A primally-wounded society is filled with fear-promoting stories.
Stories, tales or narratives guide all societies. “We people” stories are passed down from generation to generation. Shared stories are part of what a culture entails (along with shared practices and shared beliefs). In the past, wise elders and designated storytellers held the society together with stories that humanized animals and promoted social cooperation, contributing to group survival.
We live in a different era now, one in which elders have been displaced by bureaucratic systems of control, systems that tell tales to increase fear—fear of stepping out of their bounds.
When storytelling is taken over by high-powered and moneyed interests, fear promotion becomes dominant. These stories seem true because they have been repeated so often. We are shamed if we question them and eventually we self-censor our higher aspirations, succumbing to the heart-numbing tales, keeping the system alive through our action or inaction.
We primally wounded people are especially susceptible to fear-promoting narratives. We are trying to escape primal pain and alleviate distrust with some certainty somewhere. Fearmongering tales give us certainty. Here are few kinds.
The most pervasive story governing those who govern the USA today is a money story. The fear promoted is that “there is only so much to go around, so get yours before it is too late,” undergirded by the repetitive refrain that “only those with the most will win.” Most Americans today are socialized into this story, the “sacred money and markets” story, putting monetary concerns above concerns for the wellbeing of humanity or nature. The society is set up to reward those who put money first, a form of sociopathy that apparently pervades US institutions. A new book on decades-long corporate malfeasance around the world is eye opening on how democracy has succumbed to the power of corporate capitalism, to the detriment of human health. For any person who believes in the sacredness of Life, prioritizing money would be a form of idolatry.
For centuries, money has been considered “the root of all evil,” and some research supports this. The overt or covert presence of money in decision-making can make people more motivationally selfish and less concerned about others.
An easy form of escape that is promoted by those who have power and want to keep it that way is to encourage those with less (power, money) to blame someone else for their predicaments (rather than the system or those in charge of the system). Blameworthy groups in the USA have been blacks, poor whites, women, immigrants, those of another religion or another country. Unfortunately, contempt for “them” seems to have been built into America’s DNA. Nancy Isenberg documents such happenings in US history in White Trash: “Americans not only scrambled to get ahead,” she writes, “they needed someone to look down on.”
Anytime one’s fear and distress starts to rise up, from early undercare, it feels good to blame it on others. That’s why bullies feel good about themselves. They are always deflecting bad feelings onto others and trying to control, persecute, or eliminate those “others.” It happens so fast and automatically that these individuals do not realize they are “externalizing” their distress.
“WE ARE THE GREATEST” STORIES
“We are good and they are bad” pervades all fearmongering stories. We are especially vulnerable to these tales when our insecurities are deep and pervasive. When we are feeling like an empty self, wounded and uncertain, stories that aggrandize our way of living and being are the most tempting.
According to Amy Sullivan, the “Fox Evangelicalism Story” provides a constant us-against-them stream of storylines to white Christian evangelicals, demonizing anyone against their “we-are-the-greatest-and-deserve-the-best” orientation.
Such false moral stories obviously make us dangerous to the wellbeing of others who we don’t count in the in-crowd.
HUMANS ARE AT THE APEX
The “humans are the pinnacle of creation” story or its current secular equivalent, “humans are the pinnacle of evolution,” is also based in fear (you cannot question the premise). The facts don’t bear it out. Humanity today (of the dominant culture) is destroying Life on the planet at unprecedented rates everywhere you look. No other creature does this. Mosses have been around for 400 million years whereas it looks like humanity, only around for several million years, may not survive the extinction it is causing.
Fear-promoting stories make us less human. They shut down our hearts and higher order thinking. They fill us with dangerous ideas that can lead to conflict (vulnerability, distrust, superiority, injustice, helplessness).
But we can tell, share and adopt other stories, stories that call us to our full human capacities. We examine those in a future post.
PRIMAL WOUND SERIES
7. Stories of Connection (coming)
Photo Shutterstock/Benjavisa Ruangvaree