The Bastard Muses

Democracy. What does it mean? The Oxford-English dictionary defines democracy this way:

1.0 — A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. (1.3) The practice or principles of social equality.

Yet, it is more than that. In fact, it is a LOT MORE than that. Stanford University in a 2004 lecture for humanistic studies breaks down democracy with four pivotal elements.

  1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
  2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
  3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
  4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

It is #3 that is the focus of my post here. But it is not the advocacy of “protection” that I’m going to address. I like a process I sometimes call Reciprocal Comprehension, or examining the positive and negative aspects of an image, in this case principles. Here is Stanford’s breakdown of #3…

  • In a democracy, every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them.
  • These rights are guaranteed under international law.
  • You have the right to have your own beliefs, and to say and write what you think.
  • No one can tell you what you must think, believe, and say or not say.
  • There is freedom of religion. Everyone is free to choose their own religion and to worship and practice their religion as they see fit.
  • Every individual has the right to enjoy their own culture, along with other members of their group, even if their group is a minority.
  • There is freedom and pluralism in the mass media.
  • You can choose between different sources of news and opinion to read in the newspapers, to hear on the radio, and to watch on television.
  • You have the right to associate with other people, and to form and join organizations of your own choice, including trade unions.
  • You are free to move about the country, and if you wish, to leave the country.
  • You have the right to assemble freely, and to protest government actions.
  • However, everyone has an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for the law and for the rights of others.

[emphasis mine]

There is also an inferred responsibility to all law-understanding and law-abiding citizens to be informed about and keen enough to understand the difference between rhetoric/propaganda and facts/truths regarding a subject. Just because someone has the right to say whatever they want, however they want, doesn’t make it right or true. Each of us, me included, are responsible to discern what the real facts are or what the probable or highly probable facts and truths are so as to properly identify bastard muses.

nine muses

Cleanth Brooks is often referred to as one of the Fathers of New Criticism. He also is credited for composing formalist criticism of literature and poetry. While being the keynote speaker at the 2011 convention of History Makers in New York City, Bill Moyers spoke these words about literature, journalism, Cleanth Brooks, and to modern social-media:

…while “most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence,” the research found that actually “we often base our opinions on our beliefs … and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”

These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. So many people inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths.


George Orwell had warned six decades ago that the corrosion of language goes hand in hand with the corruption of democracy. If he were around today, he would remind us that “like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket,” this kind of propaganda engenders a “protective stupidity” almost impossible for facts to penetrate.


The late scholar Cleanth Brooks of Yale thought there were three great enemies of democracy. He called them “The Bastard Muses”: Propaganda, which pleads sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause at the expense of the total truth; sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion; and pornography, which focuses upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality. The poet Czeslaw Milosz identified another enemy of democracy when, upon accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, he said “Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember.” Memory is crucial to democracy; historical amnesia, its nemesis.

Against these tendencies it is an uphill fight to stay the course of factual broadcasting.

I would like to personally clarify Brooks’ three bastard muses of broadcasting, or social-media, and Milosz’s amnesia muse on democracy, and modernize, more specifically distinguish, those bastard muses as opposed to the nine inspirational Greek muses.

Propagat Bastard

Propagat, or propaganda, is as most of you know a selling, marketing, or diffusion technique of hype and/or disinformation of an ideology, cause, product, or service that may not necessarily be factual or truthful. Who or what can you name, past or present, that was a masterful or sinister propaganda machinist? Here are six rules-of-thumb from one of history’s most successful propaganda campaigns by one of the world’s most elite, most notorious propagandist:

  • Propaganda must be carefully timed, reaching its audience ahead of competing propaganda.
  • Propaganda must have a theme that must be repeated over and over.
  • It must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.
  • It must evoke the interest of the audience.
  • It must diminish anxiety.
  • It must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.

Who was this elite propagandist? He was Nazi Germany’s and Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. He was also primarily responsible for much harsher discrimination policies across continental Europe including the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. This is the power of unchallenged, unscrutinized propaganda.

Addendum — The Pink Agendist below in comments offered an exceptional article that further reveals the spine-chilling, remarkable power of propaganda. I highly recommend reading it. Thank you Pink.

Nostalgia Bastard

Sentimentality, or as I’m calling her nostalgia, in my opinion is the most covert, the most misunderstood bastard muse. Brooks correctly describes above that it is unwarranted emotion and in excess of the occasion; it panders to a gullible human sentiment to “rewrite history” as this Vox video informs us:

Sadly, much of modern racism, discrimination, and segregation in America can be attributed to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They’ve kept much of the old Confederate prejudices alive today.

Pornographos Bastard

Pornographos, or pornography, perhaps the antithesis of Erato, but only from a conservative, pious, or puritan viewpoint. She is derived from the Greek word Eros that in ancient Greece is historically just one of six forms of “love.” Modern-day conservatism rarely understands the full experiences of endearing Greek relationships of Antiquity.

Despite the fact that Brooks does indeed give in very few words the correct, yet truncated definition of pornography, I feel the fuller understanding of the muse Pornographos should be understood in her expansive form. Bill Moyers may have described her more fully at some other place and time, I’m not sure. But he did not elaborate or hint in this opening speech what he means by “total human personality.” That is what I wish to do.

Pornography, or Eros, belongs with another 5 or 6 siblings:  Ludus, Agape, Philia, Pragma, and Philautia. The sixth sibling, in my opinion is the antithesis of jealousy:  Compersion. It is unfair for societies and religious ideologies to separate out or orphan Eros (pornography). Though she can be the center of attention for a period of time and degrees of sublime endeavor, she will always be one of six sister muses. When her other six sisters are neglected, that is when habitual problems and implosion creeps in. When sexual organs and associated body parts are exploited and/or abused for the gains or pleasures of another, while at the expense or humiliation of the entire person/victim, then CLEARLY that is wrong, illegal, and detrimental to everyone involved. All become less human.

Based on what I know about Bill Moyers and what I’ve briefly read about Cleanth Brooks, this latter specified condition of an orphaned Pornography is more their “bastard” muse. It is still incomplete. Their description is the modern connotation of pornography within conservative-puritan society, but it does not represent her family of six sister muses.

Amnesia Bastard

Amnesia, or historical amnesia, is indeed an infection to democracy. On the distinctions of history, national or individual, known or unknown, there is probably no better an expert, a firsthand expert, than Czeslaw Milosz. While becoming an acclaimed poet, he survived ethnic cleansing, exiles, and two world wars in Europe and the constant annexations and occupations of his homeland by Russia/USSR twice and the Nazis occupation 1939 – 1945 during World War II. Plain and simple, the man knew much about history and truth. Milosz writes:

“The creative act is associated with a feeling of freedom that is, in its turn, born in the struggle against an apparently invisible resistance. Whoever truly creates is alone… The creative man has no choice but to trust his inner command and place everything at stake in order to express what seems to him to be true”

The 20th century culture surrounding him worshipped victorious power-versions of history, but Milosz is the artist who through his poetry worships truth. His craft allows him to save his and the reader’s soul. Perhaps the trick (or struggle) for all free citizens of democracy — the type of democracy Stanford describes above — should be which muse you fall in love with, which muse beguiles you and why, yes?

nine muses

(paragraph break)

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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34 thoughts on “The Bastard Muses

      • I mentioned it in particular because interesting methodological parallels can be drawn – and it doesn’t stop there. Going back to your list or Goebbels, have you noticed how much of what they say fits perfectly with the Abrahamic narratives? Repetition, diminish anxiety…

        Liked by 3 people

        • Yes! Absolutely parallels can be found. As I was saying to John Z below, when you are stopped from utilizing critical-thinking skills, testing, contrasting, examining, etc… that is when you/people should be VERY concerned.

          Begs the question, how have we let this continue now for what(?)… 3 or 4-millenia, particularly the last two (Christology) and the last 1,318 years (Islam)? Then, given our primate DNA, are we capable of simple functioning altruism and eusociality and higher forms of Superorganism behavior… like several species have been doing (and surviving!) for thousands upon ten thousands of years?

          Thanks again Pink for that link and your thoughts. 🙂


  1. Professor, this is off topic, but wanted you to know that on NPR radio on their Freshair show sometime today, depending on where you live…they are doing an interview with Bart Erhman.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating outlook on life you have my friend. Broadening my love for life! Choosing a favorite muse would be horribly bad form for me, who appreciates a well rounded approach. There are days though, where they could all keep me company at the same time. Parlor games and what not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahahaha! Should NEVER put all your eggs (as they say) or energy into just one basket/person, right? “Variety is the spice of life” sort of thing? 😉 But as perhaps Moyer and these other journalists/poets allude, there are most certainly misleading, corrupting Muses that should be recognized and repelled. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your informative article, Professor.

    I found the “Nostalgia Bastard” especially interesting. The role of the United Daughters of the Confederacy – what a force and they couldn’t even vote – in rewriting Civil War history in favor of the losing side is loaded with lessons for our time.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. You want propaganda? Are you aware of the huge shitstorm right now with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica? Talk about a propaganda machine! This is a mind blowing revelation, we will have a lot of work to do to clean this crap up.

    There will be a few congressional hearings to set standards for social media outlets when this all shakes out. Assuming we get some tRump sycophants booted out of Congress in the upcoming elections. The story from link one is directly linked to link 2.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Brilliant, informative, and timely essay. Recently, I expressed similar sentiments in a proverb:

    “Challenge your own preconceptions as vigorously as you challenge others’. Seek truth by following the evidence wherever it leads. Be not fearful of your ignorance, and use it as an avenue towards knowledge. Proclaim no unsubstantiated opinion as fact. Absorb like a sponge from the vast sea of information, while sharing it like pollen upon a brisk wind. Learn from the past, and change the future by effecting the present. Be the enduring rock, not the wayward pebble.”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. There is also an inferred responsibility to all law-understanding and law-abiding citizens to be informed about and keen enough to understand the difference between rhetoric/propaganda and facts/truths regarding a subject.

    Yes. A thousand times, yes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tinkering with, dissecting, testing, retesting, examining, SCRUTINY… very rarely are any of these skills bad! It is when you are told NOT to do any of these things that you better be seriously concerned. And then when doing so (in those tense fascist(?) circumstances) it’s wise to have a back-up or escape plan, huh? 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

      • Professor, many millions of people (MAGA’s) believed Clinton was running a child prostitution ring out of a pizza shop basement. Someone that determined to be stupid is democracy’s most dangerous creature.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Cannot agree more John. What makes that public condition worse are those who are unable to decipher and discern the how’s and why’s of manufactured, distorted, or beguiling ignorance, ala these Muses that pander to gullibility. I’m all for moments of ecstacy, joy, endorphins, and adrenaline for a person or group, but as Brooks correctly points out with the Muse of Sentimentality, working “up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion” is a powerful Muse to the tempestuous. :/

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Goodness , PT, you brilliant man. How does your mind work putting all these facts together, and threading the history whiting all of them. Who knew my name comes from Ludus sibling 😆😆😆. It automatically ties me to pornography muse :))))) although sentimentality would ruin me and propaganda I wallowed in for years with much brainwashed USSR hatred towards USA (late 70s-mid 80s) . Believe it or not it’s a great tool – quite infectious when broadcasted on Television. Especially if one converses only in 1 language- no choice but believe the propaganda, and absorb it as gospel . My fave movie is “Look who is back “ on Netflix – German movie of the year in 2014. It won prizes and I might have rewatched it 4 times by now . Hitler is coming back and skillfully using modern age electronics to spread his propaganda, stating :” I can work with that “. I was stupefied with my own unexpected response of sympathizing with the devil and the crowds that followed him. Wtf? After all that my ancestors went through – repeating history might be a natural process, it seems , thanks to the muses.

    Let me know when you see the movie , PT. It’s fascinating…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In my view it’s in the nature of things in the manifested realm, to posses a duality due to opposites, like too many people confuse our Democratic rights to posses an opinion, and be respected as by:

    You have the right to have your own beliefs, and to say and write what you think.
    No one can tell you what you must think, believe, and say or not say.
    There is freedom of religion. Everyone is free to choose their own religion and to worship and practice their religion as they see fit.
    Every individual has the right to enjoy their own culture, along with other members of their group, even if their group is a minority.

    With the total different issue, of being right!

    In fact I like to say to those who want to prevail in an argument when speaking of things they really do not know, by saying that Knowledge it’s not Democratic in nature, but a Meritocracy, like going to a school and giving the answer to the questions on an examination, and expect to receive passing grades, just because you answered according to your beliefs!

    if they flunk you, that’s it, go back and study, if you want to pass the assignment..

    Expressing opinions if wrong, are of little use, and dogmatic, and fanatic behavior, like in the case of Goebbels, which unfortunately it is used today by our media, and Governments, tend to undermine the same values, that Democracy wants to protect.


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