There’s not much good in the world. Allegedly, the good and the bad should even out, but I have never understood how that works. The occasional rainbow does not outweigh the growing ferocity of tropical storms. All the love in the world cannot combat even the tiny sliver of hate found at Lawrence. Good and evil are in a false dichotomy, as are love and hate. Hate and evil can destroy beyond a point where love or goodness can reach.
I’ve come to realize that stories are the natural opposite of hate and evil, whereas love and goodness are just tools for storytelling, since they have a level of morality and justice that could never exist in this universe. Our universe is irredeemable. So much hate exists, whether in the form of child soldiers, endless civil wars or kids bullied until they commit suicide, to the point where no amount of love can set it right.
The things we love in this universe can always be taken away or destroyed, but a story only stops when one forgets it. No one can take a story away because a story is its own universe. Religions function very literally in this fashion. They offer otherworldly rewards and fantastic stories for people to believe in, providing a reason for believers to act subjectively moral. The story of an afterlife suggests that our universe actually has a moral center.
Non-religious stories also perpetuate this delusion. No matter how many times one watches “Star Wars,” the heroes will always triumph over the villains, even if the real world seems to be falling apart. What’s more, stories offer an alternate universe for us to believe in. Accepting our universe alone is impossible without going mad, so we need another to escape to when the “real” world is too distressing. Even if “Breaking Bad” is not a particularly cheerful show, the story of a doomed meth dealer certainly beats the humdrum pounding of everyday life.
Humanity has always needed the alternate universes stories provide, and nothing illustrates that more clearly than the hero’s journey. This archetype sees a hero rise from humble-yet-promising beginnings, travel to distant lands and, after overcoming many obstacles and great evil, gaining the power necessary to save their people. Every culture, no matter when or where they existed, has a story following the hero’s journey.
However, the hero’s journey is not just a fiction. The reader, or whoever is ingesting the story, does rise from their easy chair to travel to the land of fiction. There, they encounter wondrous scenes and emotional turbulence and come away with new experiences and understanding. Just as the hero gains the ability to save their people, story lovers save the world with their willing delusion. We need stories to combat the evil in the universe. Despair and monotony are inevitable, and the happy delusion storytelling brings is the only alternative. Nothing “real” could defeat all the evil humanity has brought upon itself, but stories provide the language needed to understand and escape from evil.
Moreover, stories can save the individual. As long as you want to keep turning the pages, you also have a reason to keep living. To love stories is to be alive. Accepting the illusion of story worlds as more real than the real world is a necessary delusion, not an unhealthy one, because living in the “real” world alone is impossible. We need to live vicariously through stories to learn about the humanity this world so desperately needs. Read a book. Watch a movie. Just don’t spend your whole life in this one little world.