Heinlein, towards the end of his oeuvre concluded that reality was not logical but whimsical. Given various things going on right now, he might have had a point, but not quite.
Pratchett talked about a force “Narrativium” holding reality together. And he was right, at least for humans. The problem is that the rest of reality doesn’t really much care what humans see, and also that Narrativium can be an unwittingly deceptive force.
Pratchett played it both seriously and for laughs. I.e. he was aware of how the “narrative” affected him, and he poked it in the eye with a sharp stick, even while making it work.
So, yeah, the one chance in a million is a guaranteed thing. And the young man adopted by dwarfs really is the lost prince, but would rather be a policeman.
Which is how to treat this form of subconscious, pre-formed narrative in our heads. Be aware of it. Be amused when it works. Use it for comfort when you need comfort. BUT don’t think that impersonal reality really cares what the narrative thinks should happen.
We are more surrounded by narrative then ever, and I don’t mean “carefully crafted narrative.” We have that too. The left here, the inheritors of Soviet Agitprop HAVE indeed sold a bill of goods to a new generation. Part of owning education, and mass media and even entertainment. So people who are raised in this bubble, and whose work or real life never take them out of it — a minority for sure, but still a significant group — tend to see everything through the narrative.
This is how you see Sad Puppies and our supporters, with people like me, and Larry and Kate in it called “neo nazis” and accused of being “racist, sexist, homophobic.” That poor little duckling was told in school that anyone who opposed the commands of the “intelligentsia” who gave their orders on “diversity” (of color or what you do with your pee pee on your time off) were neo nazis and hated women and gays and people of color. She couldn’t even see the people on our side, but had to go with the narrative, because she’s been watching the world through it for her whole life, and if she let it go she’d have nothing. Her sense of self would disintegrate.
And so, the Sad Puppies revolt must be NOT about taking down a small, insular corrupt group who use the sacred cows of their class to keep control and profit from a once-venerable award. It can’t be about the fact that we’d like stories which will captivate the public and grow the field, as opposed to the current pseudo-literary and indigestible pap. No. It must be that we want to prevent women and people of color and gay people from being in the field. Which, you know, is SUCH a powerful narrative that they can’t even see those holding the assterisk and trying to force it on others are the most powerful house in the field, or that those fighting them are largely outsiders, and, yep, some of us people of tan (or married to them) and women.
That is the force of constructed narrative. But constructed narrative has its limits. When people leave the bubble (for most of us end of college) or face something that really doesn’t fit it, it has a tendency to shatter like glass. (If you can’t avoid facing it, of course.) Which leads to sudden reversals and changes that seem crazy-fast. Black swans and the avalanche started with a few grains of sand and which lead to those are the best way to understand how such narratives crack.
The more dangerous narratives are the ones that are so old that they have become part and parcel of the human race. Yeah, they’re now part of our entertainment, bu they were part of fairy tales, they were part of … probably tales told by hunters around the fire in the Neolithic.
And the stories we tell ourselves. Both of those sets will lead you astray.
Let’s start with the stories we tell ourselves. Humans are designed to see patterns in things. It’s how we managed to learn and become a successful enough species that we could invent and create and become what we’re now.
The ability to discern patterns is evolutionarily favored, because if you know that by the river you’re likely to find both easy hunting AND predators who might eat you, you’re more likely to be aware enough to come back alive AND with prey.
However, once you go past the little patterns that reflect directly on your life, they are crazy-making. Hence the whole Trump-is-Reagan narrative that most people who support Trump have told themselves. It ignores how different the two men are, and the policies that Trump defaults to, which are usually leftist, and the fact that the man’s word can’t be trusted as he says and unsays and dances all over the place. It also ignores the fact that Reagan was the successful governor of a very large state, while Trump excels mostly in the wheeling and dealing of crony capitalism, which is very different from the side of the government than the side of the crony, and which will bite him in his fleshy behind when he catches the car he’s been barking after.
Instead it fastens onto “former leftist, claiming to be Republican [which Reagan had proved, but never mind], hated by the left” and then heaps on this unlikely vessel all the qualities Reagan possessed including a deep religious faith. Because that’s how the stories we tell ourselves work. We fill in the blanks with what was there before.
This is most often seen in private life, when a man has been treated very badly by a brunette who yelled at him and therefore fastens on a blonde who is all seeming sweetness, without noticing they are both equally manipulative. He knows through the narrative in his head that if he looks for someone who looks and sounds totally different, he will be rewarded. Alternately when someone loses a mate looking for one with similar superficial characteristics/circumstances. “My Betsy was a secretary and I met her on Thursday. I met Mary on Thursday and she’s a secretary.”
All these might seem foolish, but they’re not. As I said, this is how the human brain is supposed to work, and why so much of Marxism seems persuasive. So many fairytales have conditioned us to “Poor but honorable wins in the end” that it’s easy to buy the idea of a sainted proletariat that gets rule and makes everything perfect. In the same way, the search for the perfect leader (instead of one who will do and be our employee and get kicked out if he doesn’t perform) has its roots in the countless stories of the long-for king who restores everything. Even the idea that poverty causes crime or that the destitute are only “forced” into crime by “society” is part of those narratives, some older than civilization.
And sure, those things probably happened that way at some point. And perhaps third sons (the first inherited the house, the second was usually his second-in-command and stand in if something happened to the first) often made good better than the other ones. Certainly, forced to leave and seek their fortune, some of them returned fabulously wealthy. What story has forgotten is those that died, or were lost by the way side, which I’d guess was the vast majority of them. But since they never returned, it’s easy to imagine they became rich in another country. And perhaps the guilt of their brothers in having made them leave made them feel more desperately that something good must have befallen the youngest one. And thus long-standing stories are born. And story has a weight of its own, so perhaps the third son tried harder, and had an idea he must be more innovative. Which in turn increased their chances of doing well.
And perhaps the poor orphan girl with no dowry also had heard the stories, and was extra nice, which improved her chances of marrying, if not a prince, someone of substance … who had also heard the stories.
The modern era has added other narratives, some designed to make a necessarily short visual narrative more thrilling. “One chance in a million” and “when all hope is gone” and “out of the ashes.”
Yeah, sometimes one chance in a million comes true. And yeah, sometimes things turn around when all hope is gone. And yep, sometimes groups and people come up out of the ashes. However, there’s survivor bias in those tales, as in the tales of third sons who make good. To count on them, or to make things worse so they can come true is not only foolhardy but counterproductive.
Which brings us to the SINGLE most destructive myth of movie and narrative, part of it I think encouraged by the left and Marxists (but I repeat myself) to justify and help along “revolutions” around the world often promoted and pushed by the Soviet Union, covertly from behind the scenes. But part is simply that it makes a better story.
This is the myth that revolution occurs when poverty and oppression is at its strongest. In fact, from the French Revolution to the Russian revolution, to other spontaneous revolutions around the world (NOT helped by the USSR), revolution happens when an oppressive regime liberalizes and tries to moderate itself.
If revolution happened when oppression is at its worse, North Korea would now be a democracy.
That’s not the way it works. Truly oppressed people have neither the strength nor the ability to rebel.
And why is this the most dangerous myth? It encourages “burn it all down” and “the worse, the better.” (Which was Lenin’s great piece of nonsense.) It encourages otherwise sane people to want to bring about collapse and destruction, because they’re convinced something wonderful will rise from the ashes.
It never has, it never will, except in Hollywood works not known for their relationship to reality.
But Narrativium doesn’t have to make reality obey it. Only the minds of men.
Beware of what narrative controls you. Beware of the infiltration of narrative into your thoughts.
Narrativium, like government and fire, is a good servant but a poor master.