I have been meaning to write on narrative ethics for a while now, but haven’t had the chance yet to finish a piece I started on quite a while back. So when a friend of mine told me of other bloggers writing on the dangers of narrative – specifically on esotericism, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster – I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll just add in my two cents, briefly, based on my research into human nature.
Humans are composite creatures: we are partially biological, and partially cultural. A human without culture is a mess, studies of feral children are enough to make clear that no further experimentation in that direction should be allowed. The cultural part of humanity is not insignificant. It is what completes us biologically. We biologically need to learn a culture, and stories are the primary means of teaching culture.
So when humans tell stories (including true stories, I’m not talking only fiction), they are no trivial matter. These stories “finish” us, they embed in our brains and become part of our bodies. Desecrations of stories and symbols are a form of violence. They don’t just upset people a little bit, they upset people A LOT, and with good reason. People die, and kill, for symbols and stories, it happens all the time. Think of protecting flags in war, or suicide bombers.
Insulting someone’s narrative calls into question their very self, who they are, as a composite creature. It is, perhaps, the equivalent of trying to grab part of their body and pull it off (and perhaps replace it with a new piece, because every piece of symbolic and/or narrative violence is an attempt to show another narrative is superior).
We need to pay attention to bits of culture competing with each other. The author of the above linked post is right that narratives are dangerous, and some like the FSM are simple weapons, meant only for attack purposes, for tearing down. Humor just makes it attractive. Of course, everyone has an arsenal of attack narratives at their disposal, we learn them as we acquire identity in our childhood (e.g. group X = universal goodness, group Y = universal evil). But weapons need to be used judiciously. Indiscriminate destruction – even just with words – is dangerous and wrong.
The ethics of narratives are serious business as we grow in power to disseminate culture. Some even speak of “cultural engineering” which sounds about as safe to me as starting to pull random clumps of neurons out of people’s heads. Media is a very free place in our society, and the internet is just adding to our freedom. But the results affect us all. As cultural narratives struggle, we will feel the effects and our individual natures will be affected. Let’s hope it is not only a matter of “survival of the fittest,” as in reddest in tooth and claw, but rather survival of what makes us good, moral, people. But I’m not holding my breath.