Getting Meta

One of the names I commonly choose for characters in games is the name Metanoia, a somewhat obscure word transliterated from the Greek word for repentance [1].  The reason the word is obscure is not because it is unimportant, but because repentance is not exactly the most popular concept in the world.  Repentance implies a change of direction, a recognition that one has done wrong and needs to act differently.  It is hard to repent.  We can be sorry for consequences, we can regret repercussions and results, but it is not an easy thing to genuinely repent and change one’s ways, to admit that one was wrong and to go in a different direction.  At least it seems like a particularly difficult thing to do in our day and time where it seems like people are willing to go to great lengths to avoid admitting they were wrong, from projection and misdirection to such glorious matters as the non-apology apology.  We might ask ourselves why this is the case, and wonder why it is that we see admitting wrong as making us feel bad, which is entirely unacceptable.

It is perhaps not coincidence, therefore, that we should see so much of a different kind of meta, a much less beneficial one, in a meta-narrative.  Our world is also full of meta-narratives.  Much can be said about an age based on its preoccupations.  Although I ruthlessly pare my news feed on social media, because of the great deal of negativity that comes from our news sources, there is still a great deal of negative patterns that I see reported in the news over and over again.  From time to time there are copycat problems that result from something being reporting and that encouraging other people to do the same thing, or for people to latch on to catchphrases.  Some years ago, for example, there was a rush of news stories about something called Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy.  Nowadays, of course, there are story after story about suicide by cop and endless riots over hyped up concerns about overly aggressive cops which are, quite properly, treated with less deference by judges and juries than by media shills.  If it bleeds, it leads, but what does it lead to?

What power do we let meta-narratives have over our own lives?  We may give them far greater credence than they deserve, sadly.  For example, a desire to escape responsibility for the way our life has gone may lead us to create a meta-narrative that points to underlying patterns that somehow absolve us of any responsibility for what has happened.  Likewise, we may give ourselves enemies among people who have no interest in being our enemies because we have a meta-narrative that preemptively makes others into opponents without their having done anything.  If we have a narrative in our mind already, then it is easy to justify when things go wrong because we expected or feared them going wrong all along.  To be sure, there are times where we ought to expect difficulties and prepare for them, but there is no need to sabotage changes for success by assuming that something will go badly when it need not to badly.  We need not have blind optimism that leads us into trouble unaware, but blind pessimism that discourages us needlessly is just as bad.  We ought to have a worldview that is based on reality, not on either wishful thinking nor prejudice.

Ultimately, one type of meta generally precludes the other.  To the extent that we are motivated by a desire to be right with God and right with other people, we will give others the benefit of the doubt and judge, as much as possible, people and situations as individuals and not as monolithic cases where they are always going to turn out the same (bad) way.  Similarly, if we buy into meta-narratives, then there will always be someone else to blame in some sort of conspiratorial plot so the opportunity for repentance and personal reflection will simply not be there.  Much of the time, our concern for meta-narratives is simply not in correspondence with the truth, largely because these narratives are often made by people who are pushing an agenda and selectively choosing details to omit and focus on order to support that agenda.  Even where where may be some degree of truth in such narratives, it is often without any point or usefulness, because the only people whose behavior we can control is ourselves, and a focus on what other people are doing wrong, even where they are doing wrong, often distracts us from the much more necessary task we have of doing what is right regardless of what others are doing.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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