Mioritic Fatalism

I don't know how it happened, but I have been hearing lately, in various contexts, the well-known adage of our Mioritic fatalism. The meaning was approximately the same every time: nothing is done and nothing can be done because the Romanian is a fatalist, resigned, and doesn't even fight for his rights. The most recent example comes from the sphere of corruption: a person who was in her full right to recuperate a property, and on trial with another person, who had no right, but wanted the property. "Your struggle and your deeds of property are of no use, I'll win anyway, because I bribed the judge," the latter told cynically the rightful owner, who not only did lose the case, but didn't even try to do something about it, although the magic ewe had warned her on the telephone. You may already suspect the explanation provided by the lawyer: "What can you do, my dear, we're a Mioritic people."An Italian anthropologist and friend of mine made a lot of sparkling fun about this recourse to Miorita in corruption cases. Sulkier and more pedantic this time, I would only like to publicly disallow the legitimacy of such a recourse. Briefly, this is the reason:Miorita is a folk poem, hence the upshot of a traditional society. Traditional societies all over the world have in common a defining particularity which, in Pascal Boyer's words, may be expressed as follows: Under various circumstances, some people end up considering last year's or last decade's version of a myth or a ritual the only relevant way of carrying out these actions. A surprising remark, which needs to be explained.To do this, we must first make a small digression. Let us take, for instance, two proverbs: no fence against a flail, i.e. there is no flying from fate, versus fortune is man-made. Together, they illustrate what once a psychologist called locus of control: where does one ultimately place the source of control over his actions – outside oneself, in some "power agent" of one kind or other (external locus of control, the first proverb), or does one consider it exists basically in oneself, inside the individual (internal locus of control, the second proverb)? Starting from here, other researchers pointed out that not only individuals differ among themselves with respect to the predominant projection of control, but also entire communities. Thus, it was demonstrated that Indians are more "externalist" than Americans; others showed that people from disadvantaged social categories tend to be more "externalist" than those who are better positioned in the social hierarchy; as for myself, I noticed that the Ungurean shepherds from northern Oltenia are comparatively more "externalist" than fellow villagers who cultivate the land.Irrespective of these variations, all traditional societies share, in one form or another, a firm externalist belief, organized as an outlook on the world in a manner that we may call cosmo-centric: the source of control over actions – and life on the whole – is an external order preceding man (not only the individual). The Romanian word for it is randuiala, i.e. good order or tradition. And in a world of good order, it is simply a sensible thing to abide by this order and to do the prescribed things, all the time – or at least to say you're doing it.Now we may return to our sheep. Miorita is the poetic expression of such a traditional outlook on order, no more. If the case presented is about fatalism, then this "fatalism" is in no way Romanian, but common to all traditional communities. Secondly, it is not evenly distributed among Romanians, shepherds being apparently more fatalistic than farmers – and Miorita is a pastoral ballad! Thirdly, there is no direct relation, either logical or historical, between the cultural belief in a preordained order and the personal conviction about an oppressive system. It was such an immediate social experience that brought about the respective owner's calculated resignation, not some atavistic Mioritic instinct! Dilema, no. 496 (September 2002)

by Vintilă Mihăilescu