similar to Bois’s level 4.
Lakoff also talks
about conflict of subcultures.
For example the Australian culture which tries to have tolerance
of personal preferences e.g. tastes in food, music, or
cultural preferences, etc.
A recent example in Australia, is a court case about the conflict
between religious preferences and sexual preferences.
Myth and GS
Apply principles of
general semantics to debunk common myths regarding ‘meaning.’
the “single meaning myth” – that there is a single
meaning, THE meaning, rather than possible multiple meanings
depending on context, circumstances, and the backgrounds of
those involved with their own personal meanings.
“impersonal myth” – that ‘meanings’ occur or exist apart from
the individuals who generate ‘meanings,’ that “things mean” or
“words mean” rather than “people mean.”
the “meaning =
definition myth” – that a dictionary definition dictates how a
term must be used and what it ought to ‘mean’ in the future,
rather than noting how that term has been used in the past and
how its current usage may be changing. (Dictionaries mainly go
on written words.)
the “meaning is spoken myth” – that
the significant ‘meanings’ we experience in life can be
verbalized, that we can actually describe “how it feels.”
People should expect
to misunderstand others, and expect to be misunderstood by
others; this “communicator beware” attitude will help avoid
problems of presumed understanding due to an over-reliance on
what the words ‘mean.’
What words, or events, or other
symbols ‘mean’ is a function of how each individual interacts
with and responds to the word or event; each ‘meaning’ carries
with it an aspect of “to-me-ness” determined by the
The ‘facts’ of a news report may be
different from the reporter’s own interpretation of what the
Avoid leaping to conclusions, or rushing
to judgment, about what another person ‘means’ by his/her
statements, actions, attitudes, etc.
meanings that we give or the judgments we make with a degree
of tentativeness and uncertainty. We cannot know ‘all’ about
another’s motivation or intent, just as reporters cannot
convey ‘all’ the details of a story in a limited amount of
How Myth Continues
like someone telling a group of Medieval Europeans that there
is no such thing as the Earth being in the centre of the
universe with everything revolving around us. These words
would just ricochet off their minds as they prepared to burn
the heretic (Bruno) at the stake.
Fortunately we don’t
burn people at the stake anymore. But just as with the
Christian faith, stating ideas contrary to the popular belief
just elicits a greater entrenchment in the myth.
And the “heretic” had
better be prepared to take the heat. In this way the power of
myth is protected and reinforced.
It doesn’t matter how obvious the facts. The focus of
attention will always be on the most attractive image, the
image that satisfies the wants and needs of the believer. Not
correct symbolism to fact but correct symbolism to desire.
Climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers and other groups who
don’t have science on their side bandy about phrases that
wouldn’t be out of place in a college class on deconstruction
– phrases such as “many sides,” “different perspectives”,
“uncertainties”, “multiple ways of knowing”. As demonstrated
in the 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, right wing think tanks,
the fossil fuel industry, and other corporate interests that
are intent on discrediting science have employed a strategy
first used by the tobacco industry to try to confuse the
public about the dangers of smoking. “Doubt is our product,”
read an infamous memo written by a tobacco industry executive
in 1969, “since it is the best means of competing with the
‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general
Some Defence Mechanisms that Perpetuate our Myths
Defence mechanisms are a part of our everyday life.
Everyone engages in
some form of self-deception at least some of the time.
1. Denial. When you use denial, you simply refuse to
accept the truth or reality of a fact or experience. "No, I'm
just a social smoker,"; similarly people can apply this to any
bad habit they wish to distance themselves from including
excessive alcohol , compulsive shopping or gambling, and the
like. In the long
run, however, denial can prevent you from incorporating
unpleasant information about yourself and your life and have
potentially destructive consequences.
This involves simply forgetting something bad. You
might forget an unpleasant experience, in the past, such as a
car accident at which you were found to be at fault.
Repression, like denial, can be temporarily beneficial,
particularly if you've forgotten something bad that happened
to you, but as with denial, if you don't come to grips with
the experience it may come back to haunt you.
So you forget the information that discredits the myth
Here you transfer your original feelings that would get
you in trouble (usually anger) away from the person who is the
target of your rage to a more hapless and harmless victim. For
example: You've had a very unpleasant interaction with your
boss or teacher, but you can't show your anger toward him or
her. Instead, you come home and, "kick the cat" (or dog).
Any time you shift your true feelings from their
original, anxiety-provoking, source to one you perceive as
less likely to cause you harm, you're quite possibly using
Unfortunately, displacement may protect
you from being fired or failing a class, but it won't protect
your hand if you decide to displace your anger from the true
target to a window or wall.
So the falsifying data about the myth gets displaced
onto something else.
You may have the assumption that to recognize a
particular quality in yourself would cause you emotional pain
/ negative emotion.
For instance, you feel that an outfit you spent too
much on looks really bad on you. Wearing this outfit, you walk
into the room where your friends stare at you perhaps for a
moment too long (in your opinion). They say nothing and do
nothing that in reality could be construed as critical.
However, your insecurity about the outfit (and distress at
having paid too much for it) leads you to "project" your
feelings onto your friends, and you blurt out "Why are you
looking at me like that? Don't you like this outfit?" See how
silly that was? In a less silly case, you might project your
more general feelings of guilt or insecurity onto friends or
people who don't know and love you with all your projected
flaws. Let's say
you're worried that you're not really very smart. You make a
dumb mistake that no one says anything about at all, and you
accuse others of saying that you're dumb, inferior, or just
plain stupid. The point is that no one said anything that in
reality could be construed as critical. You are "projecting"
your insecurities onto others and in the process, alienating
them (and probably looking somewhat foolish as well).
So the errors relating to the myth are not yours but
the other person’s errors.
Here, you think away an emotion or reaction that you
don't enjoy feeling. For instance, rather than confront the
intense distress and rejection you feel after your friend
tells you information that would disprove a myth you hold
dear, you conduct a detailed analysis of how much benefit you
can get from the myth. Although you aren't denying the
information, you're not thinking about its negative
consequences and just keep looking at the positive ones.
6. Rationalization. When you rationalize something, you
try to explain it away.
It involves dealing with a piece of bad behaviour on
your part, like foolishly believing in the false myth, rather
than converting the negative emotion into a more neutral set
of thoughts by changing your theory. People often use
rationalization to shore up their insecurities or remorse
after doing something they regret such as an "oops" moment.
It's easier to blame someone else than to take the heat
yourself, particularly if you would otherwise feel shame or
they blame the person who challenged their myth.
that help keep myths alive:
Assimilation bias: Viewing the world through schema coloured
bias: We seek only confirmation data ignoring contrary
We interpret an attack on the belief as an
attack on ourselves.
4. Hindsight bias: predicting something after the event so as to
support the myth.
5. Availability bias, distorts our views based on what we
remember most easily.
heuristics like the representative bias which saves our
but limits the amount of information we look at
to support an idea.
See Colin Campbell - "The 'Myth' of General Semantics":
Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythology of the First City States
“Metaphors we live by” By Lakoff
To David for his research and thoughtfulness in compiling
material for today's event!
* And to all the others
who contributed their wisdom and experience to our