Remember when the coyote chased the roadrunner past the edge, and there was a pause while he looked down and saw nothing but air under his feet?
We need a narrative now, any narrative, and fast.
The one that had us all hypnotized -- whether it was that the president was doing a great job, or that the president was the devil incarnate, it was the same story -- exploded on January 6. What we're seeing now is a scramble for the next agreed-upon narrative, the story we're all going to live in.
Contrary to popular belief, the prevailing narrative is not written by George Soros, Bill Gates, Steve Bannon, or Hugo Chavez. It wasn't written by anybody. The shared reality most of humanity subscribes to is more of a consensus. It's a reflection of our collective view of life. I'm sorry. Sorry and embarrassed. And that big story reflects that too. There's probably nobody on Earth who is not, deep down, sorry and embarrassed. This sorrow and embarrassment is pretty much where we start, when we work out prevailing narratives. The way we put this internally is: there's something wrong, and it's somebody's fault, and don't blame me.
If we want to do something about it, or about anything, come to that, we might want to own up to this. "History repeats itself," in this context, takes on another aspect. Learning from History might be more effective if we could understand what it really is. It's what's left of the previous prevailing narrative, translated into the new one.
That's exactly what's going on now, if it hasn't already crystallized. Now, Sunday, January 10, 2021, four days after the attack on the Capitol as the election was being certified. Everybody was taken completely by surprise. And then they had known this would happen all along. There was that moment, just a blink, when we switched worlds. And we haven't worked out how this new one works. What we don't seem to get, is that it will work by consensus. It will reflect the state of the human community, down to the last little white lie. We're confused now, because we lost track of the pretense we all bought into until last Wednesday.
Explaining events is only possible in a scenario, in a frame of reference. A context in which explanations, which are stories, can make sense. Otherwise, as is often the case lately, everybody will use the same language to mean completely different things, in their own private Idaho.
We can see lots of examples. The president said some stuff, and if you ask somebody, they might say he told them to go kick ass and take names. The person next to them might say no, he didn't, he just told them to go stand outside and chant "USA!" and some Bad Apples happened to be in the crowd. Stories like that are up for grabs for a few more hours. The churning sediments are already settling as the tides of public attention ebb and flow, and soon enough History will have been set in concrete. That is, we will have translated what happened in the previous soap-opera, so the new one will work as a sequel.
The continuity is still a bit strained at this point. During the fracas, the newscasters were pulling out all the stops, using words and phrases they had never dared deploy, like a pack of beagles on bennies. But they were still keeping within the now-fragmented bits of narrative, that we had a president, and a democracy, and a process for orderly transfer of power, and a strong and resilient Nation, even in the face of Congressional gridlock and court-packing and militarized police and systemic racism and perpetual war and oh yes a deadly and spreading plague. And good people on both sides. And not really bad people, just misguided, misled, stirred up into a frenzy, left behind by the Economy.
That had been our story, more or less, and all we could do was yell "boo!" or "yay!" at the top of our lungs. We couldn't process the morass of self-contradictory intellectual quicksand. We couldn't edit the thing, or write a new one. That's the kind of story this is: we call it "reality". Now it's fluid, malleable, unfocused, turbid. But only for a few moments. It's like an earthquake. The liquified ground will soon be bedrock again.
A scant few hours after the melee, politicians began to get all moralistic about Violence and Destruction of Property and the Rule of Law, regardless of what they'd been doing that afternoon, whatever their role in the prevailing narrative had been. A little later the really rabid loyalists in the Cabinet began to jump over the rails of the Ship of State, seeing how the new narrative might have writing on the wall, or hearing Marley-chains rattling under the terrazzo. Over in the heavily-disinfected People's House, Linsey Graham gave an amazing performance as Everyman, pushed to the limit, finally fed up with the lies and backstabbing and bogus conspiracy theories, and chuckling at the childishness of it all. If you hadn't seen him before, you'd think some frat boys had hoisted a pair of panties up the flagpole on the Rotunda. Suddenly I loved this man, who clearly had always been a liberal socialist fighting the System from Within.
I don't want to name more names. For or against them, they are bloated obscenely with our terrorized attention, like the president, whose first and last name have been the first words of every newscast, every hour of every day of every year since 2015.
The former opinion leaders are staking out their territory in the New Narrative, but since nobody quite knows which speculative version to put their money on, the opinions are tentative and toe-dipping and milquetoast. Forcefully pronouncing hackneyed phrases as if they were Sacred Principles will only get you so far. The outliers are flaring out right and left. Nothing works like it did only last Tuesday.
As much as possible, events will be rearranged and crammed into the confines of the old narrative, drawn along the usual criss-crossing venn-diagrammed gerrymandered circles and arrows we see as lines of demarkation. We're comfy with that version of life, although we suffered terribly in that world. It was reliable, which is far more important to us than that the middle of the road stank to high heaven. And it seemed to hold still for a little while, which has not been our world for the past embarrassingly unpresidential term. We cry out for certainty! Stability! Normalcy! (What a dumb word! Did Truman really invent that?)
The people who had a little too much screen time were living in individual worlds that they thought were the real one. But nobody lives in the real one: our brains construct reality from almost nothing. By the time we get to the present it's already over. If we're lucky, we've been living in a community where people actually do see life in more or less the same way we do. But there are no guarantees.
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