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September 21st, 2005


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10:51 am - The good end happily and the bad unhappily: that's what fiction means
I read the Snopes lj feed, which debunks (occasionally confirms) urban legends. There have been a lot of lying emails circulated lately about the Katrina victims. I have also seen web material on these lines. These emails are about how degraded and ungrateful the recipients of aid are, how they are to blame for their own misfortune, and how they don't deserve help. I'm not going to dignify any of these with quotes, but you can see examples on Snopes (link above: 'rest stop' and 'so I volunteered' are examples - be warned they are repulsive).

In my opinion urban legends gain wide circulation when they meet emotional needs. But what needs do these meet? I think there are three, and I must add that I am not making a point here about American people, but about people.

- simple racism

- simple selfishness: finding a rationale for not helping without pesky twinges of conscience

- a wish to see the world as reflecting rational and moral order

That third one is the most interesting to me. I've hung out with New Age types, and they have something in common with Calvinist protestants. They think that your destiny reflects your worth. Life as a system of rewards and punishments for choices. Lots of films and books express this idea, and it certainly satisfies me to see the baddy get his comeuppance.

The notion does have a true side of course - a clever or determined person can gain advantages over the simpler and more relaxed. This isn't a moral consideration though.

'Moral order' is a popular idea with groups of people who are in the ascendance. During the British Empire some Victorians thought the English were morally and intellectually superior to other countries. I think, probably for similar reasons, it has more credibility in the US at the moment than in any other society. It is surprising to see it expressed so widely and unselfconsciously.

(16 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:September 21st, 2005 10:35 am (UTC)
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Which is why I love the book of Job: it refutes those silly ideas.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 21st, 2005 01:02 pm (UTC)
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The book by Karen Armstrong on the history of theology which I read recently was interesting in discussing the various ways in which Christian theology has approached this issue.
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From:temeres
Date:September 21st, 2005 05:33 pm (UTC)
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Is that The Battle for God? I bought that for a train journey some years back and never got around to opening it. It's stuck up on a shelf somewhere. Any good?
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From:communicator
Date:September 21st, 2005 08:02 pm (UTC)
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It's called 'A History of God'. It's a long, rather detailed history of Jewish, Christian and Moslem ideas. I'd be interested in what 'Battle for God' is like if you ever get round to opening it.
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From:temeres
Date:September 22nd, 2005 05:43 am (UTC)
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From the back cover blurb, it's a study of fundamentalism, from the 16th Century onwards.
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From:hafren
Date:September 21st, 2005 11:16 am (UTC)
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What worries me more sometimes is why newspapers first spread stories they don't know for sure are true and then fail to retract them when they do know. For the de Menezes stuff they relied on the police, to be fair, but there are other times a story comes out and only ages later do you find it wasn't so, and papers have simply kept quiet about new facts because they didn't fit the editor's world view. And so many people will always go on believing the first thing they read, if it suits their book. Who was it said a lie could be halfway round the world before the truth got its boots on?
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From:communicator
Date:September 21st, 2005 12:02 pm (UTC)
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An illuminating example was the amnesia-man, because it turns out most of the stories about him weren't true (example - he didn't and couldn't play the piano)
[User Picture]
From:temeres
Date:September 21st, 2005 05:35 pm (UTC)
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Or the story in the Sun about immigrants eating swans. Total fabrication, apparently.
[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:September 21st, 2005 12:28 pm (UTC)

Print the Legend

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Maybe Jane Austen was wrong--it isn't women who have the delicious power of reflecting men twice normal size--it's newspapers and other media? I mean, a lot of what a news medium sells to its advertisers is being able to confirm the reader's or viewer's belief in himself as a knowledgeable, right- (or left-) minded person. The trend is always toward the Heroic Doggie Human Interest Story or the soundbite, not the complex examination of pesky facts.

And, really, fans would get so hysterical about things like who Harry dates if a lot of 'em didn't believe in moral order at least in their favorite media property.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 21st, 2005 01:14 pm (UTC)

Re: Print the Legend

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I think that's an interesting comparison with the Harry Potter fascists. I'm not sure why but it feels quite similar. Perhaps it's that in both cases, when reality and simplistic ideas clash, this is seen as a fault of reality? A fault which can be corrected by righteous indignation?
[User Picture]
From:executrix
Date:September 21st, 2005 01:52 pm (UTC)

Re: Print the Legend

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Whether or not you believe Blake was dealing in Simple-Minded Certainties, there's always a market for them.
[User Picture]
From:hafren
Date:September 21st, 2005 03:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Print the Legend

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It baffles me when people care whom Harry dates, but then I think he's two-dimensional. I do, every time I read Adam Bede (a book I love by an author I mostly love), feel angered and saddened, every time, by the end, in which Dinah renounces her career as a preacher to get married, stay home and cook the dinner. This when she could have wed Seth, who was prepared to support her preaching. I don't find this ending unbelievable by any means - Dinah doesn't fancy Seth and does fancy Adam, and Eliot is always pointing out, quite rightly, that people inconveniently don't fancy the most suitable mates. But it wasn't the only thing that could have happened to Dinah and it wasn't the thing I wanted to happen to her.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 21st, 2005 08:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Print the Legend

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Yep, I know that feeling. I even know what you mean about Dinah. But you don't go around saying you wish George Elliott had died before she wrote Adam Bede. Hence you are not a fascist (phew, aren't you relieved :-)
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From:hafren
Date:September 21st, 2005 10:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Print the Legend

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(phew, aren't you relieved :-)

(terrible confession: when there wa a chance of PD being involved in the B7 remake idea I did, sort of, hope he might die before it happened. Because if he were in it, it would be harder to disregard as canon.)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 21st, 2005 10:52 pm (UTC)
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If we blame other people for finding themselves in circumstances beyond their control, it makes us think that we're safe

I think that's it, exactly. 'If I am good I won't get hurt'. The alternative, too horrible to think of.
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From:communicator
Date:September 21st, 2005 11:12 pm (UTC)
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Just read a post on exactly this subject in another blog here

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