It’s a strange thing for a writer to be irritated by the use of the word “narrative” considering it’s centrality, but I have been bothered about it’s weird new deployments for quite awhile now, and for several different reasons.
I first noticed it coming up in creepy right-wing journalism, and then in talking-points from W’s White-House, with a menacing and pejorative undertone. The idea seemed to be that huge swathes of recent history that many people clearly remembered happening, were in fact a “narrative” – a tricky fiction made-up by some presumably ill-intentioned force or organization, in order to make people harmfully skeptical (disloyal – also strongly implied).
The suggestion being that opposing an insane war which remains destructive morally, economically, to international-law and any hope of civilized norms, was somehow a worse thing than the war itself.
And the fact that the so-called narrative pointed out that similar wars of the past have had many lastingly damaging consequences for every party involved, was seen only as further proof of it’s perfidy.
(by those who bought into this Orwellian – I can’t resist – narrative).
The curious thing is – on a psychological level, we do each inhabit our own individual narrative of self-description and understanding – we MUST tell ourselves a story about who we are, to feel we know-it – and the shape of this narrative does have a great impact on how we interact with the world.
There are about fifty directions I want to go from here – all at once – but I’ll focus on a single crucial one today. Others deserve their own more-fulsome delve!
That we are at a moment of political paralysis, feels hard to argue – while larger and larger numbers are coming to accept that climate change, water management, pollution and the greater biosphere (insects and birds, in particular) all need far more emphasis, we have yet to see any examples of vigorous embrace of full-sustainability by any major state (though there are a myriad of gradualist solutions of great promise being proven-out, all over the world).
And lets not kid ourselves – there is nothing controversial whatsoever about the need to defend the environment in which we live – we’ve widely understood that addressing our industrial threat to air, water and food was an absolute priority, which must be made central to planning and policy, for a half a century now. And that whole time, despite all the feel-good band-aids, the rate-of damage has been accellerating greatly.
City-light – the machine we inhabit and create. All that inertia!
I’d like to suggest that a key reason for this species-suicidal political-paralysis is a common defect in almost all first-world citizens inner narrative, which really got going thanks to the culture war.
As I’ve mentioned before, the culture war has taken a lot of real casualties over the years, genuine tragedies and heroic confrontations both, are a part of it’s history. But the retreat from unified struggle for power, which followed the too-scary skirmishes of the late sixties, (which felt at the time to many, like the precursor to a revolution) has left all of us with a toxic attitudinal hangover.
“The system” is too big, immovable, big vs little – and most of all – not me, anyhow.
The idea that we would go-within and find our revolutionary changes inside ourselves instead, held great and to some extent legitimate appeal (and while the psyche can indeed be a fearsome opponent, it is rarely armed even with tear-gas, let alone fixed bayonets).
Much that added to human wealth was uncovered, with so much wide-open exploration, and we must also note that this was learned at considerable cost to many. But the general retreat into self – the idea that we would thenceforth protest from outside, rather than step-up, MASS-ORGANIZE and seize control of (and responsibility for) the system, was always a magic-beans deal.
The thing that we ’empowered individuals’ forgot, is that historically, it is widely distributed economic benefit (that is, a very healthy middle-class, and aspirational working-class – both solidly cut-in-on the benefits of production) which produces steady social advancement – just as gender equity and full access to employment reduces birth-rates humanely, consistently.
Trade-wealth has long been a part of social progress (treaties for worker-bullying, a seperate issue)
The Dutch invented our modern notion of social-progress, by being the first people to feel righteously guilty about having too much, when others went hungry – and turn that into popular social-policy.
Problem is, as the oversized cohort of boomers moved up in their careers from starting workers to starting investors (savings-plans), the wealth of North America was steadily shifted away from general wages, over to certificates of value based not upon groceries at the end of the week for our neighbours, but instead a confluence of market-factors and the inertia of belief.
Rather than investing directly in our communities – we divested rapidly, and then pressured the bottom still more (reducing work-quality greatly, for all subsequent generations) to increase rate of return.
We went virtual, debtor, and enslaved to the speculative, all at once – (I’ll post on Reagan/Thatcher and the inventor of ‘voodoo economics’ Milton Friedman, soon), and made society pay, for individual advancement.
Updated version of this proven-wrong economic tactic still dominate – and damage the lives of billions, daily.
Decades ago, I cautioned friends who were feeling triumphant, that the culture war wouldn’t be worth winning, if we didn’t also secure greater economic fairness. Why? Because the seeds of the reactionary ugliness that we see rising in our own culture now were always there, and have always been best fertilized by fear, insecurity, and the prospect of future scarcity.
The cut-square stays – and all else falls-away (by Bugs-logic, anyhow)
Still – I missed the main point myself – I claim no high-ground. For thirty-five years now I’ve considered myself part of the art-underground, the counterculture – trying my best only to find some clever underdog way to lob a few good ideas into the dispiriting sea of commercialism, from the far side of the wall. Trickster/fool (a nice hero-narrative for the irrelevant, no?).
While working hard and often at many (not always obviously foredoomed) things, I still deemed myself an experimental musician, to excuse loathsome aversion to practise. Wrote whole volumes of self-indulgent political rhetoric, fit only for a pulpit that I was too fearful to ever consider taking, for real. Much effort misdirected. Regrettable.
I did always clearly remember one thing, that whole time, thanks to being a very lonesome kid. I always felt the sting every time someone was crowing triumphantly about winning at the expense of workers, the weak and the poor. (which of course made the eighties politically excruciating). They are and will be my team, always.
But here’s the frightening mirror-reflection that I’m suddenly seeing – and I do apologize if this one stings a bit. The right-wingers who piss us off the most? They consider themselves ‘rebels’ and part of the ‘counterculture’ every bit as much as we ever did (and are no less excited about it). They feel their position exempts them from the consequences of capitalism and the state, and deem themselves empowered to disrupt, coopt and take-over everything they can, without any need to compromise with all of those ugly droids serving “The system”.
Which – OMFG – is suddenly now US? We who thought WE were the rebels all this time? We’re the faceless oppressive (and infinitely-motivating) ‘system’ to THEM? Talk about end-over-end vertigo. This one is more than merely dizzying, it’s outright sickening!
But can I deny that my own self-designation as ‘rebel’ and ‘outside the game’ was also arbitrary and unhelpful? Feeling bad doesn’t cover it, principle must. This really comes down to engaging or withholding our talents, and ultimately – our clear duty to the greater edifice.
Hey look, a cellphone!
We always were democratic citizens, even when we pretended it was enough to concentrate on being selfish consumers, insular self-actualizers, or righteous rebels – we were just being sloppy and irresponsible citizens.
We always were stakeholders, even when we waved signs and marched. We always were responsible parties, even when we protested our own nations exploitations, invasions and hostilities.
Critique does not come with a papal indulgence (moral indemnity) for social outcomes – regardless of the rigour of our dogma. Nor is distraction an adequate excuse (I mean this point functionally – LOOK AROUND!) This task is our job and our duty – to pretend otherwise, is to pout and declare – we can’t handle democracy.
Which means that yes – I was just being a fearful hack, mute by-posture – not a real (that is, useful) essayist.
Feels like I’m finally getting a little bit closer to it now – but only insofar as I stay focussed on the far-distant goal, on behalf of our (whole-human) family.
That goal? The very same hope for a far better way to do – all of this – that we once thought worth almost having a revolution over. Sustainable, that is to say, survivable, would be an excellent baseline at which to assemble – don’t you agree?
Love is a great starting place – especially for expanding communication (an emergency-necessary project, now).
Peace (much harder) is level-two indeed, for understanding, and our own personal heart-work.
But ORGANIZE EVERYONE remains the challenge in the world – and the key to seizing the reigns at last.
(I will never stop wobblying, really).