Electronic images pass through the mind, a plushy chair cushions a straight back. Simpler times are conjured up by an graphic bits of light set upon a screen. Sitting still, the imagination soars backward and we try place ourselves in a natural setting performing essential tasks. I fetch water in a wooden pale from my own well dug up by my great grandfather, I buy a sickle to ease the next harvest, I feed the livestock with grain stored up in the barn, I head to the pub to find my neighbors – all of whom I know, I get into a brawl with my rival and nobody is actually hurt. I am inside of a community and feel reassured by this sense of belonging as I lay me head to rest. Night becomes day, day night, and “harmony” is won again.
And all of the time we hear it, over and over again, the value of necessity: “you must,” the gods will it so. The sting of morality came from tales of old, they happened some time in the great past, the infinite past of “always,” or never at all. That sting tells you that your life is a mere story: you rise up full of passionate vigor, clamoring for a reputation, a single moment of glory to pass on into the future, but it will never live up to the ancient ancestors. They alone hold the true glory, they set the world into motion, their deeds will be told forever. Your story will end, it must, and necessity wears everyone down into the abyss, it must. The choices we make and the deeds we perform leave a mark only in a fleeting story and it is only a matter of time. The stories assert a power of their own on our wills and desires, but also bear a solemn reminder: the gods will always be better than you, they live on while you will die. The power of the story is felt in another way.
For all of the freedom we possess and all of the control we may exert over our environment and fellow people, we will still be pulled down to the earth in the end. Not all of the gods live in the heavens. The stories have a mind of their own as they pass from lips to ears and fire back and forth inside of the curious youth. They say what must be said, they answer the perennial question “why?” with “it is so,” they explain how a people is more than the sum of its individuals.
Why has it become so difficult to say “you must”? The stories we tell each other are merely human stories. They go no further than this character, this big name “people,” so now our destinations fit neatly into a story told by humans for humans called history. And it is true – mostly. People will never stop pointing to what is left out, the remainder, the excluded-from-the-whole-picture because people desire the whole beyond themselves and restating the limitations of scholarship will only compel them to look elsewhere. The earth tells its own tales. It speaks right along with our voices when we tell our children stories about far away lands. But it doesn’t speak through that elementary force of electricity: that is reserved for the hidden region behind the eyes. Electric currents run through the brain, jumping from synapse to neuron and back again. But as our stories themselves have become electrified the human desires have gained ground, eliminated risk, conquered necessity: we are all capable of “changing history” or creating a “historic moment.” Our stories are now true. And so? None of them are necessary.
Shall we rejoice in our victory over necessity? Can we claim the future for ourselves? It is a matter of time, always a matter of time.