Criticism as Other People’s Stories

Stories are explanations of the world we tell ourselves. They are filled with unnecessary detail, and by extension, falsehoods. Getting involved with stories is how we give meaning to our lives, reenforce our ego, and project that ego – our brand if you will – out in the wider world.

If the above is true, then it also means that when someone makes a criticism of you – if they say: you are X, then they are trying to hire you as an extra in their movie. In some cases, you may even be cast in a main role – as the villain, the victim, the obstacle to be overcome, colleague, etc.

But, we are not extras or actors in someone else’s movie. We are not even stars of our own production. The stories we tell ourselves are narrative fiction, a reduction of our experience to an easily understandable illusion. It’s a filter, designed to create a certain look that doesn’t reflect reality. It’s our ego taking control.

If we want to get to lived experience, we have to break free of the plots created in our head. The easiest first place to do that is to break free from the plots in other people’s heads.

When someone says something to you, the most likely thing they are doing is projecting their own story. They are telling you how you fit in to their story. You may be a personification of some trait they don’t like about themselves, or the opposite. You may be an important piece in making their fiction work, or a bit player. But, no matter what role you are assigned by someone else, you always have the choice about whether to play the part.

Some parts have useful lessons to teach us, and we are obligated to play them by our circumstances. But, even then, you have the choice in whether to believe in the part. It’s one thing to know you are an actor in a fiction. It’s something else to think the role we play is our life.

Most of us think the stories we tell ourselves or the parts we play in other people’s stories are our lives. We need to pause these productions, see them for what they are, and if necessary, play our roles. But, play it knowing it’s a role. It makes all the difference.

Directive

Beginning of a six-part fiction series about a man working completely alone aboard a spaceship bound for a new planet. His fellow passengers will remain cryogenically frozen for the 20 years it will take for the ship to reach its destination; Frank’s work is to maintain the environment and make sure all is proceeding as it should. Despite his solitude, the show is actually a dialogue between Frank and Casper, the spaceship’s AI. They have an abrasive, dependent relationship, and the progression of the series made me think a lot about where our current interactions with AI tech might lead (12m38s).”

—”Hebrew, Frozen, Dark.” TheListener.co. September 19, 2019.

Why Fiction Trumps Truth

“When it comes to uniting people around a common story, fiction actually enjoys three inherent advantages over the truth. First, whereas the truth is universal, fictions tend to be local. Consequently if we want to distinguish our tribe from foreigners, a fictional story will serve as a far better identity marker than a true story…

…The second huge advantage of fiction over truth has to do with the handicap principle, which says that reliable signals must be costly to the signaler. Otherwise, they can easily be faked by cheaters…

…Third, and most important, the truth is often painful and disturbing. Hence if you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you.”

—Yuval Noah Harari, “Why Fiction Trumps Truth.” The New York Times. May 24, 2019.

Interactive Fiction & Text-Based Games

Interactive fiction is text-driven games and stories most commonly associated with the dawn of the computing age and games like Zork. Depending on one’s definition, you might be able to stretch the category to include games like Nethack.

Today, it is a thriving sub-culture with new works being created by independent creators. The Interactive Fiction Database is a good way to find great games or genres. The Interactive Fiction Competition a good place to look for new works. For a gentle introduction, try one of the many guides available.

Play Now

The game 9:05, playable via the link, is a commonly referenced entry point to interactive fiction and is also used by English as a Second Language teachers to teach basic English vocabulary.

If you’d like to go old-school, some have been made playable in a web-browser. Want to play Zork without installing any software? Now you can.

Or, if you want to get a feel for these types of games but still want some graphics, try Nethack, a dungeon exploration game with permadeath which has recently been updated. Easy to learn to play, but very difficult to master. “Internet user needs food badly!” Best played cold, but it is also interesting to play if you read the spoilers.

A Golden Age for Dystopian Fiction

“Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance; it’s become a fiction of submission, the fiction of an untrusting, lonely, and sullen twenty-first century, the fiction of fake news and infowars, the fiction of helplessness and hopelessness. It cannot imagine a better future, and it doesn’t ask anyone to bother to make one. It nurses grievances and indulges resentments; it doesn’t call for courage; it finds that cowardice suffices. Its only admonition is: Despair more. It appeals to both the left and the right, because, in the end, it requires so little by way of literary, political, or moral imagination, asking only that you enjoy the company of people whose fear of the future aligns comfortably with your own. Left or right, the radical pessimism of an unremitting dystopianism has itself contributed to the unravelling of the liberal state and the weakening of a commitment to political pluralism. ‘This isn’t a story about war,’ El Akkad writes in ‘American War.’ ‘It’s about ruin.’ A story about ruin can be beautiful. Wreckage is romantic. But a politics of ruin is doomed.”

—Lepore, Jill. “A Golden Age For Dystopian Fiction.” The New Yorker. June 5, 2017.

Dystopia is the gym. Ain’t that the truth?