I have a theory that every social group has two sets of values: Mythic Values, and Folk Values.
The Mythic Values are the qualities of that group’s exceptional members, its heroes, the semi-mythical figures that everyone in the group more or less aspires to emulate.
For example, the Mythic values of Catholicism are about emulating Christ and the Saints, their self-sacrifice, their faith, their not-of-this-world-ness. The Mythic values of nerd culture center around figures like Nikola Tesla and Steve Jobs, the archetype of a Mad Scientist/Captain of Industry hybrid. Scientific knowledge, inventiveness, not giving a fuck about what the muggles think. The Mythic values of movement Conservatism are embodied in the archetypal cowboy and archetypal soldier. The physical strength, the physical courage, the combat ability, the sheer animal dominance.
Folk Values, on the other hand, are the qualities of that group’s average members.
Nerd culture’s folk values center less on scientific knowledge, more on nerd trivia. The key question is “how devoted a fan are you?” Are you an Old School D&D player? are you a Hardcore Gamer? Have you memorized the entire screenplay of Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Conservative folk values are about liking country music and spaghetti westerns, and complaining about hippies, reciting the republican talking points. I haven’t spent enough time in Catholic communities to know what Catholic folk values are, but i suspect is has something to do with celibacy and Chesterton quotes.
In a sane world, we’d recognize folk values and mythic values as two separate things, and use them to differentiate the members of a community from the leadership of a community. But we don’t.
Instead…. we invest the practice of Folk Values with a… talismanic property. a kind of sympathetic magic, where the symbolic qualities of one thing are supernaturally transferred from one entity to another. Do you think wearing that ten gallon hat means you’d survive a day on the Frontier?
I am not a man of singular integrity. I didn’t realize any of this until circumstance forced me to.
It was kind of like… dreaming. like in some superstitious way I thought I was laying the foundation for something real. All I had to do was hold on to the Folk Values hard enough, and for long enough, and one day the Mythic Values would simply pop into existence within me. When the time came, I would suddenly transform into the man I wanted to be.
But of course the time never did come.
Once you understand on a visceral level that mourning John Wayne doesn’t make you John Wayne, you can’t really be a conservative.
You’re either a Soldier or a Civilian. A Cowboy or a Tenderfoot. A Hero or a Bystander. there’s nothing in between.
Once you understand on a visceral level that Fucking Loving Science has nothing to do with possessing scientific knowledge, you can’t really be a science nerd.
You’re either a Scientist, or a Layman. A Morlock, or an Eloi. there’s nothing in between.
Once you realize that there is no connection whatsoever between the folk values and the mythic values, so many cultural milieus become off-limits to you. But what’s more, you realize that… everyone around you is holding themselves to despicably low standards. Every subculture– or at least the ones with a lot of subcultural pride– starts to look like a bunch of puffed-up chest-beating macho bullshitters who’ve made a secret pact to never call each other out on their bullshit.
(“I’ll pretend that you posting all those Neil DeGrasse Tyson memes means you actually possess scientific knowledge if you do the same for me.” “I’ll pretend that you owning every Rage Against the Machine album means you’ve actually contributed to Anarchist politics if you do the same for me” “I’ll pretend that your encyclopedic knowledge of Clint Eastwood films means you’d survive a real world shootout if you do the same for me.” )
You start to realize that the act of sympathetic magic that makes participation trophies work is the same magic act that holds society together. The magic that says “You can be one of the Good Guys even if you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”