Do we really need a Unifying Story or just “good music”?
The new arcforum.com website as per spring 2022 opens with six key questions possibly to be resolved at the first gathering of the new high level anti-apocalyptic pro-freedom movement in october in London. The first of these questions might prove to be the most fundamental of them all and the answer to it will bear heavily on the way we find answers to the other five. In this essay I will try to provide a line of reasoning to get this first question mostly right.
The first question is:
In order to prevent further disaster I will right off the bat counter this with the more open question:
We cannot simply presume that we need (to craft) such a story since it might keep us stuck in utter foolishness, such as when Al Gore stated that “even if the theory of global warming were false, we had still better believe it since we need a unifying story”. It is probably also true that the whole issue of looking for such a story is unique to the modern atheist. Good Christians, Muslims or buddhists would immediately reject such a project. They already have their story. As do followers of fringe movements like Scientology, Wicca or what have you.
It’s already beyond dispute that the climate religion or more broadly the environmental religion psychologically is a quite perfect fit to replace Christianity, while infusing it with a variant of Marxist historical materialism. For those who are still blind to this the late Michael Crichton’s State of Fear is a must read and the video below a must see:
It’s sad that Michael Chrighton died only 66 years old back in 2008, just a few years before the modern longform podcast and video interviews took off. He would have been an intellectual giant there with a very important voice to be heard. May AI bring him to Joe Rogan posthumously! Let’s listen to another intellectual giant who can say something about the need for a unifying story or the redundancy of such a thing in politics. I have never forgotten what Nicholas Nassim Taleb said about Switzerland, the country of my grandmother. Quote:
“It is not quite true that the Swiss do not have a government. What they do not have is a large central government, or what the common discourse describes as “the” government— what governs them is entirely bottom-up, municipal of sorts, regional entities called cantons, near-sovereign mini-states united in a confederation. There is plenty of volatility, with enmities between residents that stay at the level of fights over water fountains or other such uninspiring debates. This is not necessarily pleasant, since neighbors are transformed into busybodies— this is a dictatorship from the bottom, not from the top, but a dictatorship nevertheless. But this bottom-up form of dictatorship provides protection against the romanticism of utopias, since no big ideas can be generated in such an unintellectual atmosphere— it suffices to spend some time in cafés in the old section of Geneva, particularly on a Sunday afternoon, to understand that the process is highly unintellectual, devoid of any sense of the grandiose, even downright puny (there is a famous quip about how the greatest accomplishment of the Swiss was inventing the cuckoo clock while other nations produced great works— nice story except that the Swiss did not invent the cuckoo clock). But the system produces stability— boring stability— at every possible level.”Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
So let’s just put it out there that at least for small countries, who will not necessarily take us to Mars, it’s good enough when people rangle and vote over water fountains. And: if taking us to Mars could be the basis of a unifying story or myth, do we need the government for it? Doesn’t SpaceX prove that we don’t? Isn’t it so, that one of the greatest modern achievements is the strict legal separation of church and state? Isn’t it so, that the climate religion effectively has nullified this separation? Aren’t modern western politicians as much crypto-religious zealots as the Bolsheviks in the disastrous Soviet Union were? Isn’t a Paris peace accord fully comparable to a Vatican council? In what way is it different?
I am proposing, that indeed the last thing in or for politics we need, is a unifying story. In society at large we do need unifying stories and we have them and we can continue to create them. Let’s draw the analogy to the music industry. We are living in an amazing time where we are not just consuming the music off our class and era, like when Baroque music was charming the elites and immutable traditional folk music and dance was there for the poor. There now is a plethora of musical styles and tastes ready to get people hooked across the globe. Nobody is proposing the development of a grand unifying musical style.
Above is a video of a death metal song, as an example of a fringe style that will never enthrall the mainstream audience. It seems that the mainstream is immune or allergic to it. The majority seems sort of naturally linked to rather friendly, sexualized, romantic, epic music styles that vary in their ability to sustain certain kinds of cheerful optimistic party and dance. Even with zero censorship of “degenerated art”, as certain regimes had it, there is still zero chance that death metal or any other cringy music style will take over the mainstream. There isn’t even a debate about it. Even in China or Russia politicians see that music can just be free music and things will be good.
There is a big difference though between music and stories. Whereas it is not possible to package death metal in a lullaby, it is possible to package horrible doom and gloom in stories that get accepted by the mainstream. If intelligently one had to pick a music style that would correspond to the climate crisis, it would not be Rihanna, but something akin to the scary vikings in the video above. Let psychologists analyse why words can be used to deceive and music cannot. Let us conclude from this that the ideal would be to let the world of unifying stories as free and open and decentral as the music industry, yet apply a certain hygiene to prevent doom stories from taking over the mainstream. Who would mind a bunch of hippies glueing themselves to the pavement over climate? Craziness belongs to puberty and there have always been wayward sects. It only gets dangerous when the conservative class of entrepreneurs and politicians align themselves with this nonsense, pushing the mass of consumers into the deathcult along with them.
Maybe the first question of the Arcforum could be reframed into:
In a time of growing atheism there certainly is a need for good storytellers. One of the really great attempts to create something really harmless, really inspiring and really unifying is the movement of The Great Story, also known as the Universe Story, Epic of Evolution, or Big History. Here a group of scientists and historians are preparing materials for pupils and students to learn about the big bang, evolution and all the wonders of the universe that we have uncovered. As many natural scientists have said from their own experience: seeing these amazing wonders doesn’t make the belief in God smaller. It enhances it. But would the state be the right party to furnish the development of this story? Isn’t it much better left to the private sector – schools, companies and philanthropists? In Russia we currently see a state guided effort to recreate Russian pride, the Russian family, the Orthodox church (that has a history of being linked to the state). Trump wants to make America great again. One could argue that states have a right to furnish that part of the unifying story that supports the state in its functioning and in its protection against internal and external threats. However: the line we don’t want to cross here is totalitarianism. The storytelling (and censorship) capabilities of the state should never reach Orwells “a boot in your face forever” level. It needs to stay well below it.
Overseeing this field one large question remains:
I feel that this is really one of the core motivators of Arcforum. Seeing that Marxism and Malthusianism keep rearing their ugly heads in all kinds of “storytelling organisations” like the WEF. An international body like the WHO is dangerously similar to a Communist International. More broadly, and more generous to those who still see some good in socialist thought, it can be said that we need a verbal hygiene, continuously filtering out those stories that lead us into the abyss. That is the lesson of the 20th century. Stories have weight. Stories move things. Even simple memes do as the seminal essay Gramsian damage shows. Whole civilizations can and will be brought down by it. And the west is certainly under threat.
Possibly there is room for a new decentral organisation (open to have itself copied by others as good open source software does) to act as a clearing house for the good the bad and the ugly. But the modern world probably already has dozens of them. Platforms like Joe Rogan and the Jimmy Dore show are certainly news and narrative clearing houses of a kind. So maybe Arcforum’s role is not to be another storyteller or the clearing house. Maybe it’s Arcforums role to select the kinds of stories that are beneficial to us all if we infuse politics and industry with them. Just like Claus Schwab’s WEF in Davos and Gerorge Soros Open Forum infect politicians and captains of industry with “death metal grunge packed as a lullaby”, Arcforum could be the platform that feeds politicians and captains of industry with the good. Politicians are focussed on building and maintaining power, industrialists on building industries and creating wealth. Storywise both are too busy and they’ll take whatever is on offer (and if they don’t, their press and marketing departments will).
Overseeing this landscape Arcforum could aim to be Plato’s philosopher king. Philosophy is the free sublime art that can truly sort things out intellectually, but it needs a strong and trustworthy connection to power and money to turn things for the better. Let’s be that nexus. Let’s end the situation in which the devil has free reign!