One Story or Another

In every period of history, there have been those who were nostalgic about a lost Golden Age, who believed we had reached a pinnacle and were now on the decline, who complained this was the worst generation ever and the problems we face are worse than anything that came before, who declared there were no new major discoveries or inventions left to be made, who concluded that it was the end of history or maybe even the End Times itself.

On the other side, there are those who see all of history as endless progress and the future bright and shiny with possibilities and utopian visions, who spin the present as the best time to be alive or at least not so bad if you keep a positive attitude, who state with conviction that we make our own reality.

But the fact of the matter is simply that the world continues on, no matter what we think or believe, hope or dread. Sure, the world can be shitty but it has its upsides as was also true in the past, just in different ways. And the future flickers with as many dark shadows to obscure our vision as bright flames to light the way.

We humans have always been in permanent mode of survival and innovation with brief periods of seeming stability and security, until the norm of drastic change returns to shake things up again. From one crisis to another, ever pushing humanity into new territory of the unknown, clever monkeys reacting to the next threat or opportunity. We never fully grasp either where we’ve come from nor where we’re going.¬†We aren’t captains of this ship.

We are but one species among many in a complex world beyond our ken, in a universe that stretches into infinity. We don’t understand a fraction of it and yet the world goes on just fine in our ignorance. Heck, we are barely conscious of our own actions, living mostly in a state of mindless momentum of habit. Entire civilizations rise and fall, again and again and again, with every generation feeling unique and special. Nonetheless, someday our species will go extinct, and no one will miss us nor will there be an empty space where we once existed, all traces disappearing with the incoming tide.

That is neither good nor bad. It just is. Not that this simple truth will stop us from getting excited about the next thing that comes along, whether real or imagined. If nothing else, we humans are great storytellers and there is no more attentive listener than the very person spinning their preferred tale of wonder or woe. So we will go on speaking to fill the silence, for as long as there is breath left in us. More than anything else, we fear the end of our own chatter, in love as we are with our own voices.

It’s the act of storytelling that matters. Not the specific story. For essentially it is the same story being told, with humanity at the center. The storytelling is our humanity. There is nothing else to us. At least, we are good at what we do. No other species, being, or object in the universe tells a story like us.