“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players”
What we call ‘reality’ is largely a function of collective fiction-making – communal story-telling that functions as explanation of experience, re-assuring us that our responses to events are appropriate and shared among those within our culture. Consider:
General scenario: A car passes another car at a much faster speed, and swerves close to the second car, which has two people in it, persons M and N.
Ma: “That drunk driver nearly hit us! Gosh, what a fright!”
Na: “It was terrifying! I’ll call the police!”
Mb: “Ah, a drunk driver! I’ve a good mind to step on the gas and give chase! what fun that would be!”
Nb: “It was thrilling! I was so afraid this ride would be dull!”
Mc: “You’re being here makes me nervous1 We almost got hit back there!”
Nc: “I hate riding with you! One drunk driver, and you nearly lose control!”
Fortunately for us, each couple is made up of two people who are on the same wavelength as to how they perceive the experience *. As we can see, the persons in each couple are participating in the construction of the narrative of the event, the story they will tell of it to others following the event. All three versions will have a dose of the truth in them; yet all three versions will effectively be fiction.
One reason for this should be obvious. Each story will be colored by the emotional responses of the participants to the even. ‘Objectively,’ as seen by, say, a falcon gliding overhead (who doesn’t give a damn), the event is not ‘frightening;’ it is not ‘thrilling;’ and it certainly indicates nothing about the couple in second car. The event as a fact is simply that one car drove close to the second car, at a speed exceeding that of the second car.
Now, by this time, my reader may be lulled into believing that the driver of the first car was drunk. This assumption was made by all three variant couples. This is completely consistent with what the couples know of expected behavior on the road – seen in experience with previous drivers, but also seen in films and television.
Indeed, couple Ma and Na discover the identity of the driver of the first car and lodge suit against him.
Unfortunately for them, the police did catch up to the first car’s driver at the local hospital emergency room. Police are trained to write their reports as ‘objectively’ (lacking opinion) as much as possible. And the police report shows that the driver in question a) passed a breathalyzer test with exactly zero alcohol content; b) was a professional race-course driver who knew exactly how safely he could pass beside the second car; c) was transporting his pregnant wife to the hospital to give birth.
It should be noted that ‘drunk,’ before the law, is a legal term with a measured definition. If the driver of the first car had blown a breathalyzer test of 0.7, he would still not be legally ‘drunk’ in most states.
Yet if the cops had asked him to “walk a straight line” and he had failed to do so, he would still have been considered ‘drunk’ according to common usage, in most states, and this would have been prosecutable.
Are we getting a sense of what’s going on here? The story is never the case of ‘what actually happened.’ It is always an amalgam of emotional responses, assumed interpretation of behavior, common cultural assumptions, and legal definition.
We don’t know what this ‘reality’ is. In order to act, we must assume a construct that is primarily fictitious, but we must assume it to be real, in order to act. It is a ‘Catch 22’ that we are always confronted with, and must live through – and assume the cost and consequences.
* Imagine how much more difficult this discussion would be, if the participants were not on the same ‘wave-length’:
M: “Ah, a drunk driver! I’ve a good mind to step on the gas and give chase! what fun that would be!”
N: “It was terrifying! I’ll call the police!”
M: “It was thrilling! I was so afraid this ride would be dull!”
N: “I hate riding with you! One drunk driver, and you nearly lose control!”
– Now, there’s an unhappy family!