The Politics of Storytelling

‘Stories lose their magic if they are seen as more than a story.’ So said the very lovely author Elif Shahak during her 2010 TED talk, The Politics of Fiction. Fiction is usually an arena where anything goes and no one gets hurt. Usually. It’s not so straightforward as Salman Rushdie and indeed Shahak – legally charged with ‘insulting Turkishness’ after the publication of The Bastard of Istanbul – will testify.

The line between fiction and non-fiction is always blurry and it’s no different when it comes to the stories individuals tell about society.

In Indonesia, the men who committed genocide after the military coup in the ‘60s are still celebrated as heroes. The central machine has been so successful at proliferating propaganda about the ‘sadistic’ Communists threatening the country’s wellbeing that interpretations of the killers as anything other than ‘patriotic saviours’ struggle for a foothold.

Even here in moderate old Britain there are certain lines of thought politicians have uttered so frequently they feel like solid truth. If a service was nationalised every time Cameron said: ‘There is no alternative’ about the cuts we’d be reliving the days of Old Labour. As things stand, all but the most intellectually guarded feel, on some level, like the austerity drive is as inevitable as our tendency to ignore homeless beggars huddled throughout London.

But if this atomised and negative political climate rankles with your sense of how we should live as humans the first step is to seek out alternative stories and storytellers. This involves finding people driven by decency and hope rather than fear and greed. It involves evaluating things according to whether they chime with your values instead of presuming smartly dressed men with confident voices know what’s right for everyone.

It’s an act of bravery to step away from the mainstream narrative but it’s one rewarded with the thrill of discovering individuals who made that brave choice awhile ago. Everyone finds different parts of different people instructive. I find hope in…

the social kindness of the philosopher Alain de Botton and
the fearless depths of the artist Marina Abramovic and
the progressive wit of the actress Jennifer Lawrence and
the wild imagination of the comedian Dylan Moran and
the moral compass of journalist Owen Jones and
so it goes on…

Forget the rote-learned party lines coming out of a self-serving establishment. Find humanistic narratives that awake your sensitivities. Just remember true liberation from tunnel-vision is usually… a case of stories in volume (badum tish).

Image by Guillaume Paumier courtesy of Flickr

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