One of the laments we hear from social dystopians is that our era is marked by an increasing alienation, that people have lost the sense of the communal story which so effectively created community identity (the lower left quadrant in the AQAL model) in earlier times.
I’m not so sure. While it’s true that we now have the option to lose ourselves in specialized silos of interests (which is a good thing in proportion), we have in no way lost our ability to tell communal stories, particularly when they’re about the triumphs and foibles of famous people. What is evolving is the size of the community that tells them.
Today the New York Times devoted half of its top-of-the-fold front page to the story of a murder in South Africa. The acknowledged perpetrator is Oscar Pistorius, the paraplegic track star who first riveted the world with his explosive performance running on high tech prosthetic legs in last summer’s Olympics in London. He is accused of shooting (four times) his beautiful media-star girlfriend, Reva Steenkamp. But was it all just a tragic accident?
It’s a heartbreaking story, and truly confounding, just the kind of drama that gets peoples’ attention. Appropriately so, as one of the ways we learn, grow and indeed commune with each other is by gossiping about other people. But today it’s not a just a tribal matter, or mere grist for a small-town rumor mill. Today stories can grab the attention of the entire world community (except for North Korean of course).
In the Pistorius story we are witnessing the emergence of a story that may engage more eyes and minds than any story of its kind in human history, simply because more people know the characters. To know is to care.
The stories we tell are one of the main ways we discover who we are as a people. In this era we are discovering ourselves as a world community.