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Larry Correia

Mankind runs on legends.

Whether they’re examples of greatness to strive toward, or evils to avoid, every culture has its legends. Handed down and evolving through time, they’re always with us, molding and shaping individuals, families, and whole societies. We’re all the product of the stories we grew up on.

I’m talking about legends, not history. The two are often related, but not necessarily. Legends often have a kernel of truth to them, but that’s before the truth takes a back seat to the stories we spin about it. That’s because reality is complicated, with lots of moving parts and little fiddly bits that don’t fit into neat boxes. History is rarely black and white, good or bad. Truth is messy.

People are hungry for narratives with a familiar taste that are easy to digest, so we tend to take that convoluted reality and distill it down to the repeatable basics to then tell over and over again. It’s all the same, whether it’s hunters around a campfire, or a drinking song in a pub, or a movie “based on historical events,” and each time that story evolves, either because of the teller, or because of the audience.

History gets mangled, rewritten, or forgotten, but legends live on.

We love our heroes, hate our villains, and use the fools as object lessons to teach our kids what not to do. Good guys, bad guys, or just lessons to be learned, sometimes a legend can be all of them at the same time. Depending on who is telling the story, Bonnie and Clyde were murderous psychopaths, or a tragic love story with Robin Hood elements, and that wasn’t even a century ago.

It isn’t about them, it’s about us. Ask some random people what they know about Christopher Columbus. You’ll probably learn a lot more about the beliefs and politics of the person answering the question than you will about the actual history or nature of the explorer in question.

Storytelling is a powerful tool. Legends are a common touchstone of a people. Your tribe is made up of those who the share the same legends as you. Those other guys over there? They got it all wrong. This is the way it really happened.

Chivalry wasn’t that chivalrous, bushido mostly exists in Akira Kurosawa movies, and the Wild West was quieter than modern day Chicago on a Saturday night. But we just can’t help ourselves. Human beings are addicted to legends, both manufacturing them and sharing them. I don’t think we even know we’re doing it most of the time. We can’t help ourselves.

The founding of nations makes fertile ground for harvesting legends. Romulus and Remus were suckled by a wolf. George Washington couldn’t lie about chopping down that cherry tree. It doesn’t matter if it was in ancient times or recent enough that we’ve still got the journals of the participants, the real history is learned by specialists and enthusiasts, while the vast majority soaks up the legend like a thirsty sponge.

Those founders become icons, the heroes and villains and fools that parents tell their kids about. The stories become larger than life. They become our moral examples, cringing shames, or shining beacons. And from that foundation, we build.

That’s what mankind has done with every civilization on Earth.

Now just imagine what happens once we start founding whole new worlds.

—Larry Correia

Yard Moose Mountain, January 2020

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