This is a rather brief article to get some ideas across about storytelling and creating emotionally-driven content to move audiences in order to drive change.
It is more about narratives than of storytelling, and the mediums and tools which we can use to inspire new narratives, which could help create the outcome in the world which we want. Change happens from the inside-out and not from the outside-in, every philosopher would tell you that. It’s a very cliche term that gets overlooked due to its overuse, but I wouldn’t bring it up if it didn’t have merit.
When you think about the individual, you think about one person, me, you, but not us. We are all one participants in this one world which we are all ‘players’ of. We are playing the game of life, the game of economics, the game of win-lose competitions. We perhaps chose to play this game, or maybe we didn’t (that’s up to your philosophical beliefs), but I don’t mean to get existential here, I just want to explore more on how we all have agency to choose to play a game one way, or play a game in a different way.
The game which we play involves markets, states and shareholder value of a collective or group of individuals (i.e a company). The value is determined by financial capital that is not based on real value, but value which is created and packaged by banks and corporations who tell you that what they offer is of real value. But what value do corporations further bring if they destroy life, our air we breathe and our commons?
What is the commons and what makes it up?
“The commons is neither market nor state, capitalism nor communism, but consists of three main elements — a particular resource, a particular community that manages that resource, and the rules and negotiations the community develops to manage it… think of community broadband, or community energy cooperatives, or the shared land for growing fruits and vegetables. A commons cannot be sold, given away and its benefits are shared equally among the members of the community.”
George Monbiot, ‘The new political story that could change everything’, TEDSummit 2019
The commons consists of three main elements:
- a particular resource
- a particular community that manages the resource
- the rules and negotiations the community develops to manage it
If these are the simple rules to help us manage common resources such as food, water, soil, energy then why is so much value being put into corporations who do nothing for the commons?
The answer is our narrative.
The stories which we let economists tell ourselves everyday.
To put things in further context, I’d encourage you to watch this Ted Talk with George Monbiot explaining a brief summary on how a restoration story we have long been told by economists have been drivers for fundamental economic change in society.
This is probably one of my most favourite Ted Talks as he explains the problem of political structures as determined by our narrative structure so succinctly and simply.
“Stories are the means by which we navigate the world, they allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. When we want to make sense of something, the sense we seek is not scientific sense, but narrative fidelity.”
The restoration story involves a sequence of plots which seem unsurprisingly familiar to us:
Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful forces working against the interests of humanity, but there is a hero who would revolt against this disorder, fight those powerful forces, against the odds, overthrow them and restore harmony to the land.
It’s the Bible story, it’s the Harry Potter story, it’s the Lord of the Rings story, etc. It is also the story that has accompanied every political and religious transformation going back millennia.
It’s a truth that we can all agree to as a common narrative structure. There’s nothing wrong with this narrative structure, as it has helped us survive and pull through as a collective, it has provided us with sense and meaning to our lives, aiding us with reassurance that our existence is indeed contributing to the restoration of order from disorder. A theme that is also so common in Shakespearean novels.
Before I carry on with my point, I believe it is important to give a brief overview of the history of these narratives and how they apply to our economic operating systems we embody today:
Neoliberalism, which is the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with economic liberalism and free-market capitalism is the ideology by which it rewards privatisation, competition, austerity and the reduction of state influence in the economy. Sound familiar to you? It is our political story today.
The Neoliberalist ideology is where players are characterised as ‘inherently selfish beings whose aim is to maximise our own resource-holding potential to grab as much power for ourselves, at the expense of other people’, (George Monbiot, 2016) and where competition is the defining characteristic living in a system of winner and losers.
An ideology which follows the restoration story.
After laissez-faire economics triggered the Great Depression in the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes sat down to write a new economics, and what he did was to tell a restoration story which involves this similar narrative structure.
The Keynesian story: Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful forces of the economic elite, which have captured the world’s wealth, but the hero of the story, the enabling state, supported by working and middle class people will contest that disorder, will fight those powerful forces, by redistributing wealth through spending public money on public goods, will generate jobs and income, restoring harmony to the land.
The laissez-faire capitalist system of the 18th century entailed of the ‘let us do’ attitude which resonated with industries after the Age of Enlightenment, where the government believed people should have a “hands-off” approach to business. Such businesses did end up embracing these ideas where a free market, with unregulated exchange of goods and services would help all. The free market would produce more goods at lower prices which led us to believe in individual and property rights. The problem with this was that it raised the problem of monopolies and created severe income-inequalities and failed to represent the interests of the entire society.
Keynesian economics then soon came up with a solution for the laissez-faire problem which dominated Western capitalism, where stimulating consumer demand in order to enhance economic growth worked really well until the 1970s, where Neoliberalists emerged with their new restoration story which overcame the problems emerged by Keynesianism.
The Neoliberalist story: Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful forces of the over-mighty state whose collectivising tendencies crush freedom, individualism, and opportunity, working against the interests of humanity, but the hero of the story, the entrepreneur will revolt against this disorder, fight those powerful forces, rollback the state, and through creating wealth and opportunity, overthrow them and restore harmony to the land.
The Neoliberalist story also resonated across the political spectrum in Western society.
Isn’t there a reoccurring pattern in these stories with very different subject matter but identical narrative structures?
Now going back to the story of the commons, if there is one at all? As I mentioned, change indeed happens from the inside-out, but it is the new restoration story we need to get ourselves out of this chaos.
How about this new restoration story for the commons?
Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful forces of climate change, big-tech and agricultural monopolies whose profit-maximising formulas, surveillance capitalist tendencies to control digital and genetic information hinder autonomy, spread misinformation and polarise collectives, but the hero of the story, those involved in the commons, localism, earth-stewardship, will revolt against this disorder by regenerating the natural world, creating cooperative formulas, to restore harmony to the land.
How might we begin to implement this new restoration story into our socio-political sphere? We could consider new mediums that help engage audiences, through social connection and emotionally-driven content. We could begin to build on this story through creating virtual spaces in VR, AR, creating quests and guiding frameworks so that we can embody the story fully into our everyday lives.
As a visual artist graduate, we have been long practicing how we might engage the audience immersively with the piece of work. With painting, it has been limited to the 2D but is easily extended into the exhibition and gallery space, but with the tools and technology we have today such as Augmented and Virtual Reality, we can furthermore enable new agencies of thought, explorations and quests by merely interacting with the subject matter, embodying the character by experiencing the themes, the trials and tribulations or a predicament. Like filmmaking, photography and painting, which involves a flat screen or images, we can begin to add an extra dimension that involves all the somatic senses.
How might we allow and encourage participants to become players of this new game consisting of this new story, where we join forces to cooperate as a worldwide commons, for the healing and restoration of the natural world? A game where the individual plays for the win-win game that mutually rewards all players eventually. How might we offer players the freedom to cooperate within a collective superorganism, whilst promoting individual autonomy? The former story helped us achieve prosperity within the wealthiest nations but we have created vast inequality and destroyed most of our ecosystems as we further become accustomed to the idea that the more linear thinking, myopic short-sightedness for business-as-usual is rewarded. With the natural world crumbling, wildlife habitats extinguishing before civilisation, what can we as visionaries, artists and big-picture thinkers create for socio-economic and political reform? I believe we can create a new restoration story that revives society, which goes beyond politics, economics, and considers our systems and networks as interconnected webs of life.
Let’s design and create new content to allow worldwide access to this new story, to a new politics of belonging and community.
More to come soon.