Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Stories and the Storytellers

I apologize if any of you have been made uncomfortable by the recent "red button" debate on abortion. I respect my debate partners, and do not think that they are bad people. It's good that different sides of this issue have been covered.

What I need to talk about now is something that ties into our debate, and which, in some ways, explains the debate. That is the idea of worldview. You all know that I use that word a lot, and there's a reason why.

I look to many pre-modern sources for my own inspiration, when it comes to my own ideas regarding social science. I am, in a way, a social scientist, and to me, the problems with the modern world are tied into competing worldviews. There are modern worldviews, pre-modern worldviews, even a modern worldview called the "postmodern" view, which is enormously popular in scientific and literary circles. The Postmodern worldview largely defines the way most people think nowadays.

Let me explain something about worldview that may not be immediately apparent: all worldviews, in a way, "work". You can look at the world in many ways, and achieve "successful" outcomes. Let me give an example.

Let's say you live in a tribe that has an animistic outlook or worldview. You believe that the earth is a sacred thing, a goddess, and you treat it well because of that belief which is a part of your worldview.

Now, let's say you're a scientist and an atheist who doesn't believe in spirits or afterlives at all, and doesn't believe in the idea of the "sacred". But you know that the survival of the human race is based on certain methods of treating the earth, to keep it sustainable.

Whether you are the tribesperson, or the scientist, the outcome will be the same- you'll treat the earth well. You are both treating the earth well, but your worldviews are radically different.

This example can be enormously expanded; but for now, let's rest there. ANY worldview CAN "work". The question- the real question- is this:

"Which story is best, and who is the best storyteller?"

A worldview is just that- a story. It's a story we tell ourselves, which helps us to make sense of our world. Cultures have broadly-accepted stories they tell themselves; individuals have them too.

I do not suggest that we all rush back into pre-modern ways of living, chiefly because even they weren't "perfect" in places, and also, the world-conditions have changed a lot, in many key ways, which render pre-modern living systems not always the best. That being said, the pre-modern world had a lot of valuable wisdom that we can all use, and which I think can help us to create a NEW worldview, one that can possibly spare this world and its people from destruction.

This new worldview, this new story, is the child of the pre-modern and the modern. The modern worldviews that we all know so well- the myths of scientific materialism, the myths of various political systems, the myths of the individual, the myth of "inalienable rights", all these things are common today. The stories we accept, the myths, the "ways of seeing" that we accept, have EVERYTHING to do with the Fate of the world. We can see that our current modern myths are lacking something fundamental, because they fail to do what they claim they will do- they fail to deliver people to true peace.

They fail to deliver us to a place where the world is treated properly, and where other people are respected and integrated into a working system. The system that we have now, based on those worldviews, is doomed- the world can't sustain us if we keep going the way we're going. The system has flaws because the worldviews behind it are NOT the best stories- they don't tell the whole truth about mankind, or our relationship with one another, or the natural world.

I think the "lost" elements we need are to be found in the pre-modern worldviews. I think the two, the pre-modern and the modern, can be wed together, to create a more balanced approach. This is what all my work is about. A new story has to emerge, based on the best of the old and the best of the new, but with a solid traditional grounding in the old, because the old order deserves the respect and integration it never got when it was forcibly and too-quickly discarded by things like the rise of Christianity.

I think that our intuition and our hearts can help us here. Let me give another example of two stories that you know quite well.

Story 1:

"The human being is a physical being only; a product of random evolution, and consciousness is a trick of the brain's chemistry. When a human dies, consciousness ceases forever, and that's that."

Story 2:

"In ancient times, the Gods bestowed the gift of immortal spirit upon the living, natural processes that were shaped into the first human beings. A human being is a complex convergence of many natural forces, including the spirit; when a person dies, that spirit flows onward into the great chain of forces to find a new existence."

Now, I ask you, from your heart- which is the better story? You are seeing two stories born in two different worldviews. You are hearing the first story from the mouth of a storyteller who calls himself a "scientist". The second comes from an organic tradition, and comes, ultimately, from the mouths of many, many unknown storytellers, who were behind the many myths and sacred tales we read in Pagan sources.

Which is the better story, and who is the better storyteller?

If you reacted poorly to the first story, and preferred the second, consider for a moment that there is a truth IN YOU that rebels against the first, because it knows, deep down, that the story isn't true, isn't "telling it like it is". There is a natural truth in us, a spirit, a reality that cannot be reduced to simple matter. That natural truth rebels against all attempts to reduce it to mud.

What about these two stories?

Story 1:

"The only true God created the world for the use of mankind. He made mankind to be the best and most important of creatures, the only creature with an immortal soul, and placed animals and the land here to be at the disposal of human beings."

Story 2:

"From the timeless and uncreated web of life, Gods arose, and so did all living beings, including humans. The web of life is sacred; humans are not "better" than the other parts- we are parts of the whole, and whatever we do to that web, we do to ourselves. Humans have a duty to work cooperatively with this world and all the sacred, natural powers within it, for the good of the whole, and the survival of the whole. The Gods have been helping mankind to do this for ages, by visiting them with visions, dreams, help, answered prayers, and teaching them wisdom."

Which is the better story? Which storyteller do you prefer? Why do you feel as you do?

Natural truth has a way of making itself known, deep in the heart and in the intuition. But if the heart and mind are obscured by greed and selfishness, even natural truth cannot shine through.

Our modern stories tell us many untruths about ourselves and our relationship with the world. We are raised to believe that WE as "individuals" are all-important, and our needs are foremost. We are told that we have "rights" to this thing or that thing, "rights" to live however we want. Anytime we hear a story that threatens to unsettle those egoistic beliefs, we reject it; we call it "primitive" or "superstitious" or "corrupt" and we ignore it. We point out how much better our modern stories are.

And while we are supporting these modern stories, these very bad friends that tell us everything we want to hear, the world is suffering, and dying. The modern stories were not born in wisdom; they were born in materialistic scientific paradigms, which themselves were born from a total rejection of all religious and spiritual thinking. The wisdom found in ancient religions is chalked up to superstition, and ignored. The wisdom that is sometimes found in modern religions is likewise ignored.

What's left? A world where people live for themselves, to desperately attempt to satisfy their own physical pleasures and "needs". Models of "independence" have appeared which are simply extreme selfishness given a shiny gloss- no one better tell ME what I can or can't do! Forget the fact that our actions all affect one another, and we MUST, of necessity, sometimes tell people what they can or can't do, just for survival's sake.

My quest is to lay aside the way modern myths have made me think about myself, and reconsider myself. We all have to reconsider our relationship to the world, and our assumptions about life.

And I do just that, and through trance, meditation, and consideration, I come to certain conclusions. One of my conclusions is this:

"The world is a sacred system of interactions, and we are all a part of it. What we do to each other and to the world affects us all. Life is also a sacred system of interactions, and it should not be destroyed for selfish reasons."

Now, that conclusion would seem simple, easy to see, and pretty much beyond dispute. And yet, when I say it, I am attacked by many who dispute those simple conclusions. On what grounds? Because if they were to really believe that, and act accordingly, many of the "rights" they feel were given to them by God or society would fall by the wayside. They would have to step, for a moment, outside of their socially-conditioned assumptions, and (to their minds) perhaps "lose" something that is so crucial to their personalities and their ideas, that they feel threatened.

But the process of changing a worldview, of addressing the problems, IS painful. It isn't easy. Everyone knows what they think, but few know WHY they think it. Most of us repeat, mindlessly, what we've been told. I wasn't raised to believe that life was a system; like most people, I was raised to believe in life as a linear phenomenon, and that my "personal" business and actions really only affected me and those closest to me, or maybe a slightly broader crowd, but that's it. I was raised to think this world is just "resources" for humans to use, and that I had the "right" to live however I wanted, so long as I didn't break the law, and kept a 9-5 job, working for some employer.

But I have rejected that. Those assumptions are selfish, and they are out of step with reality. That is not the way the world works, and people who attempt to live in that manner always come to grief over it- and they cause further problems. They find the depression, the anxiety, the sense of isolation, and the nagging feeling that "something is missing" that is the due of people who live out a poorly told story.

I invite you all to reconsider things with me, and find a better way of living. In this, animistic and primal peoples on this planet can be good guides- there was a time when human beings knew how to live on this earth. And we can change things for the better, if we listen to them, and use their wisdom to tell better stories for our children.


Stephanie said...

Maybe the best story,
is no story at all.

Anonymous said...


That would work with one exception: there is no such thing as "no story". There's always a story- form and emptiness are inseperable. The question is: which story is best? Buddhists think that Buddha's teachings are the best story, for instance. But in the system of life, it's impossible to not communicate. Even lack of communication is a very real message, a real communication. Simply deciding not to have a story doesn't do what people think it will- in fact, it's a very bold statement all by itself.

Stephanie said...

I agree that we will always have, and need, stories.

But in my opinion and experience, the less we make of them, the better.

Otherwise, we get drawn into the dangerous realm of giving ideas and ideals the power of preference. We start to look for proof of our theories. And we get locked inside words and concepts.