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End of stories. Welcome to 2022!

(careful: spoilers)

   This world is constructed by the stories we tell about it. Which one feels closer to you? The story of a new plague? A story about QR codes and digital dystopia? A story about enemies of the nation? The story about the competition and war of all against all?
    These stories are not new, but they are still amongst the top stories. By the way, this New Year is not rich with new stories. Soviet television still shows films made before my birth. And the songs that I remember from my childhood. And the president’s New Year speech, from which nothing new is expected. But this endless repetition is happening not only in my homeland. Star Wars VIII? Netflix’s The Witcher? Harry Potter 20 Years Later? Matrix IV? It seems like the budgets for the writers have been cut, and my reality is more and more like a treadmill with endless repetitions. “Eternal return?” No, because now these stories are not the same. And they are not at all convincing…

Where are the new stories? I know they appear every day, but for some reason, the same ones that we have already heard float to the surface. The story of the digital GULAG; the story of the infected and the pure, protected by the cleansing ritual; the story of spies and traitors; the story of cruelty and war. What’s this? Reality? Self-fulfilling prophecies? An obsessive reality tunnel created by digital centaurs? I myself do not mind sometimes returning to old stories, but they also turn into a parody of themself.

Until this new year, it seemed to me that there was still some diversity in the stories. Game of Thrones showed a world where no one can be trusted, where even the best friend can stab you in the back. In this world, everything is pretense, and only violence determines the winners, dictates morality, justice and truth. Life is portrayed as a game, where its participants are chess pieces, dolls with artificial faces, and everyone is afraid to show their real weakness. In contrast, the Slavic world of The Witcher, created by the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, is no less cruel, but there is always a place for trust and friendship. This is how I used to live. This is how we all used to live here: in contrast to the “western civilized countries”, we do not trust the state and the rules, relying on faithful friends and luck instead. But the books I read in school have turned into a Netflix series and I don’t recognize them. Transformed into a TV series in the West, The Witcher became a story where characters gouge out each other’s eyes in an indifferent struggle for power. The heroes are now of different skin colors, which should mean respect for people of different cultures, but, regardless of skin color, they behave like inquisitors and conquerors, telling the story of their own interests, betrayal, cruelty and struggle. And there are always a few “good” characters among all of this mad world, so the audience can identify with the good ones and think that they themselves are good exceptions, while most of the others are bad like our whole mad society…

It is as if all the stories are being ground by the gears of a Hollywood machine and turned into the same cocktail of loud sounds, sudden attacks, unmotivated cruelty and bloody struggle that continues the enlightenment story of endless competition among humans as well as in nature, the fight of all against all, the story of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, of hierarchy and the lone exceptional hero. Why is this story, no longer new or interesting, repeating itself over and over again? Isn’t it because these old stories continue to shape western societies and, due to colonization and globalization, globally?

It is not by chance that I speak here about the “West”, imperceptibly dragging in the “East”. It is also such an old story that constructs identity and separates us from each other. “We are not like them.” This is the story we have been telling ourselves long before Orwell described it in 1984. And there is a grain of truth in it.

In general, in all popular stories there is some grain of truth. How else could we believe in them? A horrible virus threatening humanity? A totalitarian state using this virus to put everyone under digital control? Greedy corporations looking to destroy nature for profit? Enemies waging a hybrid war against us? A cruel world where only shameless bloodsuckers and their obedient slaves survive? All this is here. These are stories that contain grains of truth, and therefore they are easy to believe in, and once you believe, it is difficult to see the world differently. But what these stories have in common is that they are stories of fear and separation. The threats may be different, but they lead us to the same psychological state – a state of protection or numbness. “Fight or freeze!” In fact, this is the same story that divides us into different camps. And this story doesn’t hold together..

What is the point of separating the vaccinated from the unvaccinated if vaccines do not prevent the spreading of the virus? What is the point of declaring art and culture workers as agents of foreign influence, as it is happening in my homeland? What is the point of asking governments and corporations to stop climate change if they are only hostages of the situation and cannot stop this train even if they want to? It seems that each of these stories conveys some meaning, but if you look at it from the outside, you get some kind of nonsense. The point is only that you need to be afraid and blame someone for everything.

As the last “Matrix” says, it is not necessary that the story holds together – it is enough for it to press the right buttons in human minds and emotions. If we free ourselves from the story of victims and oppressors, guilty and subordinates, lying and believing, then we will have to admit that we ourselves are pushing our buttons and telling these stories. Redrawing old plots in a new way, we ourselves begin to treat them with irony. Even those who tell them on duty no longer believe in these stories. Once upon a time they were convincing, and we still remember the learned roles: how to behave, what to think, feel and what to say. But very few people seriously believe – most of us only pretend. We become more and more cynical and ironic, we try to ignore the holes in the stories, and we increasingly depend on virtual patches at the seams of reality.

Thirty years ago, Francis Fukuyama announced “The End of History,” but the end of one story only marked the beginning of others. The discourse machine has continued to work all these years, and recently social media algorithms have learned to place each person in a bubble of stories they are used to, endlessly repeating what he or she already knows. A personal treadmill of reality, a personalized cave of meanings, created according to your preferences.

And yet it doesn’t help. The more we immerse ourselves in virtuality, the less we feel the connection between the stories being told and real life. The discourse machine starts to idle. We cling more desperately to old stories, but we believe in them less and less. Welcome to 2022 …

Against the backdrop of the eternal repetition of old stories, this new year stands out for a relatively fresh one. “Don’t look up!” tells the story of scientists trying to warn humankind about the imminent collision of the Earth with the comet they have discovered. But humanity stuck in front of screens is not ruled by scientific facts, but by feelings, as well as media holdings, social networks and the interests of competing parties, governments and corporations. Elites are betting on a new messiah – a mixture of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – offering techno-utopia instead of reality. His story of techno-optimism does not hold together, but a lot of money has been invested in it, and those who criticize it quickly find themselves sidelined. As a result, to our surprise, all life on Earth dies, and even the space mission sent by the technoprophet fails on an unknown planet. That’s it. The end.

Not surprisingly, this story is told with humor. It’s too realistic to be taken seriously, it’s possible to tell such desperate forbidden stories only as a carnival. In our culture, which denies death, who will tell a patient, except as a joke, that the illness is fatal? Of course, behind this satire, one can easily read the story around climate change: the predictions of scientists, the irresponsible actions of governments and corporations, and the politicized information war arising around it. But there are big differences between a comet and climate change. The comet crashes into the ground at a well-defined time and kills everyone. The mass extinction of species, the death of bees and coral reefs together with climate change are slow processes, more like heating a frog in a saucepan, and no one can accurately predict the consequences … Scientists cannot say for sure whether humanity will survive this century or not, but more and more people, following Jem Bendell and Deep Adaptation, recognize the reality of the collapse of our fragile civilization. Before the COVID era, in the 2010s, such thinking was clearly a marginal phenomenon, but perhaps 2021 was the last year when talking out loud about the collapse of the global anthill was unacceptable.

The film “Don’t Look Up!” came out on time. As a satirical comedy, it crept into our minds and families, so that people who had not previously thought about collapse began to discuss around the kitchen table the possibility of the end of the world they were used to. As we know, the path from kitchens to revolution is not as long as it seems, but the meaning and purpose of the revolution in this case is not clear. It is possible, as Greta Thunberg suggests, to panic, but this is still the same “Fight or freeze!” story that brought us here. Governments and corporations do not understand what they are doing and simply follow the rules of the game, like everyone who obeys them. The more we panic, the more frightening it is for us to think and act freely. When we fear for our children, we limit their freedom. When we fear for ourselves, we limit our own agency, and in the end we become more and more like sheep going to the slaughterhouse. But thank you for this story, so incredibly true. This is something new, and just in time! Welcome …

Other new stories are appearing now, of a new type. These stories sprout imperceptibly, like weeds, without climbing to the tops and without collecting cash, but, nevertheless, gather more and more people around them, mastering new patterns of thinking. I’m talking about the history of collaboration, which Charles Eisenstein calls the Story of Interbeing. Instead of thinking along the lines of a factory, running according to linear processes that divide reality into parts, the story of cooperation and interbeing invites us to think in a holistic, permacultural and ecosystem way, looking not so much at separate things and creatures, as at the infinite number of interconnections that weave them together. Of course, this story is new only for us – the heirs of the Abrahamic religions, accustomed to linear time and one God at the top of the pyramid. We threw off God, took his place ourselves, but now we begin to understand that this story doesn’t hold together, but instead moves us towards the apocalypse, so we are trying to replace it with another, more adequate one, where we are not the rulers of the world, but part of the ecosystem, like animistic tribes living in forests of the Amazon… I myself am telling this story of cooperation. It is briefly presented in the New Story of the Earth cartoon, made as optimistic as possible for greater accessibility. In this story, people realize the criticality of the situation along with the interdependence of different living beings and start to take care of ecosystems, and thanks to this, humans and other species survive an ecological crisis…

Does this sound too good to be true? Perhaps… It is generally accepted that the story about our present must always be sprinkled with optimism so that people do not lose heart. But such a story sprinkled with hope is suitable only as a fairy tale, and a modern one, as the old traditional fairytales are usually not so optimistic: they have a lot of bite and sometimes tell what happens when someone gets too greedy or doesn’t honour their responsibilities to other beings.

We have not yet learned how to tell the tragic story of our time. So far, mass culture can only speak about the global ecological crisis and the collapse of modern civilization caused by it in the language of satire or fantasy. But we are learning little by little. The water wears away the stone, and the future belongs to those storytellers who can combine these two stories together – and tell us about both their own death and rebirth. The global environmental crisis is not only a disaster, but also an opportunity: our chance to change, albeit not as easily as we would like it to be. That is why a simple popular cartoon is indispensable here. A tragedy worthy of the ancient Greeks is needed here. Here we need Dionysus, who de-embodies the roles and melts the prevailing ideas about reality. Here we need catharsis and apocalypse in the proper sense. After all, the apocalypse in Greek is not the end of the world, but a revelation, the opening of the hidden, the removal of the veils. The virus is the first rider of this revelation, and others will follow.

“Don’t Look Up!” is a story about it, but told from the point of view of reductionist science, it knows no hope. It’s just an extinction story. However, shamanic cultures know that death is not the end, but a transition. The one who died and returned becomes a shaman, and can sing songs, accompanying both the living and the dying. The story of the apocalypse must be connected with the history of hope, and the death of the familiar – with the birth of the new. This story has not yet been told, as we are at the point of the end of the stories. The sun has already set, but dawn is still far away…

On January 1, my colleague wrote to me about the transpersonal nature of the creative process. She shared the theory that “books want to be written, and if you are called to write on a certain topic, you will feel inspired, and if you ignore the call, someone else can write your book”. I replied that, indeed, my own experience tells me that the artist is more a tool than the author of the work, and I asked back: “Who is the author then? Where do the stories come from? Who dictates the scripts? If art is a portal, not a craft, then where is the source of the signal perceived by restless people like us? “

If we consider mass art as a collective unconscious, then what does it tell us at the moment, in the beginning of 2022? The Matrix describes itself and gives us hints about what it really is. “Reality” is drawn with the help of computer graphics, while “virtual” scenes are filmed in a pine forest. Everything is messed up, and the inhabitant of the “real” city says that it seems to him that he lives in the Matrix. In this city, built thanks to the union of machines and people, it is even possible to grow “real” strawberries, the DNA of which is downloaded from the digital space of illusion. What described here is a familiar techno-utopia, but the reality of this “reality” is not at all as certain as it seems from a simple reading of the plot.

The stories themselves speak more and more clearly about their own illusory nature. The gap between reality and virtuality is growing stronger. Beautiful pictures of nature are now on our desktop, while walking hamburgers are grazing in the place of endangered tropical forests. The new “Matrix” tells us about a sudden vacuum, about the situation of free choice that has happened at the end of stories. From now on, everyone who has the courage to look up is free from old stories, and therefore can tell some other story – a story that has not yet been told. But each of us is not alone. Stories are told to each other, so it’s not enough to invent a story – it needs to be shared with loved ones.

There is no more common story. Reality is torn to pieces. You choose which world you live in. But Neo and Trinity cannot create reality separately from each other. No matter how trivial this lesson may be, in the ending of the film “Don’t Look Up!” the family gathers together around the table. The family here is not only those who are tied by blood, but those who are ready to recognize reality as it is, and to live in this reality together, no matter how tragic it may be…

As Terence McKenna said, reality is much more than we can imagine. Be careful and don’t stick to familiar interpretations. Take your time before defining yourself within the frames of new stories. It is enough for now that old stories crumble to dust, and the mummies in the mausoleums are less and less able to convince us of their reality. I wish you to stay for a while at this point of the end of stories. Do not rush to go further. This is an important crossroad where new meetings are possible. Welcome to 2022!


Thanks to Anja Byg and others who made important inputs to this text and helped to shape it in English. Igor Polskiy

narratives, stories

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