I just finished Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Great book! I especially like the notion of myths. Harari argues that a good chunk of what constitutes society are myths. He defines a myth as a imaginary construct that often (but not necessarily) helps humans co-operate and repeatedly refer to different kinds of myths throughout the book. The most easily understood, and perhaps the most successful myth is money. The material worth of an object is completely dependent on how we subjectively put value on that product. Money is used to translate the worth between different products/commodities et cetera. It lubricates trade between people by allowing people to use an 'objective' product to trade for goods. You don't need to want money specifically to use it. Your end goal might be an apple, but you make hammers for a living. So instead of trading hammers you trade money. You all know how money works.
Some of these things were realisations I've had before. The fact that laws wouldn't exist without something resembling a human mind is not that hard to grasp. But what was interesting to me was how enormously many myths build our society. He mentions limited liability corporations as an example. Perfectly reasonable when you think about it, but not something I've considered before. A limited liability corporation is built purely on imagination. No one is such a corporation. Not the workers, not the CEO, not the shareholders. Before corporations a real person went bankrupt when a company ran into the gutter, but that is skipped with corporations. And this has helped us co-operate further, and most likely started quite a few arguments too.
When you think of a brand, say Adidas or whatever, you have a mental picture of what constitues Adidas. You have real sense on what they do and perhaps some insight as to how they do it. But Adidas is nothing else than fiction. The products they make are real, the people who produce them are real. But the whole image you have of Adidas is fictional. Marketing people deciding how the image of the company should be, designers projecting a consistent aesthetic, famous people modelling their garments. A lot of things suggest Adidas is something. Something physical, a real entity that if you only thought about it for a while you'd figure it out. But not even Adolf Dassler himself is what constitues Adidas today. It's all vapor. The logo wouldn't mean anything to someone who didn't know about the fictional corporation that is Adidas.
Further on other myths are taken up: ideologies, religions, laws and so on. As you might begin to notice quite fundamental parts of our world are argued to be built on imagination. And why wouldn't they? If we talk about something, it sounds logical and favours us both, why wouldn't we do it? If we can both agree to something, we'll most likely do it. They have all helped us to co-operate firstly, and then often helped us kill eachother later. It was both very inspiring but also incited a bit of cynisism in me. If for example human rights are only imaginary, why bother? You know. Of course we should bother, because they help humankind live better lives, but when you think about all of these things which fundamentally have no real (as in not imaginary) foundation it gets to me a little. And this is why so many of the large myths in our society are argued as universal. It would be quite a scary thing if everyone collectively stopped believing in money, human rights, laws, morals all at once. Perhaps it would be the most complete kind of anarchy that could exist.
I guess it sort of melts down into a semi-nihilistic view of the world where nothing really matters but we should keep imagining things anyway because it helps us to get forward as a collective. And it's quite often extremly fun. Harari takes up a whole range of other things outside of myths, but you'll have to read that, as well as a more eloquent explanation of myths in the book. I don't know if my explanation is completely banal or interesting, but the book does a good job of getting you to think about this sort of stuff.