Once read about some missionary efforts among some unsophisticated tribe, where unusual difficulties were encountered. This tribe, the story went, was unusually light in what we might call religious beliefs, and held a skeptical view of stories, discounting any tale told by anyone who was not a witness to the events themselves, or at least a personal acquaintance of such a witness so that he could testify to the storyteller’s character. Anything more distant than that was considered a tall tale unless proven otherwise.
Missionaries, with their talk of God based on stories told by long-dead witnesses, were viewed as clowns or fools – no sane person, according to this tribe, could possibly take such talk seriously. Or so the story goes.
We, on the other hand, live in a world so spiritual, so accepting of stories told by long-dead demigods, that we swallow whales whole when instructed to do so, and no mere experience can shake our faith. Thus, the tall tales of Marx and Freud, of John Money and Derrida, are received as unassailable dogma no matter what our lying eyes tell us.
I get nostalgic, if that’s the right word, for a perhaps mythical world where the village women would gather at the fountain to get water and news, or one where the men might catch up on worldly affairs over a pint at the local pub. Something, someplace, where real people would look real people in the face, within range of derisive laughter and punch in the nose, and tell their tales, far from the sanctuary and safety of the lecture hall and even farther from the fortress of the copy desk and broadcast newsroom. Even a pulpit, in all but the largest churches, is well within range of an eye-roll and a guffaw. We need something, anything, to breech the bulwark of impenetrable condescension under which we receive our ‘news’. Our modern news sources are more unassailable than Moses, who brought news down from the mountain and yet caught flack even with pillars of cloud and fire to back him up.
There was a brief moment, historically speaking, when social media seemed ready to fill the gap, but the anonymity and, ultimately, censorship, doomed that effort. It did, briefly, have the flavor of a bar, or at least of a bar fight.
Now, we’re not only deprived of the weak fellowship of the Web, but of any chance for a chance gathering, a water cooler moment in which perhaps something unguarded might be said within range of a reaction. Nope, both the physical lockup and, more pervasively, the new thought police have locked that down tight.
Give me the girlish gossip at the well, the drunken rantings at the bar, even the uncle who won’t shut up at Thanksgiving dinner. Get the conversation going, and going both ways.