How Stories Warn Us

“An Extinction Level Event”
– Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Mindy in ‘Don’t Look Up

“The movie is, in my view, a powerful demolition of the grotesque failures of public life. And the sector whose failures are most brutally exposed is the MEDIA.” – George Monbiot

I Can See Clearly Now …

What would you do if you could see the future? In Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter to Priam and Hecuba of Troy, was given the gift of future vision, but the curse that no one would believe her.

Is this how medical practitioners and scientists feel today, with the noise of social media blocking the masses from appreciating their efforts? 

We live in strange times. But are they any different from other times?

Today, everyone wants to blame social media for our collective stupidity, but the reality is that from the get-go, humans have proven that they are very capable at misinterpreting warnings, especially when faced with adversity. And we’ve know to have exceptional moments of insight and understanding.

Our history of storytelling reminds of this.

The Cautionary Tale has been delivered to us in many variations, but the quick summary is this:

  • someone is paying attention to their environment and/or they are hyper-connected to what’s going on and what WILL happen soon. In fact, that’s their chosen vocation and they’re instructed and paid to do exactly that.
  • They become alert to a threat and they try to warn others about that threat
  • Others are reluctant to change, especially those who stand to lose economically
  • The cost of change is always described as being ‘too high’
  • The threat seems false … at first
  • The threat becomes real … and more people than necessary suffer. Others simply ask in their oblivious way ‘why didn’t you warn us’?

Now … they say that hindsight is 2020 (and so is irony in this case, I suppose) which means we know the predictions of the future and who’s right and wrong once the future is well behind us. Just to be a primo shit disturber: who’s ‘right’ when people are shouting down each other sharing opinions against scientific evidence? I’m with science, but history has also shown that those in the other camps have born out some elements of truth.

People have warned the masses before about certain actions being taken that are not in the best interest of the public.

An example? How about the numerous American companies that supplied the Nazis and Japanese through the 1930s. Some historians suggest that this was because capitalists wanted to protect their way of being and used the Axis a buffer between Communism and the countries of the West.

Britain was under seige by the Nazis and the Americans were still trying to break through their embargoes to supply the Germans and Italians.

Unfortunately, profits preceded people in the West for too long.

The US was warned many times that the Axis would turn on them and eventually they did in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Even the warnings of the attack on and before that fateful day went unheeded.

Only once the true atrocities became known did people push for all Western governments and companies to stop doing business with evil people.

Of course, this is why I personally don’t think any profits should be involved with vaccine producers and the vaccines should be published to the public domain – if we’re truly interested in saving humanity – but that’s a debate for another day.

The Downside of Dumb …

Ive mentioned the Greek history associated with the character known as Cassandra. Her name came up again in the Bruce Willis film 12 Monkeys when Dr. Railly (played by Madeleine Stowe) had to come to grips with the possibility that she might be experiencing her own strange story of having to relay events related to the main time-traveling protagonist, David Cole (played by Bruce Willis). Since then, ‘Cassandra Complex’ seems to come up often when talking about situations where people have the ability to anticipate what’s going to happen in the near or far future, but the frustration associated with everyone else not really giving a shit.

Western cultures and our lore if rife with examples of Cassandra like stories:

  • Chicken Little
  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf
  • Most horror films – ‘Stay Out’ being ignored by oblivious teens wanting an adventure
  • Don’t Look Up

In some stories, the cautionary tale is used as a road block to deter the hero/heroine form engaging in their ‘next steps’ of the journey. In economics, we call these road blocks ‘barriers to entry‘.

Even the over-zealous protective father might be seen as a type of cautionary tale, designed to warn young suitors from doing harm to their children.

Mythologists know that a good protective barrier often generates heros/heroines with a greater resolve and sense of determination as they try to advance to the next level of their journey and make the transition, especially into the Underworld or the Shadow World that defines a new universe that will challenge them to the utmost.

But … the core of the message is ‘you’ve been warned’ and people usually fail to heed the advice.

As the human race adapts to a tsunami-level volume of new information about disease and death related to the corona virus (ie. Covid), factions are starting to materialize. The vast majority of us are willing to be compliant and submit to getting innoculated with potentially life-saving vaccines. There’s a smaller, more defensive group that refuses the vaccine and actually thinks it’s all part of a great plot to control humanity.

To what end, I cannot say. I mean, have you tried to control a small group of teenagers on a ski trip? It doesn’t work. After that experience, who the fuck would want to control 8 billion people with different agendas?

Suffice to say, people absorb information at different rates.

The Upside of Understanding …

As we look up to those who are more intelligent and experienced with certain aspects of the current situation, let’s also remind ourselves that despite the shittiness of dying from a communicable disease, a lot of good came from awful historical plagues.

In 2014, Pat Lee Shipman published “The Bright Side of the Black Death” in American Scientist.

It’s unlikely that Covid deaths will come anywhere close to what was experienced during the ‘Middle Ages’ in Europe when the Black Plague killed 30 to 50 percent of ALL living people. That’s because more people than ever don’t see science as an intrusion with their lives.

During the last ‘great plague’ in the Western world (ie. the Black Death in the Middle Ages), we got so many incredible things:

  • generally, massive advances in scientific method and discovery
  • Boccaccio’s Decameron & Dante’s Divine Comedy and many other great works of art
  • proper sewage systems

In some respects, the Plague made humans stronger. Our immune systems showed a noticeable improvement. Those that survived were supposed to survive. Apparently, those that died were meant to die because they were malnourished or unable to clean themselves, resulting in the ultimate natural selection.

Of course, with that many less humans populating the planet, the planet itself probably got a chance to take a breather while we weren’t burning, chopping, mining and damming everything in sight.

There was also a massive transfer of wealth into the hands of those that remained. In many cases, this lead to a consolidation of power and wealth into the hands of the few. I won’t argue that this is a good thing, but for many families, there was less

Enter the Four Horsemen …

Even the Bible and other manifestos of other religions are loaded with cautionary tales, the biggest of which in the Western world is the Book of Revelations that reads a step-by-step prognosis for how the world is going to end.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (always the guys stealing the show, leaving no room for other genders) represent(ed) Conquest, War, Famine and Death. They haven’t even caught up to the nightmare scenarios of Pandemic and Anthropomorphism (era-lasting impact of humankind).

Suffice to say, we live in times where your average citizen has a lot of information to absorb and we keep finding ways to make things worse. The ruin that was predicted by Don’t Look Up was met with waves of cynicism and skepticism that mocked the scientists. You know, the ones who have chosen to be neck-deep in the stuff every day of their lives waiting for toilet-based researchers to call them out on their conspiracies.

It seemed like people couldn’t handle the fictitious destruction of the planet. George Monbiot, known environmental activist and journalist, blames the mainstream media NOT social media for not taking the story seriously.

How, then, are we supposed to handle REAL CRISES like a pandemic and environmental ruin, brought on by our own greed and piss-poor management of this beautiful and rare thing called EARTH?

The Ghastliness of Greed …

The last bit to consider in all of this is the legitimacy that would be ascribed to the solutions if and ONLY if greed weren’t an obvious factor in the formula.

Pharma companies are still raking it in while they produce massive volumes of vaccines and develop alternative treatments (pills, etc) to generate a profit. Should a profit be allowed when you’re supposed to be trying to save humanity? I get it when you’re selling a book or growing and retailing carrots or, if you’re a pharma company, selling boutique drugs that help men keep an erection longer (but did anyone actually ask the women what THEY want?), but choice or personal liberties are being put aside for the greater good. As that happens (either by coercion or in many cases, force), shouldn’t EVERYONE have to play by those rules?

Let’s leave profits to things we don’t need in order to survive.

Why don’t we set a global mandate that profits are not an option AND that patents related to Covid vaccines be made public domain?

Also, greed is driving so many of the arbitrary choices made by ‘leaders’ who are working their darndest to protect the profits of meat packing facilities and shipping hubs. These are places where cases are spiking, but we’re punishing the last few ‘mom and pop’ operations like small restaurants, downtown businesses and not-for-profits. Few of these latter places see a dozen or so folks in their locales, but closed malls or Costcos that host thousands of potential contact points have no limits put on them.

The reality is that this pandemic will eventually end and those who are favoured will also experience the worst blowback from a frustrated and unemployed public. Before that occurs, they need to step up and do everything they can to reassure law-abiding citizens that they are doing their share as well.

Yes, this is a warning of sorts. Everyone needs to be seen playing by the same rules.

Our Stories Warn Us … Can They Also Protect Us?

The realm of storey-telling needs to change from the idea of a universal monomyth (as described by Joseph Campbell) to what’s being called a macromyth, or something that we all need to take ownership of as we try to find ways to save our planet … and ourselves.

The former is a very male-dominated structure of conquest. The latter tends to be slightly more natural and feminine, possibly matriarchical and nurturing compared to the former. As we middle-aged white guys turn to empowering different genders and help other cultures provide balance to the ongoing dialogue about our future, what structure will those new stories and myths possess?

The cautionary tale seems fairly universal, but can we develop a macromyth in time to save the human race and the billions of lifeforms on Earth that also happen to be using this planet?

Yours Truly,
Chicken Little

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