The mainstream narrative: reality or just a story we are taught?
The Oxford dictionary defines education as “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university”, but is it only in academic institutions that we are given systematic instruction on what to believe?
In the news, for example, we are systematically taught all about the world’s problems. We are of course also told that governments are working to fix them; yet climate change, war, poverty and environmental destruction keep increasing.
Meanwhile, the advertisements in newspapers, on TV, online, and billboards across the world, constantly teach us that we are here to keep buying and consuming. Consumerism, the message goes, will make us happy and create a healthy economy at the same time; yet mental and physical illness is at epidemic proportions, while the world’s economies are in ever-increasing debt.
The mainstream media, then, also fit this description of education, and we are being educated all the time that our purpose is to earn money, consume, and let those in charge sort out our future. Then we share that message with the people around us, and pass on that information to our children.
Meanwhile, scientists have now set the doomsday clock at 2 minutes to midnight with the growing nuclear threat, climate change, and a lack of trust in political institutions as three main reasons for this decision.
All this leaves us feeling anxious, helpless, even depressed – like there is nothing much we can do.
The Mainstream Narrative and Health
According to Harvard Medical School, “With headlines warning us of international terrorism, global warming, and economic uncertainty, we’re all likely to be a little more anxious these days.
As an everyday emotion, anxiety — the ‘fight or flight’ response — can be a good thing, prompting us to take extra precautions. But when anxiety persists in the absence of a need to fight or flee, it can not only interfere with our daily lives but also undermine our physical health.”
Studies, they explain, show that prolonged anxiety is linked to the development of chronic respiratory disorders (such as asthma), gastrointestinal disorders (such as IBS), migraines, and even heart disease.
In his 2013 Tedx talk, clinical psychologist Dr. Stephen Llardi presents his findings that by the time today’s youngest Americans are in their mid-twenties, 25% will be depressed, explaining:
“For many Americans, Europeans and people throughout the Western world, the stress response goes on for weeks and months and even years at a time, and when it does that, it’s incredibly toxic. The result: an epidemic of depressive illness.”
More recently, in 2016, The Rotman Research Institute (RRI) discovered that being subjected to chronic stress and anxiety increases the risk of “structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.”
The mainstream narrative of fear and problems, studies show, is a story that prolongs the activation of the physiological stress response, causing a chronic pathological state that is wreaking havoc on our metabolic, neurological, cardiovascular and immune systems.
The Mainstream Narrative in Schools
During the years I have spent teaching Critical Thinking (and developing WUWE), I have come to realise two things: it is not always a skill that is actively encouraged in mainstream academic institutions – because “it is too political” – and when it is taught, people are usually taught to “have an open mind” and “think out of the box” within the limited confines of the current mainstream narrative.
First, almost every important topic today is political: poverty, food security, climate change, sweat shops, social benefits, privatisation, refugees, war, Donald Trump – we all have opinions about these topics – but if we do not look at the facts surrounding these topics, we cannot formulate and act on informed opinions based on truth.
Second, in order to think out of the box, we need to look at that other side of the argument which is not the mainstream narrative, not our current conditioning, or as R. Buckminster Fuller said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Academic institutions, after all, are supposed to be places where we prepare new generations for a positive future in today’s world. The problem is that despite all we know about the world we live in, the narrative in mainstream schools remains that a positive future, or achieving success, means fitting into the current story by getting a well-paid job.
Consequently, teachers teach an academic curriculum that covers some problems we face in the world, such as the consequences of climate change, but covers very little about how the current industrial growth society we live in today is causing these problems, and even less about what we can do to change it.
This is the case in academic institutions the world over, and it is not surprising. Conventional (mainstream) schooling is outdated, and designed to prepare us to go into the workforce to contribute to a failing system which, we all know, is rapidly destroying the planet and us.
My experience teaching in the primary, secondary and higher education sectors worldwide for almost 20 years tells me teachers and students are interested in an alternative, positive way of looking at the world to this fear-based, problems-focused narrative we are presented with, but the current curriculum does not allow it.
The Other Narrative
The mainstream narrative is just that – a story we are all educated to accept as truth. But is there an alternative narrative, another version of reality, that we could choose to focus on instead?
Author, scholar and environmental activist Joanna Macy states in the film Planetary: “There are three stories actually.”
“The first story,” she says “is business as usual. All we need to do is grow our economy,” and then “there’s another story, which is seen and accepted as the reality by the scientists, the activists: when I lift back the carpet, look under the rug of the business as usual and see what it’s costing us. It’s costing us the world.”
She goes on to say “That’s not the end of the story though because there’s another narrative” and that is “that a revolution is taking place. A transition.” She calls this story “The great turning.”
In the video above, I begin by looking at the first two narratives: business as usual and what it’s costing us.
On this website, I look at what the mainstream narrative is not telling us – the facts that show the third narrative, a solutions revolution, is taking place right now.