Sunday, January 29, 2017

Forgotten Republics, the Great Game, and Myth

With the headlines dominated by Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen, I was surprised to learn about some of the problems facing the central Asian Republics, or as I had previously known them: "The istans". These are the countries your social studies teacher glossed over in world history, the ones you can't spell or find on a map, one of the Borat countries. And yet these countries have endured as much or more injustice at the hands of colonial powers than most post-colonial states that we do know. The US, Russia, England, Persia, and The Mongolian Empire are among the powers who have had a hand in "The Great Game" trying to create spheres of influence in the Central Asian region.

Mr. Brewer's guest speaker really was speaking my language on Friday, specifically on the concepts of ethnicity and national identity. Especially how national identity develops in post-colonial states rife with ethnic gerrymandering and the remnants of a soviet police state for a government. I mean you have a region that has been passed around by empires like a cheese platter that finally gains autonomy and they can't even begin without establishing a national myth.

They chose to revere a figure who they did not know very much history about, however it served the function of the myth in uniting the country with nationalistic pride. Tamerlane wasn't even Uzbek he was turco-mongol, but why does this work? How can fabricating authority, precedent, and a positive connotation effectively give mythic power to people or concepts? And more frighteningly how does this happen in our own country?

In IB Lit we have been reading the Lords of Discipline which has given a very clear picture of the kind of mythologizing we have in the South in regards to the Civil War. Lee didn't even support slavery! We see the mythic qualities that Ronald Reagan has been imbibed with by the Republican Party. "I'm a Ronald Reagan conservative" you hear from the mouths of every elected official of the Republican Party as the idea of Reagan not even the man himself has taken on this powerful ethos appeal. As if the very uttering of his name bathes the speaker in folksy-ness and approval rating points. The same is true for the founding fathers, Lincoln, Kennedy, and any other leader who has transcended being a person and become a concept.

So what to do about this? Is it a natural human tendency? Is it a result of high religious authority in the country? Is it a problem exacerbated by mass media? Honestly I do not know but it is certainly a disservice to the person and to history when a man or woman becomes nothing but a concept to sling around for ethos.

1 comment:

  1. Great reflection. I, too, was perhaps most fascinated/troubled by the idea of creating a national myth, especially insofar as these myths tend to reinforce social and cultural boundaries, a sense of those who are included and those who are excluded.

    In my experience, and others', it seems that mass media moves us BACK toward orality, and away from literacy. Oral cultures are, by and large, more steeped in emotion/myth/immediacy and less inclined toward reason/logic/fact. We have seen the power of this trend in our most recent election cycle, where what a person says happened is granted as much authority as what actually happened.

    Bokonon says, “Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.” But untruths seem to be getting more and more harmful, eh?