Variable: Myth

To the human ecologist, myths are narrative accounts of the sacred in a society; they legitimate social arrangements (Malinowski 1948) and explain collective experiences (Burch 1971). Hence, myths are an important supply variable because they provide reasons and purposes for human action. Myths are critical to human ecosystems as guides to appropriate and predictable behavior (witness Smokey the Bear's admonitions about fire); they give meaning to and rationale for a wide range of social institutions and social ordering mechanisms. For example, the myth of "manifest destiny" provided U.S. citizens at the turn of the 20th century with a rationale for the permanent and private development of the American West; indigenous tribal groups simultaneously called on traditional myths to legitimate their role as temporary stewards of communal land (Worster 1992).

Myths operate at various scales: national myths (such as the manifest destiny), community myths (a timber town's story of how and why it was founded), and clan myths (a family's story of its early matriarchs). Myths are difficult, but not impossible, to measure: festivals, symbols, and legends all are indicators of myth supply. A change in myth (such as reduced perception of community self-reliance) can impact social institutions (such as faith) and a variety of social norms as well as resource use (such as wilderness).

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