One of the common responses to my recent post on conspiracy narratives was:
You don’t understand! Elites are really are pushing for control! Are you saying that they aren’t trying to push for greater control?!”
What if I accept everything you say as true, but just adding different meaning?
Added Meaning In Narratives
The meaning you add to something could be shown by the phrase so that means.
For example, suppose the fact of a situation is: “My wife did not put away the dishes last night.”
That is a fact. What meaning could I add to that?
Suppose someone created a narrative from that fact: “My wife did not put away the dishes last night so that means she must not love me.”
You might object that it doesn’t mean that. She could have just forgotten.
“You don’t understand!” they protest. “She really didn’t put them away! Are you saying that the dishes aren’t on the counter?!”
Of course not. You’re objecting to the narrative created around that fact, not the facts themselves.
Narratives often imply certain actions. If they were to take this narrative further they might write:
“My wife did not put away the dishes last night so that means she must not love me so that means I should yell at her until she does what I want.”
Obviously, just because someone leaves the dishes out does not mean they deserve verbal abuse. If you told that person “hey, don’t yell at your wife” and they started debating the truth of whether or not the dishes were on the counter, you would think they missed the point of what they were saying.
Even if the dishes were left on the counter, then it doesn’t follow that your wife doesn’t love you or that the best solution is to yell at her.
Here are some other narratives or meaning you could add to that.
“My wife did not put away the dishes last night so that means I need to do a better job communicating my wants and needs.”
“My wife did not put away the dishes last night so that means I should just put the dishes away myself.”
“My wife did not put away the dishes last night so that means I should have a conversation with her about who handles what responsibilities around the house.”
All of these narratives would probably lead to a better relationship than if you yelled at your wife over the dishes.
However, you could reach a better relationship even from a false narrative. For example:
“My wife did not put away the dishes last night so that means that the evil alien which most people know as the devil caused her to sin by forgetting her wifely duties so that means I should show her love in order to bring her back into God’s light.”
If the end result of this narrative is that you tell your wife you love her, it might be a better narrative than one that leads you to verbally abuse her, even if the narrative is obviously false.
By the way, all the same principles apply to conspiracy and political narratives.
Added Meaning In Conspiracies
Suppose the facts of a conspiracy narrative are “Elites are pushing for greater control of our lives.”
We can debate this fact, but let’s assume it’s true.
One added meaning of this narrative is “Elites are pushing for greater control of our lives so that means they are evil and deliberately trying to harm us.”
Even this is debatable. What if they want more control because they think it will make our lives safer and are just misguided do-gooders?
Just like your wife leaving dishes on the counter might “harm” you (though on a much smaller and less significant scale), it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. Likewise, elites could just be doing what they think is “good” even though it’s actually deeply harmful.
But again, let’s assume this is true and condense the narrative to “Elites are trying to do things that will harm us.”
How does that mean you should respond?
Most conspiracy theorists I’ve seen add the meaning “Elites are trying to do things that will harm us so that means we should constantly get the information out on social media.”
On a personal level that looks like “Elites are trying to do things that will harm us so that means I should constantly post about it to my 200 Facebook friends.”
Why? Why is this the action? Even if the first statement is true, does it really imply the second? Even if your wife left the dishes out because she doesn’t love you, does it really mean the best solution is to yell at her?
When I write about conspiracy narratives, I’m actually not disputing the conspiracy part or the first part of the narrative. I’m disputing the second. Why is constantly posting information the solution to elite evil, and not something else?
Here are some alternative narratives:
“Elites are trying to do things that will harm us so that means I should join a political activist group so that I know other people in my area interested in resisting them and am not alone in this struggle.”
“Elites are trying to do things that will harm us so that means I should run for local sheriff or support a candidate who will choose not to enforce certain laws.” (Small town sheriffs often have this power.)
“Elites are trying to do things that will harm us so that means I should buy bitcoin and property in locations outside their control where I won’t be noticed by them.”
These narratives may or may not be true. Yet, all of them would lead to greater resistance than “Elites are trying to do things that will harm us so that means I should post on Facebook and Twitter.”
In fact, even if the first part is false, wouldn’t these narratives still lead to a better or more interesting life? Even if the first part is true, wouldn’t a narrative that leads you to post on Facebook alone all day still lead to a worse or less interesting life?
Narratives lead you to action. Could you also achieve radical action from non-conspiracy narrative or even an entirely false narrative?
Added Meaning In Mainstream Narratives
Once you understand the process of added meaning, you can see it in mainstream narratives.
For example, the narrative of elites is:
“Coronavirus is a deadly disease so that means we need to lockdown society until we can universally vaccinate everyone.”
If the first part is true, does it really imply the second part? Why if coronavirus is so deadly does it mean locking every individual down in their home and vaccinating them is the only solution?
Here is an alternative narrative from the same premise.
“Coronavirus is a deadly disease so that means we need to re-organize society into 150-person local communities that produce their own food, clothing, and resources.”
You could continue that narrative: “Centralized distribution centers like Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, etc. create infection points. We as a society need to start growing our own food on our lawns and raising livestock so that you can get your food from your neighbors and no one ever had to leave their neighborhood again.”
Elites might not protest that narrative. “But that would destroy our global financial system!” “Ah,” you’d reply. “So you’re saying there is a higher value than stopping coronavirus?” This narrative would force them to reveal that their solution makes people dependent on multinational corporations and grabs power for them, whereas the 150-personal local community solution puts power in the hands of local communities from the same premise.
If you accepted the mainstream narrative and began forming a local commune or intentional community, wouldn’t this be more radical than if you accepted a conspiracy narrative and sat at home posting on Facebook all day? Which leads to a better relationship?
The problem with elite narratives is not the facts. Any narrative can be drawn from a set of facts. The problem is the meaning they add to them. However, the same can be said of conspiracy narratives. Any narrative that leads to you to feeling powerless, disconnected, or unable to take any action does not serve you. It is possible for all the facts of a story to be true, but your narrative about them to be false.
What narratives are you telling yourself about the current situation? What action does it imply you take?