Who writes your narratives? Who controls what you are reading?
This is something I often think about. With almost unlimited access to information and news sources, which ones do we regularly depend on? And how does that control how we see the world? These questions can take us much deeper; right into our core beliefs. Who controlled our narratives growing up? How are our core beliefs shaped?
I grew up in the post Regan days where DARE was still very much a thing. “JUST SAY NO!!” and all that crap. A few years after going through that program in a white suburban middle school, I started smoking cannabis at the age of 16. It changed my life in a number of positive ways and I realized that I had been fed a bunch of bullshit by most of the authoritative figures in my life. It led me to question what other things they were lying or were just plain wrong about. Fast-forward to 2017 and we know that the War on Drugs is predicated on lies told to the public with the objective to lock up minorities. The War on Drugs has done nothing but harm to millions and millions of people all over the world. The momentum of the program, the money invested in keeping drugs illegal and American’s prisons full, is fighting tooth and nail to keep from reforming. Heck, after the DEA ruled CBDs a Schedule 1 drug, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the UK has just announced that CBDs are medicine.
It goes to show that there are different sides to every story. On the one hand, the stereotypical image of the stoner is something that nearly everyone can call to mind with little hesitation. That image alone is enough to push people away. Compounded by the fact that getting caught with cannabis is the most dangerous aspect of the plant, and it just isn’t worth trying to many folks. On the other hand, according to this article, which cites this research paper, maybe humans (some of us anyway) suffer from a cannabis deficiency. Cannabis could be downright healthy for us. And without the civil disobedience of widespread illegal cannabis use, we almost surely wouldn’t have the wave of legalization and changing public opinion that we have seen recently. Maybe cannabis isn’t the demon drug my generation was told to think it was.
We have all been fed a steady diet of narratives since we were born. Many of them were outright lies designed to controls us. These narratives mixed with lies have shaped who we are, how we identify ourselves, how we project ourselves to the world, and how we behave every single day of our lives. We are nurtured from childhood to consume stuff. It starts with the toys we want based on commercials we see, the chemicals in the food we crave, and ultimately how we view, and more importantly value ourselves. The story is told in many ways, but the Story of Stuff is a most succinct explanation of how criminally screwed up our society has become in the last 60 years due to a false narrative. It’s really an excellent short film, and certainly more powerful now than when it was first produced in 2007 because very little has changed.
These collective narratives leading us to consume have also led to depression, obesity, pill addictions, eating disorders, climate change, suicides, and more. It is a powerful narrative spoon fed to us in every imaginable way. The ‘consume’ narrative is propped up by more money than we can possibly imagine, but it is not the way to happiness and never was, despite the fact that we are tricked to believe that it is. Cracks in the narrative have been appearing since the financial crisis in 2008. Recently those gaudy,oversized homes have fallen out of favor. The lifestyles of our parents are unaffordable by their children. Millennials are living at home more than anywhere else. Many are even worse off than their parents were at the same age for the first time in generations.
Compounding into all of this is the fact that everyone still collectively believes the narrative that we have to go to college. As a result, colleges got smart and look what happened to the cost. This narrative needs to be challenged and in some ways, it is.
Here’s the part where I’m supposed to share a positive upside, but I’m not sure that I have anything positive to share. I don’t have all of the answers, and I’m just as susceptible to collective narratives as everyone else. I buy shit all the time chasing the rush, but that is starting to change for me. This year my wife and I placed a mandate on no gifts for Christmas. We are shopping for our first home, and we are focusing on smaller homes and steering clear of larger ones. I just donated a ton of clothes that I don’t wear any more, and I have no intentions (nor am I the type) to go shopping for more. This year I am making a concerted and focused effort to do more with less. To get rid of stuff, keep more from coming into our lives, and get the maximum utility out of everything we have.
The end result of this, I hope, is that we have more experiences. Personally I want to get outside more. Go hiking and camping and backpacking. Enjoy the vanishing nature that legally belongs to all Americans – for the moment. Spend time with the people I love doing things. We would rather take trips and go places than be shackled to our home by things with little to no intrinsic value. We are rejecting the narrative that stuff brings happiness.
However, choosing your narrative – and choosing it carefully – is going to become considerably harder. President Obama signed into law an act with a provision to create a national anti-propaganda center. The provisions in this law could be dangerous for the freedom of the press. And almost certainly will totally not turn itself into it’s own propaganda machine to act in the interests of those throwing the most money at it. I mean, I just can’t imagine a scenario where this turns out bad. The American people being told what and how to think by corporate interests under the guise of the government…
My point with all of this is that in the era of fake news and information bubbles we owe it to ourselves to scrutinize not only who we are getting our information from, but the narratives that we ourselves believe – and the narratives that are constantly being forced on us by external parties. When we pick and choose what is right by us, we can’t turn a blind eye to the bigger picture or to the possibility that we are being duped. It is not OK anymore to dogmatically believe in one way of thinking and ignore all evidence to the contrary. The world is a complicated and nuanced place that requires more adaptation now than ever before, and that has to extend to our belief system. When I turned 16 I thought that buying shit at the mall was good and that cannabis was bad. I have since figured out that it is the other way around, guided by the search for truth. In that search I’ve had to shed closely held beliefs as their fallacy became exposed. The quest for truth will never end, but that’s the whole point: it is the journey itself that matters most.