Stories have been the heritage of knowledge and culture, winnowing successive generations of our world’s growing human population.
In stories we invest our identity, our raison d’etre, our moral and ethical expectations and to the story we abdicate our relationship with society and each other.
It’s 2019 and, like it or not, the stories are breaking down. It’s an organic and spasmodic disintegration, slow enough to be ignored (if one tries hard enough). It won’t stop and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.
The stories have, it can be said, brought over 7 billion of us to the present day. An hour’s reading about centuries past, however, will reveal to anyone a history that’s imperfect, fortuitous (for us) and for most a story that’s exacted immeasurable cost.
“There but for the grace of God go I” the proverb says but there are no gods and the future can’t be peopled solely by another generation of blithe lottery winners. It’s a recipe that doesn’t scale.
Science has advanced too far for the traditional story model to be safe. Our technology impact on the planet (and its resources) plus the sheer competing numbers of people can’t be left to the free market maelstrom of geography, good luck and improvised economics.
The real existential threat to human society, as it navigates the coming decades, is already playing out. Tackling it can’t be postponed to the very cliff edge without our next generation paying an inconceivable price. The stories won’t save us. Our species needs to mature beyond them; here, now.
It’s all up for grabs. Will we be dragged into chaos, by the majority trying to hide from change and a fragmenting social order in self-serving fantasies? This will be a submission to our worst instincts, a refusal to face reality. It’s the lumpen proletariat default and it must be resolved.
Right now the wilful delusion trend is getting worse: polarisation, echo chambers, nationalism, xenophobia, consumerism, vicarious celebrity obsession, opiate crisis, identity politics, corporate confidence trickery, demagogue government, climate change denial, the list touches every facet of the problems corroding our world. All stories gone from bad to worse, fantasy growing more extreme as it diverges further and further from reality.
The alternative to entrusting oneself to the eroding stories or isolating in extremist fantasies isn’t complex but nor is it easy. Instead, enough of us must take up a more difficult, wholly unglamorous challenge: the simple pursuit of truth with a due sense of proportion. We have to deny ourselves the comfortable egoism of life within the stories. Fantasy must be put in its place. Vanity must give way to practicality.
Everyday reality isn’t a grand sweeping narrative painted in vivid primary colours of instinct. We all know it, deep down. There’s almost never good reason to cast oneself as the hero. We weren’t born to be the centre of attention. Pursuit of truth in everyday reality is active, not passive, which can be a struggle, and the rewards are more in the having done than the doing. It’s easy to understand why the stories are so attractive. Who wants to be challenged by truth day after day?
But there’s no other way.
It must become science over story, constructive detail over cognitive dissonance. The world needs a critical mass of its human beings to aggressively defy the drag factor albatross of our homo sapiens evolution; regardless how tempting it is to trust oneself to conventional narratives that’ve taken us from primordial soup to imagining primates turning a whole planet into a telescope to view the event horizon of a supermassive black hole 323 million trillion miles away.
It’s time to take back control; before the robot overlords do it for us.