Narrative is dangerous. All the more dangerous following previous posts’ postulations that we as people are made-up stories, as are the cultural conditions and traditions in which we exist, and especially because few recognise this. Because of our nature, even those few can struggle not to feel as if they are part of the storyline exploding the myth of stories.
We are caught from birth. Narrative is extrapolated from behaviour – a baby smiles because it’s happy, or it likes us (or, more fundamentally, action x because of intensional [sic] reason b), which is much easier for us than understanding a baby smiles because beneficial consequences follow, attention, affection etc. (note that this can cease after the neonatal period). People don’t usually like to associate the kind of conditioning that would work on a sea snail applying to us. Happily for them, they don’t need to – they were similarly understood by their parents, and as they increased in complexity, embracing language, all the stories were already there to create their self.
Not very sinister yet, I grant you. Hints of the menace do begin at this point, however. It’s understandable to ascribe narratives of personhood to things that look and behave as you do. Less so for things that live with you, such as pets, but I don’t care. Danger is presaged by children and the inanimate (or imaginary) things they imbue with some level of personhood. Usually it’s just a game, but games are a type of story, too, and no great reflection is needed to remember games are also dangerous when people forget they are stories.
We outgrow childish things, or at least childish objects – we don’t outgrow the kind of storybook understanding of the world accessible and understandable to a toddler. Non-human things retain some level of personality for us, or why do we shout accusingly towards a poorly functioning electronic item? More seriously, as we develop we come to a level of understanding about the world in which we live. For some, that is swallowing the large-text, bright-picture, pop-up book version; for others a serious and on occasion brave attempt to work things out via scientific enquiry and, if I may presume, philosophy, which is to function as literary critic in this extended metaphor about consciousness-as-narrative.
[Indulge me, and read the last part of that last sentence again – can we begin to see just how utterly captive in narrative we are, how badly suited are the tools available to us? We’re using a knife of cheese as a cheese knife.]
In most cases, to my despair, there isn’t as much of a distinction as I’ve tried to crowbar into that bifurcation. The colossal narrative context of culture and our no-doubt hardwired predisposition for it ensure that. Otherwise sensible people plead with their cars to start (when they have had a history of trouble – otherwise sensible people do not plead with historically reliable cars); otherwise atheistically-inclined people struggle against feeling deliberately singled out amidst a convergence of negative occurrences.
A rare benefit of immersion in narrative is some sense of structure and pacing. The larger conclusion of danger from narrative will continue/conclude later. I’m sure you’ve had enough for one evening.