Interpretive Myths- Part 1

In times past, there were common interpretations that were revealed as absolute truths, which have turned out not to be true. Things that it might be ridiculous to say now, but in their own respective times would have been completely normal… “The earth is flat.”… “Blacks are not actually humans.”… “It’s common that only white males who own property should vote.”… “Primitive societies used barter systems.”… “Pluto is the ninth planet.”… I could list more, but you get the point. There are scientific, historical or economic interpretive myths that people were so confident of. But I am not saying these don’t still exist, in fact they could exist in greater number now, than they ever did before.

WHAT do I mean? With standardized public education in most of the western world, there are things commonly taught as fact in textbooks or courses, that aren’t necessarily definitive truths. Here is just a few examples from my “ways of the World”, AP World History textbook. (If I had my AP United States history textbook from last year, I could pull some out of there as well.)

Page 12- “Around 200,000 to 250,000 years ago, in the grasslands of eastern and Southern Africa, Homo sapiens first emerged, following in the footsteps of many other hominid or human-like species before it.” The book doesn’t provide much evidence to support this conclusion, and it admits, “Time and climate have erased much of the record of these early people…” However, the first definitively known civilizations are from around 12,000 years ago and much of the evidence around this statement is debated. Arguably, it makes sense why. There is no written evidence, dated back near that far, and certainly no one was around to see exactly when early humans appeared. Could this statement be fact? Of course it could, but it is really only a theory…. and history is supposed to be a collection of known truths about civilizations, location, specific dates, and wars throughout recorded human history.

Page 891 (referring to capitalism)- “Its very success generated an individualistic materialism.” Men have always pursued vain pleasures, such acting is in no way unique to capitalism. In the very least, the conclusion that Capitalism’s very success generated an individualist materialism is debatable. Much more on this later….

Page 920- “History repeats itself most certainly only in its unexpectedness.” Could this be true? Yes, but again the point is simply to show how casually a statement like this can be slipped into our perception of reality.

Page 1032- “Economic globalization might have brought people together as never before, but it also divided them sharply.” This textbooks was clearly anti-globalization. They started out the section on globalization with a fact-filled paragraph about how globalization accompanied the most remarkable spurt of economic growth in world history, and ending that paragraph with, “in the past 50 years, poverty has fallen more than in the previous 500.” After many facts, that would seem to support globalization they then make the conclusion for us, “Far more problematic has been the instability of the emerging world economy and the distribution of wealth it has generated.” Well how could globalization bring people together as never before, and simultaneously divide them sharply? Why does globalization “accompany” a reduction in poverty, but “cause” economic inequality? What the textbook is presenting here is facts that support one argument, and then some facts to support the opposite argument, and opinions stated as fact. Much more on this later…

Page 1059- “Effective action on climate change, surely the most critical issue of the twenty-first century, has been difficult…”…. Wait a minute, what did this college level history textbook just state as a fact? Let me read that again, “climate change, surely the most critical issue of the twenty-first century” This is where the book showed it’s true colors. Is climate change really the most important issue of the twenty-first century? It could be, but it is not an objective statement that it “surely is the most critical”. Consider all the other issues that could be more important: What about gun-violence? What about avoiding nuclear-war? What about figuring out how society can function healthily in the age of social media?… and on, and on. Much more on this later as well…

And Why do i keep saying, “much more on this later”? Well, this is the first of a series of posts, i will be making on interpretive myths. Their are different myths in different societies, and in different segments of society. A Russian citizen typically has a different view of Vladimir Putin than American citizen. A North Korean would have a different lens to view the world through than a South Korean. Their can be a variety of different types of assumptions we make, but i will be discussing a number of economic falsehoods though explanation of Jay W. Richards book- “Money, Greed, and God- Why Capitalism is the solution to the problem and not the problem“. I Would not say this book presents the typical capitalist argument. In fact, the book presents a nuanced address to counter- arguments. The book exposes 8 myths, answering each one in detail. Even though this will focus on economic interpretations, it does not discount cultural, or historical, or any other type of interpretations.

The 8 myths and corresponding questions as outlined in Richards table of contents are:

1) Can’t we build a just society? Myth no. 1 The Nirvana Myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives)

2) What would Jesus Do? Myth no. 2: The Piety Myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than on the unintended consequences of our actions)

3) Doesn’t capitalism foster unfair competition? Myth no. 3: The zero-sum Game Myth (believing that trade requires a winner and a loser)

4) If I become rich won’t someone else become poor? Myth no. 4: The Materialist Myth (believing that wealth isn’t created, it’s simply transferred)

5) Isn’t Capitalism based on greed? Myth no. 5: The Greed Myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed)

6) Hasn’t Christianity always opposed Capitalism? Myth no. 6: The Usury myth (Believing that working with money is inherently immoral or that charging interest on money is always exploitative)

7) Doesn’t Capitalism lead to an ugly consumerist culture? Myth no. 7: The Artsy Myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments)

8) Are we going to use up all the resources? Myth no. 8: The freeze-frame myth (believing that things always stay the same- for example, assuming that population trends will continue indefinitely, or treating a current “natural resource” as if it will always be needed)

If any of Richards myths seem outrageous to you, I would definitely encourage you to read his book. I do hope to get to all of these arguments, but I will start with the ones that I believe are most prominent, practical and relatable.

What myths would you like me to focus on first? What are some common Myths that I might have left out in my analysis? Thank you for reading, I will be back with more!

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