by geezer in Paris
Fri Nov 5th, 2010 at 12:24:44 PM EST
A few years ago Kcurie and I got into a disagreement about the nature of reality. It revolved around what I thought was an extreme position, in which I thought he was overstating the role of perception as essentially ALL of reality. Like all good arguments, it has made me think. So thank you, Kcurie. Our discussion has informed much of what I've done since then on these pages.
I've read the very good discussions led by by Miguel on the meltdown, the equally good ones about the mid-terms and the aftermath- the "what now" question, and I think I see a hole in the discussion. Once again.
In order to explain myself, I must divert to what may seem a wholly unrelated rap, about bedtime stories.
How's THAT for an odd turn, folks?
Here it is, fragments from a not yet published piece written for one of our web sites.
We dream the world
It is widely believed that paleolithic art is the earliest human art. Even though modern humans evolved in Africa more than 200,000 years ago, the earliest commonly recognized "art" is the recent find in Germany, dated at about 35,000 years ago.
Are we to then assume that humans existed art-free for 165,00 years, as we spread across the world from our African birthplace? As we sailed across oceans in fragile craft and trekked the icecaps, fought and died on the long journey over the globe--we just didn't do art?
Such thinking reflects a narrow, rigid definition of art, one that's limited to what can be dug up, to the graphic or sculptural, and misses what I believe to be man's most important art form: storytelling. Hell, just organizing a game hunt requires some fair storytelling.
The sun will rise in the East tomorrow, and the "why" of it is a good story. Do you believe that? It's a true story, no matter what you believe.
What does Pinocchio look like? And is there really such a place as China? How do you know? Have you been there?
You probably know what Pinocchio looks like because, as a child, you saw the movie, just like me. And it's true--only because you believe it to be true. And though I've not yet been to China, I'm pretty confident it's there. But Pinocchio's just a character in a story. The real world is different, of course. Solid, like history. Or China.
----Good luck with that. I imagine China, and, as Howard Zinn so clearly understood, one man's history is another man's lies.
Had you the misfortune to have been blind from birth, the sun's daily arrival would have continued apace, requiring imagination for you to comprehend it. And you would have created your own very personal impression of Pinocchio, and of China. So it's clear that what is "real" is a blend of the physical realities- what we call the "natural sciences"- and the creations of our own imagination.
Is it then fair to say that we dream the world? Within the broad limits imposed by natural science, I think so.
Here's the good part of that:
-- I can imagine that the world could be different than I perceive it to be at this moment.
-- I know that it has been different in other times and in other places, because I've been there.
-- Therefore, I know that change will come, and that the story of the world will be different in the future. But how? What will those differences be?
To change it, we must be able to imagine it as different, hopefully better than it is. We can all do that. Or can we? I think personal dreaming is an endangered art.
I have come to believe that the nature of human social structures and political institutions- in fact, most of human life- are formed in the course of dreaming, which is the ability to tell yourself a story. But once that image of the puppet is fixed in the young consciousness, there is little room for any other. And Pinocchio, like so many of our sweet childhood dreams, has been kidnapped, and turned into a marketing machine to sell coloring books, shoes, backpacks, lunch boxes, and this time he won't escape. It's a shtick done by the best, a pitch that's hard to resist. For most, resistance is not worth the effort. We have become accustomed to someone else doing our dreaming for us- our storytelling. And so we live their stories, not our own. WE LIVE IN THEIR WORLD, not our own.
The Millers have long been outsiders, expatriots, inhabitants of an ever-changing world with little television or media brain massage. Ten countries in thirty years.
Still, it took us a long, long time to unlearn Pinocchio.
What makes a good story, anyway?
What makes a good storyteller?
In a political sense? I have some ideas about that-- just my own ideas- but I can tell you something that's true.
The story of our time is dying.
It never had enough of a grounding in the building blocks that make a story live- a solid grounding in the natural sciences, or the communal and emotive truths that make all works of the dreamer's art live long. A great story has both, perhaps, and our story had it's moments.
Neil Armstrong's scuff in moondust. (Forget the words, just the deed. Please.)
The fall of Apartheid.
And many, many more.
A new story is being born.
What will that story be?
We've heard a lot from George Lakoff and others about "framing", and "message discipline" has become a ubiquitous phrase. Even Bob Altemyer has illuminated the many questions about those who are driven to latch onto a storyteller and make his story the guide to, the direction for their lives. But, as has been wisely pointed out by someone else here (sorry- sclerotic neurons) the world we speak about amongst ourselves, here at ET, is quite different than the world outside. True, we have some good contacts in that wider world to help us get the sense of the developing story. But in the main, we are academic technocrats.
The stories we tell ourselves are a key part of our world.
The stories we tell our children are the future.
American kids are great "story consumers". So-- what stories do American children grow up with? And who will do the telling?
That's the key to the future.
That's the not so good part.