|It’s funny how things come together sometimes. Monday, after posting my advice column on blogging time-savers, and saying the most important thing is to get away from your computer and your reading and get out into the real world and give yourself time to think creatively about what really matters to you personally, I followed my own advice. Chelsea and I went for a long walk. And soon my head was filled with rage about all the things wrong with this world and the ten things that still keep me awake at night. And I wanted to know why they go on, ignored, uncorrected. Things happen the way they do for a good reason, I’ve always said. You need to understand why all this stuff has happened and continues to happen. Find the root cause, not the symptoms.
People love to read editorials and blogs that rant cleverly, emotionally and articulately, and blame other people for what’s wrong. Pointing the finger at others exonerates us, takes the heat off, makes us feel better about ourselves. What’s the root cause, and who’s to blame?
And then I came back in and read some more of The Truth About Stories, the book I blogged about on Sunday so enthusiastically. And at the end of the book I found my story, perhaps our story, and all the rage I had focused outside was refocused inward, because this story is, at its root, a story of personal failure, cowardice and fear.
Here is what I read:
The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. The Nigerian story-teller Ben Okri says that “in a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories that are planted in us early or along the way, or we are also living the stories we planted — knowingly or unknowingly — in ourselves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.”…
In North America, we talk about our environmental [and business] ethic. [We get outraged about incidents like the Exxon Valdez spill and the Enron fraud and demand action]. To listen to the noise generated by these two events, you would have thought that we cared. But in fact, we don’t. Not in any ethical way. Oil tankers are supposed to be safe. Financial institutions are supposed to be bastions of integrity. But we do nothing to prevent such disasters from happening again. And when they do, and they surely will, our reaction will be the same, because the story we tell about moments like this is that they shouldn’t have happened, that they’re someone else’s fault,…that there’s no way to avoid them completely, that the environment and investor confidence will recover eventually…
The Canadian government closed down the East Coast cod fishery. The cod were already gone, had been going for years, and everyone knew it. The reason was simple. Overfishing. The fishers blamed the government. The government blamed the fishers, everyone blamed the large foreign offshore trawlers, seals, global warming, El Nino, Native people… Could such a thing have been prevented? Of course. So why didn’t we prevent it?
The oil industry and our oil-based economy depend for their existence on the ability of geologists to find new fields of oil and our willingness to ignore the obvious, that at some point we’re going to run out of oil. This would suggest that reducing energy consumption, curbing the proliferation of cars and multilane highways, and converting to sustainable sources of energy would be our first priorities. But we have no such priorities. We only hope that the exhaustion of the oil supply won’t happen in our lifetime.
It’s not that we don’t care about ethical behaviour, the environment, society. It’s just that we care more about our comfort and the things that make us comfortable — property, prestige, power, appearance, security. And the things that insulate us from the vicissitudes of life. Money, for instance…
The proof of what we truly believe lies in what we do and not what we say. We’ve created the stories that allow [the ethics of what we do and don’t do] to exist and flourish. They didn’t come out of nowhere, from another planet. Want a different ethic? Tell a different story…
I weep for the world I’ve helped to create. A world in which I allow my intelligence and goodwill to be constantly subverted by my pursuit of comfort and pleasure. And because of knowing all of this, it is doubtful that given a second chance to make amends for my despicable behaviour, I would do anything different, for I find it easier to tell myself the story of my failure as a human being, than to have to live the story of making the sustained effort to help.
Our stories are lies. We know they are, but we keep telling them to ourselves and to each other. We keep living them and living in them. Thomas King acknowledges that this, The Truth about Stories, is in itself not a very satisfying story. “No plot. No neat ending. No clever turns of phrase.” (The remaining stories in this book have all three, and are remarkable).
We don’t want to hear the other stories out there in the real world — the stories of what goes on inside the walls of abusive homes, factory farms, prisons, workplaces, schools, laboratories and institutions, and which are overtly played out in inner city streets and throw-away third world countries, the endless litany of violence, physical and psychological, personal and institutional, that occurs millions of times per minute throughout our world. These other stories detract from our ‘comfort and pleasure’. They threaten to crack open the lies in our own story. That we cannot bear.
So the ‘root cause’ I was seeking during my walk with Chelsea is the subversion of our culture, this modern culture of negativism, acquisition, paternalism and scarcity whose ubiquitous, tyrannical story leaves everything in the hands of fate, or god, and absolves us of our responsibility and our sins, and fills us with the constant and consuming terror of not having enough. And we know who’s to blame: The Man in the Mirror (that song was written, ironically, by a woman).
Our story is unfinished. We could change the ending if we want. Create a better ending. It’s all up to us.
[My novel-in-progress will be an attempt to create a new ending, and perhaps a completely new story. I still hope to have it finished by the end of June.]
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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