What is a story? What value do stories play in our culture? Do they contain any value? Are they simply the things we use to pass the time? A good book, a fine film, a tall tale before bed.
Or can stories be something greater than that? Are stories the DNA of our culture, the history of our people – both where we’re from and where we’re heading. “Our people” being whatever culture class you happen to belong to; race, religion, sexual preference, generation, geographic location, political affiliation, economic status, etc.
What happens when stories – fictitious fantasy tales – become something a little more real? What happens when the story begins writing the people and not the other way around?
A story writing people!? That’s insane!
I agree. But the world is filled with insane people with even more insane ideas. So even though it’s weird and wild, maybe it isn’t unbelievable.
If you’re anything like me, perhaps the story that was told to you sounds something like this…
“America is the best country on Earth and you should be honored to live here, Johnny. Brave and courageous people have sacrificed their lives so that you could be free. God, The God, The One-And-Only Jesus Christ made manifest, name above all names, is for the USA. We are cowboys and good guys and we’re rebels but we have the faith of Christ and He shall guide us to thwart Evil, in all of its heinous forms. Things that are evil include, but are not limited to: pedophiles, homosexuals and Mormons.”
That’s one version of the Midwest-Conservative-Christian story. Maybe you didn’t get that one. You might have gotten something else that sounded more like this…
“I pledge allegiance to the flag.”
That’s a powerful story told in one sentence. Only six words long. But the story it tells…
PLEDGE: a solemn promise or agreement.
ALLEGIANCE: loyalty or devotion to some person, group or cause.
FLAG: Symbol of person, group or cause.
My children are seven but, since they were five, the public school system has had them reciting this story to themselves. I go to their school functions and I listen to my children make a solemn promise to ally their loyalty to a government and country which they don’t understand.
A solemn promise to remain loyal. On repeat. Everyday. For a seven year old.
One more definition before we continue.
Mind control (also known as brainwashing, coercive persuasion, mind abuse, thought control, or thought reform) refers to a process in which a group or individual “systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s), often to the detriment of the person.
I guess we could further define “unethically manipulative” if we wanted to, but I’d define it as “having a child repeat something every day of his or her life in the hopes that they grow up willing to voluntarily murder another human being for you.”
Just my opinion.
So I have to wonder if that story begins to write the person. If that small sentence begins to write the story for my children instead of the other way around. Instead of my children witnessing the greatness of a fantastic culture and being swayed by it’s awesome power and empathy towards the hurting and hungry, which would then in turn cause authentic loyalty, we instead tell them a story over. And over. And over. And over. Until the story is true and there is no choice but to believe the lie.
And the story starts to write the person, making “truths” into “reality”.
If we tell ourselves everyday that we are stupid and ugly and unworthy of success and human kindness, we will see the world watching us and judging us as stupid and ugly and unworthy of success and human kindness.
Because we don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.
And the things we tell ourselves make us who we are.
I pledge allegiance to the flag.
Do you? Really?
This isn’t a post about the Pledge of Allegiance and how I think it’s brainwashing all of us. I do think that and I don’t recite it but that is neither here nor there. I do love America. But I also love Cuba and France and Iraq. Because I love Earth and people, not people defined by a piece of land they live on or a god they worship or who is putting their D* where.
This is a post about stories and the power they have over us.
Here’s another story. Maybe you’ve seen this one.
“The Empire is wreaking galactic havoc. The Dark Lord is taking control. Only one small group of Rebels can save us.” That’s a very old story. One that’s been told over and over and over as well. From the twelve disciples to Harry Potter to the founding of our very own country, The Rebel Rising Story has been told. And we love it.
But most recently it’s been portrayed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi a film in which, after two viewings I still have mixed feelings about it. But I say that in a good way. It was a film that made me step out of the theater and think for a bit. Ponder perplexing proposals.
Not only does the film ask us to redefine The Force, it also asks us to redefine how we perceive Good and Evil – the forces that pull us in our own lives. It’s been so easy for so long to point at something and say Black or White. Good or Evil. Harry Potter or Lord Voldemort. Christian or Other. American or Other. Rebel or Empire. Jedi or Sith. Yin or Yang. This or That.
But what happens when, through the usage of technology, the internet and social media, our world begins to shrink and people we thought we knew and understood as evil, suddenly begin to seem a little less strange? What happens when we uncover the gray area that surrounds all of us and see that we have more in common than we have apart? What happens when we stop looking at life as a Black-or-White-This-or-That switch and instead begin looking at it as a 4-Dimensional spectrum of rotating color. More a piece of art and less a technical analysis.
Suddenly, things look a little different.
What happens when the way we see the world doesn’t line up with the story we’ve been told?
What happens when I’ve pledged my allegiance to a country, flag, organization because they are the best the world has, both in power and morality, but then you learn that your heroes are flawed. What happens if you find out they’re not just flawed by amoral? What happens when you discover that the group you’ve pledged to – made that solemn vow since you were five – were not only amoral, but what happens when you decide that they don’t have your best interests at heart at all and that they are only manipulating you with lies to keep you as ignorant and passive as possible so that you continue to recite your story and pay your taxes and keep your head down and pull the trigger to kill The Enemy.
Here’s another story, this one is from The Last Jedi.
The film opens up and there’s this fantastic space battle happening. The Empire has cornered the Rebels and they’re getting ready to finally 86 them. But by God, there’s one last hope. There’s this Rebel-ship that is strapped with explosives. Some kind of cruiser hits the Rebel Ship and the soldier in charge of hitting The Big Red Button that drops these bombs onto the enemy ship, has been thrown to the ground and can’t get up. Maybe her back is broken. I don’t totally know. They don’t really get into that.
But what I do know is that she can still kick. Really hard. So she kicks this ladder. Over and over and over again. Because at the top of the ladder is The Big Red Button. And if she can get The Big Red Button, she can drop the bombs on the Empire ship and blow shit up. Another win for the good guys.
So she’s kicking this ladder and the music is building up, as it does. And she reaches up and she grabs this medallion around her neck. It looks like some kind of crescent with runic notations on it.
The Force. The symbol of The Force, their great religion. For which to fight. For which to die. For which to kill.
It’s her sign of hope. Her prayer. Her flag. Her cross. She holds her symbol and kicks one more time. The Big Red Button drops, she catches it and the bombs fall. Mission successful. The Empire takes a big hit.
Here’s another scene from the same movie. Towards the end the Rebels have gotten cornered in a kind of mine on a salt planet. The last of our heroes are tucked into this little bunker and right outside is Death.
But Rebels never say die.
Here come our rebels. They fly out of the mine in their shitty little cruisers flip-flopping all over the place. The floors are falling out. They’re wobbling about. These guys are really boot-strapping the war effort but this is it.
Main Character Finn, a storm trooper who deserted his post to join the Rebels finds himself hurtling towards some kind of Important Empire Vehicle that is resting on the ground. It’s a big machine that is blowing out heat and is going to kill everyone. Finn’s plan, albeit a last minute plan, is to save his team by flying his ship directly up the heat stream, into the engine turbine, effectively destroying The Important Empire Vehicle, killing himself and allowing The Rebels, the good guys, to live another day.
I have never experienced a theater of Americans emotionally cheering so hard for a suicide bomber.
But that’s the power of story.
That’s the power of narrative.
Story is a powerful tool that allows us to see the same thing from two different sides.
Here’s one more story…
“You are from a poor land but it’s because God favors the meek. Our people have been chosen by The Great One. All others only desire evil. Evil must be eradicated because it is against God, pure GOOD. Rebels, join me. Rebels, rise up. Rebels, come together. Rebels, come to fight. Rebels, here is a plan. Rebels, let us take these planes and Rebels, let us fly them into the World Trade Center in the United States, that land of The Empire. Guide us o’ Great Religion! Let us come out of our caves and cobble together whatever plan we can in order to make peace. In order to save the world. In order to bring peace… through destroying our enemies.”
I have to wonder how many times those men in those planes reached up to touch their symbol hanging from their neck to draw encouragement and bravery. I have to wonder how many times those men, as young men, were asked to recite a Pledge to their Higher Power.
How many licks does it take to get to the center of a lollipop?
How many repetitions does it take to get to the center of your brain? A prayer. A pledge. Once a day your entire childhood and developmental years should do the trick.
Do you know why Star Wars: The Last Jedi and 911 are not the same thing? Beyond, one is real and one is not? They’re not the same thing because of where we happen to be sitting when the event occurred. And our personal position in the process is what makes all the difference.
It is not good or evil.
It is good. To us.
And evil. To us.
And because we are thoughtless, tiny, self-centered, idiotic beasts, filled with self-importance, we often times can’t see that we cheer and recoil from the exact same things. Because, while we tell ourselves a story that we are smart and educated and self-aware and “woke”, we are truly nothing more than advanced mushrooms reacting to the simple emotional stimuli of our environment as pre-programmed into us by our culture.
Simple life forms who’s self-awareness only gives them the illusion of complexity.
“If they are not like us, we must devour them. Destroy them. Conform or you will be conquered.” This is the mantra of the Radical Islamist Terrorists that attacked America on 911.
And because of that, it was evil.
However, this was also the mantra of the Europeans when they arrived on the scene and found To-Be America crowded with Indians // Native Americans // Indigenous People.
This will never do. No shirts, no shoes, no civilization.
“Conform or you will be conquered.”
After all, if we’re to compare apples to apples, around 3000 people were killed on 911 but I have to wonder how many Indigenous People found themselves shot before having their infants get their brains bashed in by the boot-heels of hungry American settlers.
Also, why don’t they just get over it? Why don’t the Indians just get over that genocide thing? Chin up, buckaroo! Why don’t the blacks just get over slavery? C’mon, chief! It was only human trafficking, rape and torture! Get over it already! Why ya gotta be such a cry-baby!
Shrugs. Why don’t we just get over 911?
Why don’t we just get over an absolutely horrendous human atrocity that was committed directly against our “group”, in which we / I / you felt the personal emotional attack of?
We don’t get over it because the story we tell ourselves regarding 911 is that there are good guys and there are bad guys and we for sure know the difference. We for sure know where everyone is standing and who is who because we have the script. We have the story.
But our sons and daughters!
But everyone’s sons and daughters.
As an outsider not from this Earth, I see it and say this is a true tragedy.
I’m just talking about the power of story. Just as an observation.
We’re interesting creatures, aren’t we? We love to define everything in our world. We love to say if something is good or evil and, by God, if something is evil, it cannot exist in our world. Our reality. Our version of reality.
Indigenous People on our land. Gay couples and wedding cakes. Black folk in our schools and a goddamn atheist living right down the street from me in my Christian nation! How is a person supposed to live in a world filled with so much diversity?
How is a person to function in a culture filled with so many people that are nothing like me?
How do we listen instead of judge? How do we remove judgement entirely and replace it with a calm sense of understanding? Jesus tried this and it got him hooked to a tree. Martin Luther King tried it and it got him the long goodnight.
We don’t want peace! We want blood! Because we are cavemen in suits and we are only feigning being civilized.
I believe we must ask ourselves if the stories we’ve been telling ourselves… are even true. Even the ones that seem the truest. Even the ones closest and most dearest to us.
My God, could it be that the very story I’m telling myself is as insane as the ones that everyone else is telling themselves? Could it be? Could it be that I am… wrong? That is a very uncomfortable feeling to face.
Being raised in a Christian home, I was raised to believe that my beliefs were authentic and real and everyone else had imposter relations with an improper God that was basically Satan masquerading himself.
But not my beliefs. Not my stories. Not our stories. Our stories were real. Everything else was a lie.
Our God was real. He was the only one that was real. All other religious experiences that any single person throughout history on the face of the Earth outside of my very specific belief system were merely… false. Lies. They were being misled by The Evil One.
Our country was the greatest. The biggest, baddest mother-fucker on the block and we’ll kick your ass if you fuck with us. We were also the kindest.
Wait just a minute! That doesn’t make sense. Are we kind and we take in the poor and feed the hungry or are we a bully who shows up to a knife fight?
I guess it just depends who’s telling you the story and where you happen to be sitting.
What stories have been told to you?
What stories are you telling yourself?
Maybe your story is that you aren’t good enough. That you aren’t talented enough. Smart enough. Savvy enough. Maybe the story you tell yourself is that you don’t deserve That Job. That Spouse. That Money. That Opportunity.
Maybe you tell yourself a personal story that puts you automatically in second place because you don’t think you have what it takes to be in first. Or maybe you’re like me and told yourself a story your entire life where you put yourself in last place over and over again, thinking that you didn’t deserve something, anything, because you weren’t good enough for it. Those things were for other people.
And if that’s the story you tell yourself, you’re probably right. In fact, you definitely are.
Because our stories craft our realities.
If we don’t write our own stories, if we don’t craft our own truths and our own realities, if we don’t tell ourselves who we are and decide for ourselves, then our stories – a random collection of gathered information passed down arbitrarily from one ape mouth to the next, completely unquestioned – write us.
Maybe you’ve allowed someone else in your life to write your story. Maybe it wasn’t Mother Culture for you. Maybe it was a close person or close people. Your family. Your parents. Your spouse. Your roommate. Perhaps you’ve given them the pen and allowed them to tell you that you don’t deserve something or are unworthy of something. Perhaps you keep reading the story they write for you. Those people are terrible authors. Throw away their book. Don’t ask for your pen back. Just take it back.
I wonder what happens if we all begin telling ourselves a new story. A story that doesn’t need a God or a Government to direct us. A story that says, “I am compassionate to all living things, including myself. When I make a mistake, I forgive myself and I try again. When another makes a mistake and harms me, I will forgive them and allow them to try again. But I also won’t put up with bullshit. Because life is too short to be crowded by ignorant assholes trying to ruin the show. I am going to do my best because that is all I have. I am going to believe in myself. I am going to give others, regardless of who or what they align with, nothing but understanding and sympathy because I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone except me. I acknowledge that my field of vision is very narrow. But I’m working on scoping it out.
I don’t know what it’s like to be gay or black or Mormon or female or a senior citizen or deaf or, gasp, Harvey Weinstein. I only know what it’s like to be me. That’s all I can really be certain of. And even that seems to be changing day to day.
I understand that conflict occurs. It’s inevitable because we tell ourselves a story that it is inevitable and so we live in a world wherein war is acceptable.
Murder if the President asks you to: HONOR!
Sure, you have to be brainwashed first and give up your right to think but at the end you might just get the little purple heart on your shirt that makes you feel important. My kids get something similar when they do something kind in school. I’m not minimizing. I’m drawing parallels. Because it’s the same logic and neurologically it affects the human brain in the same way. Rewards. It’s the same reason we like getting comments and likes on our social media feeds.
They’re playing us. They’re using our emotions against us. Playing our biology against us. They know this.
God, it’s tragic. The value we place on such horrific acts. Quickly, reward the unquestioning soldier for he is a great tool to us! If we throw him some meat and praise him, he will most certainly do the violent act again!
I believe the quote is, “Forgive them, Father. For they know not what they do.”
Social media. A place to exchange ideas! I have never ever seen so many people talking to themselves before. It’s like a room full of schizophrenics. Everyone talking. Nobody listening.
We can be the Rebels. Being a rebel is cool. I get the appeal. But let’s be the Rebels in real life that stand apart from Herd Mentality.
Why do I believe… what I believe?
What story… is being told to me?
Serious question for the Star Wars junkies out there. Has anyone even bothered to ask what Snoke’s policies look like? Does anyone know what General Hux is trying to accomplish? Or do we judge them because they dress in black and look evil and speak in accents.
We can listen but do we hear?
The African American community screams, “We are being treated unfairly and shot dead in the streets!” and a crowd of decidedly un-black people shout back, “Shut the fuck up and sit down! Stop talking! Stop complaining! Don’t you know this is America! The greatest nation on Earth! Where opportunity is galore for anyone that tries to succeed!”
Never-mind the fantastic poverty rate.
Are we listening or are we hearing?
Can we hear someone of a different faith when we walk into the conversation believing them to be fundamentally wrong? Can we listen to a Republican or a Democrat or a Socialist if we already believe that we are right and they are wrong and we know and they do not? Can we hear someone of a different race or sexual preference if we think that all races and people experience the world exactly like we do, therefore, we are right.
If they only had my information! If they only saw things like I saw things! Then they’d know! If they could only be just like me, this would all be better.
How do we hear a different opinion if we are right.
And how smug do you think a person has to be in order to believe that they have figured out everything? To think that they were able to get an A+ on the Life Test wherein they pegged the correct God amongst thousands, the proper political party amongst several in their country, and also happened to be born in the greatest nation this planet has to offer.
I’ve heard a lot of stories.
And that last one is pretty unbelievable.
A person with nothing left to learn is a person who doesn’t realize how uneducated they are. And an uneducated person is the most dangerous thing of all.
Rebel against that. Rebel against ignorance. Rebel against your own ignorance by first understanding that it is camouflaged into your “truths”. Rebel by learning. Rebel by rising above The Empire and, instead of crushing our enemies beneath our boot-heels like Kylo Ren spraying Luke with the AT-AT blasters, we simply close our eyes and listen and understand that nothing is good nor bad.
Only we are, as viewers of the greatest play on Earth.