Sometimes you find your own words through the words of others and that’s often the case for me. My facility for language, while better than some, is still so incredibly limited. For example, the awareness that truth as it’s described is often more about consensus than historical fact has never entirely escaped me. That is such a loaded statement right there given the War of Truth that’s gone on in our media/social media here in The United States and claims of Fake News and Alternative Facts. All that can be said really though is that it’s a fucking good thing more people don’t read or this country would collapse entirely. Trump’s claims of Fake News and fraud would have less gravity had we not been nurtured on national mythology which rarely holds up when put under serious scrutiny.
Werner Herzog has always interested me because of a rather brutalist objectivity about the world and he often says more in a single sentence than others do in books. This one is another where I found my words through his and his words go farther in describing a lot of what I’ve been getting at (or trying to get at) lately about the collapse of narrative:
“I’m completely aware and utterly aware that Russia [the Soviet Union] lost 25 million people for winning the war, and I know that Russian troops were the ones who liberated concentration camps, Auschwitz and others, and I’m aware that there’s an incredible sacrifice on the side of Russia and I do believe that it’s ignored because of course of political interests. It’s very much the question what other facts, maybe 600 or so thousand American soldiers lost their lives in the Second World War, 25-26 million Russian those effects, that cannot be ignored, and today it’s not that really important what really happend, it’s more than question who owns the narrative, who owns the narrative, and occupying the narrative has created some sort of lopsided ideologies in lopsided information, that we see every day.”
I’m one of those raised completely immersed in the narrative that the Soviet Union was The Evil Empire and that narrative became part of the very fabric of our national identity — it was the classic tale of good vs. evil and it informed everything about our sense of ourselves as a nation. Situations like that are too good to be true if you’ve got a developing capitalist nation. We could present as The Good Guys and The Freedom Fighters… The Justice League if you will, allied with our freedom-loving friends in NATO. We learned that we were solely responsible for saving the Universe from Nazis, The Ultimate Evil. What few of us learned until much later, and some never at all, was that we were conspiring against the Soviet Union, even arming Nazi-sympathizing nations against them, before the Second World War was even over. (Just food for thought on the side – it’s not hard to see how the Russians might have seen the rest of us in The West as creeps, given their immense sacrifice, when their role was so obnoxiously diminished outside their borders.
And we had the Iron Curtain to stem the flow of information from the Soviet Union and control the entire narrative. That’s more what I’m getting at here. It’s that part of the Herzog quote that I’m concerned with: “it’s more than question who owns the narrative, who owns the narrative, and occupying the narrative has created some sort of lopsided ideologies in lopsided information, that we see every day.”
Every narrative is doomed to collapse from its very inception. Our brains, whether we’ve tapped into these capabilities or not, are wired to see patterns and detect imbalances. It’s what we are as organisms. It’s an inherent survival mechanism. Whether we want to see it or not depends on how emotionally invested we are in the security of a defined narrative. But sooner or later, the narrative is going to collapse because we cannot unsee a single fallacy. If one part is false, what else is false? Conversely, if what we have upheld as vital for our entire lives is untrue, then perhaps nothing is true. The insecurity of not knowing what’s below the surface of the ocean translates to “there could be any fucking thing under there!” If someone who presents as an expert, maybe having been down in the void a few times, tells you there are giant tentacled monsters, then why should that not be true. The very same applies to every uncertainty in our lives. Why should any conspiracy theory not be true?
It’s just as easy to believe any lie, in the collapse of the narrative that you’ve held onto, as it was the original mythology. And this is exactly where we are now. It’s almost impossible to blame people for believing the outlandish when we were all raised on a diet of the outlandish.
Nobody owns the narrative right now and in the void of the security of a believable narrative, exacerbated by tsunamis of information (right now because of the internet we are drowning in stories) the outlandish has taken hold and made us stupid, in a primitive, horrible way. Not quite unlike the chickens as Herzog describes them: “fiendishly stupid.” I’m not pointing fingers either. There is enough of that going on right now.
My personal take on it is that it is much safer to believe nothing entirely. Carry forward with a radical agnosticism and live by what you see with your own eyes. If something doesn’t sound entirely right, there’s a good chance it isn’t. Strip it all down and live by what you know personally to be right. Keep it simple.
But more moving forward. Think radical agnosticism. Don’t get too emotionally invested in things that people present to you as absolute truth. Very little in The Universe is absolutely true.