What's real and what's a story?

One of Yuval Noah Harari’s hallmark ideas is that humans ultimately became the dominant species on earth due to its ability to invent & share stories that led to large scale cooperation. Some stories are good for humanity as a whole - e.g. the story of human rights - and some are harmful - ideologies such as Nazism.

Other stories are neither good nor bad - e.g. corporations are stories, and money is a story. A piece of paper is intrinsically worthless - it only becomes infused with meaning because we all choose to believe in it. A piece of paper is intrinsically worthless.

One way Harari brings the unique human trait of believing in stories to life is through an illustration of chimpanzees seeking out food in the jungle. Can you imagine trying to convince a group of chimps to sacrifice eating a banana when hungry because of the promises of a monkey Heaven?

At the personal level as well, we tell ourselves stories all day long. We’re in constant dialogue with ourselves. We invent narratives with ourselves as the central character. Rather than pay attention to the present moment - what’s happening right now - we’re busy spinning up versions of an anticipated future conversation, or looping on something that happened to us earlier in the day or years ago. We often become so absorbed we miss the simple joy of being alive.

If everything is essentially a story, what’s real?

Harari has a simple rubric: real things can suffer. Stories cannot. Human rights cannot suffer. Corporations and countries cannot suffer. But people can suffer. And that suffering is very real.

Which brings me to the news of yet another mass shooting in America - this time 12 victims at a college bar in Malibu. Less than two weeks ago it was 11 victim attending services in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Politics have become too intricate and divisive in this country for me to be able to competently follow. Red states and blue states. Trump and the media. The NRA. These are just stories.

But the pain inflicted is very real. 23 more people senselessly killed. Their families living with this pain for the rest of their lives. Above the political debate itself, we all need to set our sights on ending this unnecessary suffering.