A story is the most powerful of weapons
I was watching a silly movie today about an evil queen bent on world domination. And for the entire film all she did was posture and be evil. Whenever she needed something, she told her people to do it. And I asked myself: why do whatever the queen demands and not kill her on the spot? I mean, she sprawls in her throne while you are an armored and heavily armed soldier sitting right next to her. And the answer I found was: stories. The warrior believes that the queen has the right and the power to command him, so she does. There is nothing intrinsically powerful in the woman herself, just the stories people believe about her.
And this applies to you as well. Your boss, your wife, your country, your people, your family, your goals and how you choose to go for them are all stories that you tell yourself. It applies to the stock market as well, where stocks have no value unless someone believes in them. And just like there, the stories told to large audiences have large effects as even a small percentage of people get to believe them. Perhaps nothing has any value unless somebody believes it has.
Generals have known this for a long long time and they apply it today. Just try to find any news source that isn't biased one way or another. The war "in Ukraine" has already become a world war, it's just not fought with conventional weapons. The censorship is there, applied over the entire western area of influence, just as it does in Russia and in China and everywhere to where we used to scoff with superior moral conviction and accuse them of not being free. Conviction is a funny word, as it implies unshakeable belief, the worst kind there is. Convict has the same etymology.
I think I am lucky for being born when I was. I was raised in a Communist dystopia that was already crumbling at the time, with people telling me stories (that word again) about the wonderful world outside our borders, where people were rich, content and free. I was raised reading and watching science fiction that depicted a near future filled with technology and wonder, fantastical or new planetary worlds, but most importantly, hope. I remember calculating that in the year 2000 I would be 23, a rather wonderful age to be going to the Moon and exploring the Solar System.
Well, now it's 2022 and everywhere I look I see directed stories, weaponized to nudge me in a direction or another. And like any instrument wielded by blunt people, these stories are always negative, lacking inspiration - both in their creation and their effect, attempting to make me feel scared, insecure, overwhelmed, outraged, offended, angry. Because when you have those feelings you accept authority and the orders you get, no matter how dumb, violent or deleterious. The attack on the Capitol was caused by that kind of storytelling, the war in Ukraine keeps going because of these type of stories, both on the Russian and the anti-Russian side.
We are doing it to ourselves, pushing these narratives that in the end hurt us just as much. Gone is the hopeful post-scarcity future of Star Trek, where people understand living to eat and eating to live is not the way to live. Gone are the rebel fighters of Star Wars and the noble principles they were guided by. Gone are the Russian teams exploring the cosmos and solving problems using science. Everything is now anger, hate, suffering, explosions, political scheming, social agendas, special effects. We are darkening our stories and dimming ourselves.
And I do believe that hope is the antidote. Not because reasons to hope, but despite their absence. A hopeful story is inspiring, protective and kind. In the fourth season of Stranger Things people use a verse from the Bible: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Of course, those people then proceed to arm themselves and try to kill a bunch of kids for playing D&D, another example on how easily hope can be corrupted into fear and anger. The good stories are of people who better themselves and think of others, not of defeating evil. There is no hope in seeing the evil queen stabbed and thrown into the lava, the real story is how the heroes overcome the evil in themselves.
I am an atheist. I believe (heh!) that we don't need gods to be decent and that thinking things over will always yield the best solution. But I understand religion, how it tries to inspire, to raise hope, even if in the end it is misused by shallow people to control and usurp. I don't have an answer for everyone, but I have hope, I must have it. The alternative is to remove myself from the world, or join it in its perceived evil. I am sure there are a lot of people like me, though. Even if we feel alone, trapped in an eternal WTF moment, we are many. The number shouldn't matter, though, except as a reason to not abandon the world, to still hold hope for it, for each of us can hold. Hold hope, hold ourselves or simply hold against.
Star Trek and old Russian sci-fi will not happen while I live. The world will not wake. As a pessimist at heart, I don't expect good things to happen, especially this first half of a century. But I will continue to watch and hope for a good ending.
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