Human beings live inside stories. Perhaps it is possible -with brain injury or with enlightenment- to live outside them rather than simply take occasional vacations outside our narratives. I perhaps don’t have any recollection of what that is like save perhaps for fleeting moments of presence, of moments of changes in my consciousness which I can only really describe by twists of language referencing the linguistic gestures of better mystics and better writers.
Stories are our shelter, our tools, our weapons. You can’t *eat* stories, but they can give comfort when there is little to eat, can help you -perhaps- understand when and how to eat beyond the instinctive gorge on scarce nutrients whenever possible in order to weather the famishment that was seasonal, repeated, part and parcel of the life of our ancestors. Stories can create meaning to hunger and satiation. Though, it is rare the human who can care about such things when they’re starving.
Stories sometimes make people sick. Sometimes, stories help them become well. Placebo is a hell of a drug, placebo is in every drug, and the best way to understand placebo is to understand it as a prescribed story — with greater or lesser impact given how well it fits in with the other stories and how much these have colonized the person in question. (I think there’s also something to medicine, something to much of life that isn’t story but it’s not as much as people usually think).
There are limits to stories, magic/story is best thought of as probability manipulation (though probabilities themselves are guestimate hand waves that can not factor in the things that haven’t happened since recording began, which is most things that are possible — we live in parochial shallows of time rather than the deep time that is inhuman in scope and dwarfs all we’ve done).
Stories are by their necessity incomplete. They ignore much, end -somewhere- rather than flow on forever and ever one thing into the next in a transformation dance with can only end -maybe- in the heat death of the universe. To be satisfying, stories have to dial in an aperture of a tiny sliver of the all ignoring the vastness in place of something tidy. In much the same way a dwelling creates an artificial (and ultimately permeable) division between inside and outside, a story does much the same in the realm of possible utterances, possible symbols, and possible attention sinks. Even extinction of a species, even the extinction of *my* species would not be the end — the configuration of the world we have presided over will shape all that is to come until the massive reshaping that -maybe- will happen when the sun explodes. But that’s just another story, one in alignment with what we perceive through our peer reviewed instrumentation and the (mostly) reliable stories we’ve cobbled together out of our scientific processes, but a story none the less.
Stories are incomplete and must deal with the other, that which is outside that bursts in from beyond. Stories must ignore some outliers or else be reshaped by them. A story that people are good must deal with the emergence of a proper monster, must deal with all that we as humans do which is ‘not good.’ The story about what is a good life must deal with desires that do not conform to its internal morality. Our story of physics must deal with ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ which are required unknowns to make the equations (useful in so many other contexts) to work.
The best stories we can produce compress into mythopoetics, expanding into new shapes and new utilities with each telling; new details and spins by individualized tellers create new possibilities for meaning, new possibilities for thought-understanding-action for an unfolding world. These are nomad stories; light, multipurpose — dense weaves of meaning and potential optionality encoded, compressed into fable and symbolism (though, perhaps somewhat ironically, our nomadic ancestors may have enjoyed an oral tradition with their people of staggering sophistication — the loving work of generations of story tellers trying to encode a mythopoetic that that could see their people through climate change, famine, war, and perhaps a peculiarly challenging state… abundance).
The stories of settled peoples -the stolen children of empire- are sprawling, bookish things. Obsessed with yield and quantification, spiraling out to fill endless volumes; endless footnotes and citations to deal with a fraction of the complexity. These stories try to take into account all the data (except the data that is omitted for this or that reason… the ‘damned’ in the fortean sense). But all available data (at least how most moderns consider it) is the result of maybe a couple centuries of record keeping, biased by all manner of sloppy shoddiness and epistemological rat fuckery. The stories (or, applied scientific theories) created with and from these data are what make my life possible, but they are inherently parochial, blind to whatever black spawns have yet to emerge into our wan decades of ‘scientific’ record keeping (and proper relationality with the records and knowings of the past grants us access to far more time though with its own challenges to sense and story making).
It is the endless question, what is story for? In many ways, we can be understood as that which is domesticated by story, that domesticated story in kind the same way we’ve entered domestication pacts with fire and dog and wheat and many more besides.
Settled stories are heavy, intricate. They don’t need a light draft because they can be encoded in data in endless reams of gigabytes. They suffer the sin of hubris, as their ability to explain more occults all they don’t explain, until eventually the weight of all that is not explained breaks the older story (and here read ‘scientific theory’). Because every story is fragile, breakable before the total onrush of reality, the totality that exists beyond story. Stories must be tested, ideally willingly but inevitably.
Stories can be outgrown, the way crutches and braces are outgrown once an injury has healed, once a body has grown. But perhaps we simply hatch from a cocoon of one story into a different one, every weave of narrative smelling like the finality the ultimate. Better to think of stories as primarily invocations to certain mental emotional experiential states, of certain capabilities with certain materia and other desiring beings of varying efficacy. Your stories may fail you when you need them most, not because they must betray you but because they are insufficient, limited. With a hammer you can not screw in a screw, with anti-natalism you can not feel good about having children.
The central story of my liberal west is one of despair and schizophrenic over responsible powerlessness, one where power is shuffled around till all those who feel guilt are not in a position to make change and all those with power do not feel guilt. When we have spent enough time amongst those things ‘we’ have ruined, it is easy to hate and resent and despair.
The story of the conservative majority is one of stolen glory, if not actually than attempted. That there was a golden age, a perfection that the mere return to tradition would reboot. The story of the progressive is that there is no glory, few is any heroes to emulate (and of those almost none were burdened much by power). Those with privilege can not truly teach those without, a reversed dominance dance of who is able to speak about what when.
The nihilism of school shooters, assaults that flow along the barrel of a gun till they flow into media traversing the synthetic nervous system of my people, bodies shivering in fear and anxiety. Each moment devoured into the narratives, enforced by VR; a dumbshit binary that obscures so much and is the most successful project to disempower and alienate people ever achieved.
All roads lead to Rome, and all mass market narratives lead to alienation and othering; giving reasons why the other cannot be exchanged with (except through proscribed market logic). The mass market narratives more or less lead deeper into simulacrum^8 where most of what is found is deadness and dissociation; the opposite of aliveness and the weave of relationality. They don’t, can’t get it but maybe larger protests will finally allow them to see. Keep jamming the button that isn’t working. These are the things that just happen now.
Stories accrete like barnacles on the ship of self and must be examined and often pried off the hull of the ship. The question returns, again and again, to what do you want? It is most likely possible, even in this rotting empire, but it will take the oldest and most sacred power of human beings, the ability to change, the ability to (re)new stories. These new stories must take into account all of us; our foibles, our limitations with love and acceptance and the chance to do better (but what does better mean if not more in alignment with what we want, and what proof do we have that this world isn’t in the end what ‘we’ collectively want; do we wish to be oppressed, disempowered? If not, then let us cultivate freedom and grow our power in balance and elegance).
This is not the best of all possible worlds because there are so many other possible worlds for us to explore, build, GROW together. So many other ways to arrange atoms, so many ways to climb entropy, so many ways to dance with the hyper-abundance of sunlight, so many ways to fashion the bones of dead stars, so many other ways to understand our relations and obligations, such new possibilities and potentialities of relationships to ourselves and all that is not ourselves but in which and with which we are entrained, mutually dependent, eternally.
There is a story that climate change will kill us/our children. Humanity has been through worse.
There was a story that nuclear war would kill us all, but that story is not what happened (yet).
There is a story that AI will kill us all.
So here then is what I wonder, what stories do I serve and what stories serve me and how else might it be?