(CJ Opinion) — Bending reality is as simple as bending people’s perception of reality.
Throughout history, the mythology of civilizations around the world has been full of tales of men and women who mastered a mysterious, esoteric art which enabled them to use language in a way that bends reality to their will. They’ve been called wizards, witches, magicians, sorcerers, warlocks or enchanters, and the utterances they speak have been known as spells, magic, incantations, conjurations or enchantments, but the theme is always more or less the same: a member of a small elite group with the ability to voice special utterances which shape reality according to their will in a way that transcends the mundane mechanics of this world.
People have long held a general intuition that language holds a power far beyond what ordinary mortals use it for, especially since the advent of the written word which was long mysterious to all but the most elite classes in a given society. This intuition has been spot on, though perhaps not exactly in the way that ancient mythologies have envisioned.
When I say “Bending reality is as simple as bending people’s perception of reality,” I’m not making some sort of mystical or otherworldly claim; I’m just making a factual observation about the influence that narrative control has over events big and small which transpire in our world. Many people whose brains lack a healthy empathy center–i.e. sociopaths, psychopaths and other narcissists–already understand this on some level.
Humans are storytelling creatures; everything about our understanding of the world is made up of narratives that are made of language. “My name’s Alice and I was born in Detroit” is a narrative. “The universe is 13.772 billion years old” is a narrative. “If I drink that bottle of bleach I’ll probably die” is a narrative.
Narratives don’t need to be based on any objective fact at all. “I can fly by flapping my arms” is a narrative. “God says you should mail me ten percent of your income” is a narrative. “You live in a free democracy and everything you read in The New York Times is an accurate representation of reality” is a narrative.
Ordinary people use language and narratives to understand and connect with each other, so they tend to favor narratives that are true. People who lack healthy empathy centers have no interest in understanding or connecting beyond the extent to which it can get them what they want, so they’ll happily use lies, half-truths, distortions and lies by omission to obtain power, control, money, sex, or whatever it is they’re after. They have a completely different relationship with language and narrative than people with healthy empathy centers, and they learn to exploit that difference.
Anyone who has escaped from a relationship with a manipulator will have an experiential understanding of what I’m talking about here. You start off under the mistaken impression that the abusive partner uses language the same way you do, so you keep trying to use it to form an understanding and connection, but it’s like your words just get turned around and twisted and used against you in a way you can’t really keep up with. You are fed narratives about yourself which have no bearing on reality: “You’re crazy”, “You’re not remembering things correctly”, “You’re dishonest”, “I’m not abusing you, you’re abusing me”, etc. You are fed narratives about your abuser which have no bearing on reality: “I’m the only one who’ll ever love you”, “I’m too nice, that’s my problem”, “I’m the real victim here”, etc.
When you escape from such a relationship it’s common to have to spend months or years afterward sorting out fact from fiction, reality from narrative distortion. Depending on the skill of the manipulator and how long you were with them, they may have inserted some very disorienting beliefs deep inside your consciousness in order to control you, and they can take a lot of work to uproot.
Large-scale manipulation of entire populations works more or less the same way small-scale manipulation of individuals does, and unlike abusive partners who have to more or less figure out their infernal art on their own, there’s been a concerted collaborative effort to refine the science of propaganda for well over a century.
Our world is set up in a way that rewards sociopathy with wealth and power, which means adept manipulators tend to rise to the top in business, government, and media. This is no accident: while ordinary healthy people were concerning themselves with learning the truth and forming connections, those in our world with no interest in such things have been engineering power structures to reward a lack of empathy. People who are willing to manipulate narratives toward their advantage without regard for truth or justice rise above those who aren’t in such systems.
We now therefore find ourselves ruled by those who use language not to connect and understand, but to bend reality according to their will. We are ruled, in a sense, by wizards.
Vast troves of treasure are poured into controlling the dominant narratives in our society as they relate to those in power and what they want to achieve. The government is your friend. The news man is trustworthy. You live in a democracy and your countrymen can influence government policy and behavior by voting. That bad guy in that other country needs to be taken out. Those people telling you we’re lying are Russian propaganda and need to be censored.
The spells are cast, and before you know it the bombers are deployed, the sanctions are implemented, the dissident is censored, the journalist is jailed, the political leader has been installed, the consent has been manufactured. Reality has been bent by simply using language to bend people’s perception of reality.
The more powerful the government, the more skillful the wizards. Chomsky once said that “Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the US media.” Narrative spells are cooked up by wizards in opaque intelligence agencies and uncritically regurgitated in anonymously sourced news reports, and before you know it Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, Russia is attacking American democracy and China cooked up the coronavirus in a Wuhan laboratory, and as always please know that the status quo is normal and is totally working great for everyone.
The good news is that this kind of word magic is not only accessible to esoteric masters reciting incantations from the pages of a dusty grimoire (which interestingly has the same etymological root as the word “grammar”). Anyone who understands malleable nature of narrative is capable of fighting back against the enchantments which pull the wool over the eyes of the rank-and-file public day in and day out, and can advance narratives that are based on facts and reality rather than lies and distortions.
You can be a wizard too. You can use language to influence the world by pushing back against the narratives spouted by the establishment spellcasters.
The better you understand the nature of narrative and its all-pervading role in our consciousness and our society, the better a wizard you can be. Pay attention not just to the large-scale narratives believed by masses of people, but the small-scale narratives believed by yourself as well. Find out what subtle stories you’ve been holding onto even in the darkest recesses of your subconscious mind which have been bending your perception of reality in a way which does not benefit you. If you want to master narrative wizardry, you must first attain mastery over its role in your own operating system.
Put truth first always, in all ways. Set the intention to use your healthy empathy center to connect, to understand, and to be honest: with those to whom you speak, and with yourself.
The more lucid you become in this way, the more potent your linguistic magic will grow. Narrative control is too important to be left to the manipulators, propagandists, liars and sociopaths.
See through the illusion. Shine truth on the lies.
You’re a wizard, Harry.