The Unsustainable Narrative To Which We Cling

My theory is that the further our society moves away from reality, the more absurd the lies will have to become and the easier they will be to spot.

To tell you the truth, I never thought it would get to the point we’re at now. I thought long before we got to a presidential race between a clown and a dementia patient, we’d have seen through the false narratives that sustain our nation. Narratives are simply stories we tell ourselves about how the world works. They are operating programs we use because they allow us to function in a universe far beyond our understanding. They are more sophisticated than the instincts and conditioning of other species, but they are still mere tools we use to function in a reality that has little actual similarity to what we see with our eyes and imagine to be the ultimate reality.

The problem, I suppose, is that the narrative we now follow has been the most successful of all the models that we humans have developed to this point. It is far less sustainable than primitive models, but in the short term it has produced amazing results. Primitive narratives that saw spirits existing in rivers and trees were a lot more sustainable, but they never led to the invention of the internet and the automobile.

So we’ve lived with a narrative for over a hundred years now, and in that time it has literally created a new world around us. And that is part of the problem. It has created a world that reflects its own image and its own values, and in so doing it has by this time almost utterly erased the narratives that came before it.

Most of us, whether we consciously admit it, are running several different narratives at once. Sure, we may profess one narrative to be the one we follow, but in truth we are motivated by different and sometimes opposing narratives.

Take Easter, for example. It is a Christian holiday, but it was grafted onto a more primitive narrative. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we do so using the pagan symbols of bunnies and eggs. The name “Easter” itself derives from the Saxon mother Goddess Eostre and the Teutonic goddess of fertility, Ostare. Hence the symbol of rebirth, the egg.

Or take Christmas. It, too, had its origins in pagan celebrations before being taken over by Christianity. Yule logs and Christmas Trees are traditions that pre-date Christianity.

But Just as Christianity’s Christmas absorbed other narratives into its own, so to has our current and now dominant narrative absorbed Christmas into its own understanding of reality. We now live in a not merely capitalist but consumer-capitalist narrative. No longer is Christmas primarily about the birth of Jesus Christ but instead an excuse for an orgy of spending and purchasing.

The blending of narratives can be a good thing, even though humans like to keep their understanding of reality simple by insisting the narrative they espouse is actually the one they follow. It is the vanity of the conscious mind to believe that it alone dictates our behavior. But we know better, at least when we observe others. Even with those we respect most, we can see them acting in ways that are contrary to their stated beliefs and values.

Having more than one narrative is like having more than one revenue stream or more than one screwdriver. Because at some time or another, a revenue stream will run dry, or a particular tool might not be the ideal one for the job. Just like a Phillip’s screw driver is not a perfect match for every screw you come across, however sophisticated a narrative we have, it will never match reality perfectly. Having more than one narrative to work your way through life means you have a more nuanced and flexible method of making it through your life.

In fact, I would say there is nothing more rare than an individual who lives according to a single narrative. Many Christians claim to, but any observation of their actions would reveal how often they fall back upon other narratives and just plain superstition when it suits them. But rare though they are, there are some among us who are able to see life through a single narrative and live consciously by its principles.

We call such a person a “true believer”. There is nothing more rare or dangerous. True believers could be found aplenty in Nazi Germany and Jonestown. True believers are inflexible in their narrative, and when reality is in conflict with their narrative, they will choose narrative over reality. Even when it proves fatal. To live by a single narrative and never permit the notion that it is not reality is to belong to a cult doomed to its own destruction.

We’re there now. This is no religious cult of a few hundred people. It is not even a nation swept up in patriotic and dangerous ideology. No, this is humanity caught up in a narrative that has worked incredibly well for us on a short-term basis but ultimately is at odds with reality. And nature. And the human soul.

If we look back at the dawn of the 20th Century, we can see how inhospitable to human beings capitalism could be. Children worked in coal mines and in factories for long hours and their usefulness to society was basically over by the time of young adulthood. Workers lived in company towns where they had to go in debt to buy the tools they needed to do their job, never managing to free themselves from debt despite giving everything they had in the way of labor to the people who grew rich off of them. Pollution was so bad that rivers were known to start on fire. Farmers lost their land to the banks despite the fact it was their work that fed the nation. Things became so bad that the people had no choice but to resist the existing capitalist power structure, ushering in unions for workers and environmental and safety laws.

But as bad as things were back then, we are looking at a far worse situation now. Because as strong as the capitalist narrative was, the Christian narrative still made sure places of work were shut down on Sundays. The Christian ethos was not yet erased from a citizenry that had been immersed in it for many centuries.

Fast forward to today, where Christian values have been undermined by the values of people like Ayn Rand. The Christianity of today, in the main, bears little similarity to what would have been known as Christianity a century ago. Christianity has faltered, and in its place has arisen a narrative that carries capitalism to new and terrifying dimensions. That new narrative is consumerism, the belief that our deepest longings can be satisfied by what we are able to purchase, that our identity can best be expressed and developed through our buying choices, that who we are and what we aspire to be can be summed up by consumer branding.

Make no mistake, consumerism is an ideology, it is virtually a religion, and it is most definitely a narrative. It shapes our worldview, and it is shaped through incessant contact with the salesmen/priests that come to us through our electronic devices. Our worldview is shaped by those who want to sell us something, and it is done on a grander scale than any religion or dictatorship has ever dreamed of.

Now we face a reality that would have appeared insane to those of other generations who did not swim in the narrative-infested waters that is our environment. And I keep waiting for others to wake up to that fact. And they are, many of us are. But still the true believers cling to the beliefs that they have been fed their entire lives, from the moment they were children watching cartoons selling cereal to the present day when they listen to CIA agents selling them war under the guise of humanitarianism. It’s gone further than I would have thought possible, but I believe my theory remains valid: the further from truth a narrative takes us, the more ridiculous the lies will of necessity be and the harder they will be to swallow. The further a narrative is permitted to drive our society once we have outlived its usefulness, the more damaging it will be to us. I would have liked to see us start to develop new ways of perceiving our place in this vast universe decades ago, but it will happen eventually. The more we cling to our outmoded ways of perceiving the world, the more difficult it will be to eventually let go, but it will be unavoidable. The adults will choose to begin the process now, the rest will in time — of necessity — follow.