Today, we’re going to be tackling perhaps the most critical of all subjects in our present age- the nature of the war for control of the metanarrative, or as I call it, the War for the Human Spirit (or the War for the Soul of Man, depending on context). Recommended reading for this article is going to be Triple Meta and Memetic Engineering (and probably the whole Memetics series, as the metanarrative is largely concerned with the realm of the noosphere).
Let’s jump right in.
You’re probably familiar with the notion of narrative- humans are fundamentally storytelling creatures. It’s interesting that we tend to treat stories as entertainment, because in reality, stories are the mechanism by which we structure and transmit information. (Jordan Peterson explores this in greater detail than I will, look at either his Maps of Meaning lectures on Pinocchio, or his Biblical series for excellent examples.) I would argue that narrative is the second highest form of information density, with only symbols being more dense (though symbols are dependent on an existing knowledge of the story they reference.)
Before the emergence of the exocortex and metamind in the last few decades, the mechanisms necessary to have a true global metanarrative did not properly exist. There were metanarratives, but they were still isolated from each other outside of physical interaction (such as trade and conquest). World War II was a great example of this- in a broad sense, the war was between the metanarrative structures of fascism and non-fascism, which is something like a conflict about the nature and rights of the individual in society.
Historically, metanarratives that support individual rights and freedoms tend to win in the long run. I’ve made the argument before that Christianity’s core innovation was the popularization of a direct link between the individual and the divine, rather than a religion mediated by the high priest. In a sense, the story we see playing out is the slow and cyclical liberation of Man, with more and more freedom being claimed over time.
This notion is itself a very simple metanarrative- it gives you a lens through which to string together the various events of history. Postmodern thought argues against metanarratives because of their relationship to power structures. This is of course ironic, because that argument is also a metanarrative, and conveniently one that places their arguments in the position of power.
You cannot escape metanarratives because narrative is the structure of thought. A narrative is essentially a concretization of principles derived from causality- we observe things happen, we connect the dots, and cause and effect become a story that can be conveyed to educate others. Metanarrative is simply the story of stories, a way to orient ourselves in the world. While I am no fan of the postmodernists, they’re an inevitable consequence of the death of the old metanarratives (explored in The Desert of Nihilism and The Throne of God). They’re (unconsciously) agents of the process I call fragmentation and reconciliation– their role has been to tear apart the old narratives, because we have to find a new configuration of the underlying parts.
They would likely disagree with that, but it is often the case that the destroyer does not know his role is a prerequisite for new creation.
Metanarrative is fundamentally where we derive a source of deeper meaning from. As people, we need to know that our actions fit into a larger scheme of things- while not comforting, subsistence farming was surely comprehensible to early man when he was told that God cursed Adam to toil and eat from the ground. In the same sense, we need this source of meaning to do all sorts of unpleasant things- whether it’s a holy crusade to kill the infidels or a war against evil fascists, metanarrative facilitates it. This is corroborated in Frankl’s use of Nietzsche in “Man’s Search for Meaning,”
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Why are we compelled to search for meaning, then? (He said, in a very meta way.) I’ve mentioned this before, but I believe pattern recognition to be the nature of intelligence. If this is true, then intelligence, applied to the world, is a mechanism for generating narratives. Stories are patterns, this is why we have archetypes– they’re universal figures (patterns) that have utility (contain useful information).
Our search for meaning is simply the subjective, emotional experience of our intelligence’s innate drive to recognize patterns. Meaning is simply an understanding of causality, the insight arising from an understanding of karma (the law of cause and effect).
Now, let’s take a look at some of the competing pseudo-metanarratives at play in the world today. We have the conservative notion of “we fucked up, turn the car around,” but this doesn’t hold up because if the old ways worked, we wouldn’t have gotten here. There’s the progressive notion that “mom and dad are gone, there are no rules,” but this is fundamentally unsustainable- kids would eat candy all day if you don’t stop them, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
There’s a broader narrative that believes we can unite the world in a borderless society, but this movement is presently based in politics, and does not provide an overarching narrative or metaidentity (which we’ll touch on in a bit), so it won’t function the way the people striving for it think it will. There’s also the rise of religious fundamentalism, but I’d argue that they either have yet to progress to the social stage/realization of the Death of God, so they’re bound to run into the same problems we are. This is tied to technological advancement, so it’s unavoidable, lest they become luddites. We also have the transhumanists, but as of yet, they don’t have a proper narrative (though they think they do, but that’s a different article entirely), they’re just the expression of the human desire to innovate.
If you’ve read The Origin of Consciousness, you may have noticed that all of these different attempts at a metanarrative seem to look a bit like the mesaconsciousnesses/ micropersonalities that make up our conscious mind.
That’s convenient, huh?
You may have heard the Hermetic maxim “as above, so below” before, which more broadly means “the macrocosm is like the microcosm.” This is one of those cases. Because the larger social environment is made up of an enormous number of human minds, the principles that dictate both are very similar, if not identical.
Think about it this way- water mostly works the same when it’s in a glass or an ocean, right? However, you won’t see capillary action in very large pipes, and you won’t get larger tides or currents in a puddle. There are different rules at different scales- this is the nature of the imperfect fractals that make up our world.
In a person, we have the hunger circuit, in the culture, we see advertising for the food industry. If the person has a dysregulation in the hunger circuit, it’s going to present as some sort of eating disorder, if the culture has a dysregulation, then it’s going to push low-quality foods and an unhealthy diet… wait a minute, it does that.
In a person, you have these circuits that “compete” to dictate the actions of the individual (since you can’t eat and sleep at the same time, in most cases)- we’re not great multitaskers. In the culture, we have metanarratives that compete for control of the political and cultural environment. A person decides whether to eat or sleep, a culture votes whether to be more conservative or progressive.
You may have predicted where I’m going with this, but if not, here it is-
Just as metaconsciousness emerges as a level above the action of the consciousness (that is directly influenced by the mesaconscious circuits), there must also arise a level of narrative higher than the metanarrative. This would be a worldview that gives the individual and the culture the means of switching between metanarratives, like the person switches between mental circuits.
We will call this the aionarrative– (for obvious reasons, if you’re familiar with the site), meaning the All-In-One narrative. This, in and of itself, isn’t a metanarrative, in the sense that it doesn’t give you the context in which to place events. No, this goes a level higher- it’s a meta-metanarrative (but that’s just clunky as hell), a means by which to put the competing metanarratives into a broader context.
To understand this, let’s look at the competing metanarratives again- the conservative metanarrative is a response to the failure of novel methods of meaning to suffice in today’s world, and the progressive metanarrative is a response to the failure of the old methods to hold up. On the level of metanarrative, they’re competing, just like the desire to eat competes with the desire to sleep. On the level of aionarrative, though, the two metanarratives are obviously two tools that each have their time and place. Both are failing because the troubles of the day are a level higher than either can handle- hunger and sleep can’t give you meaning, as people who stress-eat or depression-sleep are well aware.
From this “god’s-eye” view, we start to see a new picture of the world.
If narrative is the information structure of the mind, and metanarrative is the information structure of the culture, then aionarrative is the information structure of the metamind of humanity. We tell each other stories about ourselves and our lives, we look to the culture for stories about our society, and now, we must look beyond even that to tell the greatest story ever told- the story of life itself, the overarching tale of the purpose and Soul of Man.
Before we get too far into that, let’s take a look at what this all has to do with our identity.
Historically, people had their tribes, and their tribes had their deities. These tribes would fight, the deities would clash, and the winner conquered the loser and named their deity’s enemy after the fallen god (Ba’al, a semitic tribal deity, became Beelzebub, one of the many [similarly “acquired”] names for the devil). This was all well and good, but it wasn’t really easy to spread (if we’re taking a memetic angle), because deities were attached to tribal/racial identity- Judaism’s god is the “god of the Jews,” and they call themselves the “chosen people,” though basically everyone used to do this.
Christianity changed this from a system of being born into the faith to a system of voluntary baptism into a new faith- now, anyone could choose to become a Christian (potentially the first meta-identity). Now, even people of different races, tribes, ethnicities, or nations could come together with a camaraderie never before seen. The religion provided a common set of rules and ideals that made its adherents able to feel safe (the prerequisite for civil interaction) amongst others who held to it.
On that note, consider the two most important rules for civilization- don’t kill, don’t steal. Why are these essentially universal rules? If we all agree on “don’t kill,” then I don’t have to worry about you attacking me. If we agree on “don’t steal,” then we can all be safe with (and on) our property, and our work in the world can be respected. Cultural variance can lead to conflict here, because we fear what we don’t understand. However, almost two millennia after Christianity emerged, we arrived at a second innovation of meta-identity:
The American Dream is almost certainly the most powerful story ever constructed. For the first time, we saw people of different belief systems able to coexist peacefully, knowing that the shared, chosen identity united them, even beyond their differences. You could be a Greek, or a German, or a Christian, or a Jew, and at the same time, an American. Obviously this wasn’t perfect because of slavery and other unequal applications of rights and laws, but in our modern times, we’ve become so accustomed to the wonders of this system that we neglect to acknowledge how truly incredible this fact is.
Along with Christianity, I would argue that the American Dream came the closest to the level of aionarrative. However, Christianity’s stipulation is that you believe in the Christian god, and America’s stipulation is that you live in America. A metanarrative’s stipulations prevent it from being all encompassing, because an aionarrative has to be all in one.
What would that look like?
First, we’d need a sort of individual identity that every single person could be a part of. This means it cannot discriminate by race, sex, creed, age, nationality, ethnicity, social class, political party, or any other particular category that you can come up with. On top of that, it has to be something that everyone has innately- Christianity still hinges on the choice to convert, and Americanism hinges on the choice to immigrate.
What, then, is the one thing that all people have?
If we’re going off my Theory of Everything (which, as simply as possible, presents the notion that consciousness is an inherent property of reality, and is essentially “divine” in nature), then we can find some shared identity in consciousness. Consciousness does not discriminate between white and black, or rich and poor, or Muslim and Jew, or family and stranger, or Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian, or any other type of human in the world. We all have this subjective experience, and from this single universal, we can base an entire system of rights- one not constrained to location and governance.
Imagine, if you will, a borderless nation.
Now, let me clarify before you recoil- all of the standard approaches to that are stupid and involve a one-world-government that gets rid of all the normal countries’ borders. This is foolishness, because the shared identity that made Christianity and America work doesn’t exist on a global level.
No, this borderless nation would leave all extant countries and cultures intact. It wouldn’t require a violent revolution to seize power (which is good, because this world has seen enough world wars, in my book), nor would it need to claim any land for its own (since that leads to the previous scenario.
This would be a metanation- you’d be able to be an American, or an Iraqi, or a Somalian, and also be a member of this new organization. It would have its own set of rules, but these wouldn’t be applied to you indiscriminately like the involuntary “social contract” we’re all implicitly signatories of. No, it would be a nation that you could only become a citizen of by voluntarily agreeing to- a literal social contract, if you can appreciate the humor in that.
Part of this would entail an acceptance of certain agreed-upon, shared values, like the primacy of the individual (and the rights of said individual) over any other group identity. As a result, it would have to limit certain elements of traditional republican and democratic process. To put it simply, 51 wolves could not vote to eat 49 sheep- the individual must be protected against the group, regardless of who constitutes the group. Christianity and America both attempted this, but both have limitations due to their imperfect articulation of the primacy of the individual.
One thing to note is that such a system was never possible before now, since much of the nature of government is based around land and resource management, as well as environmental constraints. We tend to think of America’s independence as this broad, philosophical liberation, but in all likelihood, it was simply a matter of greater efficiency for it to become self-governing. In the same sense as it being inefficient for a parent to be incredibly strict over their adult children’s behavior, or for a boss to micromanage, colonialism is similarly inefficient. Federal government should leave most things to states, states should leave most things to counties, counties should leave most things to towns, and towns should leave most things to their individual constituents.
Why should the top level be any different?
The belief that the highest level of governance should be the strongest is primarily drawn from human arrogance and a lack of understanding of how systems work. Go micromanage a small group and tell me how it goes- it’s a hell of a lot easier to give your team a goal and let them figure out how to get there than it is to get them to paint by numbers the whole way. Good leadership is the lightest possible touch, something that the prideful cannot accept because of their focus on the act of leadership rather than the goal of group success.
The least deserving of power are those who want it, for this very reason.
The underlying premise of the aionarrative is that individuals are the best able to dictate the course of their life and actions. This was the claim that America made for its independence, and the claim that Christianity made for salvation- why should this be restricted to a nation or religion? Are not all individuals, at the end of the day, the ones responsible for the consequences of their actions? If that’s true, we’re best served by letting independent actors do just that- act independently. This is why capitalism beat communism (the metanarrative conflict of the cold war), because the individual’s choice proved to be a better guide for the market than central planners.
Are you beginning to piece together the aionarrative?
The forces of life and this universe have come together to create, over enormous lengths of time, and against great odds, beings capable of the subjective experience of consciousness. We have managed to transcend our animal nature, turning this world from a ferocious jungle into a place of relative peace and safety, the likes of which were previously inconceivable. Life has gone from being “nasty, brutish, and short” to remarkably humane in an incredibly brief span of time, all due to the power of the consciousness that we all share.
This consciousness exhibits, among many other things, the Will to Order– it organizes and streamlines systems, opting for efficiency, simplicity, and coherence, and operates the most effectively when given the freedom to do so. No great works of art nor paradigm-shifting inventions were ever dictated by a ruler, nor made by a creator with a sword to their neck or a gun to their head. It is this Will to Order, the human capacity to recognize and act on patterns, that has lifted Man from the shadows of the wild into new heights of transcendence.
To this end, has the time not come for the true liberation of the individual?
Can we not rise above our petty tribal associations? Is there not more to this life than the childish fighting of these naive squabbles for the rest of eternity? Might we all come to realize the nature of the divine, in its many clothes and incarnations, that all roads lead to the mountaintop, and that our consciousness is the both the means by which we come to know the Truth, and is also the means by which divinity is expressed in the world? Are we unable to realize that the spark within you that has led you to read these words is the same spark within all people, that none are so righteous or above any other as to be able to dictate how those others should act, or love, or worship, or live?
I believe that we can.
I believe that there is a greater purpose to all of this, that our experiences have value, that our struggles are not without merit, that the many conflicts of our past and present are not careless sacrifices cast into the void, but the precursors to the learning that comes from hardship. Each person on this earth is as able as any other to find a connection to this purpose, for it resonates deep with the core of our being-
for each person must find it alone.
Truth is a thing both subjective and objective- there is no separation.
This is no simple fact to be memorized, nor is it some impossible, useless conjecture-
this is a living Truth, constituted in the very nature of your being, something to be sought and won, and known, and embodied in the world.
This is the Truth of the Self, the essence of who you are, and the same essence that we all share together.
In the face of such a Truth, how could anything else hold weight? When we find that this divinity within ourselves is intimately connected to the divinity without, how could we not see this in others?
In this time of strife, where we hate our neighbors and countrymen as readily as those who we share no kinship with, has not the time come for us to reconcile, to see beyond the narrow lenses that constrain our sight and paint friend as foe?
Are we not all in this together? Is it not the same chain of acids that constitutes the flesh of all men, the unbroken, golden chain of all life that binds us as one, that builds the foundation for this sacred consciousness we share?
May we all come to know the Truth of the spark within us.
Towards the Age of Truth, unending,
‘till the end of time.