Sunday, March 26, 2017

Truth and Consequences III: The Narrative

[The world] is under the domination of the [evil cabal]. To liberate [the world] from the grip of the [evil cabal], a group of [plucky good guys], aided by the power of [the occult power] shall free [the world] from the tyranny of the [evil cabal], and [bring about an era of good things].

Recognize this? Let me put it in a form more easily recognizable—Star Wars:

“The galaxy is under the domination of the empire To liberate the world from the grip of the empire, a group of plucky rebels, aided by the power of the Force shall free the galaxy from the tyranny of the empire, and restore the republic”

Now, Communism:

“The world is under the domination of capitalism. To liberate the world from the grip of capitalism, a group of ardent communists, aided by the power of historical inevitability, shall free the world from the tyranny of capitalism, and bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Now, Libertarianism:

“The country is under the domination of government. To liberate the country from the grip of the government, a group of ingenious entrepreneurs, aided by the power of the market, shall free the country from the tyranny of government, and shall unleash the power of the markets.”

Fundamentalist Christianity:

“The nation is under the domination of Satan. To liberate the nation from the grip of Satan, a group of devout Christians, aided by the power of Jesus, shall free the country from the tyranny of Satan, and shall establish the Dominion of God.”

The Lord of the Rings:

“Middle Earth is under the domination of Sauron. To liberate Middle Earth from the grip of Sauron, a group of plucky adventurers, aided by the power of Valar, shall free Middle Earth from the tyranny of Sauron, and shall establish the Kingdom of Elessar.”

Objectivism:

“The nation is under the domination of the mediocre masses. To liberate the nation from the grip of the masses, a group of brilliant businessmen, aided by the power of Capitalism, shall free the country from the tyranny of the masses, and shall establish Galt’s Gulch.”

And I could go on and on.

We should, first of all, realize that this is a fantasy. Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings are here, along with hundreds (if not thousands) of other lesser known works of fantasy and science fiction. And the reason we love them is that they paint us as heroes. Religions and ideologies are based upon simple narratives, and they too will be wrong. 

Next, we should realize that people who apparently have leapt the fence between allegiances have not changed very much at all. Malcolm Muggeridge switched from being an ardent communist to being a devout Catholic. David Horowitz similarly went from Communist to extreme right wing. Michael Shermer went from Fundamentalist Christian to Objectivist to Libertarian. But none of them changed narrative. They only changed the names in the slots of the narrative.

They never changed their minds at all.

Reality is infinitely more complex, and not nearly as flattering. The social and political fabric of our society are like a mass of human biomes linked together, with a constant struggle between infectious bodies and antibodies from various portions of the body politic, or like ideological storm systems driven by the biases of millions, reacting together and against each other fanned to greater and greater force by people who may not even care about ideology, but sell outrage because it makes them money. If a storm can be created by the wings of a butterfly, perhaps we ourselves are the butterflies, and the storm is simply the result of our lack of awareness. Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth leading, and he was right.

If you focus on the good in others you will be drawn to that and become good; if you focus on evil, real or imaginary, you will become the very evil you hate. It explains a lot about history, and why this narrative is so dangerous—it places the battle against an enemy at the centre, and leaves the final state of affairs as an afterthought. The neo-cons followed this narrative in Iraq; get rid of the bad guy, and the end of history, a utopia of democracy and capitalism, would result. And we all know how that turned out.


This simplistic narrative will never accomplish anything. To build a better future, we must focus on a positive goal, not on who we wish to defeat. This is harder, and will take more time, and we will have to deal with opposition (though we will do better to get them onside rather that crush them.) It will not be simple, but it will be true.