Are religion, politics, nations and classes all myths we’ve invented?
I theorise how evolution has led humans to create myths and how this is still apparent in modern marketing.
I’m Ian Flynn. I’m the head of Creative Solutions. Today, I’m going to prove to you why everything you believe in is a myth. Nice and cheery!
So, when I spoke to some people beforehand about this, I was met with a degree of sass. A kind of, who’s this guy trying to tell me that I believe in myths? I’m not just saying that you guys believe in myths. I believe in myths too. It’s a thing that we all believe in, and I’m going to try and prove this to you today.
So, all these myths that you see here; however different they are, and however varied in their values, in the context of this presentation, are all exactly the same. Allow me to try and explain this a little bit more. I’m going to give you a bit of an illustration into it.
To do this I’ve got to start from the very beginning. Imagine this was a map about 70,000 years ago. Back in the day, where species of humans were multiple, and not just singular. Now we have obviously, one species of Homo sapiens, which we all are, but back in the day it was many species, which I find fascinating. I’ll introduce you to some.
We’ve got Neanderthals, who were in the Europe region, around here with all his mates. Then, we had Homo erectus, who hung out in the far east, with all his mates. Then we had Homo sapiens – with top-knots, for some reason – in the Africa region. We were all doing our thing, cohabiting with each other. Occasionally, Homo sapiens, or other people would come up and try and test the Neanderthals, and see if they can nick some of their land. But then, Neanderthals would be stronger and have better tools, and say: “No way mate”. And then we’d be like: “Yeah all right, fair enough”. And then Homo erectus would be like: “What’s going on?”
So about 70,000 years ago this happened. Something really interesting happened between 70,000 years and 35,000 years. It was called, what is known as the cognitive evolution. Homo sapiens started behaving very differently. They started to come up with art, and religion, commerce, and laws, and so forth.
About 35,000 years ago – circa – we gave it another bash. We went up and said “hello” to the Neanderthals, and see if we can nick some of their land, and this time we did. Not only did we do that, we wiped out their species, apparently, and did the same for poor old Homo erectus as well. Eventually, we pretty much covered the whole of the globe, and that’s where we are to this day. We were like: “Yeahhh.”
So, what happened? Why did all of the things that happen have such an impact on our success as a species? There’s many theories. One of them is, we developed our speech.
We all know that a lot of animals communicate, usually in regards to warning signs and so forth. “There’s a lion over there, watch out.” With this cognitive revolution, there was mutations in our brain where we could actually develop much more complex speech. So rather than saying there was a lion over there, we could say: “There’s a lion over there, about 400 yards away, over the river. It doesn’t look very happy. We should probably avoid him.”
What that did, as we were able to talk to other people within our band, and basically allow them to picture something that didn’t necessarily exist in front of them. Using this skill, we were able to actually create myths and fictions. The best way for me to describe this is, if humans didn’t exist, then these things wouldn’t exist. So, this could be money, this could be religion, this could be cities, towns, everything like that. So, we were really brilliant at doing that.
The main benefit to this, if we compare it to chimpanzees, which are our closest living ancestor, chimpanzees have an autocratic way of living. They’ve got Alpha males, Alpha females, and they tend to stick in bands of 12, or around that area. It’s because they need to know each other. Any more than that, then they’ll stand disbanding, and start creating little sects here and there. You didn’t really have that degree of trust amongst each other. That sometimes applies to humans as well.Examples of everyday myths
The main difference with the fact that we’ve got myths that we can all band together to believe in, is we started to do that in the hundreds, and the thousands, and the millions. This was in many forms. So, it was religions, cities, nations, and politics, and many, many more. There’s lots of different myths, and so forth, even fictions, that we’ve created within our own imaginations, that allowed us to band together, and to say: “You are like me, we are part of the same thing”.
A really cool example, is the American Declaration of Independence. This is part of it, which pretty much the whole US Constitution is built upon. It’s what US society is, even to this day, tend to value. I’ll read it out to you: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
So, for us, we read that, and think that sounds pretty self-explanatory. It sounds like something we all buy into. We are equal. We do like liberty. We want to be happy. But if you start digging deeper, and start to try and divide the biology, and the biological facts, in comparison to the cultural beliefs that we have, you would start to see the difference.
So, I’m going to highlight the bits that are actually myths, or fictions created by humans. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” Are they created equal? I think we’re all very different, actually. I think if anything, none of us are equal. We all look very different. We’ve got different shapes and sizes, hair colours, whatever.
“Endowed by their Creator.” Creator? I mean, open to discussion, obviously, as we’ve been doing for thousands of years. Is this something that physically exists in front of us? Or is this something that we’ve collectively created?
“With certain unalienable Rights.” Can you prove to me what these rights are? Are they the same for every person, or are they different? The same with liberty and happiness, are these going to exist if humans were to vanish off the face of the earth, or are these things that we perceive to be true?
So, if I was to replace those things with biological facts, it would sound a bit like this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they were born with certain mutable characteristics, and among these are life, and the pursuit of pleasure.” Now that doesn’t sound as good. It doesn’t really bind a whole nation together; if that was in the US, American Declaration of Independence it just wouldn’t work. So, you can start to see that the cultural impacts of these myths, and what effect they have on us as humans.
It in our nature to believe in myths. We all believe in myths, as much as we don’t want to admit it. We do. I do. It’s something that we are genetically built to do. It’s a reason why we’re so successful. It’s a reason why we bumped ourselves up to the top of the food chain, is because we believe in these myths, and we band together. So why is this all relevant to us in this room right now? I’ll tell you why. If you’ve not figured it out already, we are the modern transmitters of these myths.
Let me give you an example. Marks & Spencer, they claim that: “Quality is worth every penny”. So, spending more money means that you’ll be happier, because you’re going to get something really good out of it. That is something that we all buy into, or Marks & Spencer shoppers buy into. That’s how they perceive things.
Walmart: “Save money, live better.” So, they’re saying the complete opposite. Actually, spending less money, will make you live happier. So, which one is right?
easyJet, another example: “Hate Mondays? Cancel them. Why not?” Go on holiday. Take risks. Seize the day. British Airways: “Safe and secure flights.” Make sure your house is in order, we’re going to take care of you. It’s all to be safe, and it’s all going to be lovely. So, they are selling exactly the same product, but what they’re doing is tapping into existing myths, that exist with humans.
That’s what marketers do. They see the myths that exist, and the worldviews that exist around us, and they use it to leverage their product, and leverage their brand. Not only do we tap into existing myths, but we’ve also been known create new myths. Modern religions, like Apple, for example.
So, this is quite a responsibility, right? The fact that we’re creating these new myths, and we’re changing the way that people behave as a result. With that responsibility comes…We need to start changing the way we think about things, and we need to be aware of these things.
So, one of my pieces of advice is be aware of the implications. I wonder if Apple actually realised that people were going to start behaving this way, after creating the iPhone. They probably wouldn’t. Some things you can’t necessarily foresee, but every myth that you spread, and every product that you release, and every thing to say that this is going to be the solution to things, comes with a degree of implication towards it, and people tend to change the way they behave.
Another bit of advice is, see myths for what they are. Sometimes we are all are guilty of getting sucked into our own myths. I think Brexit is a perfect example of it. Some people will either go into one myth, or another myth, but actually, if you try and step out, you can see all it is, is two people that really do believe that this is the best way forward, clash heads. What actually was meant to be something that unifies people, is dividing people. So that’s the dark side of it.
Contrary to that, spreading myths is good for us. As I said to you before, it’s part of what we do. It’s part of our makeup. Ultimately, it creates community. No matter what fiction you believe in, what it does, is it ultimately gives us a sense of belonging, and improves our quality of life. So, I think for us, as marketers, I think we need to try and think about this, and consider this in the work that we do, and have that as the goal. That’s it.