The War Over Myth

When the ancient Cro-Magnon crossed paths with the Neanderthal in prehistoric Europe, a conflict was born. Slowly but surely, the invading Cro-Magnons subdued and supplanted the native Neanderthals into oblivion. The only Neanderthal traces left were fossils and tiny genetic snippets in the Sapiens code. But why did these Cro-Magnons so rapidly succeed the Neanderthals?

Yuval Noah Harari proposes the power of myth.


In his book Sapiens, Harari posits that it was the ability of ancient humans to create myths that led to triumph over their Neanderthal cousins. Whether it was concepts of religion, trade, country, etc…, the Cro-Magnon coalitions weren’t just strengthened by shared genetic codes but shared mythic creeds. Innovation and legends built from this cognitive revolution gave early humans the tools to not only conquer other species but also each other.

Old myths were now carving new realities.


This blood of fratricide would continue across the ages to the tip of Spartan spears clashing against Athenian shields. In this land of early contacts, people who shared even greater similarities than the Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals were still locked in an eternal war over the myths of alliances and city states. Another incarnation would appear in the same land as Greeks and Anatolian “Turks” (who may have shared more DNA with an Athenian than a Central Asian) would come to gunpowder blows with a backdrop of whether Jesus or Muhammed was the supreme prophet.

Of course, one could say these conflicts were all over resources; but myths provided the fuel to the fire. The fictions of community, ideology, and religion were integral to these conflicts; and the legends of their conflicts were peppered with these myths, not over who controlled a salt mine.

The Deviant

History is filled with centralized powers and rulers having a vice grip over their societies’ myths. Nonetheless, massive calamities or upheavals would cause realities to shatter mythologies (much like the coronavirus today). The spread of the internet and social media have upended traditional formulas, and now myths are increasingly divided and divisive.

I came across an extremely interesting yet at times very hypocritical podcast – the Rabbit Hole. It is produced by the New York Times and delves into the story of a young man named Caleb and his radicalization by way of…YouTube. On the way it pairs a fairly centrist Joe Rogan with famous racists such as Stephan Molyneaux and Milo Yiannopolous, designates deviation from mainstream thought as a mental disturbance, and labels dissent against mainstream media as surefire pathway to bigotry.


It is slickly produced, gorgeous in audio, and loudly ironic – as it sounds like a parody of propaganda itself.

Let’s not forget the highlight reel of the New York Times’ myths this year includes lamenting that not enough Indians have died due to coronaviruslabeling the Chinese travel ban as racist, and canceling #MeToo because Joe Biden.

These are the myths that an esteemed and storied American institution propagates. It doesn’t take a mythologist or scientist to tell you that something is off.

Media, academia, corporations, and governments themselves are seeing their stories thrown into bonfires like an Evangelical reaction to Harry Potter books. The sacred myths of the past such as the accessibility of the American Dream, the “natural fit” of the European Union, the hyper-competence of the CCP, India’s minority favoritism in guise of “secularism,” and so many more myths of the elites are being capsized. Populist surges have been inflamed by mismatching of reality and myth, and alternative voices have been given suffrage by the internet.

The Rabbit Hole feels like a reaction. A major institution trying to silence alternative thought (much of which I strongly disagree with myself) as it feels threatened, using every aesthetic and influential trick in its repertoire. It’s a very entertaining yet at times jarring piece of content. It’s so fascinating seeing a media giant so brazenly and fearfully enforce its myth.

Māyā, the Illusion

The Hindu concept of Māyā is multifaceted; but for our purpose today, let’s pin it down to the idea that our world is an elaborate illusion, fueled by attachment, arrogance, and deception. The illusion is tailored. For one, it may be their emotional faults; for another, it’s their addiction; for someone else, it’s their position of power, etc…

Each person has their own māyā. Their own reality. Their own myth.

Institutions have for too long utilized prestige to create precedent. They have gotten used to their word being a given, rather than something that is taken. Now with the coronavirus baring the top-down māyā of the elites and institutions, a bottom-up backlash ensues.

A whole array of new myths and challenges to the status quo are arising. Many of my group chat debates with friends end up being us posting different articles that say wildly opposite conclusions with Herculean confidence – a testament to how we now have a myriad of myths to choose from yet increasing difficulty in discerning our reality. News is no longer news. News is narrative.

Truth is more subjective than ever.

Think Different

The Vedas have described reality as “neti neti” – not this, not that. This comfort with ambiguity is something that is sorely missed in today’s world. The sages who composed the Vedas found ease in ambiguity and accepted the limits of truth. From their verses, flowed the founding myths of the Indian subcontinent; and subsequent philosophers and truth-seekers created their own spin on those myths. Debate, diversity, and a mutual respect became integral to the Indic ethos, something you would never assume today watching the screaming cobblestone screens of Indian news.


Now is a time to embrace ambiguity. Absolute truths are being overturned by the coronavirus and the cascading economic downturn. From the Federal Reserve’s infinite monetary sprint careening past notions of debt to the WHO’s blatant capitulation to the Dragon, old conventions are imploding to open a path for new strategies, new myths.

This piece is more of a collection of thoughts than a focused message. A quiver of arrows rather than a spear. I want you to leave with questions.

Why should I listen to the media and institutions that have been so consistently wrong? That have a permanent sneer towards me? That seek to sear any speck of debate into ashes?

The war over myths is the story of human progress. Our myths chart the trail of our future. Belief has proven self-fulfilling on an individual as well as societal level. We must make sure that our beliefs are not defined by consistently wrong and Puritanical elites and institutions.

Our myths should come from experience and inquiry. It’s time for conversion. It’s time for reincarnation. It’s time to choose our own mythology.

This is a repost from The EmissaryPlease visit the blog for more content and thanks to Brown Pundits!

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34 thoughts on “The War Over Myth”

  1. >Slowly but surely, the invading Cro-Magnons subdued and supplanted the native Neanderthals into oblivion

    Oh please, not only are Neanderthals still alive, they have gotten along the Cro Magnons who are also still alive. Here is proof:

    They are just rare now a days, but every now and then they do emerge out of southern France, especially the Franco-Cantabrian region and Occitania in general 😉

  2. Just a quick skimming visit to this thread.

    Some serious historians are accusing Greeks for presenting myths as their history. The problem is that even these myths are not their but, anyway, the big consumer market is out there.

    Let do a reverse engineering and go back from myths to facts. From the top…

    Spartan spears are Serbian spears.

    DNA – I wrote before, in so-called Byzantine lived 6 million people. Only 250 000 Turkish horsemen came from C.Asia. I wander which are 38% of European genes?

    Maya – Serbian word, a root for verbs – MAYAti, zaMAYAvati, zaMAYAN (=enchanted or bewitched). Now also very popular female name.

    Heracles (i.e. Hercules) – a real guy, almost deity, Ashur, builder of ancient city of Ninewa, took some Indians to Mauritania (any takers to research?) on the way back from the second Aryan expedition, founded the city of Alesia which later gave the name to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris

    Neti, neti – (i.e. niti-niti) ‘Niti riba niti devojka’ (in Serbian – ‘neither a fish nor a girl’ i.e. neither fish nor fowl), etc, etc.

  3. Considering that the Cro-Magnons themselves got replaced to essentially the same degree by other Homo sapiens, and that the Neanderthals had a long history of intra-species demographic turnover themselves, do we really need to assume that there was something special about the Neanderthal > Cro-Magnon transition?

    Even if we consider that Neanderthals were replaced everywhere, that could just be a side effect of their ancestral lands being in the harsher part of Afro-Eurasia. After big climatic shocks, population reservoirs of Homo in warmer climates are much more likely to repopulate lands to the north than the other way around. Homo sapiens had their base in Africa and the warmer parts of the Middle East, while the deep heartland of Neanderthalia was the cold interior of Eurasia. With enough cycles of demographic churn, we would naturally expect warm-country Homo to replace cold-country Homo, regardless of sapiens or neanderthalensis. And isn’t that exactly what we see?

    Then again, we did replace the Denisovans to more or less the same degree, at about the same time, including in very warm climates ideal for any Homo population. So that’s a pretty good counterargument. I still think it’s worth thinking about, though.

  4. “In his book Sapiens, Harari posits that it was the ability of ancient humans to create myths that led to triumph over their Neanderthal cousins.”

    Does Harari offer a scintilla of evidence for this, or is it purely a work of his imagination?

    My favorite Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon theory was due to the obscure British anthropologist and parapsychologist Stan Gooch, who had an elaborate theory in the 1980s that Neanderthals were matriarchal, moon-worshipping pacifists with psychic powers, while Cro-Magnons were warlike patriarchal votaries of the daylight, and that modern humans are a hybrid species, with Neanderthal throwbacks occasionally occurring. (Or something like that, it’s a long time since I have seen his book ‘Cities of Dreams’.)

    Psychic powers and archaic stereotypes aside, since Gooch’s day we have come this far, that Neanderthal genes are indeed now supposed to be part of the inheritance of modern humans. Perhaps we will eventually have some evidence regarding what their true legacy is.

    “a young man named Caleb and his radicalization by way of…YouTube”

    Some backstory about this. The conservative political comedian Steven Crowder made some episode joking about Vox writer Carlos Maza (@gaywonk on Twitter) being gay. Maza protested and Youtube launched one of its periodic purges of politically unwanted content (though Crowder survived). It was a few days after that, that the Times ran its piece on Caleb and his nonexistent “radicalization” (amusingly, the claim is that he was radicalized by watching Youtube right, and then deradicalized by watching Youtube left). So I suspect coordination – the story of Caleb was developed in order to offer a rationalization for planned purges, the catalyst for which happened to be Crowder vs Maza (but some other rationale would have been found soon enough).

  5. Talking of peaceful matriarchals vs violent patris, in Kerala the warrior caste was Nairs and they were matris . Nairs were matris completely till about 80 years back, I think they have slowly changed to prevailing patri norm in Indian society

    1. @Vijayvan
      “Talking of peaceful matriarchals vs violent patris, in Kerala the warrior caste was Nairs and they were matris . Nairs were matris completely till about 80 years back, I think they have slowly changed to prevailing patri norm in Indian society”

      You’re incorrect. You’re mixing up matriarchial and matrilineal, look up their definitions. Nairs still were a very much male ruled/dominated. Kerala Kingdoms were definitely not matriarchial, they were rule by male Maharajas for the most part. Kerala Nair’s culture was previously matrilineal,meaning their line of descent is traced through the mother’s side of the family. For example you had a brother and sister in the household, but for inheritance purposes, the SON of the sister is considered the heir, but her brother, or eldest male, holds the power of the house as the Karnavar, but his heir is his sister’s son. This reminds me a little bit of the Jewish practice where only those born of a Jewish mother were considered Jews.

  6. Yes, there are a lot of mendacious and hypocritical organizations in the world, but somehow “embracement of maya or ambiguity” does not seem to be the right answer. There are so many certainties in our life, certainties that have built up over the past 3-4 centuries thanks to the scientific and engineering revolutions. Be disdainful of the word-peddlers (using Razib’s dichotomy of people who value words and disdain numbers) all you want but be respectful (albeit with a skeptical eye) of people who trade in science, math, and logic.

    Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. On a related note, just because you have missed 2 months of parties and may miss another 3 months doesn’t mean the world has collapsed and everything has been proven to be a fake (this is not addressed to anyone in particular, but rather the doomsdayers who wildly exaggerate the impact of the current pandemic.)

  7. Razib,

    “Let’s not forget the highlight reel of the New York Times’ myths this year includes lamenting that not enough Indians have died due to coronavirus, labeling the Chinese travel ban as racist, and canceling #MeToo because Joe Biden.”

    Are you saying the NYTimes did these things or its a myth they did these things?

    1. they did these things. The myth part is that these things are false

      this is why they are #fakenews

      srs not srs

  8. Yea the NYT is trash.

    Typical US Liberal:
    Feb:Travel ban is racist.
    April:Why didn’t you have a travel ban earlier? We could have reduced coronavirus cases.

    2019:Believe all women.
    2020: Not all women should be believed.

    And there is a myth going around that Joe Biden is a moderate. he’s woke as woke can be. The only m thing moderate about him is he has fans among most corporate neo liberal war mongering shills that make up a the old democratic party. l I hope he loses horribly. Not that it will make a difference to him since he probably doesn’t know what year it is or what office he’s running for.

    1. “And there is a myth going around that Joe Biden is a moderate. he’s woke as woke can be”

      That;s the thing with wokeness, its never enough.Like a friend of mine used to slavishly suck up to the woke liberal clique in a wastapp group i am part of. One fine day he wakes up and he has been cancelled, still not knowing y.

      1. Saurav:
        1. There are us level woke cliques in India? What’s the composition like? Are they true believers or like many people here just virtue signallers trying to climb the ladder?
        2. How do you keep your mouth shut in a group like this?
        3. What did your friend say/ do to get him cancelled?

        1. LOL, Its mix of Indian and US based folks. Mostly US based participants. Its tough to identify who’s genuine and who’s acting. Its like if u act long enuf u start believing in it too. I have met some of them IRL and all of them are not as woke as they act. Their masks invariably slips. I mean they are Indians after all,notwithstanding how many years they stayed here in US.

          I myself a little shocked initially of how much they have changed. One of my them sort of unofficially broke off all personal correspondence, even though my political and social views were known to him , while he kept on steering towards wokenss.

          Mostly i just keep my trap shut and enjoy the shit show. Like the friend i mentioned who still doesn’t know why he got canceled. 😛

        2. “There are us level woke cliques in India? What’s the composition like? Are they true believers or like many people here just virtue signallers trying to climb the ladder?”

          Oh man. Absolutely.

          Lot of upper middle class elite folks are steeped in American pop culture. So they view India from that lens and can be insufferable.

          Un-ironically drawing Harry Potter analogies and crying discrimination at the drop of a hat. That kind of stuff. Seen this more commonly among women than men. May be because they want a non-patriarchal alternative.

          Dating apps are a goldmine for this kind of anthropology:

          1) The only time I have ever been walked out on a date was by a woman who thought I was not serious about fighting ‘Nazis’ because I said I don’t care that Fox News gives platform to anti-vaxxers in the US.
          This girl legitimately did not know that Bihar is a separate state in India as UP-Bihar is always used together and she thought they were one.

          2) A girl I was talking to told me she has anxiety. I suggested she read The Gita just as a throwaway.
          She erupted. She said she can’t try anything that is ‘Hindu’ because it’s tainted. She was a Tam Brahm.

          3) One time a girl out of the blue asked me what ideology I subscribe to. I said I am not sure, still figuring out. Then she went on about how I was a centrist who was enabling oppression and prompty stopped talking.

          Too many such examples.

          It’s like walking on egg shells with these people because you don’t know what will trigger them.

          Being ‘intersectional feminist’ is sort of a petty bourgeoisie status symbol now in larger cities.

          But then I look at some of the views folks in my family hold w.r.t. Modi and I don’t know if I should even blame the SJWs.

          “One of my them sort of unofficially broke off all personal correspondence”

          Feel you, bro. I am not even that far right but couple of friends just stopped talking because I tried to politely question their views.

          1. “friends just stopped talking because I tried to politely question their views”
            Happened with me too. Also the bit about not being serious about fighting ‘Nazis’ on something like me not caring if Americans support abortion or not.

          2. LOL, yeah i guess the woke elite will keep on building smaller and smaller oasis and the right keep on winning the moderate and right. Thats what immediate future looks like.

            I thought after the 2019 elections, the elite would wake up from their slumber but guess not. That would make sense when one is attacked and feels defeated they become paranoid and look inwards, doubling down on their beliefs.

          3. “i guess the woke elite will keep on building smaller and smaller oasis and the right keep on winning the moderate and right.”

            The oasis is actually growing bigger and bigger as the woke-sters recruit more folks with each graduating batch.

            A formerly moustache twirling Rajput friend from Jodhpur sometimes discusses SJW stuff with me now.

            The oasis is still much smaller than the right, though and might hit a ceiling.

          4. Prats:
            I was just blown away by your experience with the woke crowd in India. As an aside, I am also blown away with the dating/hookup culture in India that at least 10% of the urban crowd participates in now (things were so different even 10 years ago:)).
            Are you really going out of your way to meet JNU types and left libs? Your examples sound extreme, and if they are not, it worries me what that will mean for India, the right, our values, Hindu/Indic heritage etc. These folks are clearly a small minisicule minority but they are the most influential and powerful of the elite of India..Despite the Modi aberration, this elite is in power, and already seems to be coming back to rule the waves in terms of cultural influence.
            Also, I agree with your other comment that this oasis is getting bigger and bigger. A relative (kid who just graduated from Manipal) is spouting Dhruv Rathee type nonsense on Facebook (not just resharing but writing his own stuff). And this is a guy from a very conservative, traditional business family which I can guarantee to the last person is a BJP voting family (also where his mother until 10 years ago would have her head covered in front of elder males indicate how traditional the family is)..
            Also, in the US it seems Hindu/Dharmic/Anything butMuslim-Christina-Dalit-India phobia is completely legtimized. Modi is Hitler and upper/middle caste Hindus/Dharmics are the Nazi footsoldiers. Islamists have succeeded and how!

          5. Well i think my circle is perhaps is a bit different. I am in multiple groups, and in my experience i have see more people who were neutral turn to the “nationalism” than UCs turning towards woke ness.

            Yeah there is group of younger lot who have turned woke and all. But the vast majority of Indian next gen are outside the circles we move and all. Within the circles we socialize(and twitter) there is an over representation of wokes, which is not accurate representation, i feel.

          6. “Are you really going out of your way to meet JNU types and left libs?”

            No. I think there is some amount of self selection among women who choose to be on dating apps.

            They are almost all self-described feminists to some extent, which I don’t have any problem with.

            Some 30% happen to be bit more radical than others with additional qualifiers like intersectional or democratic socialist etc. And they’ll also explicitly mention in their profiles how much they hate Modi/BJP/right wing.

            The women who are comfortable with their identity even if not right leaning are usually from smaller cities or army/government backgrounds or are the ambitious types who don’t give a fuck about such stuff.

            “I am in multiple groups, and in my experience i have see more people who were neutral turn to the “nationalism” than UCs turning towards woke ness.”

            Seen this mostly among men to be honest. Mostly folks who volunteered for AAP and are now disenchanted with Kejriwal. Or a section of old Tharoor-style liberals who have started to balk at SJW-ism.

            A liberal-ish Sikh friend now regularly shares anti-Muslim reddit memes because he got tired of all the Islamophilia.

            “These folks are clearly a small minisicule minority but they are the most influential and powerful of the elite of India”

            I don’t know how much actual power they hold. Their main role seems to me to be that of useful idiots to create nuisance or shut down any kind of dialogue.

            Like the whole Aarey forest protests, which was just plain dumb. Similarly, if some liberal Muslim like Arif Mohammad Khan will try to criticise Islam or show rapproachment towards Hindus then he’ll be de-legitmised.

            I don’t know who the real puppeteers are.

            At some point, they’ll serve their utility and will be discarded. They will then seem archaic romantics similar to folks who talk about “Ganga-jamuni tehzeeb” today.

  9. My logic is woke South Asians are trying really hard to be accepted by their white peers. They’re doing it to get ahead in academia and the corporate world. At least that’s what I’m telling myself so I don’t have to accept that our people produce such idiots. I guess the litmus test to decide if their wokeness is a calculated move vs stupidity would be their view on affirmative action.

    1. Jatt scythian:
      I mostly agree with what you say. However their views on affirmative action are not always the litmus test because elite Desis have made it career wise and financially and given their station they are not really affected any affirmative action in the way the middle class is. To the extent they are affected it is much more than offset by the benefits that wokeness accrues to them in corporate and social connections race

      1. So they’re willing to screw over middle class and immigrant South Asians because other minorities are more important and merit has no value. How fucked up is that.

        1. They are absolutely willing to screw over all middle class people (not just South Asians) not because other minorities are more important, but because winning in the woke olympics gives you a lot of benefits. Once the woke olympics started, there are only three choices – actively participate to get benefits, stay quiet (risky strategy, especially for the climbers and the elite because not only should be they believe they need to be seen as believing and converting folks to the belief) and oppose (very risky and you’ll be cancelled in more ways than one). All of this has a self reinforcing logic making the choices even starker with time. This virtuous (vicious?) cycle can only be broken a major external shock/challenge (such as loss of American primacy in the world concomitant with the rise of more parochial/nationalist forces like China)

        2. Just anecdote:

          yeah. Most of my desi friends that got into Ivy League were rich kids with good ECs from planning. The middle class ones went to state schools because they just had good scores, not good scores and ECS. Career trajectory averages differently with former much more likely at prestigious banking, consulting, and tech firms on those elite career paths, making 250k at 25 already. The latter still do well with some of those but fewer.

          Actually many of those state school types also eventually jump to medicine for stability and guaranteed wealth. The former types are also more likely to keep the prestige ball rolling with Wharton MBAs and elite law school admissions, but moreso the former.

          The Ivy Leaguerers are more likely woke, besides some of the most cut throat males in finances. Females are all woke but most males too.

          The state schoolers either avoid politics, are woke, or are conservative. The last group is a minority but a solid 25% vs. like 5% in the mosyly work ivy league group.

          The ivy league group lost nothing by affirmative action. Their parents, mostly rich upper caste migrants who were doctors, engineers at big tech, and elite fianciers planned out everything. They had stats and ECs to override even affirmative action hitting them much.

          Middle class didn’t have that and actually saw how hard it is to compete with racial affirmative action, where blacks need to average 300 points less and hispanics 200 points less and whites 50 points.less (per princeton data to make it go same schools) and also how elite athletes, legacies, big donors, etc (mostly elite whites) take a big chunk. Not a lot left for them. Women btw have cop out with STEM interest for women in STEM.





            Lot of losers among the US Indian American community.

            Unfortunately AA won’t go away anytime soon. Only chance is if Trump wins a second term and appoints two more justices.

            I really would enjoy seeing Amy Comey Barett on the Supreme Court.

          2. I’m convinced wokeness is now just a moral standard expected of bourgeois men and women, just like Victorian upper and middle classes had a strict code of conduct to which they had to at least pay lip service. And women being more conformist on average, would be more woke, unsurprisingly.

        3. Maybe they will advocate for an approach that balances these competing concerns.

          A lot of Asians are not so upset that African Americans receive the benefits of affirmative action. Either they are empathetic to the struggles of African Americans or at least they think that this is not the hill to die on. Asians are more concerned about how they are penalized even when competing against Whites and Hispanics.

          So the approach might be to push for affirmative action for African Americans (thereby maintaining some woke credibility) while pushing for a more grades / test scores based competitive field for other groups (thereby not screwing over their own people and others).

          1. AA definitely shouldn’t exist for AA. If it exists for one group it likely will exist for other groups. I can’t see these concerns be balanced. If they want to get rid of AA they will definitely need the support of Whites and East Asians who think AA should be reformed and those groups won’t somehow support exceptions for AAs.

  10. Only one group in the US was brought over forcibly and enslaved for centuries. People who are perceived as being barely American will have not their contrary views on AA entertained on this by the body politic.

    1. Aren’t Asians are penalized relative to White and Hispanic Americans as well?
      Also some Black Americans are recent immigrants.

      It’s hopeless for south Asians doubt many Americans even realize brown people count as Asians.

      I have heard some comments about Silicon Valley Indians are affirmative action hires.

      1. Either way slavery’s long over. People shouldn’t pay for the sins of their ancestors and there isn’t any AA for South Asians in the UK for colonialism nor should there be. Also AA has been a failure anyways.

        1. Were south Asians in the UK brought over as slaves? AA is useless but arguing for its removal is a lost cause. Whites are more than happy to accept AA while keeping out East and South Asians. Works out for them to claim they are delivering racial justice while restricting actual competitors from elite positions.

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