What is the story you tell yourself about the world most of the time? Is it hopeful or pessimistic? And more broadly what is our collective story? The story of humanity? Of us? Do we have a meaningful narrative to make sense of reality? What happens if we can’t find one?
It’s 2020 and we are deep in a meaning crisis that is directly tied to our ecological mega-crisis. Much of social reality is made of narratives we all agree on but our current narratives have mostly run their course and we don't have new unifying stories that help us make sense of the world, much less make decisions that could affect the world in positive ways. We are in the liminal, the space between stories. It often feels like we are stuck in that in-between space, with most stories serving as cautionary tales about how bad things are or how much worse they are going to get (Think every dystopian sci-fi movie/series/book or even Joker, the biggest hit of 2019) and the kicker is that most storytellers aren't even aware of how powerfully these narratives can affect our perception of the world. Like the food we eat affects how we feel (you are literally what you eat), these stories shape our psychological and emotional perspectives of the world and of each other. So if the overarching story is we are screwed and it will only get worse then most likely of all the infinite possible futures that is the one we will collectively agree on.
I find more and more of us gravitating towards the meaningless story, towards the “future will be worse” and “It’s all screwed anyway so why bother” or “humans are irredeemably selfish animals” narratives. The majority of the stories about our potential futures in the media and culture are either dystopian or stuck in circular postmodernism, endless critiques full of cynicism that question everything without offering any solutions. How many more cautionary tales do we need to get the point that we are screwed up? What happens when we get the memo and want to do something about it? What next? I believe we are longing for a radical new story!
I long for stories about the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible as Charles Eisenstein likes to say. I'm looking at my fellow storytellers to inspire us with stories set in a world where we solve some of our problems and not create new ones but I rarely see those. I call these Protopian stories because they are neither Utopian nor dystopian just Protopian.
What I’m realizing ultimately is that I have to create what I seek and inspire what I desire so that’s the drive behind Activated Storytelling. For the last year, I’ve been dancing with these ideas and now I’m committing to pursuing them on an ongoing basis in the form of content creation, conversations, public talks as well as developing a framework and creating partnerships to develop AS type content.
I always think about the time Steven Speilberg convened a think tank with science and technology experts and futurists to ground the realistic (dark) world of Minority Report. Imagine using that power to generate more protopian stories. Over the course of the next year, I’ll be doing something similar, having real-time, recorded conversations with interesting voices in relevant areas to generate a framework of possible ways of being & knowing so storytellers can gain perspectives, guidelines and incentives to imagine new wave (meta-modern) fictions and non-fictions. This map of protopian knowledge will be an inspiration for all of us to see our relationship to the current world in a more coherent way and aspire to create and live in a more flourishing world. We always need a map of sorts to know where we could be going, one that allows us to imagine a new story for ourselves and new possible stories about our world.
I’ve also been developing guidelines and principles over the past year (ie. Set your story in a protopian world, not a dystopian one, create stories that heal, treat story as a living being, etc) but I believe this should be a collective effort so the ones I suggested are conversation starters to get a decentralized collective intelligence working on more principles. They will continue to evolve as the ideas expand via workshops, conversations and online sharing.
I’m creating an ongoing open list of Activated media that already exist in the culture like The Good Place, The OA (TV), Arrival & Black Panther(Film) and Biggest Little Farm (doc), Global Citizen & Extinction Rebellion (platform) along with case study like materials explaining why these Protopian stories capture some or all the AS principles and linking them to emerging online subgenres like Hopepunk and Solarpunk. I look forward to your suggestions.
Lastly, a key piece of the puzzle is that each one of us needs a meaningful narrative of our own life to get started. As you become aware of the narratives that drive you and you begin re-writing them, you increase clarity which is essential for showing up in the world and creating timeless work. It’s the new/old Change your Story, Change the World moto. There are foundational and universal principles available that once adopted (even if one doesn’t fully believe in them) will make a huge difference in how we show up in the world: