The Age of Many Narratives.

Never before have we had access to so many versions of the “truth” and this is largely due to the explosion of electronic media and communications. Spin too has added a dizziness to our lives. We live in the age of many narratives and unless we have personal experience of the thing being narrated, it is difficult to ascertain which narrative most closely matches the reality. It may be that there are, in addition to different narratives, different realities.

Our sense of reality is determined by our cognitive faculties and their assimilative capability. We make our universe out of our narrative of the world. There is a material universe which we can measure using electron based instumentation and photon-based detectors. That cosmos is out there and there is some broad agreement as to what it looks like amongst a small sub-set of our population. Some of this gets through to the wider public and there are now loads of pretty pictures of space and galaxies. Now we think space to be big and we are in a planetary orbit around a star we call the sun. This is our current narrative. It is a reality carried by many due to the telling of a story. This reality did not exist hundreds of years ago insofar as human beings were concerned. Out of all of the data we have assimilated this reality as it currently stands, and I’ll guess that many consider it a pretty good version of reality. To think this(our) reality previously could have had you fall foul of the powers that be. It is often the case that when reality clashes with temporal power things do not run smoothly.

Narratives can differ markedly amongst two beings, just go to the divorce courts or hear people talk about a relationship. The narratives will never coincide perfectly unless rehearsed to be so. And if you are so inclined you may wish to know which narrative is right. You may even insist that it is always your narrative which is right. But even the rightest narrative is a time evolving thing, a memory is subject to fading and variance in its re-telling. But these narratives are the “bricks” of our “world”. The world is what we tell ourselves and others, it is. It is by our telling we create our world(s).

To give an example; the easiest narrative for me being here today is roughly as follows. Alan has a history of mental health problems and was once treated for clinical depression with a suicidal ideation. At the age of 42 he had a mid-life crisis and packed in his job. Since that time, he has gone completely off the rails and dabbles in whacko belief systems. He has lost what few marbles he had remaining and has constructed a 250,000-word blog filled with his insane ramblings. He is doing himself no favours in doing this. Maybe he might one day come back to his senses and be of some use to the world as we know it. It is all some cleverly constructed justification which he uses to justify his delusions and failure.

This is a version of a narrative and I offer it up as an alternate explanation for you to consider.

What I am getting at is that we can construct pretty much any narrative we want, we may even believe our narrative to be the “truth” and thereby inviolate. We may fight and argue to uphold our narrative especially if other narratives are less convenient for us. We may have a hard time accepting any narrative other than our own. So, who do we trust? Is it the BBC, the internet or some bloke down the pub? It is likely that we trust those narratives which are already closest to our own and we may derive some comfort from a commonality of narrative. The narrative of the English, differs from the narrative of the Welsh and all this in one United Kingdom. Differences in narratives are to be found on all sides, which means reality and world also differs. At this time the UK narrative and the Russian narrative differ. But who is right? We can obsess about this thing “right”.

History shows us that for a while and in one country, there is a tendency for one narrative to dominate but history also looks back on these narratives and asks, “Did they really believe that? Did they really do those things?” History itself is a narrative, is says so, his-story. And we all have some stories about what has happened to us, our tale of life, our very own personal legends.

In my view no narrative is ever a reliable alternative to personal experience. Yet we so heavily rely on the narratives of others when they may be unreliable. Of course, any personal experience can itself become a narrative, but there are some elements of experience which cannot be narrated, they can only be experienced. Some things, some experiences are beyond words, they cannot be spoken of, they are unspeakable and even ineffable. It is here that the reliance on narrative fails and badly so.

We live in an age of many narratives, they can’t all be accurate, but we are inundated like never before. I wonder what this is doing to us as a humanity? Maybe we will get to a point where we trust no one, not even ourselves to perceive with any accuracy that is unless the narrative is already given some electronic thumbs up on some software platform or other. We may be losing the faculty of discerning truth for ourselves. We can metaphorically drown under the seas of all these narratives.

With narrative there is often agenda and sometimes we can forget this colouration.

Strange times we live in…