The story war and poetic truth

We live in a post-truth world. We don’t know which experts are real experts or who has been bought off to lie to us. For every story we hear there will be another story that tells us just the opposite. Reality and trust become subjective. Opinion demands to be taken as seriously as fact. And who knows what the facts are anyway, right? A week ago, a young man told me confidently that everyone was as much in the dark as him. I found this odd, because I knew something of what I was talking about, but when you assume a level playing field in knowledge, you can dismiss anything anyone else knows that doesn’t fit your story.

You cannot argue in this context based on facts. Your facts will be disbelieved, or countered by other ‘facts’. You can’t quote statistics, or experts, or even blindingly obvious realities to people whose story says you are wrong. Those of us who are interested in truth and evidence have been losing on many fronts to people who are willing and able to assert simple stories and offer apparently simple solutions. It is easier to hear that there is no climate change, than to deal with it. It is easier to swallow a simple lie than to chew on a complicated truth, and most truth is complicated.

I wonder sometimes if we are fighting the third world war right now. The weapons are stories. The landscape we’re fighting over is the minds of people. You can see the damage, the bombed out sites, the shell holes. This war is fought to conquer the inner landscapes of people, and to rule those inner worlds, and change how we think. One side of this war believes in holding power over others, accumulating wealth, exploiting those too weak to resist and killing those who don’t fit the narrative. On the other side of this war there are people who are trying to fight back with truth and evidence, and sometimes they do make some ground, and sometimes they look a lot like Ewoks armed with spears trying to take on people with space technology.

(That wasn’t a casual metaphor, because of course the Ewoks win.)

When someone’s mind becomes a bombed out landscape full of hate and fear and resentment, we don’t save them from that with facts. Our facts fall on them like bombs. Every time we deny their truth, we feed their hatred and resentment. You do not restore a city or a landscape by bombing it. You do not restore a hate-damaged mind by truth-bombing it. No matter how much you want them to hear the truth.

This is where the poetic truth comes in. Poetic truth doesn’t deal with the literal and immediate. It deals with Ewoks fighting storm troopers, and with Celtic heroes dying for honour. Poetic truth doesn’t call for facts that can be denied, because it works to evoke feelings. The stories we are up against encourage us to see the worst in each other, to hate and fear and resent and take down and keep on raging and hurting each other until no good thing remains. A poetic truth doesn’t enter this warring landscape in the same way. Sometimes, a poetic truth can shelter a real world truth and get it safely into people’s minds. A story about something else is easier to swallow than a story that has too much to say about everything going on right now.

I know I’m writing this blog only for people who have the means to read it. It is an idea, and not the work itself. The work will involve finding and making small stories that can travel easily, and that can saunter through the trenches in people’s minds, and un-dig some of the holes.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “The story war and poetic truth

  • Stellaria Graminea

    Are you familiar with memetics? There were some interesting books on that topic back in the early 2000s, before the word “meme” became limited in common usage to mean “image macro.” The people who came up with the idea that memes even existed in the first place conceived of the term much more broadly and deeply. Anyway, yes, people mistake the ideological battles taking place right now for politics when they’re actually a function of culture. People don’t decide whether to “believe” in climate change based on facts; they decide based on whether the people who display the same cultural markers as them believe in it. And though it’s based on scientific evidence, the degree to which someone values science and academia in general is also cultural.

  • Stellaria Graminea

    I like the idea of poetic truth, by the way. Good concept.

  • angharadlois

    I like this. It’s an acknowledgement that we’re all contributing what we can to making things better, as much as they can be. This blog is important. Even though – as you acknowledge – not everybody has the means to read it, it’s contributing to making the internet a slightly friendlier, more thoughtful place. Which is significant seeing as the internet is the main facilitator of “reality apathy” & the post-truth world. I like to think I’m contributing what I can in a different way through my work, holding the records of this age so that verifiable evidence will always be available to those who need it, now and in the future.

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