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Theses Toward a Theory of Generative Death Anxiety: Thesis #14

 
We continue the presentation, here offering:

Thesis #14 – There is power in numbers for sustaining the transcending plausibility and viability of any particular dominant cultural narrative. The more you rub shoulders only with people who believe the same cultural narrative you do, the more plausible that narrative becomes.

By this point, the gist of thesis #14 may be obvious, but it is worth emphasizing nonetheless. We have already seen that our access to and understanding of ‘reality’ is mediated to us mainly through the narratives, the stories and myths, we tell ourselves. Realizing this for the first time can be somewhat shocking, because we are used to the feeling that our sense of reality is rooted more in direct observation of what is in front of us, what is “out there,” so to speak, and that our descriptions of reality are descriptions of what is. We may have a sense that other people “see things differently” than we do, but it is exactly to that extent that we initially tend the think they have things wrong! Coming to understand that our sense of what is ‘out there’ is no less based on the stories we tell ourselves than is theirs can be quite dislocating. Stories seem very arbitrary, and it is initially perhaps quite upsetting to acquaint oneself with the view that our sense of ‘solid realty’ is fictional and in that sense arbitrary. It can feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us!

Where does that leave us? We can hardly just step outside of that knowledge once we have gained it, though many who have turned to various types of ‘fundamentalism,’ whether political, religious or cultural, continue to try to do so. But even without resorting to that kind of close-circle fundamentalism, one thing we can hardly help but notice is that our own sense of reality – of what is true, what is valued, what kind of people we should strive to become – is bolstered when we spend our time among others who share the same views as we do. Our belief in that view of reality becomes strengthened when we see it advocated and reflected in words and actions of others. In the technical language of sociology, this is called ‘the social construction of reality,” and we can say that the more we see our particular view of reality advocated and reflected in the words and actions of others, the more the ‘plausibility structure’ of our view is strengthened.

What is interesting to note is that of those people trying hardest to resist this view of reality as socially constructed, they are all the more strongly motivated to bolster the plausibility structure of their own view by separating themselves into periodic or even permanent enclaves with which they share time and space exclusively with others who share their view. Thus, in making this natural move toward social cloistering, they give fairly strong evidence exactly for the view they are striving to reject.

A number of observers have noticed that American society, long divided politically among liberals and conservatives, is itself moving toward geographical separation. While large urban areas become increasingly ‘solid blue,’ while more sparsely populated rural areas become increasingly ‘solid red,’ the areas of mixed purple decrease proportionately. The extent to which this picture of increasing geographical separation into ‘two Americas’ is accurate is a matter of discussion and dispute. Suffice to say that to the extent it is true, it both underlines the plausibility of the social constructionist theory, and simultaneously bodes ill for the future of this nation.

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