Today I thought I might ramble self-indulgently about the Personal Narrative, which I think of as, well, the story that people tell themselves and others about their lives to give it meaning and context. If there's an official, clinical definition that means something else, well, tough. This is the concept I want to talk about, and Personal Narrative captures it perfectly.
Personal Narrative is something I've thought about off and on for a long time - usually every time I would see someone who clearly thought they were a lot cooler than they actually were. Lately I find myself thinking about it more than usual, which I attribute to the dawning of three closely-related ages: The Age Of The Cellphone, The Age Of Reality TV, and The Age Of The Asshole.
The Age Of The Cellphone is pretty self-explanatory. We have reached a point where every idiot and many non-idiots have cellphones, and love to talk on them loudly and at length in public places. It's a combination of conversation and performance, as they attempt to impress not only the person on the other end of the call, but also everyone in the immediate vicinity. What makes this somewhat intriguing (although still mostly repellent) is the way it opens a window into that person's Personal Narrative, as the story that they tell of their life is invariably one in which they are the hero: They did something brilliant at work or have a sure-thing great new job opportunity or promotion in the works; some chick is totally into them; they told someone off/stood their ground/didn't let someone pull a fast one on them. I can't remember ever hearing anyone on a cellphone talking about what a major-league fuckup they are; at most, it's a humorously-embarrassing-yet-charming anecdote. They are always supremely cool and/or competent. Now, I don't know a lot of people, but I know enough of them to know that the supremely cool and competent ones are in a very small minority. And among cellphone users, it's even smaller. I also hold cellphones responsible for the wherever-I-am-is-my-living-room phenomenon, often observed in movie theaters.
The Age Of Reality TV is something I was certain was unsustainable, but now looks like it will outlast most Chinese dynasties. I believe that its effect has been to reinforce the validity of the Personal Narrative. Before reality TV, if you were a nobody, deep down on some level, you knew you were a nobody. It was just the way the world was. But now, it looks like any nobody can attain 15 minutes of undeserved stardom on some cheesy reality show, so now instead of being just a nobody, everyone can think of themselves as the star of their own reality show, and behave as the stars of actual reality show have instructed them: Be rude, be loud, be selfish, be deceitful, be narcissistic and vain, that's the only way to get ahead and get noticed! Reality TV is steroids for the Personal Narrative, complete with the 'roid rage and general social maladjustment, as dysfunctional, antisocial behavior is made to seem normal and even admirable. Which leads us to...
Yes, I'm aware, The Age Of The Asshole is a harder claim to make, as assholes have always walked among us, ever since Oog gave Gronk the first fur wedgie. However, I don't think we have ever elected them quite so enthusiastically and prolifically into power before. Yes, we've had plenty of asshole presidents and congressmen and bureaucrats before, but the current crew is the first group to flaunt it rather than conceal it, and it doesn't hurt their popularity at all. If anything, it enhances it, which to me can only mean that there are more and bigger assholes around than ever before, and they like to vote for their own kind. I think assholism is closely related to the degree to which a person buys into their own Personal Narrative. Because if you're the hero of your own story, then anything you do is by definition heroic, and anyone who annoys you or gets in your way is a villain, and we all know what heroes do to villains. But no matter how violent or mean-spirited it is, hey, it's okay, because you're the hero and they're the villain.
I'm not sure if everyone has a Personal Narrative; I certainly don't think they have to be uniformly grandiose, although those are the ones that usually capture my attention. I think decoding and understanding someone's Personal Narrative can be very valuable in getting along with them, or deciding whether you even want to. Personally (heh), I try very hard to not have a Personal Narrative; I want to view myself and my place in the world as objectively and realistically as possible, but I still catch myself constructing my own personal mythology about certain things. In my defense, it's often not all that flattering, and I could probably fill a whole 'nother post on that topic alone (but won't). But I try not to use my Personal Narrative to aggrandize myself, I use it to try to understand the way I interact with myself and the world, and vice versa.
I believe one of the keys to contentment and balance is to understand who you are, and to just be who you are. If you want to be a different person, that's fine, but become that person, don't just tell yourself that you already are. The larger the gap between who you are and who you tell yourself you are, the more insecure you are, and the more foolish you look.
UPDATE: Oops, I kinda forgot one of the main points I wanted to make, about trolls and Republicans, especially the libertarian-leaning ones: That they have their own personal narrative about how they are or will be terribly rich and successful and have prosperous retirements, because they are such hardworkers and savvy businesspeople. With the obvious corollary that anyone who is not set for life must be lazy and foolish, and therefore deserving of whatever poverty or misfortune befalls them. This is a large part of why I despise "I got mine, fuck you" Republicans so very very much.