What's the point of uplifting stories if the world is going to hell?

Inspiring stories have far more power than feel-good comfort food

What's the point of uplifting stories if the world is going to hell?
Photo by Jeremy Zero / Unsplash

The words in your mind create the world in front of you

I've said this before and I'll keep saying it as long as I have to.

Your words are your reality.

Has RP defected to the postmodernist camp?

No way.

I'm the exact opposite of a relativist. There's such a thing as right and wrong, or at least better and worse if you want to avoid fixed points.

Your boy RP has read far too much Plato and Aristotle -- and agreed with them -- to think otherwise.

That's not exactly a popular opinion today.

It's likely to get me classified with science-denying evangelical Christians, or worse, with the woo-woo self-help crowd that preaches sentimental feel-good comforts over life-changing actions.

Nein. All that mess isn't much more than a coping mechanism for the relentless ugliness of modern society.

Today's culture doesn't have much time for Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

Without them, the real only alternative is chasing pleasure through sensory stimulation.

Does it make me feel good? If "yes", then do it. If "no", then avoid.

That's the beginning and ending of ethical reasoning today.

Which is a sad mistake. And it explains a whole lot about the state of the world before you.


When you can't talk about goodness and beauty, you can't experience them

Does that sound strange to you?

Pause and think about it.

Here's an example to help you along.

This morning, the kids were talking to me about learning to ride a bike. They've got a lot of confidence about their abilities, even though they've only been on a bike a few times.

They're still in training wheels mode.

But that got me thinking. I haven't been on a bike in at least 15 years. If I hopped on one right now, right this minute, I could ride it without a hitch.

The kids don't have that know-how yet. One day, not far into the future, they will. And once they're on the other side, they won't remember what it was like to not know how to do it.

Learning to ride a bike is like turning a ratchet. Once you learn it, you "just know".

The bike riding skill isn't the best example because it's missing a key detail. You don't have to know many words, or maybe any words, to ride a bike.

Here's a slightly different way of making the same point.

A new barista shows up at work on Day One having never used an espresso machine. All she sees are dials and buttons and pipes spitting out steam. It's a jumbled up mess with no obvious order.

By Day Fourteen, she's dishing out lattes with a whistle in her step.

She's learned how to use the machine. A major part of that learning happens as she comes to understand that all the dials and buttons on the machine are "temperature gauge", "steam wand", and so on.

Learning how to use a new machine involves picking up new concepts.

Take another example from the sciences. Drop me into a biology laboratory and I'd be lost. I don't know much about the gear. Put me in front of a microscope with a slide full of goop and I'd have no idea what I was seeing.

The trained biologist could look through that slide and see a whole different world. She's learned to see differently... and that new way of seeing happened as she came to understand what she was seeing.


Words create reality... but not out of nothing

The scientists sees the same "stuff" as I see. She has a different context for interpreting it.

Ditto for the barista. Same for the expert bike-rider.

Once you're through the looking glass, the same objective reality takes on a new and different shape in your mind.

Learning to understand what you're seeing creates meaning out of a confused jumble of sensory stimulation.

Context matters.

Context is inseparable from meaning.

And our context, as language animals, depends greatly on the words we have available to describe and interpret what we see.

Note for those inclined to pedantry: I use the term "see" as a generic term for any kind of sensory experience. The same goes for trained musicians who understand music, or an expert chef working the kitchen through taste and scent.


What happens when you live in a world without the words to talk about the True, Beautiful, and Good?

If you don't have the words, you don't have the thing.

It's surely a strange coincidence that right as the world seems forever on the brink of total destruction, these words have all but vanished from our vocabularies.

If you turn on the TV news (may God help you), you will be battered by 24/7 fear pr0n of the highest degree.

Climate change. War. Deadly pandemic.

Step out from that assault on your mind, and you find yourself in a world of increasingly alienated human beings.

Plugged into a "smart" [sic] phone in every free moment. Unable to sit alone with their own thoughts. Compelled to check the notifications, like one of Pavlov's brainwashed dogs.

And your path to salvation? You're hit with feel-good comfort food. Love yourself! Be happy! Be positive!

Hogwash.

More precisely, it's a superficial half-truth. More chicken feed to keep the farm animals scrolling.

You do need to be happy. You should love yourself.

But you don't get there by repeating mantras you read out in an Instagram quote.

You get there by changing your actions. You change your actions by changing your own inner being.

What the scientist has to learn about seeing through a microscope...

What kids learn when they learn to ride a bike...

You have to learn to see yourself, your self, through a different conceptual scheme.


This is an identity problem

And today we can't talk about ourselves by talking about what's True, Beautiful, and Good.

We talk about ourselves like a freakish science project.
Brains with brain chemicals. A computer for chasing pleasure. Evolved monstrosities with no higher purpose. Confused rationalizers that make up lies to comfort ourselves.

There's truth in those descriptions. If you're standing on the outside like spectator watching the playoffs, it's all true enough.

But you're not watching the game. You're out on the court living your life.

Whether the truths as the spectator sees them are truths we ought to accept for ourselves, that's an entirely separate matter.

And you can't even begin to answer it if you insist on sitting up in the nosebleed seats.

Follow the science? Not unless the science has something interesting to tell me.

Do what everyone else does? They're having so much success, aren't they?

The world may or may not be going to hell.

Only history can tell for sure.

But you... you have a choice.

You can accept it and give up. Let fear and doubt and uncertainty and the mental assault of mass media grind you down.

Or...

You can say "no way" and stand up for your own convictions. Have a point of view, take a stand, and do what you know is right for yourself.

In a world ruled by the herd... where the mass media controls public opinion, when petty bureaucrats and tinpot tyrants harass you with moronic rules and regulations... the only way to win is to stand apart from the masses.

That's why uplifting stories matter so much.

They give us the words to see another world.

They show us a vision of how things could be.

They show you that...

You are not alone and you are not broken and you do not have to believe the lies forced down your throat by lesser lights

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