« Philosophize This!

Episode #117 ... Structuralism and Mythology pt. 2

2018-03-18 | 🔗

Today we continue to talk about the projects of Structuralism. 

Support the show on Patreon!

www.philosophizethis.org for additional content.

Thank you for wanting to know more today than you did yesterday. :)

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello: everyone, I'm Stephen West. This is philosophizing, this patron dot com, slash lots of eyes this. If that's kind of thing you like to do lots of ice to start work for more information about a lot of different things, not the least of which is the Amazon banner, so mysterious that banner attention. This is an important bulletin. This is the second episode of the PA cast that was released today. It is crucial that you go back and listen to the one before this before you listen to this one. These two episodes are so bound. They belong together, spiritually in the only way to be fair to them is to listen to them together. Thank you in advance. I hope you'll love the show today. So so, just to start, I want to rephrase something we talked about a couple episodes ago cuz. I think it's really important to frame our discussion here today. There are practically an infinite number of possible combinations of words that you can cobble together and read. But it wouldn't be until those words adhere to a very specific underlying structure that they would work or have any
once a meaning to anyone at all. Language has a structure and we can observe the structure. We can study the structure and, if you're, a structural linguist, you may be able to predict how that structure is going to change in the future. Well to many of these thinkers that follow up on the methods per, rose by Fernandes, a sir. What it seems like to them is that culture has a specific underlying structure as well and one bars use a semiotics to study mass media and get to this mythology that lies underneath the surface level. This is one of the first attempts to gain access to that underlying structure of culture, so that we can observe it so that we can study it and yes, looking at culture almost in a new scientific sort of way to try to be able to predict cultural changes that will occur in the future before they actually happen by the way, if any of this mythology business scene. A little conspiratorial to you consider the fact that practically everyone listen to this knows exactly how it feels to engage in this process. Most people these days are media practitioners, are in the business of promoting their own personal mythology.
We just do it on a slightly different form of media. The bars is talking about. We do it on social media, not even if you don't, you can at least relate to how the average person's Facebook or Instagram looks right. Someones facebook page is not a total, an accurate representation of who they are It becomes sort of like a museum dedicated to the person they want, other people to think they are of which they are the sole curator. Think about all the mythology. That's present there they'll post a picture of themselves smiling on top of a mountain. They just hiked right after posting a picture of the meeting, some like avocado toast on a park bench right before I picture them board, the plane, the caption reads: hey guys, just boarding the plane will be able to respond for a few hours. Talk to you, then the point is these pictures were chosen because they wanted to deliver a surface level denotation of what's actually going on in the pictures they were chosen.
They promote a very specific narrative. They want to promote, maybe it's it, but I'm the kind of person that gets on planes and travels around to a lot of interesting places. Look at my life, maybe it's on the kind of person that eats avocado toast the foods I eat are trendy, healthy. Yet surprisingly, portable head, as you can see, I'm at the park, so I'm not the kind of person that squanders that portability of my avocado toast, who am I you can tell by looking at my pay, you personal see sometimes in public, the sun glistening off of their perfectly clear skin, a beautiful white smile as he sat on a park bench enjoying not only this moment that we're in butter avocado toast as well. That's the kind of person. I am it's funny, some of the snapped, a random picture. I happen to be here at the park of all places no well. This is just one example of it, no matter what mythological well, you're weaving for people on social media. The reality is, your actual life is far more complex than the store. You tell the people on social media you're. Not always
There are countless things going on in your life that you would never include on there and here's. The point you can imagine if someone you didn't know just took the store, you told about yourself on social media as a complete picture of what it is to be you. The only thing they'd really have is a very narrow picture of a mythology that you've produced. I mean you certainly would say this person's understanding of who you are at your deepest level. Well, so, too, with mythology the world that media produces just imagine the universe had a facebook page, your understanding of it would be tantamount to one of the stories people tell about themselves on their individual facebook page to an early structuralist. Your own individual worldview is not a deep understanding of the universe. Again, it's an expression of a cultural norm. It is as much an expression of a cultural norm as a handshake is they may be wondering if we can observe and study these cultural structures when you're observing them? What exactly do they look like? Well, that's what about the last time
have this episode is going to be about what I think is crucial for us to do before we get. There, though, is to talk about a few more examples of bars using semi otics to breakdown specific examples of this mythology, that's rooted in media. Each of these examples doing a little bit more of these structures that underlie culture and each of them. When we look at the tactics used to deliver this mythology, these example can help us understand how these messages are the the people in ways that you wouldn't realize it was being delivered to you unless, if you were deliberately looking for it, we talked about soap and how we organize the things in our life in terms of a constant fight between clean versus dirty, we talked about professional wrestling and how messages of justice can be a part of the fabric that holds society together, sometimes to the detriment of society. One thing any good, mythological work is going to have our people that have some sort of exalted status in the eyes of the public people that act either as examples for the average person to look up to or examples of what people should avoid doing, because look at what happened to this personal mythology. That did that these figures could take the form of
demigods, epic warriors fallen angels, but in our mythology we give the status to people to possess. The strange thing we call celebrity bars would say that there's a mythology, that's constantly being delivered to you in media, that these people we call celebrities, are not like you there better than you are, and this may this often leads people when navigating their personal life to exalt some celebrity onto a pedestal and then look up to them as an exam apple to emulate. Oftentimes leading the average person extreme reverence for their opinions on things that most of the time, the celebrities really completely unqualified to talk about in the first place, but none the less. This is undeniable feeling that this person is just different from you, they're they're, better than you are. We have to listen to them. What does all that come from bars? My point to something like when, when TMZ runs a photo spread of
likely in order to Capreol walking on the street eating a hot dog. Why do they do that? Well, as you can see here, we got Leonardo Di Caprio, walking down the streets of Manhattan and join a hot dog on a Sunday afternoon. What's eating Gilbert grape, I don't know Janice, but his brother eating a hotdog. I can tell you that much now think of all the signs that are being delivered there to people. The denotation of these pictures just be Leonardo Dicaprio walking down the street eating a hotdog, the con, station somebody might take away from that, could be a look. Leonardo Dicaprio just a regular guy. Like me, look he's wearing a Dodgers hat I to wear a dodgers hat. I too have found myself on occasion walking down the street eating a hot talk. That's so cool he's, just a regular guy, but bars would say the mythology, the story that's being told people at a deeper level there is that it is a newsworthy event when Leonardo decap decides to walk down the street eating a hotdog. The very fact that the news of the day for you is it LEO's
in a hot dog like a normal person, deifies him and draws attention to the fact that he's not just a normal person. This is an interesting type of this mythology and it's a good example of how flexible and hard to spot it can be. If you aren't specifically looking for A collection of signs can seem to be delivering one message on the surface when the mythology connected to those signs is actually implying the exact opposite of that message. Now this type of mythology affects is far more influential on people's lives in LEO in a hotdog one example of when this type of mythology is often used as when people are running for president, because think of all the entry that surrounds a presidential election cycle with the sole purpose to sign Tanis Lee delivered to people the message that this person running for president is just like you, but they're. Also, nothing like you at all. The candidate, make sure they know exactly which crowd there speaking too, so that they can dress like you, they'll play connections they have to your career or to your geographic area. So it's like you both come from the same place
look in the eye and they'll tell you that your family matters to them and that you two are the same kind of people, because we share a common vision for the direction the country should be headed in, but there's also a sense in which this whole display that's taking place. Them standing at a podium speaking to a crowd in a very artificial voice. People, waving signs with their name in big, bold letters. They say things in a way that slows down at the end extension weight so that they can get applause, there's a sense in which they want you to feel like this person is nothing like you that this isn't just ordinary person in front of you. This person is better than you. This person is presidential whatever that means other words. This is somebody to be exalted with within our culture and looked up to many early structureless having figures within society that we exalt in this way is part of the recipe for the way we structure culture. That makes it work now bars is doing his work and post world war. To France. So many of the specific collections of signs that he analyzes have to do with the political climate of that particular time in french history. One of the most
Famous examples of his analysis is when takes a symbiotic approach to understanding the cover of a magazine, called Paris match. The cover of this issue in particular, depicted a black soldier, dressed in a french military, uniform standing at attention and saluting the denotation there is of a black soldier saluting the content, and someone might draw from that range- is considerably, but the deeper mythology that bars claims is being stated here. He works But when he sees the magazine for the first time in the barbershop quote, so I'm at the barbers and a copy of Paris matches offered to me and on the cover, a young black soldier in a french uniform, is saluting with his eyes, uplifted, probably fixed on a fold of the tricolor aw. All this is the meaning of the picture, but whether naively or not, I see very well. It signifies to me that France is a great empire that all her sons without any color discrimination faithfully serve under the flag, and that there is no better answer to the detractors of an alleged
colonialism than the zeal shown by this black soldier in serving his so called oppressors. In quote what he's talking about is after world war, two ends the french Colonial Empire, still a thing: mass protest by the colonized populations and the violence. France to use to keep them under control had a lot of people calling into question whether they were doing. Was ethical Barr says that what they're doing when they run a cover of a magazine like that is to present a mythology of it. Look here, citizen of one of our african colonies, dressed up in a french military, uniform proudly saluting the french flag, people complaining about the colonies. Can you see what we are? We are friends. A sprawling powerful empire made even more powerful by this multicultural military force that all probably serve the cause of french imperialism. All these other cult can we colonize happily saluting the ultimate symbol of frenchness, the french flag. This whole display to barbs a mythology delivered to the viewer that takes for
imperialism and the agony of the colonized people sweeps it under the rug and turns it into just the way the world is bars would say that the cover of this magazine is a collection of signs signifiers at to notice, surface meeting, but also signifies that deliver second level messages to people like the concept of French Nous, the goodness of french Imperialism, the presence of multiculturalism. They're, being a unified population with equal rights and with the viewer. This magazine received this mythology when coming up with the way that they view the world. The oftentimes accept these things, not as history, but as nature or just the way the world is Barr, says quote for the myth reader. I either believer of math the
outcome is quite different, different than if you were to use semi to examine the same magazine cover. He means that everything happens as if the picture naturally conjured up the concept as if the signifier gave a foundation to the signified. The myth exists from the precise moment when friendship MP reality achieves the natural state and quote to bars. This is the whole point of Knology to turn history into nature, to turn things that are arbitrary and historical into the truth, with a capital t to turn politically motivated into just the way that things are to take an equal, never a story about a guy named Zeus that sits up in the clouds, shooting lightning bolts of people and make that the way that you see reality now, here's an extremely important point. This could be crucial in understanding the problems post. Structuralists are gonna, have with mythology that any mythology- that's politically motivated in the sense that it's trying to change the world and
Some way can't help but smuggle in with that mythology. An entire set of values the people receiving the mythology often mistakenly interpret, as fact were again just the way the world is and remember when he politically motivated bars is not just talking about a narrow conception of that concept in the form of liberal versus conservative, but about anything that seeks to change something about the way the world is. Our says that quote. Any semiological system is a system of values. Now the myth consumer takes the signification for a system of facts, myth is red as a factual system. Where is it is but a semi, illogical system, in quote barn, says that often times when these values are smuggled in mythology can get otherwise perfectly decent people to participate in systems or behaviors that only a monster would participate in if they were self aware of how much methyl baggage they carry around with them. Building on the example of french colonialism bars might talk about the mythology connected to wine in french culture during his time.
Wine is seen as this ultimate sort of panacea of a drink, wine is what he calls a social equalizer No matter what economic class you're from we're all friends when were drinking wine, wine makes them. That's really shy, come out of their shell and be more talkative, while at the same time, the person that talks a little bit too much. Calms them down and let him relax when it's winter time. Wine is seen as the thing that you drink and it warms you up. During the summer, wine is associated with sitting in the shade and sipping a nice cold glass. There's not much talk about the negative effects of one, but can People are killed each year in the families that destroys the normalization of purposely. Putting a neurotoxin in your body know all that death is overlooked and wine is seen as something that you do when you want to feel more alive when you want to live a little right,
But these are the only negative side effects of wine that the mythology allows. People to overlook bar says quote: the mythology of wine can in fact help us to understand the usual ambiguity of our daily life, for it is true that wine is a good and fine substance, but it is no less true that its production is deeply involved and french capitals. Whether it is that of the private distillers or that of the big settlers in Algeria who impose on the Muslims on the very land of which they have been dispossessed, a crop of which they have no need, while they lack even bread. There are thus very engaging myths which are, however, not innocent, and the characteristic of our current alienation is precisely that wine cannot be a blissful substance, except if we wrongfully forget that it is also the product of an expropriation. End quote to bars. The mythology connected to wind that gets delivered to people through media creates their subjectivity and with it, the ideas they have about
what it is to be a french person and what your relationship with alcohol is going to look like, and this mythology allows people to engage in a behavior that has what bars sees as horribly unethical practices associated with it, and they can use this mythology to transform what would otherwise be ethically wrong into just an innocent expression of their frenchness. I'm french! We drink a lot of wine. Don't heard. This is just how we are. This is just the way the world is to in this to modern day bars at this point is career, would see the exact same thing in many of the ways people look at what it is to be an American, for example, of drinking wine is an integral part of what it is to be french to be an American is in small way. I mean just to give an example to be somebody every once in awhile. Has a burger July comes around. What do you? Do you get out? The barbecue invite the family over grill up some burgers and eat. One with the family knows going to judge you for that it's just the way the world is. This is what it is to be. An american bars would say our subjectivity and the ideas we have about what it is to be in a
being engaged in. That mythology makes it possible for otherwise perfectly decent able to not even consider, for example, where that meat came from which, just from a statistical perspective, probably from a factory farming situation, that most people participating in the activity of eating a burger wouldn't want to patronize or endorse ness early, but but nonetheless the mythology of what it is to be an American kept them doing it without them, even realizing they were hurting anyone. What other things they've been given to us historically about what it is to be. An American are hurting people around you unbeknownst to you same Shin to whatever country you're listening to this from the same dynamic applies to things that extend beyond nationality, though, say a big part of your subjectivity or how you view yourself requires that you dress in a very specific style of clothes, may be willing to shoes whatever it is so you're a surfer, dude part of them g of being a surfer. Dude is wearing some totally bodacious surfer, dude, close bro and dude. What? If, when you go down
the store to buy your surfer, close bro? What if they were made by people that work in abject durable conditions in a third world country, but if you're, otherwise somebody that would be absolutely horrified to contribute to that process? But the mythology received your whole life through media. The makes up what it is to be you as I do you think about wearing those clothes, is just what it is to be a surfer dude again, this is just the way the world is yes. So now that we've talked about several examples of it, hopefully it's a little easier to see the similarities between the mythology of ancient Greece and the mythology we still use in today's world. Maybe a good visual to use when thinking about Structuralism is to think of Plato's cave number Plato's cave. There are the shadows on the cave wall. There are the puppets behind the people casting the shadows. And then there are the actual human beings that watch the shadows on the cave wall and mistaken for reality. Well, it's you Is that visible to think of structuralism? Think of the shadows on the cave? Well as the distorted, narrow, worldview off,
and given to someone by mass media and the culture they live in this world view that structures reality for them into something comprehensible it let's them navigate existence and they often mistakenly think of the shadows as just the way the world is think of the puppets. The cast the shadows as being the unmade gated reality that we don't have access to well what lies in between those two things: what makes the world do you? The cave wall, that people often mistake is unmediated reality even possible ball to a structuralist? The answer is these structure is that human beings used to derive meaning from that unmediated reality: the structure of language, the structure, economics, the structure of culture and all its parts to a structural anthropologist by the name of Cloud Levy Strauss. He would say that that's absolutely fitting in this sample that human beings are the only things in between unmediated reality and their world views on the cave wall, see to levy Strauss, human culture, human behavior, your personal views on how you fit into all this. All this is really just a reflection of the underlying structures of the human mind
way that interfaces with reality and the structure. This is the human mind, are ultimately what is dictating everything about the way we arrive at these world views and Levy Strauss starts study these structures within culture. What he notices is the way that the human mind seems to make sense of everything is by thinking of things in the world in terms of dichotomy's some structure. This will call these dichotomy's nebular oppositions, but by far the most common term used to describe these is that the human mind and make sense of reality in terms of binary oppositions, some a simple examples of these binary oppositions. Are things like up versus down left versus right, inverses out on versus off thousands of binary oppositions that are the way the human mind makes sense of an structures. The meaning of this reality that were in remember when we talked about structure of language and how serve thought that words only have mean in terms of the relationship to the other words within a given language, the example we
this was at the word. Cow only has meaning, insofar as it is not the word cat or dog or horse well, a similar sort of pattern, starts to emerge for cloud Levy Strauss when he looks at the structure of culture. When we look at Are these binary oppositions in particular, say up versus down the only way the concept of up has any meaning to us is in the relationship, but been up, and it's binary opposite down, that's where the meaning lies. It's in the relationship, between the terms in these binary oppositions now, as you can imagine, not every binary. Opposition is as basic as up versus down because as humans continue to create a given call, and they set up more and more of these binary parameters that allow for societies to function well, together, as we do that these binary oppositions start to get a little more abstract as there used to make sense of more abstract things, for example, clean versus dirty, like the myth already embedded into the way we look at soap just versus unjust.
Like the way we look at our society that things like professional wrestling in its mythology effect. Now. These examples start to seem a little more complicated than something like up versus down, there's a sense in which there's probably more conversation that needs to be had about whether things are clean versus dirty, then by just looking at it strictly in binary terms, for example, let's say it just got done, cleaning your kitchen table, you just got done wiping it down and two seconds later, the first microscopic skin sale, flakes off of your arm and hits the table or the first speck of dust gets on the table. Is that table no longer clean? Where exactly do we make that distinction between clean verse? is dirty. What it starts to seem like is that thinking about things strictly in a binary way ignores the existence of an entire spectrum of nuanced. It lies within these two binary polls
yet. It is undeniably useful to us when navigating our lives or structuring our culture, to be able to think of things like our kitchen table or the sidewalks of our city streets or the operating room of a hospital in binary terms like clean versus dirty. This is why these structures that underly culture often spoken about as narrow, distorted or merely humanistic, because well it's impossible to do entirely. Try to remove yourself from this human scaffolding. We say up on planet earth for a sick and try to apply so these binary oppositions to the universe as a whole leaf planet, earth goat
million galaxies in that direction and look around you which way is up and which way is down. Well, who am I to say what up and down is in relation to the entire universe? I can't just point up what, if I flipped around, is there even such a thing as up or down on the level of the universe will have a clean versus dirty? Look to your left. You see that galaxy in the distance. Would you consider that Galaxy a clean place or a dirty place? In other words, what it can start to seem like? Is it the terms clean and dirty are narrow parameters that we created as a culture that undeniably help us, navigate our lives and allow society to function well, but there's a sense in which the terms clean and dirty and many of these binary oppositions for that matter, don't even exist outside of this narrow human scaffolding that we set up that allows us to
sense of things now, when these binary oppositions start to get really tricky to maintain, is when we use them to make meaningful structures that potentially have huge negative effects on people's lives, for example the binary opposition between sane and insane who or what exactly determines at what point somebody becomes insane. You could think of this kind of like that just on the kitchen table at what point does it become dirty? Well, at what point do we confer all the negative effects on to someone that come along with being someone who is insane within a society? What about when we talk about things in terms of being free versus caged or free versus unfree? Well, anyone who's listened to the episodes of this show on existentialism knows It's nowhere near as simple as just thinking about freedom and strictly binary terms like that freedom is always freedom within a cage. It just comes down to How big your cages, and whether you're satisfied by it, you can imagine hype medically if someone used mythology to get people within a culture to ignore
or the nuances there and think of their freedom strictly in binary terms, they might be able to the majority of the population to live in a pretty small cage without them, even realizing it, because freedom is tied into what it is to be a member of that society. Cloud Levy Strauss, moved to Brazil and teaches at the University of Sao Paulo from nineteen, thirty, four to nineteen, thirty nine. While he's there, he becomes fascinated with pre modern cultures and travels deep into Brazil to make contact with remote tribes that are completely disconnected from the modern world. What he finds is that when you apply structural anthropology toward starting the culture of these remote tribes, cultures, that most of the people of his time would look at and see, as quote and. Primitive or less advanced than the culture of modern France, where he comes from. What he finds is that there are actually a lot of similarities between the way sees remote tribe structure, their culture and modern France. Structures are culture where all cultures for that matter. The thing is, if you just look at that
cultures on a surface level, this doesn't seem to be the case, but he gives the example of a pack of cards all separated by suit ace to king four columns. What he says is that when you look at cultures side by side, they can we would be massively different from each other. Just like the cards. A spade doesn't look anything like a heart, but when you pay attention to the structures of the culture, you can see the same fingerprints left behind by the way the human mind interfaces with reality. No matter what part of the world you're from you can see. The ace of hearts aligned with the ace of clubs, you can see the seven of spades aligned with the seven of diamonds. What levy Strauss fines in these remote uncontacted tribes is the very same. Method we use of using binary oppositions to structure the meaning of the things in their culture and that no matter how
call superior. The modern, advanced cultures would like to think they are cultures that, like to think of themselves in terms of advanced versus primitive, modern versus ancient good versus bad. What it starts to look like is that cultures are not good or bad in the way we've traditionally tried to describe them. They only differ when it comes to the specific rituals they engage in that they've connected to the underlying structure of culture and here's. The thing will really get you thinking. These rituals are arbitrary. One culture may shake your hand as a respectful greeting another may bow, but these two reachable serve the same social function within those cultures. Think about that these rituals interact with culture and what seems to be the exact same way: signs interact with the structure of language. We're doing this same thing. In both places, this discovery would have massive effects on the way people started. Thinking about the way we structure, these modern, advanced cultures. Next episode we're going to start talking about it. Thank you for listening.
Transcript generated on 2019-10-13.