The narrative | 2020-02-10
A fragment on non-nuanced, spontaenous thinking born from an interesting conversation.
There is no world outside of language. We humans are creatures of language: we make it, but more importantly, it makes us. We exist as semiotic structures – signs, systems of meaning, para-linguistic figures. We cannot address materiality until we acknowledge we seldom ever have access to it.
They say; “facts don’t care about your feelings”. How foolish. If anything, your feelings don’t care about the facts.
Cause here’s a “fact”: our perception of self is a narrative. A set of beliefs, of meanings, elements we draw from our memory, education, emotions… held together in a way that makes sense. Self-perception is little more than semantics. Which makes it really, really hard to live as a society – though we just can’t escape it, and really shouldn’t try.
In the past few months, I have taken on some responsibilities in the French larp scene, mostly around emotional safety and community justice. It’s hard work: it’s time and energy-consuming, morally and intellectually draining, with little reward. In the way I see it, my primary narrative, I’m trying to make the world a better place. The second underlying narrative, which I keep hearing as a whisper in my own head every time I spend hours upon hours working on things I can’t be fully deluded into thinking will work, is I suffer from a strong savior complex and I just can’t help it. The third narrative, one that spreads through defiant members of the community, is I’m doing it to gain influence.
Of course, I could retort that “facts” disprove this narrative. After all, I gain zero money from it, my exposure suffers more from those initiatives that it is increased, and “influence” in a non-hierarchical and quite confidential community doesn’t lead very far. However, I can’t be fully convinced by this plea, and neither would those who hold the third narrative to be true: in fact, all three of those narratives are, to a point, true. But none is “the truth”.
A system in which a certain narrative is made to dominate over others is a paradigm, a set of mutually consistent preconceptions that provide a logical or semantic filter to discriminate between “facts” – actually narratives.
It can be hard to communicate from one paradigm to another: often, it’s downright impossible. Yet, if we don’t, what is there to social life? The truth is not out there – at best, we can find disrespectful disagreement, empathetic attitudes, acceptance of other narratives.
When one paradigm doesn’t endanger the very lives of the people living in another, of course. Tricky, eh. Guess I was wrong: there is a materiality outside of language. In vulnerability.
How can we be made to co-exist? To which extent can we afford to allow other narratives in our lives? What hurts, when, who? How can a narrative based on acceptance resist a narrative that does not care for other paradigms to be heard? Who’s the fascist?
Globalization has two major effects: making it possible to come in contact with an infinity of paradigms, and allowing us to literally block any of them in order to preserve the purity of our own. Before Internet – schematically –, we didn’t get to choose our paradigm. We were basically born in it. However, sometimes we could stumble on something that would question it, by pure chance – a smile from a hated stranger, a sight of love from another woman, a leaflet lying on an empty train seat. Those tiny, random events were countless opportunities to be touched by something outside of the paradigm. Algorithms, trending content, targeted advertising jeopardize those opportunities, by feeding in the confirmation bias and favoring comfort over trouble.
I think we need to cherish the trouble. And try to let in other narratives while holding on to our own. Now, if you would excuse me, I might need to find a TARDIS to sustain the paradox.