Sunday, May 14, 2006

Never Underestimate the Power of Story-telling

MAN is a story-telling animal. It is a big part of the secret to our success as a species on this Earth. At the center of this secret is language itself, and all the technologies that serve it, which, in a very deep and little understood way, are also wrapped up in the phenomena of memory and history that other life forms we know of, seem to have not or exceedingly little. An important aspect of our "strategy" as a species has to do with the following fact: no other form of life on earth spends such a large fraction of the normal lifespan of its members on nurturing and educating its young. Which probably accounts for the notion that animals do everything by instincts that are in-born and carried right in their DNA. But for Man, the storyteller, that long period spent on training and educating the young, which in fact never quite ends, the strategy is crucial. Man has found a way -- through stories told orally at first, but later with writing and printing and the entire mechanism of culture-- to vastly accelerate the glacial pace of evolutionary development, which before him, could only proceed by the aeons-long process of natural selection and genetic inheritance. Our species is unique in that the most important things that one generation of men discovers, invents, or creates, is directly transmitted to the next generation for them to use and benefit from without having to--literally--"reinvent the wheel!"

Stories come in two general categories: fact and fiction. Here I am concerned mainly with the latter. Of course, most of what is called Fiction is harmless candy for our mental sweet teeth, and deserve the often derisory or dismissive putdown, "It's only fiction." Which naturally chafes against the armies of scriveners -- novelists, story-tellers and fiction writers of all kinds -- who never give up on the dream that one day, one day, they shall rise to their own self-built promontory on that landscape dominated by blockbusters towering among the stones and pebbles of more mundane achievements. But those who say "It's only fiction!" are ever at peril of being embarassed by some huge blockbuster or just some dime novel, that actually transforms themselves, if not quite the world.

But on any scale, from personal to global, one must never underestimate the power of fiction. The Spanish Taliban in the Philippines once did, but their particular brand of theocracy died as a result, partly because two novels, the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo. José Rizál established a foundation for the Nation now called the Philippines, by proclaiming and demonstrating in fiction, the humanity of the "Filipinos" -- the insulares (Spaniards born and raised in the Archipelago); the native indios; and chinos; and exposing the oh-so-human persons under the divine cloak of the Frailocracy (Apolinario Mabini's term) that I prefer to call the Spanish Taliban, which until that time, resisted and impeded even the progress in Madre España herself from coming to the faraway Archipelago.

Now there is also great literature, and art, and history, and philosophy at the heart and foundation of perhaps the greatest story ever told -- that of Jesus Christ and the Church that became the Roman Catholic Church, which still comprises more than half of what is called Christianity. The New Testament, the Gospels or Good News of Jesus Christ, also proclaimed the humanity of downtrodden men, tribes and nations, and exposed the inhumanity of Empire and Italian imperialists. The King of the Jews was -- much more than José Rizál or George Washington or Mahatma Gandhi -- the greatest Destabilizer of all time, true God and true Man!

2006 has been a remarkable year for the Story of Christianity. During the Christian Holy Week at the end of Lent, the National Geographic Society released its years long project on the Gospel of Judas. This week, The Da Vinci Code, a movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Oscar champion Tom Hanks, will debut globally to a stupendous worldwide controversy, at least within the precincts of Christendom. Based on the novel of the same name by author Dan Brown (as if you didn't know) the pre-release publicity swirling around the movie has already been making waves in the Philippine Archipelago along with Tropical Storm Caloy this week.

Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales of Our Ever-Loyal City of Manila has called for its outright ban, together with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Both however are very likely disappointed that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines would rather not give the film any more of a boost by announcing a boycott. The CBCP refuses to piss in the wind as Señor Ed Ermita and Fray Rosales have.

As for the Opus Dei, they are likely to get a BIG BOOST in recruitments along with the brickbats as a sadomasochistic cult devoted to corporal self-mortification as a means to holiness. Kind of like Medieval, scholarly monks who work out at fashionable physical fitness gyms while maintaining respectable, above average jobs in modern society. Some of my friends are numeraries and supernumeraries. So are yours, or didn't you know?

Ultimately, I hope that book and film brings about a real catharsis in Catholicism over the following related issues:

(1) women's status within the Church, including the all-male priesthood;
(2) priestly celibacy and married priests;
(3) male supremacism or male chauvinism in the Roman Catholic Church.

The novel itself has the power to do this, in my most humble opinion. Here, for example is the very ending of the novel by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, which happens where it begins, in the Louvre Museum in Paris
Tremulous, Langdon walked to the edge and peered down into the Louvre's sprawling underground complex, aglow with amber light. His eye was trained not just on the massive inverted pyramid, but on what lay directly beneath it. There, on the floor of the chamber below, stood the tiniest of structures... a structure Langdon had mentioned in his manuscript. Langdon felt himself awaken fully now to the thrill of unthinkable possibility. Raising his eyes again to the Louvre, he sensed the huge wings of the museum enveloping him... hallways that burgeoned with the world's finest art. Da Vinci... Botticelli... Adorned in masters' loving art, She lies. Alive with wonder, he stared once again downward through the glass at the tiny structure below. I must go down there! Stepping out of the circle, he hurried across the courtyard back toward the towering pyramid entrance of the Louvre. The day's last visitors were trickling out of the museum. Pushing through the revolving door, Langdon descended the curved staircase into the pyramid. He could feel the air grow cooler. When he reached the bottom, he entered the long tunnel that stretched beneath the Louvre's courtyard, back toward La Pyramide Inversée. At the end of the tunnel, he emerged into a large chamber. Directly before him, hanging down from above, gleamed the inverted pyramid—a breathtaking V-shaped contour of glass. The Chalice. Langdon's eyes traced its narrowing form downward to its tip, suspended only six feet above the floor. There, directly beneath it, stood the tiny structure. A miniature pyramid. Only three feet tall. The only structure in this colossal complex that had been built on a small scale. Langdon's manuscript, while discussing the Louvre's elaborate collection of goddess art, had made passing note of this modest pyramid. "The miniature structure itself protrudes up through the floor as though it were the tip of an icebergthe apex, of an enormous, pyramidical vault, submerged below like a hidden chamber." Illuminated in the soft lights of the deserted entresol, the two pyramids pointed at one another, their bodies perfectly aligned, their tips almost touching. The Chalice above. The Blade below. The blade and chalice guarding o'er Her gates. Langdon heard Marie Chauvel's words. One day it will dawn on you. He was standing beneath the ancient Rose Line, surrounded by the work of masters. What better place for Saunière to keep watch? Now at last, he sensed he understood the true meaning of the Grand Master's verse. Raising his eyes to heaven, he gazed upward through the glass to a glorious, star-filled night. She rests at last beneath the starry skies. Like the murmurs of spirits in the darkness, forgotten words echoed. The quest for the Holy Grail is the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene. A journey to pray at the feet of the outcast one. With a sudden upwelling of reverence, Robert Langdon fell to his knees. For a moment, he thought he heard a woman's voice... the wisdom of the ages... whispering up from the chasms of the earth.
We need a catharsis in Catholicism about women and marriage. These works of fiction, both book and movie, make the concept of a Jesus Christ in love, and of a married Christ, with wife and kids, a reasonable and plausible one, at least as plausible and reasonable as the official picture of a bachelor, without actually destroying Christian morality or values. They also seem to elevate the Feminine Mystique (to hijack a term from the Sixties) to that of the Divine, as much perhaps as His Manhood has been worshipped and upheld for emulation for the last 2000 years.

With the most severe labor shortage in the clergy since the apostles got their tongues, the next 2000 may go easier with re-enforcements from the tribe of Eve, who own half the Heavens.

19 comments:

R. O. said...

I'm wondering why Paolo Coehlo's By the River Piedra I Wept didn't get the same attention? That novel also proposed a feminine deity suppressed by the Catholic Church.

Rizalist said...

Hi Resty! Good question. If we knew the answer to that we'd be swimming is lucre! Not blogging the blockbusters. hehe

manuelbuencamino said...

DJB,

This is off-topic but you have to read this article. It affects you and every blogger. We may become extinct sooner than we think.


http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/05/11/war_on_the_web.php

Rizalist said...

Thanks for the link MB,
Interesting article by Robert Reich on Internet Neutrality. My feeling is we shall see a repeat of the 20th century's wars and turmoil over the telephone system, mass media, market forces, regulation, etc. only with respect to the Internet. Contrary to the impression given during these early years of the Web, it is not an unlimited resource. It consists as much of our browsers and blogger software publishing systems, as it does the brick and mortar and heavy metal of global network systems.

As with any finite resource that is held in common, if one resorts to complete freedom and equality of use access and exploitation, one inexorably ends up with The Tragedy of the Commons

Read it! Also applies to population growth and nuclear proliferation...

john marzan said...

Dean, hindi ko pa nababasa ang libro. I think you gave away the ending. Wala man lang spoiler warning? ;)

Rizalist said...

John, The book has been out for several years! Also the ending isn't like the ending of a thriller. No spoiler man. And no one has seen the movie but the makers.

Karl M. Garcia said...

What if the prequel to this Davinci code becomes a movie.....
Athough it may be anticlimatic because nothing trumps Jesus having a family tree...

But the novel angels and demons the first adventure of Robert Langdon has the pope being elected even when the pope's devil's advocate discovered that he sired a son.

Karl M. Garcia said...

Let us not forget the fiction that the sitting president won the last elections.

repeated a million more times,will make it appear as fact.

I hope history will be just in judging fiction from fact!

ricelander said...

Just finished reading the book three days ago. Not a literary gem, the author had its sight trained on Hollywood all along. But this one's sure to give the Church some real hard shaking. Who is really Mary Magdalene? If she's in truth a woman of dignity married to Jesus, to picture her as a prostitute is most vile and diabolical. What would you do if someone does that to your wife, by a bishop yet!

R. O. said...

Hi Dean,

I've read that Tragedy of the Commons link and I'd say it made me think. It correctly questions the very definition of freedom as we know it. A part I didn't like, though, is the lack of proof it presents on the finitude of Earth's resources. The authors ignored the fact that some resources are renewable. Take agricultural crops, whose pricing and "supply" are really dictated by businessmen.

Rizalist said...

Resty,
Most practical problems never involve the entire planet as the context. What is important is to note that in EVERY single case where human beings have been able to exercise complete freedom with respect to something that qualifies as a "commons", that commons has gotten completely screwed up. Many examples of commons are planet wide, yet it is clear our insatiable greed and selfishness far outstrips its volume. For example the atmosphere and the environment.

Also, viewed from Jupiter or Mars, the earth looks very finite!

Rizalist said...

Resty,
Perhaps the most provocative conclusion in the paper by Garret Hardin on The Tragedy of the Commons, is that there is no technical solution to the problem of population explosion and nuclear proliferation. Just like there is no technical solution to the game of tic tac toe. It can even be applied to things like Manila's traffic. Will probably do a whole post on it soon. Been studying it lately. It's worth re-reading actually:
The Tragedy of the Commons by Garret Hardin (1968)

Dominique said...

Dean: Ah, one of the points we disagree on. Faith (not supernatural faith, but even the ordinary kind) is what we believe to be true; as such, we may be sincerely mistaken in what we believe. But we cannot believe what we truly know not to be true. Faith has the quality that it does not contradict the truth.

Anyway, more on my blog, although I must confess, not much more.

the jester-in-exile said...

"Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales of Our Ever-Loyal City of Manila has called for its outright ban."

really? and i thought it was only Archbishop Arguelles of Lipa.

R. O. said...

"there is no technical solution to the problem of population explosion and nuclear proliferation"

I think this is a premise/presumption that the article tries to debunk.

You're right, though, with respect to that point about the commons as viewed from a practical, real-world lens. Apparently, we're all still in this mindset where 'growth' and 'development' can be unlimited. What I'm trying to point out is that the authors failed to account the renewability of a lot of resources. In that sense, a commons can be viewed as infinite.

Rizalist said...

Resty,
I think you mean that the author affirms there is no technical solution to the problem of population growth except for "mutual coercion mutually agreed upon." It's really quite a stunning result. He says we cannot invent or innovate our way out of a breeding commons with no effective restraints on the freedom to breed. In fact, he makes the even stronger statement that even appeals to conscience won't work! Appeals to conscience and personal restraint, like planned parenthood are as useless as taking too many antibiotics...the resistant strains..the selfish breeders...only get to dominate the landscape...

I really must do a post on Tragedy of the Commons...

R. O. said...

Yes, you are right. I actually find their idea fascist, to use another word, but they brilliantly pointed out that man-made laws are actually mutally agreed upon form of fascism. :)

R. O. said...

Oops, that should be "his." I thought there were two authors.

Rizalist said...

It does sound like fascism..until you get to the example of "bank robbery." When men took away the freedom to rob banks from themselves, with process to enforce it, they became more free, not less free.

But this is the issue I am dancing around: the work implies that we must reject the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights provision on the Family, which is upheld as the sole determinant of its size!