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Site Topics Index The Importance of Understanding Myth in Analyzing the War with Iraq Comment by Brandi Quiette

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, May 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

On Sunday, May 4, 2003, Brandi Quiette wrote:
Brandi Quiette
A Psychoanalytic Approach to War

May 4, 2003 Soc 395

Question 3

What's the importance of myth in all this? I would say that I think that the important myth in all this is that we are fighting the enemy because he is bad and evil. Maybe what can be said is that all this fighting is going on but, what are the real reasons we are destroying a country just to get to one person? We are not thinking about all the innocent lives we are taking, so it's not real in that sense. What we are doing is like something you see on movies. It's like what Bush is telling us isn't really true or valid. It seems as we are told only what they want us to hear, not reality. Who are they to filter out what and what not we should know? A myth is like keeping our attention away from what really going on.

On Monday, may 5, 2003, jeanne responded:

Thats one good way to look at it Brandi. To say that we are being distracted by a story, a fairy tale, myth in that sense. It's true that the media are telling us what certain powerful people with enough money to enforce their wishes want us to hear. The power may lie simply in the amount of money they are willing or not willing to spend on advertising, by which the media survive.

You give another explanation: "that we are fighting the enemy because he is bad and evil." We need to recognize that those are conclusionary terms and don't help us understand a lot. It may be so, that Hussein is bad and evil. But there are many others who are consorting and have consorted with him in the past. I'm not sure we can use bad and good as means of understanding the war, because both are so complex. Bad according to whom? Bad in what ways? Bad ends? or Bad means? Remember Merton's theory of deviance, which suggests that when good ends are inaccessible those who cannot get to them may be creative in finding bad means to get there. Do the "good" ends justify the "bad" means?

Some of the Afghans we liberated from the Taliban are now begging for US intervention to establish stability, order, and law. They are at the mercy of warlords. Is it good that we refuse to interfere? Is it bad? There are human interests on both sides of that equation, good and bad, and we need to listen in good faith for the complexities and begin to understand that there may in fact be no right answers.

Is it good that Bechtel Corporation can buy the rights to Bolivia's water, so that poor people in Bolivia have nothing to drink? Just read some of this week's topic. Is water a commodity to which money may entitle us over those who are thirsty? That doesn't mean that Bechtel is evil. I sometimes wonder if it doesn't mean that someone is evil, but invariably, we find others who support their actions and have genuine validity disagreements with our perception. There may be A RIGHT and A WRONG, but we have not been given the means of seeing past our own perspectives and interests. Our beliefs are socially constructed, and that affects what we believe, collectively.

There is a myth, a great myth, of good and evil. Satan and the fallen angels and Lilith, and all the other such stories in many, many religions. So, to the extent that you can recognize that some of what you see as dictating what you can and cannot know as part of this great myth of good and evil, then that should help you distance yourself a little from the affect, from the facticity, that comes of avenging the poor and down trodden by killing off evil. There are Iraqis on the other side of that myth who see Americans as the great axis of evil. Sometimes by getting a grasp on the great myth that underlies our thinking, we can rethink our position, in more complexity and with more humility, recognizing that we cannot "know" all things, including "good" and "evil" should they exist in some pure form somewhere.

One of the myths that Richard Koenigsberg refers to in A Psychoanalytic Approach to War
is that of the "the fantasy of the omnipotence of 'America.' " Dr. Koenigsberg points out that we lose sight of who Saddam Hussein is, and what precisely he has done, instead turning him into some great monster the defeat of whom will prove our omnipotence. That's the stuff of myth. And it tends to blind us to the complexities of reality. By treating Hussein as a great and terrible monster, we lose sight of the fact that he's just a man. And then we lose sight of the many complex forces that must be fought as the Arab world moves towards modernity, assuming, of course, that modernity is a place the Arab world would like to be. That's what I think Dr. Konigsberg means when he says: "He is fulfilling his fantasy through the vehicle of the United States of America. He is the subject or agent that has seduced the "other" to enact his myth."

In this sense, seeing the extent to which myth, like the existence of a Cinderella or a Satan, shapes many of our beliefs and decisions. Psychoanalysis is one discipline that aids in grasping the myth and its effects on our lives and our experiences. I'd settle for our simple understanding that interpersonal relations on all levels are interdependent with the infrastructure, including the myths to which we cling, That doesn't mean that the story of the myth never happens in real life. It probably does, somewhere, sometime. But that doesn't legitimize the myth as predictive of the way the world works. The world works in many complex ways. That's why postmoderns object so strongly to the acceptance of any metanarrative or grand myth. No story can describe all our stories across all our lived experiences, as the foundation of what really happens.

Brandi, e-mail me or check with me that this makes sense for you. jeanne