This week on Civic Hall’s Civicist blog: the story that won’t die returns. Andrew Slack uses examples from popular films and franchises to illustrate a subset of “We will win!”, the tale of the orphan who goes up against the evil empire and, after a tense confrontation, is victorious.
The Lion King.
When you rack up how much suffering empires inflict on our world and how these empires cannot fail (or are often too big to fail), it seems as though no organizing in the world can ever set about the transformations required to create the healing that is necessary for our planet and each other.
But we have one piece of hope: since the time that we were Wizard of Oz obsessed toddlers, we have memorized the story of the Orphan and the Empire. And if these stories teach us anything, ultimately, regardless of the odds, in a battle of Empires and orphans: always bet on us, the vulnerable orphans. Because in this story, the story of humanity—we are going to win.” —Andrew Slack
Myths are stories that we use to orient ourselves in the big, wide world, and to organize our perceptions about the world and one another.
Myths told our ancestors where evil comes from, how to secure the crops and assure a good harvest, how to set up basic family dynamics, why people should pay attention to the community mystics, how old enemies became enemies, and why old friends are still old friends. Myth tells us all of these things, even in our time. And so, Slack argues, it doesn’t make sense to develop organizing patterns that don’t take our dogged story-telling into account.
Passing up Campbell’s Journey of the Hero in our understanding of how to inspire and mobilize is ignoring the core raison d’etre of why we even organize. It’s the equivalent of trying to make the human race better with no regard for what drives us as human beings.” —Andrew Slack
I agree with Slack on the power of story and the value of uncovering and amplifying our most functional myths. I do worry that we can grow dependent on the hunch and hope that success is inevitable—and that dependence isn’t in fact functional.
There are two common paths. On the one hand is the belief that all action is futile because the world is ending and success is not possible; and on the other, the belief that victory is assured and we need not be concerned because “we are going to win.” Humans are ingenious creatures who always find a way, we say, so why stress about social transformation now? It’ll happen. Bigotry will age out. We’ll invent an escape from 2°-calamity.
There’s also a third path, one that involves building the discipline to work regardless of anticipated results. That discipline is essential for any change that’s so big it’s multi-generational: when you begin to realize you won’t see fruit bearing in your lifetime, you still need motivation to build that fruit tree anyway.
More than one meta-story will be necessary.