Fact and Story

Then and Now

Story is as old as language. The ancient bards sang the stories of heroes. Oral tradition mirrored the world to our ancestors, allowing them to find meaning in their rough and difficult lives. The written word was in the future.

Fact in those days was immediate, personal, and deadly. I slew the beast. I slew the aggressor. I am slain.

Today what passes for fact is omnipresent. The internet gives us access to a store of data that is growing exponentially. It follows us around on our smartphones. There is, it seems, no escaping all this. But is it fact?

Books

The Gutenberg Bible was the internet of its day, enabling a rapid expansion of knowledge, both fact and fiction. But printing presses are slower than the net. Scholarship and education grew along with libraries and the number of books. A critical intelligence questioned: Who is the author? Is this a story? History? Science? Philosophy? Fact? What is fact, anyway?

The Net

The internet is not yet a generation old. It followed fast in the footsteps of television. The written word is, one could argue, only a minor part of today’s vast trove of accessible data. Photos, audio and video, often edited for maximum punch, saturate our perception and shorten our attention span. We search for data that corroborates our worldview. Critical intelligence is rare. There is a new oxymoron: reality TV.

Worldview

Every human being has a worldview. Consciously or not, we apply meaning to our lives. It is a human skill that is necessary for survival. We tell a story about ourselves.

But the rub is this: we expand our story to embrace the world we know. We assign good guys and bad guys and even suppose that conspiracies are the reason behind this and that. Then we are surprised when others have different views. We feel threatened and go to the internet to find “proof” for our theories. Is it any wonder our politics has become dysfunctional?

OK,  So . . .

I am as guilty as the next person. I feel road rage. I harbour a grudge. I am rude, sometimes without meaning to be. Sometimes I rage (usually inwardly, but not always) against someone’s convictions which I think are JUST WRONG!

On the other hand, I love my friends and family, warts and all. Their shortcomings/eccentricities/weaknesses are part of who they are, just as mine are. How do I square love  with intolerance?

Story

I have known my friends and loved ones long enough to know their story. Not the story of their lives – their story. The one they tell themselves, as I tell myself mine. And since we are alive, these stories are evolving. Like the songs of old, they change subtly with each telling.

We could do worse than to listen.