A Need For Other Stories
Nothing terrifies the faithful more than the possibility of other stories.
As populism takes hold, as politics becomes religion and belief is made mandatory, a single story has begun to remorselessly replicate itself across what once could have been called Left and Right. It goes something like this:
There is a man/cause who is more worthy than any other. He/It is surrounded on all sides by treachery, by those who would sully his/its purity with pragmatism. All facts that oppose it are the result of this conspiracy. The man/cause is loved by all and yet somehow seemingly persecuted by all. All thing must be understood through the lens of the man/cause. Anything outside of the lens is a lie. Eventually the man/cause triumphs over the established order, casts out the liberal and impure and returns the world to a former – always former, never new – state. The faithful are rewarded, the unbelievers derided and punished.
The success of this narrative in attaining its ends is clear. Populism holds the day. And yet so its inherent paranoia. As with all things that seek to simplify the world to a single idea, be it a nationalist belief or faith in one leader, it has to expend a huge amount of effort to exclude and demonise any other. The self-aggrandisement of all these movements covers a fear they can never quite shift .
So what then?
The Left/Right opposition is clearly a hopelessly 20th Century way of understanding things. We seem to be in a place now where the opposition is between Populism and Everything Else. Except that Everything Else has yet to come up with its own single narrative. But perhaps that is the key. Perhaps a multiplicity of stories is how these personality cults and nationalists can best be resisted. Because a multiplicity of stories is the thing that they have always most dreaded. The world is vast. They are not.
Here in the 21st Century, where everything is reduced to the level of a meme, we have a pressing need for other stories.
Damian Mark Whittle