2001 : WHAT NOW?

douglas_rushkoff's picture
Media Analyst; Documentary Writer; Author, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus
Succumbing To Narrative, Or Writing Our Own

In his speech to Congress, Bush Ù perhaps unintentionally Ù presented the choice before us: we will either bring justice to the nations of our enemies, or bring our enemies to justice.

Although he probably didn't mean it this way, his two alternatives represent two completely different tacks. The former suggests extending the ideals of the Enlightenment on which this nation was founded into regions where human rights are not honored. The latter implies nothing less than accepting the fundamentalists' invitation to holy war.

Were we to bring justice to those who currently suffer under despotic regimes, it would certainly mark a shift in our foreign policy, which has until now been based more on short-term strategic goals than extended democracy's reach. It would be a welcome change, and one less likely to create the kinds of fundamentalist Frankenstein monsters we sponsored in the past.

Engaging in a traditional holy war would be entirely less fruitful, and tragically hypocritical. Currently, we are witnessing what happens when the narratives human beings have been using to understand their reality no longer work. Fundamentalism is the belief that the real world conforms to the stories we were told about it; that reality has an author, God. We do not participate, we merely adhere to the story (or risk damnation) and are willing to die for the story because the ending has already been ordained. When the map no longer fits the territory, it is the territory that must be changed. Life itself is fixed. Dead.

In the West, thanks to our relative openness, wealth and the scientific advancement it allows, we have been empowered to abandon our narratives, and to understand reality as emergent, rather than ordained. Our brand of idealism Ù our emphasis on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness Ù encourages us to participate the writing of the narratives we live by. As a result, our overarching narrative is a consensus, and more fluid. Unlike the fundamentalists' ordained apocalypse, it offers us a way out: evolution.

The attack on the US marks a shocking discontinuity for most Americans. Ito could lead us back into narrative Ù as far back as the Holy Crusade against the Moslems Ù in order to find a mythology that conforms to these events. Or, we can look to the underlying causes and even our own complicity in the emergence of these phenomena, and accept responsibility for writing a new narrative, altogether.