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The Art of Mythmaking as a Solution to Gaps in PVE Projects in Kyrgyzstan

Currently, projects aimed at countering extremism are being implemented according to the same scheme. However, much is not considered in such projects. In particular, no attention is paid to the psychological component, while the perception of ideas and information received is key in the spread of radical ideologies. Kunduz Kydyrova, an analyst at M-Vector and a member of the CABAR.asia School of Analytics, discusses the need to apply a transdisciplinary approach in PVE projects and how mythmaking can help increase the effectiveness of such initiatives.


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What is the problem?

Most children and adolescents are minimalistic and categorical, which often affects the general level of their radicalism in the future. The problem is that some never get through this period successfully and become more prone to recruitment and radicalization later on. One of the main target groups of existing projects in the field of preventing violent extremism and radicalization is children, adolescents and young people aged 14 to 28 years.[1] As a rule, they are more driven by instincts, intuition, feelings, stereotypes, emotions, the collective unconscious. Based on the research data of Zhanna Shegai, this very vulnerable audience is not covered either in television or in other forms of mass media, there is simply no content to occupy them,[2] which creates space both for external radical infusions and for independent radicalization within the personal identity.

Gaps in existing PVE projects

The role of the irrational in PVE interventions is underestimated.

According to a study within the framework of the Taasirlink project, existing interventions in the field of peacebuilding, prevention of extremism and radicalization in Kyrgyzstan have a number of gaps and repetitions.[3] Most PVE projects are aimed at increasing the level of religious / secular education, social, soft skills, critical thinking, fact-checking, career guidance, advocacy, and creation of opportunities[4] and affect mainly the logical-rational level of consciousness of the target audience. Much more significant irrational, intuitive and emotional levels of perception of the world remain outside the focus of PVE interventions. Moreover, most of these projects repeat each other’s goals and essentially implement the same activities: trainings, seminars, mentoring, motivational speeches of influencers, round tables, distribution of sub-grants, debates, summer camps, etc.[5] Furthermore, in most cases, it is not citizens from vulnerable groups themselves (children of migrants, unemployed, refugees, victims of violence, women, youth from disadvantaged families, etc.) that are covered, but rather civic activists, community leaders, advanced youth and etc.[6]

Words and actions, being external manifestations of the consciousness and inner world of a person, are essentially less informative than emotions, the collective unconscious and subconscious of a person. The latter predispose a person to unconsciously make a certain choice, say certain words and perform certain actions. Richard Thaler, a Nobel laureate who studied the principle of decision making, proves this once again, saying that a person in his behavior and perception is guided by irrational motives.[7]

Lack of a scientific transdisciplinary approach to work.

Most of the projects are more narrowly focused, written for different grant sponsors and donors and are adapted to their thematic requirements. The projects provide an inclusive (integrated) approach through the joint work of representatives of relevant civil society organizations, including religious leaders, experts, human rights defenders, the media, entrepreneurs, youth activists, as well as representatives of government agencies, international organizations, and donors. However, such an integrated approach rather solves operational and intermediary tasks. They achieve maximum dialogue between different institutions and build a bridge between active citizens and policy makers.

In addition, directly the scientific interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary approaches in the academic environment of Kyrgyzstan, and even in the Central Asia region, are not provided at all. We are talking about a closer integration of sciences and scientific methods and the development of a unified methodology for studying a common problem based on the interaction of different scientific directions and disciplines.

In other words, the creation of any specialized scientific platforms is not included in the project implementation plan.

The only related platform, organized by the Center for Religious Studies of Kyrgyzstan and bringing together representatives of most of the related disciplines, was more focused on operational tasks.

In essence, it covered the consecration of topical pressing issues in PVE, in particular, presentation of reports, Q&A sessions, article publication, networking and promotion of a personal brand during breaks.[8] However, no initiative has yet been aimed at solving common problems by mobilizing the academic community and brainstorming among representatives of all related disciplines, including religious studies, jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, marketing, journalism, mythology, psychology, and etc. For the effectiveness of such platforms, it is important to create interdisciplinary working groups with the participation of all specialized professionals. Within these groups, it is necessary to ensure the work on one document in real time with the aim of developing common positions and solutions through discussions, argumentation, beliefs, leaded to doubt and consensus.

Benefits and possibilities of the myth.

PVE myths have the necessary potential and ability to figuratively and latently guide or nudge a person towards ideas and values ​​other than radical ones. Below we take a look at the features and benefits of the myth to show this potential.

Modern mythmaking can be found everywhere: in politics, religion, advertising, mass media, TV, cinema, sports games, folk and cultural traditions, oral folklore, including in radicalistic ideologies. The myth permeates our daily life, as it carries the baggage of images, habits, prejudices, attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge of previous generations. The myth has existed since the most archaic times, is stable in time and tends to repeat itself in different cultures, regardless of the era, ethnicity, or language.

Modern mythmaking can be found everywhere: in politics, religion, advertising, mass media, TV, cinema, sports games, folk and cultural traditions, oral folklore, including in radicalistic ideologies.

The totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union can be mentioned as an example. As the Russian religious scholar Svetlana Frolova writes, “the ideology of communism was transformed into a myth that made people believe in the insignificance of their own life and the priority of state tasks. For this to happen, mythological plots and images, disguised with ideological appeals and slogans, were skillfully introduced into the everyday life of society. They contained the image of a hero who is ready to sacrifice his life or accepts death for the sake of a bright future for people (the same as, for example, Prometheus) and necessarily performs a heroic or brave feat. This was followed by widespread recognition of the hero and the desire to “perpetuate” their name in poetry, sculpture, in the names of organizations, streets and even cities. Ideological symbolism was actively used in these myths.

Such elements of the Soviet era as slogans, banners, anthems, party cards, Komsomol badges, pioneer ties, strengthened ideological convictions, as well as rituals such as revolutionary holidays and party congresses, promoted the activity of the masses and strengthened faith in the savior-leader who would save from all worries and sufferings ”.[9] At the same time, the Bolsheviks limited the everyday life of society to “sacred texts” – the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, which served as a guide to action and sacredly determined the goal of human existence – the communist future (that is, the mythical “Golden Age”).[10]

Mythology is less limited and conflict-prone in comparison with the religious and scientific worldview. Almost every religion claims to be true and exclusive of its postulates / dogmas and is, unfortunately, limited by this. Science for an average person is also limited by its methods: it is dependent on empirically supported data and is not yet able to explain, prove or disprove the main philosophical problems: the meaning of life, the beginning (orogin), life after death, the presence / absence of God, etc. Although modern science, as a rule, does not seek to answer philosophical questions, society tends to perceive science as one way of understanding the world.

Myths foster commonality, although they do not offer any original exclusive ideas. The object of mythologization can be elements of myth, religion, and science. Such syncretism, that is, the coexistence of several ways of thinking and beliefs, is a historical characteristic of the nations in Central Asia, which was originally a crossroads of civilizations due to the Great Silk Road. Here, the local peoples could believe in some Islamic, Buddhist and pagan doctrines at the same time, while not at all contradicting each other, but rather complementing each other. In addition, the thinking of modern people has become more mixed due to the information revolution and the dominance of the world wide web, which only contributes to the modern revival of the myth.

Mythmaking is not a return to irrelevant archaism or primitiveness, but, on the contrary, an awareness of the importance of anthropological features of human development. For millennia, mythology has been assigned an important role in the formation of values, ideas, attitudes towards the world both at the irrational and at the rational levels of consciousness.

We consider the myth as a solution to the existing omissions and gaps of current projects in this area, since it was in myths that the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung discovered archetypes, some universal and innate ideas that predispose people to perceive, experience and respond to certain events and information in a certain way.

In addition, using a myth will allow to extract advantages from the disadvantages of the target audience. The lack of critical thinking, fact-checking skills will contribute to the effective absorption of PVE myths that do not have a causal explanation, which are necessary for acceptance as an axiom, as extremists and recruiters themselves use. As a rule, it is much easier and preferable for an ordinary person to live in such an understandable world.

What does archetype mean?

According to Jung’s theory of personality, the collective unconscious consists of powerful primary mental images, the so-called archetypes (literally, “primary models”).[11] These are some universal models of perception, thinking and behavior in response to any object or event – for example, when there is an unexpected appearance of danger, strength, unknown, fear, death, inspiration, motivation, various everyday events, etc. There are different classifications of archetypes, most of which come down to the archetypes of the Hero, Creator, Ruler, Sage, Seeker, etc.

These archetypes have a number of properties that can be used in PVE interventions. Below are examples of constructive messages that are contained in archetypes, see Figure # 1.

Figure 1. The potential of archetypes – examples of constructive messages

Constructive mythologemes should be presented in the form of content using modern multimedia marketing tools and channels for online and offline promotion. For example, through social videos, animated and full-length films, through songs of popular influencers, memes, fairy tales, stories of real people through storytelling, interviews, or narrative journalism. It is noteworthy that such tools are already used in some PVE interventions (SFCG projects “Taasirlink-2019-2020”, “Social media for deradicalization in the Kyrgyz Republic: Model for Central Asia, 2016-2017”, the Internews project “Reducing radicalization and disinformation in Central Asia – 2018-2021 “), however, the content broadcast in them in the process of revision is rationalized and does not use primary models (archetypes) to convey the message used and therefore turns out to be less effective. Even with good content, the marketing plan for promoting such products in interventions is poorly thought out.

Thus, based on the above-mentioned advantages of myth, myths can perform the following tasks (see Figure # 2):

Figure 2. Potential tasks of constructive mythologemes in PVE projects

Risks and threats of using PVE mythologemes

The most preferred way of absorbing mythologemes is catharsis, which involves the release of emotions, the resolution of internal conflicts and moral elevation, arising in the course of empathy or self-expression (including through art). There is a risk that this catharsis will be experienced by the audience not for spiritual cleansing, but rather for short-term pleasure or emotional discharge, which will make the myth just like another Thor film. However, in any case, such interventions will win. This will allow viewers to throw out the entire flurry of negativity, free themselves from toxic emotions, which will create a place for constructive emotions.

There is a risk that the myth will not reach the audience. The mythological worldview is one step below the religious worldview. Consequently, for modern believers, myth, as a way of perception and knowledge of the world, can turn out to be primitive and cause rejection. In fact, for the successful consumption of a myth, it is necessary to create a kind of doctrine, worked out in detail both in terms of structure, attractiveness, and the ability to convince a person, as well as take into account both irrational and rational essence. In order to evoke a certain intermediate authority among the target audience for this doctrine, it is important to have a charismatic leader, as well as content that surpasses radical ideologies and individual radical ideas in terms of empathy and influence. At the same time, it is important to avoid the use of purely mythological terms, characters, not to associate the myth with any archaic values and concepts and not to position the myth as an alternative to religion or any other ideology, so as not to cause rejection.

Many people avoid taking on a work, that would affect the emotions of target groups, since it is difficult not only to monitor and evaluate the impact of the interventions on such a subjective environment, but also to control emotions and subconsciousness of a person using standard approaches of interaction.

There is also a risk and difficulty in assessing the impact of the project since the subjective aspects of the target audience are affected. As a rule, on the basis of the words and actions of a person, it is possible, with a measurable error, to draw a conclusion about what changes have occurred in the inner world of a person. The situation is much more complicated if the subject of the assessment of changes are emotions and irrational motives of a person, there is simply no developed mechanism for working with them.

Many people avoid taking on a work, that would affect the emotions of target groups, since it is difficult not only to monitor and evaluate the impact of the interventions on such a subjective environment, but also to control emotions and subconsciousness of a person using standard approaches of interaction. Because of what there is a risk of harm to a person if one does not know how to work correctly. It is easier to assess the level of education / knowledge, to determine the level of critical thinking, newly acquired skills, it is relatively easier to gather people from different fields of activity around one table. As a rule, these methods are less risky.

On such a sensitive topic, most organizations adhere to the “Do not Harm” mainstream in order to be contextually aware, minimize negative impact, and maximize positive. This approach, being practically necessary in a conflict-sensitive environment, at the same time keeps them from entering the unknown, at first glance, dubious and little practiced.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to give the following recommendations for civil society organizations, non-profit and non-governmental organizations that develop projects on this topic, as well as specialists in related fields:

  1. Develop a general methodology for the creation, production and promotion of PVE mythologemes, within the framework of working groups with the participation of specialized experts in mythology, religious studies, semiotics, philosophy, hermeneutics, psychology, anthropology, phenomenology, marketing and political technology, as well as implementers of related projects and policymakers, and to identify and assess the potential of the art of mythmaking and mythological content, including possible weaknesses, risks, threats and opportunities to overcome them, in PVE projects.
  2. Conduct an open competition among creative studios, screenwriters, writers to create a plot / script and produce mythmaking products. Develop a plan for promoting content online and offline and regularly monitor the acquisition spree and conduct an impact assessment based on the indicators of the success of the methodology developed by the working group.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project


[1] Analytical report on the results of quantitative, qualitative and desk research: “Social Network Analysis of the youth”. M-Vector commissioned by SFCG within the Taasirlink project. Bishkek, 2020, p. 17.

[2] Zhanna Shegay. How to create content for 47% of the audience in Kyrgyzstan. The focus is on children. Date of access: 09/24/2020. URL //: https://internews.kg/glavnye-novosti/video-kak-sozdavat-kontent-dlya-47-auditorii-kyrgyzstana-v-fokuse-deti/

[3] Analytical report on the results of quantitative, qualitative and desk research: “Social Network Analysis of the youth”. M-Vector commissioned by SFCG within the Taasirlink project. Bishkek, 2020.

[4] Ibid. P. 15.

[5] Ibid., P. 21.

[6] Ibid., P. 18.

[7] Andrey Zlobin. The Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded for decision making theory. Date of access: 09/24/2020. URL //: https://www.forbes.ru/biznes/351237-potrachu-1-mln-irracionalno-nobelevskuyu-premiyu-po-ekonomike-dali-za-teoriyu

[8] Press release of the Center for Religious Studies of Kyrgyzstan on Facebook. International scientific-practical conference: Secularism, religiosity in the post-Soviet space: historical, legal and philosophical and worldview aspects. URL //: https://www.facebook.com/110453693709789/posts/118977436190748/

[9] Frolova S.M. Myth in everyday life of society. PAGS Bulletin. Moscow. 2012.S. 210. Retrieved 16.10.2020. URL //: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/mif-v-povsednevnoy-zhizni-obschestva

[10] Ibid. P. 213.

[11] Carl Gustav Jung. Archetypes and the collective unconscious. Translated by Chechina A.A.Publisher: AST, 2019.C.7.

 

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