If you’re reading this, you probably regularly follow controversies involving political fanatics, sex weirdos, entertainment industries, or combinations of the three. All these problems come from the same root and can be addressed (or at least understood) on an individual basis by the same basic methods.
We do everything that we do in order to feel fulfilled, and these people are no different. When you feel as though you aren’t moving towards fulfillment, you get bored. When you feel as though you’ll never be fulfilled, you start to despair. Storytelling (whether through film, word of mouth, or any other medium) is a popular way to temporarily feel fulfilled, and the rules of storytelling are applicable to all other forms of fulfillment.
One such rule is that a story must be internally consistent. If one part contradicts another, only one of the two can be considered true within the context of that story, or else the whole becomes incoherent and unsatisfying. There’s a distinction to be drawn here: knowing something intellectually (thinking that it is true) and knowing something intuitively (feeling that it is true) are two different forms of knowledge. Fulfillment is all about what you feel to be true. If you think that two contradictory events are part of the same story but only feel that one of them is a part of that story, then the story can still satisfy you. The opposite situation (feeling that there’s a contradiction but thinking that there is none) fails to produce fulfillment.
Real world motivations work by the same rule: what you believe will fulfill you depends on what you feel to be true about the world. For example, you can think that eating a whole bag of potato chips won’t satisfy your craving for it; but if you feel that it will, you’re more likely to do it.
Another important rule in storytelling is that every part contributes meaningfully to the whole. Writers often mistakenly put one part of a story (whether a character, setting, or some other element) on a pedestal; rather than that piece serving the broader story, the broader story exists to glorify the smaller piece. You get the uncomfortable feeling that you’re supposed to derive some sort of special satisfaction from the presence of that elements alone, implying that the author has an unhealthy fixation with it. It’s particularly common in fanfiction and sequels written by fans of the originals: they’ll dedicate large parts of the story to telling you how great their favorite character is to the extent that it hurts the broader narrative structure.
Such a poor choice creates an irreconcilable conflict within the structure of the story, and therefore only one side of it can be satisfying (for reasons explained above). The difference is that rather than having a contradiction between parts of a story, you have a conflict over that character in the story. If you feel that the purpose of the character is directed outwards towards serving the story, you’ll be bored and unnerved by his or her conspicuous and narratively purposeless glorification. If, on the other hand, you feel that the purpose of the character is directed inwards towards his own glorification, you’ll be bored by the larger story that doesn’t serve him. You can’t have both.
How do you decide which interpretation to choose? It’s simple: the unduly glorified character is inauthentic. When we praise anything, we praise it for exercising its praiseworthy qualities. Just having such qualities without exercising them isn’t enough for the character to deserve special recognition. If the fastest man in the world never got out of bed from his birth until his death, nobody would praise him for how quickly he would have run had he not chosen to be bedridden. In the same fashion, a character that shows their potential to make meaningful contributions to the narrative but fails to live up to that potential is a disappointment. The character has no meaning. The entirely authentic character fulfills its clear and effective narrative purpose, without the need for special time dedicated to praising it. If the character itself were the entire story, then putting it on a pedestal would make sense; because a character in isolation does not constitute a narrative, this is impossible.
Not only is it impossible to make one character (or setting or whatever else the narrative element may be) truly self-sufficient in this way, but the attempt also gradually makes it impossible to glean satisfaction from the actual story (as we’ve seen). In order to feel as though one character can be a whole story, you must blind your intuition to those aspects of the broader story that the individual character lacks. Because the story needs to use those aspects to satisfy you in the first place, blinding yourself to them makes it impossible to appreciate the story. All that you’re left with is a perverse allegory that provides brief peaks of false fulfillment which immediately recede over the horizon, requiring you to blind yourself further in order to find it again.
Again, the same rules apply to reality. A person can’t ever be fulfilled by their own self-esteem, or by putting anything on a pedestal to the exclusion of the broader context in which it appears. All they can hope to achieve by that route is exponentially worsening self-deception, while willfully losing the ability to appreciate or even tolerate anything good in the process. If you put “feeling full” on a pedestal, you’ll become unable to appreciate or tolerate nutrition when it doesn’t make you feel full and will choose unhealthy food instead. If you put “feeling like a good person” on a pedestal, you’ll become unable to appreciate or tolerate altruism for its own sake. You could become bored, or even despairing.
We can even see the effects of a darkened intuition on both fiction and reality at the same time: look at the most obnoxious, obsessed fanbase that you can think of. Do those fans generally have the same worldview that you do, or rather one that you strongly disagree with? Do they act like adults, or do they start petty interpersonal drama and embarrass themselves in public? Whatever the franchise that they dedicate themselves to, they project their willful blindness of that franchise’s faults (no perfect work of fiction exists, after all) onto reality. Healthy behavior is often beyond them due to this blindness; rather than recognize that fact, they tend to believe that they possess a special perceptive ability that the “dumb normies” or “CHUDS” lack.
This blindness can be reversed, but only by admitting and learning to intuitively feel that the work of fiction isn’t perfect. You’ve probably had the embarrassing experience of getting invested in a show that isn’t very good, but when you try to introduce it to someone else you suddenly notice all the poor writing and uncomfortable moments to which you’d acclimated yourself. You probably said something along the lines of “never mind, this is worse than I remember. Let’s watch something that’s actually good”. It’s all about staying away from the garbage and surrounding yourself with people who have a well-developed sense of perspective.
Whether an obsessive political ideologue, sexual fetish cultist, or whatever combination; this can work on whoever your enemy is if you can get them to shift their attention and surround them with enough sane people. In order to do that, you have to become sane yourself.
Leave a Reply