Humans are funny creatures. Particularly now.
I think the biggest difference between us and our ancestors is not that we’re living way longer, that very few humans are actually starving to death, that we can talk to people around the globe in the blink of an eye, or that we don’t need to feel the changing seasons, if we have even moderate wealth.
Sure, those are MASSIVE differences, but the difference I’m talking about is bigger than that because it gets in the head and into what makes us humans.
It’s entirely possible that at some point, after much pondering, an anthropologist will define human as “The ape who makes up and believes stories.” All other things that distinguish us from our relatives are a matter of degree, but at least that anyone can figure, lacking language they can’t package experience as story and story as something that changes how we interact with the environment.
Which leads us to two things: like anything that helped us become us it has two sides, the good in which the stories helped us build civilization (look, okay, without persuasive stories we’d not even be tribes as such. Even those were and are welded together by origin stories, most fictitious. We’d be family bands if that. And there would be maybe a one millionth the number of humans in the world. Ad we’d be… slightly better apes) and the stories that take it apart.
The problem is the second type of stories is getting too much of a foothold. And it’s getting it because stories have been so successful AND BECAUSE STORIES ARE EVERYWHERE NOW.
No, seriously. You see above, where I mentioned that very few people die of hunger now, worldwide? Even fewer people go without story.
You might think that this is a silly thing to say, but it didn’t use to be like that.
Heck guys, I grew up in a strange land and time that was still hypersaturated with story by historic standards, but which was, by our standards, perhaps 1/3 as saturated. And being a bookish kid who lived mostly in her head, I starved for story. I used to make mom buy me tiny little books (about half the size of a paperback, but maybe 4 pages stapled together) they sold at the grocery store. They were printed with stripped down versions of traditional fairy tales. That’s where I encountered stories like The Drunken Soldier. The Goose Girl. Etc. But most of them were better known. And I knew them already, but the chance to read a slightly different version made me beg and whine till mom bought it (think kids with candy bars.) The whole thing read and re-read was over in minutes (at least after the age of 6) but it was still worth it.
Though even in my teens the plot made me roll my eyes, I used to time my walk from the bus down the village street so I could hear the currently playing soap opera (broadcast on the radio. TVs weren’t universal and only ran in the evening, anyway) in snatches through the front doors. Because, heck, it was story.
Books… I bought all I could, but I still read most of the books I wanted to read standing up in bookstores. Seriously. I’d read till someone noticed and chased me out, then walk to the next bookstore and resume. Then the next.
And yet, even with all that there were still VAST amounts of time where I was left bereft of story.
Then there were the lean years when we were first married. Our TV broke down shortly after #1 son was born, and we decided to save for a better TV, but then the money was needed for something else. So we re-read the books we had, bought when we could, and only bought another TV 8 years later. (And currently, technically, have no TV, as we watch stuff on the computer.)
But in the wake of a move to CO and getting rid of all non-essential books (the ones I was less fond of, or which weren’t research. I.e. all but about 300 of them) AND being broke as heck (technically but not really. Sigh. Part of the thing, see, is that if we were willing to live on credit we wouldn’t be so pinched all the time. But not only do we refuse to, but because we know my income fluctuates, we try to save when times are high. And then if we do fall through — I suspect will happen this year, just because of a concatenation of circumstances or to put it another way, everything went to hell at the end of 18, and indie is going to take me six months to get going — and have to borrow, we go insane and live like the refugees of story until we pay it back. That particular year from hell, we were paying back about 30k, between older son’s birth (on COBRA! Emergency caeserean with three surgeons) and being unemployed for 6 months, and moving expenses. Yes, we paid it back in two years, despite the fact that it was about what Dan made at the time. We lived as you expect.) story was really had to come by. Sure, we subscribed to the daily paper and we got some story that way (no? Think about it.) BUT other than that, I was starved for story. Yeah, we went to the library twice a week, but there were things I couldn’t even read, and… Yep, like a junky in search of a fix, I hit all the free books outside bookstores. ALL OF THEM. I read a lot of — heaven help me — gothic romance, which until then I didn’t even know was a genre. I read old chemistry and biology school books. You have no idea.
And sometimes I had to go without story.
But even in that state, I had access to about a million times more “story” than say your well-read medieval person, who might own MAYBE 12 books. And these weren’t, in general, your goat gagger books, but relatively slim volumes. I probably had access to more than Elizabethan readers, and they could buy books in stalls in the market (well, pamphlets, and chap books, anyway.)
Go back further than that, and you realize how scarce story must have been.
Which is why we’re wired to pay attention to it. Because the stories that got told (mostly oral) and retold and passed on were if not factual important. In fact, a lot of the non-factual ones were vital: from welding together tribes with origin myths to convincing your warriors they were invincible, to getting rid of socially counterproductive habits like, say cannibalism, to convincing people to fulfill their roles in society, mythological or just-so stories were VITAL.
The problem is that story has taken the bit between its teeth. Ever since literacy became a thing — about at the level of Elizabethan England, say — we’re surrounded by story, some of it utterly persuasive and completely not only false but counterproductive. As in “Some stories are against civilization.”
And with broadcast of stories, we can now soak in story even the vast illiterate and “don’t care to read” majority which before got their story second hand through some guy who’d talked to some guy who’d read it. In fact, it’s easier to become addicted if you don’t read and don’t question. And story is now served up in song, in movie, in broadcast TV, in (mostly unfunny) comedy every hour of the day to everyone within reach of civilizaiton.
You might be homeless on a sidewalk in a major city, but you probably have a charity-phone on which you watch movies/tv/youtube.
And our school has long ago stopped teaching just the basics and now teaches story. One of the most prevalent is the story of “humans destroying the planet” and “America is guilty of all ills.”
That last one slots neatly into the entire crazy of the noble savage. The noble savage is a myth as old as time. No, seriously. There are traces of it in the first preserved fables. Perhaps humans felt some regret at leaving animality behind (some people think that’s what the garden of Eden is about. I don’t buy it, but people do) and tat is embedded in our mind forever.
But no “noble savage” became as noble savagy as the Amerindian. Particularly in Europe, as far back as the seventeenth century, the tribes in America were invested with all the virtues of upright and exemplary Christianity.
If you read — I do — factual accounts of the frontier you see a different picture. One of my areas of fascination is the meeting of the west with other cultures, and the true tragedy that often ensued, which was a tragedy on both sides, btw. If you read it you can’t help see people with such divergent stories in head that massacres and destruction are inevitable. It’s not, as the Marx story overlay leads most of the world to believe civilized man exploiting/destroying native cultures. “Civilized” when the cultures met was a matter of degree, and not far. Weaponry etc. were close to each other. The west tends to win because it has a story in the head that goes beyond tribe. And the “noble savages” tend to commit atrocities and horrors because their story in the head is TRIBAL.
In tribal societies not only are those outside your tribe not quite human but — and this is important — the way to survive is to meet other tribes’ encroachments with the most horrific massacre you’re capable of. That scares the intruder away and stops the bloodshed. And your tribe survives.
This led tribes like the Zulu or the various Amerindian tribes to commit such horrible massacres that Christian, post tribal, even well-intentioned Westerners wondered IF THEY HAD SOULS AT ALL or if they were beasts in human form.
That is what a true cultural clash is. We are kind of in the middle of one with Islam, too, and refusing to understand that’s what it is (which is part of the tragedy of a cultural clash.)
Anyway, the real stories, first hand, written down, of what happened are… appalling. And true tragedies in that it was going to happen no matter how people of good will tried to avert it.
But by the time the story got to Europe we had the noble savage.
Now go back and look at the original Covington footage, the one that had serious minded, supposedly literate people calling for the massacre… of the boys.
In your mind make old Chief Spinning Bull a blond woman. Make the young man standing there black. Not ghetto. Not disheveled. Just a nice, self-contained middle class young black man (the idea those don’t exist is another story. Ignore it.)
Would anyone have seen that as anything but an adult being crazy at a kid who behaved admirably?
Ah, but this involved an Amerindian, the original Noble Savage of modern age (TM) and therefore everyone’s sympathies were instantly with him, and no one even questioned things like “so he was blocking you. Why didn’t you stop beating the damn drum and instead elbow him gently aside?” Look, I’m a woman in my fifties and not in the best of health (though the problem right now is JUST a bad cold) and I could politely elbow my way out of that IF the kid had been blocking me.
Of course, the kid wasn’t blocking anyone. This whole thing was footage designed to hook into the now old story-in-head of the noble savage. And they threw in “Vietnam vet” to get the right. THAT WAS IT. (True fact, if everyone who claims to be a Vietnam vet had served in vietnam, the human wave tactic would have been ours. Also, probably, our troops could only lie down on alternate days, when the other guys squinched against the trees. It’s another story in head, for complex reasons.)
Stories are insidious and sneaky like that. They get in your head and make you perceive things wrong.
The main reason many industries are rolling left and dying is not because people who run them want them to die (some do, but that’s something else) it’s because the stories in their heads are so dense and thick that they don’t let them see reality anymore. And they’ve distorted what they’re supposed to do, so they think their job is changing the world, or speaking truth to power, or…. instead of selling entertainment, stories, facts, or razors. Or you know, teaching kids to do jobs. Just off the top of my head.
Marxism is a really powerful story in head. I might have yelled at a few of you about that, in the comments to yesterday’s post. Sorry. Part of the reason I yelled is that it has taken me so long to see through the Marxist indoctrination I thought I had completely rejected. But it infects everything, including the way we perceive the world. Partly because it hooks into the really old noble savage myth. And partly because it is already old. The older a powerful story is, the more it has infected other stories. Even those of opponents.
So, people in the western world tend to think of the Noble Savage or the dispossessed or whatever in Marxist terms, in noble savage, les miserables terms.
Perhaps it is the fact that I’m “racially indistinct” (as in, now the incredible pallor of extreme hypothyroidism is falling away, I can be perceived as anything depending on how I dress. My friend Bill is the same, which is a bond between us) and the fact that — see above — I’m really insecure about spending money and hate to use credit which means our entertainments tend to be cheap, which means really high brow (museums. They’re good value) or low brow, like diners and cheap amusement parks and therefore I see a lot of “the poor”. Or perhaps it is that I grew up “poor but honest.” But let me tell you that most things people in general believe about the poor — heroic or despicable — are the myths of the Noble Savage and Les Miserables. Neither is correct. Nor are even Dickens scrappy, slippery poor.
The poor right now are mostly lower-middle-class and people working jobs that don’t pay much. In America it tends to be a transitory condition. (We’ve been there. Several times.) People either rise, if the stories in their head tell them things like “If I work hard I’ll get better” or they fall, if the stories in their head tell them things like “You’re special, and the world is against you, and the man won’t let you improve your lot. Here is a government check. Indulge your worst tendencies and uncle sugar will keep paying.”
I mean the left is convinced most of the “poor” have been “left behind by progress” and can’t do more complex jobs. You don’t need to be smart to rise in America.
How smart do you have to be to show up on time, look clean, operate a cash register? When I was working at that level, if you did that for a couple of months and wanted to, they’d lift you up to manager so fast. And even that doesn’t require a ton of brains. Just check who’s supposed to come in, count money, etc.
Smart doesn’t come into it. You don’t need to be able to repair the register or the calculator. JUST run it. People who say people are being left behind due to low IQ just betray how highly they think of themselves and also that they never worked a starting job, ever, in their lives.
Do you know what the main problem we had when I worked retail? Getting people to show up more than two days in a row. Getting them to pick up the paycheck THEY’D EARNED. My main problem working retail? BOREDOM. Seriously, it was unrelenting boredom. I became “Super housewife” straightening and cleaning shelves, just not to go stir crazy. IQ? Oh, please. And yes, if you went manager you could make decent living, enough to support family. No, not enough for two cars and a yacht and a condo on the weekend, so if that’s your measure of “living” yeah, it was brutal. But since I’ve never made that yet, I think of living as something more modest.
Ah, but the myth. “We must help because most people aren’t smart enough for modern society” is really big on the left. It powers most of welfare and make-jobs bureaucrat boondoggles. And yeah, it’s racist and sexist. (Though probably not homophobic. I’ve never seen any leftist claim that gay people are dumb. Though I presume they, like straight people, have the usual distribution. But it’s just not part of the myth.) As the left and Marx have always been.
The vast underclass in America are not noble savages (dear left)or the dispossessed (dear right.) They’re just people who are very human and have found they can live easy by exploiting the myths in other people’s heads. Only after a couple of generations, it’s impossible to break out of it.
Looking at the footage of the Covington thing what occurred to me is that Phillips was in fact hemmed in. Oh, not by the boys, who behaved admirably and who, my bet is, will grow up to be decent productive members of society.
He was hemmed in by his own stories. Noble Savage. And “Great bad things were done to me.” (Which they weren’t. They might or might not have been done to his direct ancestors, who probably gave as good as they got. Some were done to “people who look like him.” but the possibility that either one of the Covington boys’ ancestors, or Phillips ancestors or anyone was involved in the true horrors of colonization are… minor. It’s a story. A pernicious one.) and of course the Marxist idea that class must fight class, and the neo-Marxist idea that race must fight race and that anyone who wears a MAGA hat and therefore declares he/she doesn’t believe in socialism is an oppressor.
That man is a prisoner of poisonous stories. Everything I’ve read about him shows him to be bitter, mean and full of anger towards… well, everyone.
The stories have him and they won’t let go.
As a purveyor of stories I tell you: Enjoy them. Use them when they’re helpful. Learn to discard them before they eat you and make it impossible for you to lead a joyous, productive life, or really do anything good or build anything that lasts.
Tearing down is easy. But it destroys everything. And you too.
Most of our opponents are bitter, hopeless people, caught in the hell of their own vision of the world.
Don’t be like that.