I was trying to come up with the whole idea that there needs to be a narrative, some way we see ourselves.
Humans are made only partly of physical being, the other part of us story, a myth that extends beyond us. We’re none of us stupid – or too stupid – we know where we come from and we’ve seen what happens to the generations before us.
Leaving religion aside for a moment – yes, religion is part of a narrative that encompasses everything around us and extends into the future from us, but it’s not the only narrative – if you look at the normal course of human life, we know we are born, we live, we die, and (in all but very few cases) we’re forgotten. To a certain extent, unless you’re a king or your name happens to be Shakespeare, we’re all forgotten – even if we’re remembered in some historian’s footnote. Heck, even most of the kings are not that important. When is the last time you were fascinated by every small detail in the life of Ethelred the unready? (Suburbanbanshee, do not answer that one.)
Now why I said leaving religion aside—yes, religion is a narrative that makes sense out of life, and it’s always been there. It’s still there for those who believe, to the degree they muster their belief – is that there used to be a civic narrative too. Patriotism. In the old world, this amounted to the belief that your “race” defined as your nationality was the bestest ever and supposed to recreate the feats of the Romans (Portuguese poems went on about this a lot) or to civilize the world, or whatever.
These narratives weren’t questioned openly, though of course no one but the youngest school children took them literally – no? Read any books written at the time. They had as many doubts as we have about the purity and heroism of the past. They just didn’t obsess on them, and elevate them above the “narrative.”
People might have had doubts aplenty about good queen Bess, but they didn’t tell their children that, when the children were learning the national narrative. And that meant when the children grew up, somewhere, in the inner recesses of their being, they still took pride in and believed in the greatness of their country and their past.
Then came the twentieth century. First, the insanity of Germany in WWII was taken as an indictment of all patriotism. I don’t think this was right to do, just like it’s not right to assume if you prepare for war, you’ll have war. And second we got deconstructionism and the charming art of laughing or sneering at the past, and thereby – with no accomplishments, no new ideas, nothing to our credit – considering ourselves more important than them. George Washington? Pah, he wore dentures, and he was an “ambitious man” and that invalidates everything he did, right? Thomas Jefferson might or might not have slept with a slave, thereby of course he was an awful man, and everything he did was tainted and should be forgotten.
And so it goes, taking down one by one the giants of the past.
If that fails, if we have nothing concrete to level against them, then we point our finger and say they didn’t conform to our prejudices: they were racist, sexist, homophobic. As though someone running around their time holding the opinions of our time wouldn’t be killed or locked up. (And no, don’t tell me our opinions are superior. No, I don’t agree with them on race or their beliefs about homosexuals – though even in those cases I understand how they formed their opinions in their time – but the entire crazy idea of women being exactly the same as men except where their superior should still get people locked up for insanity.) And in the rare cases it’s fairly sure that the people were none of those, we can point our finger and accuse them of being rich. How much could they care about the poor, when they were rich?
What about the people who gave it all, to be ascetics, or missionaries? Well, clearly they were clinging to an outmoded and intolerant religion, so how good can they be?
I sometimes wonder if this is yet another way of salving the wounds of WWI. Europe looked the carnage they had created in the eye and decided the thing to do was sever all ties with the past and at the same time prove themselves superior.
Like the little kid who found his dad is a secret drinker and runs around saying his REAL father is a prince, we run around telling ourselves stories that make us feel better, but have nothing to do with reality and create nothing new in the world.
And meanwhile the only coordinated narrative is Marxism, which is an evil and a blight onto the world, disdaining humans as they really are, considering all wealth theft, and holding up as its highest ideal the sort of equality that’s only possible when everyone is desperately poor.
How can young people feel inspired to achieve, to invent, to create, when they’re taught the civilization they are born into is evil and that all its ever done is steal from others? Even though this is patently false, and they should be able to tell by looking around them that no other civilization has tried so hard to achieve prosperity and equal opportunity for all, they’re taught the opposite when they’re very young, and some of it sticks.
So they want to go up to be government bureaucrats; to work at redistributing wealth; to fight the evil “rich” who cause all he problems.
How could we doubt it? It’s the narrative.
They will become reporters who don’t see the malfeasance of one side, because well, how could they? These people are against western civilization and therefore on the right side of the internalized narrative. They become politicians who hate their own homeland and the military who are the means of that land’s defense. They become teachers who teach the kids to spit on the heads of those who made us what we are because “Racist, sexist, homophobic.”
The problem is that this narrative doesn’t conform to the real world any more than the extreme hagiographic narratives of the past did.
Look, I’m not advocating lying to the young. Yes, men and women in the past were human, with foibles and follies, just as we have them. Great and visionary kings had sexual peccadillos and, worse, sent to the block people they didn’t like. There might have been cannibalism among early colonists to the new world (out of hunger, mind.) Yes, the Puritans were rather insane and thought they could live in a proto-communism of sorts. Yes, medieval Christianity had elements of totalitarian political system.
But does Jimmy in first grade need to know only the bad things about the past? Can’t he be told that so and so financed the discoveries, and that very brave people came across the ocean to settle in an utterly strange land and create what they hoped would be a better way of living, and that Christianity stopped the human sacrifices that were common to the ancients and introduced the idea that man, being made in the image of G-d, is in a way sacred, to all of what used to be barbarous Europe?
Later on in their sneering phase you can let them know about the warts. And still later on, when they’re coming out of the sneering phase, you can bring them to understand that no work of humanity is perfect. Yes, these great people had warts, but that didn’t mean they were less great. No, they were more so, because they were great despite their warts. And they too – the new generation who surely knows themselves as flawed – can be great, if only… If only they try to combat their baser nature and look for something great.
Instead, we teach them that there are no heroes, that the narrative of history is one of one man beating the other for a slice of the finite pie. And then everyone dies.
And we wonder why the kids have no direction? We wonder why they aren’t getting married and having kids?
The wonder is that the suicide rate isn’t higher.
If you look at it objectively, it is rather childish to pretend that only the dark and dreary view of society is “right” — it is the view of posing teenagers and not adults. And such an infantile narrative can’t propel a grown up civilization.
The problem with the narrative offered, at all levels, from history to fiction, from science (“humans are a plague upon the world”) to religion (where in most streams churches redistribution is preached instead of charity and using the power of the state to make everything “just”) the whole “progressive” narrative is not only that it’s at variance with real history (any narrative is, to an extent) but that it’s a dark, dreary vision of history that in the end amounts to a condemnation of humanity with all it entails.
We need to give kids – and adults – something to dream on.
That is of course part of the Human Wave project when it comes to stories, but we need Human Wave history, too – history that shows the flaws and the struggle, but which lets the greatness shine through, as something to aspire to.
History that feeds the soul.
The deconstructionist plague has laid waste to everything of value humans do. It’s time to gather the pieces and rebuild.