There’s a mind-boggling story that says we are a nation at war. We are warring against evil-doers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Korea, etc. etc. We are in a nebulous global war against terrorists of various stripes and colors. We are in a great economic war with China. We are at war with brown-skinned illegal immigrants. We are at war with Pinko subversives who advocate socialism and with conservative ideologues and religious fanatics of “other” religions. We are at war with the greedy rich or the freeloading poor, depending your bank account balance.
As I think about it, the story goes that our nation has been at war since I was born, and if the his-story books are accurate, ever since the founding of our nation. I have been trying to figure out just what we have been warring about for so long and at such great physical, financial and spiritual expense and I think I have an answer.
Our warring is, and always has been, about controlling the narrative, which is to say the story itself. For example, in one group’s story an Afghan warrior is an insurgent. In another’s that same warrior is a freedom fighter. A business corporation tells a story about the greater good produced by unfettered free enterprise while an unemployed worker tells a story about corporate greed. A conservative ideologue weaves a tale of godless, amoral socialists, who in turn tell a story about Aryan supremacy.
The never-ending war to control the narrative—to win over the “hearts and minds” of others— is fought on many battlefields. Our conventional idea about warring brings to mind guns, tanks and bombs, by which one story-telling group seeks to intimidate another into accepting their favored narrative. But guns and bombs are just the showy tip of the business of story warring. Our warring to control the narrative reaches deep into our cultural experience. Educational institutions, books, films, television, magazines and newspapers are all story mills that churn out tales representing one group’s version of the true story.
The rise of Internet technology is one of the most dramatic developments in story wars weaponry. It has incredible story telling power and that power is increasing at an exponentially increasing rate. The problem is that Internet invites proliferation in which almost anyone can get into the story telling business and be heard. The recent ado about WikiLeaks demonstrates a particularly interesting twist on the problem of story proliferation.
Government and military story tellers around the world seem to have come together in an unholy alliance to condemn story telling proliferation. In the latest battle, these unlikely allies are attacking WikeLeaks by trying to plug the holes in the Internet story-telling apparatus. It seems that there is general agreement that WikiLeaks is an example of story-telling proliferation that threatens to deconstruct the story lines of all warring story tellers by making it abundantly clear how various stories lines are twisted and shaped to serve the purposes of the waring story tellers. It has the potential to be a real game changer. How can warring groups tell convincing stories if some anarchic interlopers are always pulling back the curtain on their contorted story telling machinations?
So how can you or I possibly know which stories are more true and which are more false? We can’t. It seems that the best we can do is to try and figure out the purposes of the various story tellers and decide which stories we believe will actually produce a better world for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.
So maybe WikiLeaks is actually performing a very valuable service to we innocent civilians in the story telling wars by unmasking the hidden purposes behind the many stories being told. Then again, maybe the warring story tellers will manage to plug the “leaks” that threaten to unmask their narrative contrivances and we can all go back to being collaterally damaged in the never-ending story telling wars.