Thursday, February 9, 2017
Time for a New Story
The year 2016 was a time that witnessed the collapse of failing narratives about culture, history, and eschatology (growth towards goodness, the march of progress, etc.) and the emergence of previously marginalized traditional ones. Our stories are cracking; things we have pretended to believe about the world have turned out not to be true. Things that have been banned from the public conversation – feelings, ideas and worldviews that had been pushed aside or deemed taboo - have charged back with force across the globe to demand attention, angry at their rejection heretofore. Some believed we had moved beyond such marginal considerations, but it does not work like that. Those on the left who champion the dissolution of the nation state, global human equality, a cosmopolitan world civilization, fair and free trade, and secular democracy, saw their momentum grind to an abrupt halt with the Brexit vote, election of Donald Trump, and growing populist/nationalist sentiments in retaliation of imposed globalist initiatives. Amidst the flailing and finger pointing, those subscribing to socialist New World Order agendas have been left with many regrets and little recourse as they witness a 180-degree shift in history.
The standard worldview among the opinion-formers of Western democracies since 1989 is now crashing, grinding to a screeching halt. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that the arc of the moral universe ever bends towards justice. But whose justice? The arc is in the process of swinging from the perceived justice of progressives to the perceived justice of conservatives. History has not all of a sudden reversed itself into regression, nor is it temporarily going sideways as many on the left believe. History marches on regardless of politics and does not follow any sort of imagined inevitable path towards goals that progressives consider to be just and worthy. Progressives see their narrow goals as so obviously desirable to all that they find it inconceivable that anything should rise up to stand in the way of ever stopping worldly progress towards them. They believe that the triumph of what they consider right and just is inevitably tied to destiny itself. But the shift in history that is occurring right now is not an aberration; the left's hopes and dreams for progress is not inevitable.
There is a stark, raving madness in the air across the world. When people disagree about Brexit, they are not really arguing about Brexit. When they object to Donald Trump, they are not really objecting to Donald Trump. When they want to put a halt to Islamic migration, it has nothing to do with religious prejudice. Brexit, Trump, and Islamic migrants have become symbols, archetypes of the kind of future we want and don’t want, the kind of people we think we are and the kind of people we think others are. It is as if we are fighting over myths, stories, representations of the world as it is and as we want it to be. The answer to these problems is not to hold onto the dying stories, but to look to marginal ideas and figures from the edges of history for new stories. The world’s great religions, philosophies, art forms, and even political systems and ideologies were, for the most part, initiated by marginal figures. There is a reason for that - sometimes you have to go to the edges to get some perspective on the turmoil at the heart of things. Doing so is not an abnegation of public responsibility, but a form of it. In the old stories, people from the edge brought back or introduced ideas and understandings that the mainstream could not generate by itself.
In a time of great change, when shifts occur, when cracks appear, it is easy to take sides, and that is why it’s a good time not to. The flow of history will settle in due course as new ideas replace the old, and as new stories replace old stories. Before joining the battle we must be sure we are on the right side of history and choose a worthy role within the new story, and not disappear with a failing narrative that is now resigned to a quickly forgotten past. Rather than despair, attend to Gandhi's advice: "be the change you wish to see in the world"; help write the new story
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