Stories and Truth – a Rivalry?

I recently engaged in the following conversation about the nature of stories and truth. Others’ comments in quotes, mine unquoted. All have been edited for readability and style.

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”

I strongly dislike this idea. Reality is enchanting and amazing. Things happen in history and real life that would seem utterly contrived and  unbelievable if written down. If one can’t tell a good story without bending the truth, then maybe one is just bad at telling stories.

Facts happen once and are gone. Sharing it or writing it down completely changes what happened. The storyteller or writer chooses what to convey. So reality may be amazing, but cannot be shared in its full splendor.

I do not agree that just because reality may be ephemeral that we should not attempt to hold ourselves to it as much as possible. Of course our forms of communication limit how much of reality or of lived events can be conveyed, but I eschew the notion that since absolute truth is not possible that we should fully abandon its pursuit.

Adherence to facts and truth is the goal in serious journalism, but even there the journalist is limited by their subjectivity. And when the facts don’t fit the narrative it’s usually a lot more common to change the facts to fit the narrative. But the same is true of readers, who bring their own subjectivity to the reading experience. In other words, since words carry meaning, we can never have an objective recounting of the truth.

I agree and I take these points seriously. However, there’s a postmodern idea that says that since we can never truly reach truth and objectivity, it’s pointless to try and we should indulge in subjectivity, letting one person’s biased and subjective views counter another person’s biased and subjective views. I find this unworkable and self-defeating, because why would we engage in the process of meaning-making at all if it’s ultimately impossible to arrive at an understanding of another person’s thoughts and experiences?

I propose, rather, a neomodernist framework: we take in stride the postmodernist criticism that objective truth is an unreachable ideal, but as with any ideal we follow it as best we can. We also elevate other interpretations that aim for the same ideal and strive for critical awareness of our own biases and preconceptions, and from those triangulate what the ideal “objective truth” might be, even if it is unattainable.

And more consequentially, we must have a shared epistemological system in order to maintain or construct a shared global culture and civilization. If every person has their own epistemological system, then the world contains more than 7 billion different cultures and civilizations, rendering a true shared human community an impossible dream. It should not be an impossible dream. It should be the goal we work toward every day.

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