Montana Ethic Project: What our myths say about us


Joey and Libby Early

Michael Sexson, an emeritus professor of English at MSU Bozeman, talks about “Mythic Montana” in this, the final chapter of the Montana Ethic Project.

This is the final chapter of the 32-part video series “The Montana Ethic Project.” This chapter features Michael Sexson, an emeritus professor of English at Montana State University in Bozeman, talking about “Mythic Montana: The Last and the Best.”  You can watch the whole video below. Here is an edited transcript of how it begins:

“My name is Michael Sexson. I’m a professor of English at Montana State University where I’ve been teaching literature since 1966. My special interest in literature is mythology, traditional stories that all cultures have to explain, to console, to orient us meaningfully within the great scheme of things through the use of imaginative techniques typically associated with hyperbole or exaggeration, and other tropes having to do with amplification and expansion of what is historically obvious.

“Because of its commitment to these imaginative strategies, myth is often dismissed as, at best, misinformation. Or at worst, deliberate lies. Understood this way we might say that the notion that the sky is bigger in Montana is a ‘myth,’ because when measured it is exactly the same size as the sky in Nebraska.”

Here is another, edited excerpt from Sexson’s presentation:

“Some years ago an anthology of literature came out featuring Montana writers titled ‘The Last Best Place.’ That title since has taken on a life of its own, going beyond a slogan to that of a credo, if not a manifesto. We’re not only the best place, we’re the last of the best places.

“Now it seems to me that if that title had been the best place, it would have disappeared from our communal conscious. But to add the word ‘last’ brings together an imaginative collision of mythic forces: the alpha, the omega, the beginning, the end. Montana is the best because it appropriates that aspect of American mythology which in turn has appropriated to that aspect of world mythology that sees the place where we live as completely new, as Adam must have seen the world on the first morning creation: pristine, undefiled, unpolluted, virginal, innocent. And to use two fancy words, largely because they also happen to be lovely words, prelapsarian and antediluvian. That is, before the fall, before the flood.

“And this I would argue is the great myth of Montana, the myth of the prelapsarian and the antediluvian.”

PERC_Logo_MontanaEthicPERC—the Property & Environment Research Center—is a proud sponsor of the Montana Ethic Project. To learn how PERC’s ideas can help us honor one another’s rights to land, water, and wildlife,visit

First week: Project introduction.

Second week: Richard Drake on “Terrorism and the Consolation of History.”

Third week: Mike Gear on “The Value of Athletics.”

Fourth week: Franke Wilmer on “Gender Equity.”

Fifth week: Gordon Brittan on “The Founding Fathers.”

Sixth week: Jim Posewitz on “Montana Sportsmen and the Hunter’s Ethic.”

Seventh week: The Rev. Jessica Crist on “Religion and Politics: Can They Co-exist?”

Eighth week: Chuck Tooley on “The Montana Character.”

Ninth week: Steve Bullock on “Citizens United v. Montana.”

10th week: Carol Williams on “The Imperative for Female Government Participation.”

11th week: Bob Rowe on Technological Development.”

12th weekGeorge Metcalfe on “Economic Development in Africa and Its Relationship to Montana.”

13th weekBruce Smith on “Montana’s Food Economy.”

14th week: Peggy Beltrone on “Montana Wind Energy—Business and Politics.”

15th week: Mark Solon on “Creating an Intermountain West Startup Economy.”

16th week: Bill Yellowtail on “Futuring and Native Leadership.”

17th week: Judy Martz on “Trust in the Lord and He Will Direct Your Path.”

18th week: Bob Brown on “Teddy Roosevelt’s Shadow in Montana’s Big Sky.”

19th week: Gordon Belcourt on “A Montana Native Perspective.”

20th week: Dorothy Eck on “The Montana Constitution and the Right to Know.”

21st week: Pat Barkey on “The Montana Wage Disparity.”

22nd week: Thomas Power on “Valuing Montana: An Economist’s Observations.”

23rd week: Larry Simkins on “The Culture of Safety.”

24th week: James Shanley on “Education Reform.”

25th week: Greg Gianforte on “High Tech in Montana.”

26th week: Jakki Mohr on “The Corporate Model for the 21st Century.”

27th week: Timothy James Lecain on “An Ethical Nature?”

28th week: Steve Running on “Montana Climate Change.”

29th week: Jamie Doggett on “The Role of the Humanities in Functional Communities.”

30th week: Bob Quinn on “Is it Time for GM Wheat?”

31st week: Terry Anderson on “Free Market Environmentalism.”

32nd week: Ilse Mari-Lee on “Music: An Integral Part in the Lives of Montanans.”

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