The Importance of People’s Perceptions, Myths and Irrationalities

Robert Kaplan is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic and author of Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece; Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History; and The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century. In his latest Atlantic article, “A Historian For Our Time” (may require a paid subscription), he underscores the impact of people’s perceptions, myths and irrationalities on events.

[A]s Thucydides would have been the first to note, reality cannot be reduced to neat equations, whether moral or analytical. The world as it exists often rejects rationality, spare narratives, even truth. If we have learned anything during this age of speedier and increasingly numerous interactions between peoples with different historical experiences, it is that facts matter less than perceptions, especially perceptions informed by raw emotions. It is what people believe that is crucial, not what they actually know. What is needed, therefore, beyond guiding philosophical principles, is a vivid appreciation of just what’s out there, in the form of the myths, passions, and irrationalities that in any age are central to decision making and, in a larger sense, to the human spirit itself…

Herodotus evinces a receptivity (it would bear full flower in Shakespeare) to the province of the heart and the attendant salience of human intrigues. He illustrates how self-interest is calculated within a disfiguring whirlwind of passion…

Thucydides might have given a better memorial lecture, but Herodotus–whose curiosity extended beyond politics to natural history, geography, and comparative anthropology (including sexual mores)–would likely have been more fun to share a wineskin with. Herodotus fills the same need that great novels do: he allows us to see the world whole…

Because of Herodotus, history is, in spirit, a verb: “to find out for yourself”…

[Herodotus] knows that nothing is more important than preserving what people said and believed: the myths, the fables, and even the lies that they lived by. Because human beings cannot function without their illusions, the vital truth, he suggests, lies in causation–the strands of perceptions and misperceptions that lead people to take the actions they do.

Porn reaches more than two-fifths of American online users. The myths of porn matter. They affect behavior, and they need to be countered with information that is better and more true.

3 thoughts on “The Importance of People’s Perceptions, Myths and Irrationalities

  1. I just found this BLOG. I have some deeply personal reasons for coming to the conclusion that pornography is not a good thing or a harmless expression of freedom of speech. Politically, I’m progressive with a libertarian streak. I googled “anti-pornography” and found a ton of right-wing sites; which go against my personal policy preferences. I want to connect with people and organizations that see harm in pornography. I am a member of Toastmasters (a public speaking organization) and I’ll be doing a speech project which I’ve tentatively titled:

    Are You Willing to Talk About Pornography?

    I am hoping that you will be able to give me some suggestions and resources for the research I need to do in order to successfully complete this speech project.

    William Cerf
    Brooklyn, NY

  2. Thanks for your interest. You may find these two presentations useful to guide you:

    Gail Dines Presents: Pornography and Pop Culture (explicit)

    Video Presentation: A Content Analysis of 50 of Today’s Top Selling Porn Films (explicit language)

    The free book may also be helpful:

    Free Book Download: Diana Russell’s Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm (explicit)

    After reviewing these materials, please let us know if there are specific areas where you would like more information. Different audiences might be interested in different things–misogyny, marriage, sex education, regulation of adult enterprises, etc.

    Please note we have had to restrict our comment system due to heckling, so if you have trouble making comments, please email us directly at

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