We live surrounded by stories, which ones are real?

Given so much information, and so many stories, how to control the truth? Dmitry Ratushny / Unsplash

Stories are part of our lives and have extraordinary power: through them we build our beliefs and values ​​and organize our lives. They affect our minds and make us think, feel and act. The new technological applications, together with profound changes in the conception of reality, are both a possibility and a threat.

We are microcosms responding to macrocosmic reality

Human beings have in us the traces of all the phases that our Universe has gone through since its origin.

  • We are matter and energy, subject to the laws of physics and chemistry.

  • As living beings we participate in that extreme complexity that we already observe in unicellular organisms and we have the will to live, always seeking dynamic balance in relation to our environment.

  • Like the rest of the mammals, we have developed a complex perceptual and emotional system presided over by the principles of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

  • Finally, thanks to the development of our neocortex, which made possible the emergence of a peculiar form of rationality in constant relationship with emotionality, we are characterized by consciousness and the will to meaning.

Stories and the search for meaning

In this last dimension, the need to find meaning in the enigmas and events that surround us, we must inscribe the importance of language and our ability to build stories; stories that can refer to facts (factual, whether true or false) or that can be the result of the imagination (fictional). Both of them affect our mental representation, which it transforms into constructed realities the real that we have in front of us and that, ultimately, we cannot fully know.

Narrating is a radical need of human beings. That is why we speak of “narrativity or ontological relativity”: counting as a consequence of being in the world. And from the earliest stages of our existence, stories have an essential function: to shape our minds. Sometimes, with dynamics of conformity and conformism that would seem inexplicable to us were it not for the importance of these stories.

Stories have power: “only the one that counts, counts”, said Eduardo Galeano. And for this reason one of the forms of confrontation of our time is the conflict of interpretations. It is enough to analyze the dynamics of storytelling in the media and in economic and political speeches. A particular interpretation of the facts, whether true or false, has influence and power over citizens. That is why the economic, political and media forces fight to impose their own interpretation, even though they sometimes know it is false.

The (meta)stories of legitimation

Not all stories are the same. The mythical stories had (and still have) a very special function: to offer a framework of responses to organize the precepts of our living and accept the setbacks of life, referring to events that occurred in a primordial origin (in illo temporeat that time), which forever marked and conditioned human existence.

A nude woman, Venus, standing inside a shell, covers her breasts and vulva surrounded by other deities from Greek mythology.
In the birth of venusSandro Botticelli recovered Greek mythology for the Renaissance.
Google Art Project / Wikimedia Commons

The stories shaped the minds through the bond of unconditional adherence that faith supposes, thus influencing the construction of a social order in which misfortune or injustice is accepted, referring to an order or a will that exceeds us.

The Euro-Western project of modernity tried to overcome these meta-narratives thanks to rationality and with the fundamental instrument of science. Today we know that this was also a metanarrative of legitimation with the mythification of essential ideas such as reason, order, progress, history, revolution. This project today is in a deep crisis and reformulation.

The new stories of “transmodernity”

It is not at all strange that, in the midst of the crisis and overcoming of modernity, the stories change, their dynamics are modified, their contents are hybridized, and alternatives of sacralization or secularization of the stories are produced.

New ways of telling reality (factual stories, because they refer to facts), but also new forms of fiction (driven by our capacity for imagination and fantasy) characterize the complex moment we are experiencing.

The profound technological innovations have accelerated what we currently call New Narratives that, by using various possibilities (oral and written verbal stories, comics, cinematographic and television discourses, networks, podcastvirtual reality, etc.), receive the adjective transmedia.

Since Henry Jenkins coined the notion of “transmedia storytelling” and its seven principles, many of the issues raised have been radicalized.

The use and abuse of some narratives to condition and force the popular will has been seen in recent years in events of a planetary dimension such as the arrival of Trump to the Presidency of the United States, Brexit, or the manipulation promoted by the complex system of interests around Putin to weaken Western democracies in an unprecedented regression towards fascism and through media control.

Donald Trump makes a fuss behind a lectern.
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Nashua, New Hampshire on December 28, 2015.
Marc Nozell / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

The new narratives offer many possibilities for the empowerment of those who have gone from being media users to being produsers, with an undeniable participatory dimension. The collaborative commons, solidarity networks, the use of technology to make us aware of the planet’s climate emergency or to reveal and denounce corruption and abuse have their counterpoint in the increasing immersion of many citizens in networks of lies, fakesin the weakening of a horizon of truth in which fictional discourses contaminate factual discourses about reality.

The antidote to all of this is called media literacy. And it is necessary so that they do not “format” or control our minds. It remains essential to aspire to a horizon of truthdiscern what is true from what is false and not accept that lies end up ruling our lives.

The Conversation

Manuel Angel Vázquez Medel does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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