A few decades ago, snooty intellectuals tended to claim that no single overarching story, no “meta-narrative,” can sum up our era. The French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard popularized that term and chronicled the failure of various big-picture claimants to story-telling mastery: science, religion, socialism, etc.
However, either intellectual fads change drastically or the World Economic Forum didn’t get the original Lyotard memo. That group of left-liberal rich people and political bureaucrats gathers next week in Dubai to proclaim “the Great Narrative,” the supposed collective story of Earth’s civilization to be written by people like them—with some input from the masses, of course.
If you weren’t entirely sure the sickos behind talk of a “Great Reset” were psychopaths who view humanitarian crises as opportunities, now they’re openly imagining manipulating us all like characters in an experimental play. The fact the bigwigs involved flit back and forth between the heights of the public and private sectors only makes them feel more qualified to write our fates.
If the Dow hits 36,000 during their gathering, just over two decades since that financial benchmark was prophesied, they will not curse profiteers in Marxist terms but merely pause during the speeches and lectures to check their stock portfolios, then proclaim in familiar half-socialist fashion that their increasing wealth is all the more reason that now’s the time for humanity to dare great things—so long as those things involve further consolidation and centralization of power, minimal environmental impact or population growth, and ever more international conferences.
Little events like this week’s off-year elections in the U.S. will barely register on the unfolding plot—though the attentive among them may well be rooting for the much-watched Virginia gubernatorial race to become mired in protracted, Biden-style vote-counting, as the state’s elections director has already warned might happen. Regardless of whether the votes get counted properly, every bungled or recounted election in this world helps inure the commoners to the idea that these decisions get made long after the voters themselves have washed their hands of the process and left it all to the bureaucrats and lawyers.
It’s not that the World Economic Forum participants or government apparatchiks think the commoners always get it wrong—just that the bigwigs see themselves as Eternals to our mere homo sapiens, you might say. Like demigods, they must guide, punish, reward, and occasionally deceive us, for our own good, while they party on a mountaintop somewhere, imagining possible futures for us. In this case the mountaintop is Dubai, which may not want Deviants showing up but has at least started accepting people traveling on Israeli passports, so maybe a spirit of general tolerance will infuse the WEF crowd.
Still, it all seems a bit at odds with the ideal of giving every last citizen a voice, the ideal that has purportedly animated many of the Continental European bureaucrat-intellectuals. The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas has pushed that notion as if it were a collective chorus singing a rejoinder to the pessimistic cacophony of Lyotard. I’m an individualist who doesn’t want one person harmed in Lyotard’s chaos or subsumed by Habermas’ social-democratic kumbaya, but worse than either is letting a few know-it-alls decide our fates and pretend they somehow took all our needs and preferences into account—the preferences they think truly matter, at least.
Faced with talk of the intellectuals writing our Great Narrative together, I wonder what happened to the days (right after their last favorite story, communism, ended abruptly) when some of the more clever and rebellious leftist intellectuals prided themselves on being “culture-jammers,” fond of parody art projects and subliminally altered billboards, that sort of thing. At least those people understood the value of subversion and thinking twice.That’s healthier than trying to ensure Everyone Is On the Same Page (which perhaps will be the name of the next phase of the bland, collective endeavor that has included the Great Reset and Great Narrative).
In real life, collective narratives are the worst stories, and the struggle to pretend we all share in them always ends up meaning things like scrubbing unpleasant details—removing the Celtics from NBA broadcast schedules in China because a player defended Tibet, or Kamala Harris talking about the space program to child actors instead of random students. Can’t risk an off note from the happy chorus.
Don’t pretend we share a common narrative about our hopes for the future of the world when we can’t even agree on, say, the meaning of October’s widespread labor strikes. Were they about vaccine mandates or general gripes with management—or as some articles hair-splittingly suggest, objections to the fashion in which management has handled vaccine mandates but not to mandates per se? The authorities can’t risk the Great Resignation, as some are calling an understandable wave of dispirited absenteeism, becoming an anti-authoritarian chapter in an otherwise carefully-managed narrative, or having a fight break out about what that chapter really says.
If the bigwigs insist on pretending we’re all in this together and happily following their lead about everything, every single human action and every fresh, discordant idea we have becomes a threat to them. They must worry about that frequently between the hors d’oeuvres.