I always misinterpreted that quote from Joan Didion. I always assumed she meant that, in order to make sense of the world, we arrange its events (and the events of our lives) into a narrative. We give the raw data not just context but stylish, shapely context; a story with a moral; a story with a beginning, middle and end. But I’ve come to a different conclusion about what she meant when she wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live”.
I once had a chat with a man I wasn’t aware was passionate in his Catholicism. I said something like, “well, obviously, you can see why a tribe of Bronze-Age Jews would put themselves at the center of a story about the origins and the meaning of the Universe… they had a false sense of scale. They had no idea how much bigger than their village the Earth is, yet how small the Earth is in the solar system and what a speck the solar system is in the galaxy, which is one of billions of galaxies and so on…” And he replied: “If I saw the world the way you do… strictly rationally… I couldn’t live.”
And I realized that this isn’t the Epoch of Truth (if there ever was one)… this isn’t a time when the Truth is what most people are after. What people want is the Reassuring Lie. The Truth, in the World we have made for ourselves, is a toxin.