Posted 28 января 2022, 11:21

Published 28 января 2022, 11:21

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Alexander Nevsky vs Zmey Gorynych. Why historical myths are doomed to failure

28 января 2022, 11:21
Political analyst Dmitry Nekrasov carefully read the scandalous draft "Fundamentals of State Policy for the Preservation and Strengthening of Traditional Russian Spiritual and Moral Values", compiled in the bowels of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation for presentation to Putin.

And here's what turned out.

Nekrasov writes about this:

“I wanted to mock and once again repeat the idea that the directed deformation of humanitarian knowledge in the 21st century is similar to the ban on steam engines in the 19th. However, I thought about it and unexpectedly came to the conclusion that the more tin the better. Let them “freeze” further!”

Why? The analyst explained this in detail in his essay on how the historical myths that are so stubbornly planted in Russia today are actually created:

“Most religions, among other things, explained the structure of the universe to believers. Once upon a time, religious beliefs and ideas about the world that were not connected with belief in the supernatural (what would later be called the natural sciences) generally coincided in the minds of the population. In archaic societies, knowledge about how many days God created the Earth, and who gave birth to whom, was perceived by the majority not only as something socially approved to believe, but also as quite reliable knowledge about how the world physically works.

Then the paths of these two systems of explanation of reality diverged. The natural sciences have found out that the world is definitely more than 7000 years old, the Earth revolves around the Sun and the list goes on. Religions with varying success and zeal opposed the spread of such knowledge, but then were forced to somehow adapt to them.

It seems to me that this plot is largely repeated in the interaction of the so-called. "secular religions" (communism, fascism, patriotism, etc.) with the humanities.

This plot could be described on the example of various kinds of leftist doctrines, which initially grew out of the development of sociology and economics, and then, turning into “secular religions”, came into conflict with them.

But I will focus on another example. His presentation will be built on the principle: (1) description of the situation; (2) why is this a problem; (3) why she decides herself.

1. Situation

Plus or minus in the 17-19 centuries in different European countries, a request arose on how to explain to the population why they constitute a single country / nation, because the answer “because you are all subjects of Sovereign X” ceased to satisfy many.

This request coincided in time with the rapid development of historical science. The expansion of literacy and the development of the press made the conclusions of the historians of that time known to the general population. There was also a boom in the writing of historical novels, which weaved the conclusions of historians of that time into the cultural fabric of well-known fictional stories.

As a result of a combination of these factors, a situation arose when the conclusions of the historical science of that time coincided with both socially approved national myths (which were being actively forged at that moment) and well-known artistic fictions. How once a socially approved religious myth coincided with ideas about the structure of the universe.

After that, historical science continued to develop, and national mythology and a set of artistic images bronzed, forming something similar to the story of the creation of the world in traditional religions.

The divergence between these two systems of ideas was constantly growing, not even as a result of the actions of political propagandists and unscrupulous historians, but simply due to the development of new technical methods such as radiocarbon analysis and paleogenetics, new archaeological finds, the availability of more sources from other countries for comparison, the development of linguistics and textology, analysis of act records, and much, much more. Thanks to all this, a somewhat different picture of events has opened up to conscientious modern historians than conscientious historians of the 19th century.

At least 2 factors prevent the reduction of this gap today:

A). Current Policy

It is unlikely that an objective view of the history of Karabakh will be in demand in modern Armenia or Azerbaijan. Both sides will consciously choose the myth. The distortion of the history of the Second World War in Russia, or the search for "ancient ukrov" in Ukraine stem from quite specific political tasks and processes. And this is not only a problem of the post-Soviet space. In any country there are people who will shout "hands off our heroes" to historians or even accuse the seekers of truth of lack of patriotism and work for historical enemies.

B). Inertia and resource limitations of the education system

Let's look from the standpoint of the school education system, to my favorite example of Alexander Nevsky.

Now schoolchildren are told that Alexander Nevsky defended his native land from invaders and won two great battles and cunningly lured heavy knights onto the ice, where they drowned. Clearly, understandably, the story about ice is easily remembered by children.

Now imagine that the children are first told the generally accepted version, and then they add that, according to modern data, Nevsky during his lifetime, most likely no one called Nevsky. What, with whom the Battle of the Neva was, is not entirely clear, and its scale is characterized by the fact that as many as 20 people of Novgorod died in it, some of them known by name. And that Alexander Yaroslavovich ended up on Lake Peipus not because he defended his homeland from the Order, but quite the contrary, because he went to rob the Chud. And the Battle of Peipsi is far from the most significant in scale of a series of similar ones, and that the German knights on Lake Peipus were also killed as many as 20 people and 6 were taken prisoner, the Chuds really flogged “without a number”, but who considers those Chukhons, they are in myth in general there is no place. And then most likely no dog-knights drowned under the ice (they may have drowned in the larger battle of Rakovor, but who remembers about it, against the backdrop of the successfully mythologized Chudskaya). And in general, there are very big doubts that the weight of an equestrian knight so significantly exceeded the weight of an equestrian warrior from Alexander's squad that this affected their chances of drowning. Etc.

And then, in order to avoid the development of schizophrenia in students, I would have to explain how the difference between the two versions was formed. About chroniclers mixing different events, about the politics of the Orthodox Church, which put fictional pathos of the struggle against the “Latins” into Nevsky’s biography, about Ivan the Terrible and Peter I, who used his image to justify claims to the Baltic states, about 19th-century historians who uncritically approached the analysis of sources , about the convenience of the image of Nevsky for propaganda and works of art around the two world wars with the Germans. Etc.

I will even keep silent about patriotic obscurantism and political order. It is technically more difficult to explain all of the above to students, and a complete mess will remain in my head. Yes, and there are not so many study hours for a teacher for such details. At school, it's much easier to talk about the hero, the battles with many thousands, and the cunning plan to drown the knights.

(I emphasize once again that such a problem is typical not only for Russia. And in France, modern historical knowledge about the consequences and some aspects of the French Revolution is very different from the ideas of most French people about it. And even individual ancient Roman figures are still perceived by an educated public and are depicted in films and books according to the canon that developed a couple of thousand years ago.Although it is obvious to modern historians that, for example, some "bad" emperors simply fought corruption, and therefore representatives of the nobility wrote badly about them, and some "good" ones were simply lucky with PR against the background of unobvious successes in government).

2. And what's the problem here?

What is the use of the average Frenchman learning that his childhood Fact A about Joan of Arc and Fact B about, say, Tiberius are downright false according to modern historians?

Let here and there frank fictions about the past underlie quite real modern conflicts or inadequate actions of individual radicals. However, there is Islamic terrorism in the world, and Islam is the basis of the ideology of a number of wild regimes. But we are not trying to universally ban Islam on this basis.

Well, let someone believe that his grandfathers defeated everyone, and someone that his people are descended directly from the Sumerians. Millions really believe that the water in the church turns into wine, and this does not prevent humanity from using the achievements of the natural sciences.

And did the mass belief in a flat earth for 7000 years interfere with the development of natural sciences? Not even the church as an organization, but precisely the mass belief of the inhabitants in religious myths? Obviously interfered. At least by the fact that many scientists, instead of doing science proper, spent their lives and energy fighting clerics, the fact that new concepts slowly made their way into schools, not even because of the policy of the church, but because of the position of the majority of parents, some of whom even forbade read "demonic books" to their children.

And the development of the humanities today for the future well-being of society is about the same importance as the natural sciences 200 years ago. The periods when the possession of physical technologies (iron, steam engines, computers) was more important than the possession of social technologies (military discipline, taxes, elections) in the history of mankind are much rarer than the reverse periods. In the modern world, social organization determines the technological level of society to a much greater extent than vice versa.

As scientific progress and the inevitable reduction in the number of people behind machines and the increase in the number of people whose job it is to interact with other people increases, the role of social technologies in ensuring the well-being of society will only increase. (I have repeatedly substantiated this thesis here in more detail).

The religious and mythological attitude to knowledge about social reality objectively hinders the improvement of social technologies. Well, about the same as the belief that the world is 7000 years old would prevent geologists from effectively searching for some minerals.

The strategy that “we will teach modern physics and chemistry in schools, but fictional history or economics” could have been relatively successful in a society where the majority is at the machine, but the further, the more harmful in a society where an increasing amount of working time the population is occupied by social interaction. In such a society, a plastic attitude towards social reality in itself reduces costs.

Therefore, an ambiguous and non-linear perception of humanitarian knowledge is useful in itself. Historical knowledge is just a particular example, which I have used here to illustrate.

3. Why everything will pass by itself

A couple of centuries ago, in the confrontation between religious and natural-scientific worldviews, the situation looked much worse for science.

Religion has been extremely important in justifying the legitimacy of many political regimes. The arguments about the need to protect it for the stability of the state were much more extensive and consistent than the arguments, for example, in favor of the need to preserve the cult of victory for the successful development of modern Russia.

Moreover, a huge number of mechanisms for ensuring social order were tied to the religious worldview. The inadmissibility of murder or theft was inspired in the church through a comma with the usefulness of faith in God. And vice versa, "if there is no god, everything is allowed" - such a logical chain could well work in someone's head. “The idea that the world is more than 7,000 years old casts doubt on faith in divine scripture, which means it is tantamount to promoting antisocial behavior” is a much more logical construction than “if you undermine the faith of children in the feat of the Panfilovites, they will grow up as bad citizens.”

200 years ago, the Law of God was also taught in schools, which in many places directly contradicted the natural scientific knowledge of that time. And anyone who proposed to cancel his teaching would be subjected to severe attacks by conservatives, and in wilder countries he could even end up on the fire. Teaching the Law of God was technically easier. Such knowledge was duplicated in sermons, which many went to, and sacred texts, which were then read by many. The students did not have porridge in their heads.

Those. the process of transition from church to natural science education was associated with objectively greater difficulties than those that could cause, for example, the dismantling of the prevailing historical myths.

However, over the past two hundred years, most countries have managed to significantly reform the education system and reduce the role of religion in other matters. They were simply compelled to do so, for maintaining the excess influence of religion did not go well with the success of countries in economic and political competition.

At the same time, with individual exceptions, no one destroyed the church, and in some places even today the “law of God” is taught in schools. The transformation occurred primarily as a result of the separation in the minds of the majority of the population of questions of religion and explanatory constructions used to solve practical problems.

Those. if a person believes that a certain God created the world and goes to church, but in his daily professional activities he is guided by modern knowledge of geology or astronomy, then the problem disappears. In his head, on one shelf, are the knowledge of chemistry, and on the other, the belief that water turns into wine.

Such a division seems obvious and simple today, but it took the public consciousness almost centuries to get used to it. The inertia of the logic “if the world is not 7000 years old, then the social order will collapse” was overcome for a very long time and with difficulty.

With regard to social mythology (and historical myths are only one of its components), it seems that a similar process is taking place. For progress, it is important not that the heroic Panfilovites and the ancient ukry disappear from the mass consciousness, but that they end up on the same shelf with the serpent Gorynych and the knowledge of what day God created what.

Those. the solution to the problem lies not so much in debunking specific myths as in dismantling the serious attitude to national mythologies as such. And the stronger the gap, the faster this dismantling occurs.

It is difficult for a geologist to believe in 7,000 years of creation, and for an employee of the State Planning Committee in the effectiveness of socialism. And the more fiercely the fanatics defend the inviolability of their mythological pictures, the faster mythological and scientific knowledge is laid out in the minds of the population on different shelves. Even if the mythological picture of the world remains socially approved (an employee of the State Planning Commission knew that it is good to believe in Marxism), as knowledge is sorted out, practice remains with science..."