The Story Wars – Christopher Sly

The word that can be spoken is not the true word.” – Lao Tzu

In my version of the People’s Story we were all born into a guessing game in which reality is continuously poking us with the question – “What should you do?” Through both our actions and our inactions, we are continuously responding, and those responses have consequences. We can choose to believe anything we wish, but we cannot escape the consequences of our choices.

Story is how we model the stimulus/response/consequences experience of our existence. Our story controls our understanding of the stimulus, which controls our response, which affects the consequences of our response. No one is born with good judgment. Our judgment evolves as our story evolves.

When I was six years old my brother told me that there was no Santa Claus. In one moment, I moved from inside of a story where Santa Claus was absolutely true, out into a story where it was all a vast conspiracy of lies designed to control my behavior. In the flash of epiphany, I caught the pattern. My story controlled my perceptions, which controlled my actions, which controlled my consequences. In that same flash of epiphany, I caught the geometry of motion, from inside of smaller false story, out into a larger truer story. It was the “Santa Claus Shift” that launched me on my life journey outward through story space to investigate the story of how story evolves. I just completed a “solution memoir” about this journey, The Game of Guessing Right, that describes my secret alchemical life and my search for the Peace Story.

Will the young player answer the call to adventure, move courageously across the threshold of uncertainty, and begin the rising spiral of evolving story toward reality and awakening? Or will they refuse the call, retreat fearfully from uncertainty, and seek refuge in the imagined safety of a static “true story” that promises to protect them from their fears in exchange for their obedience?

To remain certain in an uncertain reality, we must blind and distort our perceptions or they will observe evidence that contradicts our true story. We must suppress our reasoning process or it will produce answers that challenge our right answer. Certainty is a mental illness that interrupts the learning cycle at the first step, observation of the stimulus. Rather than a rising spiral of evolving story towards reality and awakening, you spiral downward into delusion and paranoia, separating further and further from a reality increasingly perceived as the enemy.

Like the binding of a young child’s feet, binding a young mind in a static true story may cripple their perceptual and cognitive functions for their entire life. Propagating true story on a large scale produces a stupefied society that is both delusional and irrational, and thus suffers the consequences of its poor judgment. Story is a model. Do not mistake the model for reality. Expose and abandon false stories, or you will spend your game enslaved by lies.

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It is a natural human potential for us to become trapped inside of a true story to protect ourselves from our fears of uncertainty. This natural potential is sometimes exploited by those who seek to bind us inside of true stories designed to control our behavior to serve their selfish interest. To control our story, anything that challenges their truth must be reviled as heresy and “fake news.”

There is a play I call the Pirate Bank Shot. The Pirate Lords create, invent, or take advantage of a terrifying uncertainty to strip the people of a story that the Pirate does not control, and drive them into the imagined safety of a story that the Pirate does control. The Reichstag Fire allowed Adolf Hitler to suspend civil liberties, including habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right of free association and public assembly. The launching of preemptive war against Iraq was planned years before the terrifying uncertainty unleashed on 9/11 made its execution possible, and it was justified as necessary to prevent the threat of an imminent attack upon the United States from weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Preemptive war was sold as a way to make us safer, and this same sales pitch is being used today by those seeking war against North Korea, and those trying to frighten North Korea into a preemptive attack to justify a massive counter attack.

It takes courage to face uncertainty. Courage is a spiritual muscle, and if it is not exercised, it will atrophy. Once you surrender control of your decision making process to another person or organization, you may become increasingly unable to push through the threshold of uncertainty and take that control back.

The Pirate Lord knows this.

Doubt is the only exit from a“truth trap.”

The Pirate Lord knows this as well, which explains why the sign hung across the threshold of uncertainty reads “Gates of Hell.”

My novel The Lord’s Bedchamber is a literary fantasy about a writer’s war between Bacchus and Shakespeare (sort of) over who will write the ending of the People’s Story. Shakespeare seeks to manipulate selfish fears and hungers to trap the people inside of a delusion that he controls, and Bacchus seeks to free the people from Shakespeare’s lies. This same war is being fought in the United States, and it has been in progress for a long time. Cries of “Fake News!” may soon be replaced by angry shouts of “Heresy!” As the stakes grow, it would be expected that authoritarians in power will increasingly persecute individuals and organizations that challenge their lies, and that the Hero Players will speak out anyway.

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Ultimately, this battle for control over the People’s Story may be won or lost in the public education system. The mental illness of certainty is not only communicable, it is being aggressively propagated by religious authoritarians who need the people to believe that God speaks in order to command obedience with God’s words. Religious authoritarians insist that schools teach children their truth, and suppress the process for seeking the truth, such as science education.

All of these contemporary conflicts will come into play in Witch’s Rock, a weird kind of sequel to The Lord’s Bedchamber. The atheist protagonist of Witch’s Rock is the author of The Lord’s Bedchamber, and the story takes place in a near-future United States where authoritarians are moving to solidify power. The “true” story that the Pirate Lords will use to “protect” the people has already been written, and the terrifying uncertainty that will strip the people of their freedom is now being plotted. The Pirate Bank Shot will be the “page 17” event.

It’s also about sex and stock trading.


About Christopher Sly

I wrote my first novel, A Hand Full of Sand, on the backseat of a car parked on the beach in the Redwood National Park, living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches spread with the handle of my toothbrush. My second novel, Threshold, is a near-future science fiction about the social upheaval caused by an incurable sexually transmitted disease that supercharges your immune system, and makes you sterile. My third novel, The Lord’s Bedchamber, is about a writers’ war between two brothers, one who wants to enslave the people in a cage of lies, and the other who wants to free them. The Game of Guessing Right is a solution memoir of my alchemical journey investigating the story of how story evolves.

Website: bacchustownplayers.com

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23 Responses to The Story Wars – Christopher Sly

  1. This is a subject close to the heart every VF author – the power of story. I like how you describe false reality and the false sense of certainty it brings as ‘static true story’. Thanks for this compelling article, Christopher.

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    • Forgot to ask – can you expand on what you mean by the ‘Peace Story’?

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      • Christopher Sly says:

        Thank you for the interest Saleena. I think it depends on who you ask, and many people would suggest that if you shut up and do as you are told, there will be peace. In my opinion, since I model existence as a continuous problem, my response is collaborative solution play. That is what I am getting at with the Hero Educational System for public school. I think that the story of the selfish heart and the story of the certain mind are the source of most human conflict preventing us from working together solving our problems. I think that an educational system based on competitive war and rewarding arrogance produces a society of selfishness and arrogance. Students need to learn that the win-win solution story has greater potential than playing win-lose. I believe that we must understand how our natural fears and hungers move us, but that the problem is predominantly in the software, in our story, and that offers hope that an educational paradigm shift can help us end war and poverty, and accelerate the people into a future of peace and unimaginable prosperity.

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        • Thanks Christopher – this is insightful. How true it is that ‘the win-win solution story has greater potential than playing win-lose’!

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  2. Great article. 🙂 Have shared.

    I laughed at your about section of writing in the back of a car. 😀 I wrote my first book sitting on a bar stool with my ancient second hand computer keyboard balanced on top a piece of old furniture shoved in a corner of a room.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      Thanks for sharing, Michelle. I love hearing about other #writinglife adventures.

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  3. Excellent post. I love your chart. Structure used to be my weakness as a writer, so I’ve studied a lot of systems. This has good insight.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      Thank you Teresa. A couple of things about that chart – In the model, people are not characters. Characters are locations where people can stand, and people can move across the thresholds, if they choose, so the chart is one way to plot transformation. Another thing is that I am using the heart threshold to control motive, and the mind threshold to control method. Also, it looks like a right left geometry, but it is actually intended to be inside and outside. You move from inside of the win-lose selfish story out into a story where you understand the power of win-win. You do not forget the win-lose story, when it is necessary. You move from inside of a certain story, out into a story where you understand that you are guessing. You realize the value of improving your ability to guess right, and the wisdom of considering the consequences if you guess wrong.

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  4. In my experience as a writer and a human, most of life is the act of balancing on a high wire in a pair of heels during a windstorm. The best stories occur in the search for higher ground, which is mostly based on inner direction and outer uncertainty. There is so much to chew on in this wonderful post, Christopher. Thanks so much for sharing it.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      You are welcome. I like the way you describe the search for higher ground. I wrote a short memoir titled High Ground, about a time I happened to be living in a tent in the Mendocino woods with a stack of ancient Chinese alchemical texts. I was actually researching a novel I was going to call The Uncertainty Principle about a philosopher who leaps into uncertainty because he believes it is only by chance that we find that knowledge we most need to find. I was my first attempt to pull a George Plimpton, and leap into the story. Wow. You can find it by Googling :High Ground by Christopher Sly. The subtitle is – The bizarre story of my awakening.

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  5. Victor Smith says:

    Thank you for your insights, Christopher. (BTW, your photo fits your last name.) In the spiritual circles I travel, there is a wise saying: “You are not your story.” Like most writers, I thrive on “story,” so I formerly made a fuss about this advice. It threatened my livelihood. After a lot of meditation, I accepted it, but in such a way that I could still write stories. People, individually and societally, are hugely invested in their story; they love to tell it and read it; but they don’t want it contradicted or corrected. The VF writer, who wants to exercise the power to heighten consciousness, must be sneaky. People have to recognize themselves in the story without getting defensive or offended. The self-criticism essential to change has to be induced subtly if they are to abandon their old sad story and write a better one.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      I would love to hear a lot more on this topic. I guess everybody here is on the same mission, to “heighten awareness” in ourselves and in our readers. I aspire to improve, but feedback has been rare, and it is difficult to evolve without it.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      Your comments reignited a debate I have been having with myself for many years. People CAN move, but many people WON’T move. I would guess that most of us are here because our stories have changed, and our experience with change has revealed its value, and we wish to share it. I can look back at some suffocating and painful stories that I was once trapped in, and escaped from. Because of my experience, I can see others who are trapped in these places, and I want to try to help them escape. But as you said, people are heavily invested in their stories, they love their stories, they believe that they are their stories. There are also particular stories created that demand you must spend your life helping spread the story, and that you must die inside the story, or you will spend all of eternity roasting on the Devil’s barbecue. I once described the ending of what I call the Hero Jesus story as a cautionary tale of what happens to the hero when they try to set the people free from their parasitic stories. Neither the people, nor those who contrrol their story, are grateful.

      Yes, subtlety. And caution…

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      • Victor Smith says:

        Sorry, Christopher, that I did not get a chance to reply in detail to all your comments in response to mine above. Yours deserve it and perhaps some day we’ll work out a way to engage more fully in the topics that came up here. Re “my precious story” and getting beyond it, I found Ruiz’s The Fifth Agreement helpful on the subject of stories: how I could tell stories and listen to others’ stories without having to become my own or their story. A vast and important subject for the growth journey.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      I finally got around to applying this to myself. Thanks for the tip, Victor. So subtle I almost missed it. Well done, sir.

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  6. Robin says:

    Beautiful, insightful post, Christopher. Yes, being uncertain is the humble state that allows pure consciousness to be established in place of the story! Your books sounds intriguing! Thank you.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      Thank you Robin. Your point is beautifully made. Humility is the universal solvent that dissolves the illusion of both the ego character (imaginary me), and the “all about me” show.

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  7. Insightful post, Christopher. I loved your comment “Certainty is a mental illness that interrupts the learning cycle at the first step,…” I think a back door way around that mental state of certainty is through story, particularly in VF where we aim to evolve consciousness through the characters’ experiences and the readers responses.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      Thank you Jodine. I like the idea of VF as a “back door” around certainty. I am going to spend some time thinking about that.

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  8. Thank you, Christopher. Both your post and one of your responses fit in perfectly with a novel I’m currently working on that takes place in a middle school, where my protagonist pits herself against school tradition and authority to help launch seven gifted students with unique psychic abilities into their own life stories.

    Your response fits the quandary my protagonist faces: “Because of my experience, I can see others who are trapped in these places, and I want to try to help them escape. But as you said, people are heavily invested in their stories, they love their stories, they believe that they are their stories. There are also particular stories created that demand you must spend your life helping spread the story, and that you must die inside the story, or you will spend all of eternity roasting on the Devil’s barbecue. I once described the ending of what I call the Hero Jesus story as a cautionary tale of what happens to the hero when they try to set the people free from their parasitic stories. Neither the people, nor those who control their story, are grateful.”

    Very timely.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      You are welcome, Margaret. What I like about this group is that at a deep level, we are all trying to solve the same problem, so many of our experiences, and our challenges, resonate. Good luck with your novel, and let me know when it is available.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      BTW, this is the same conflict that the protagonist in my new WIP is also facing. I am planning it as the pilot for a series called The Story Wars, and it involves a website for writers dedicated to evolving the People’s Story that comes into conflict with those who now control that story. OK, I just got this idea, but it is growing on me fast.

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    • Christopher Sly says:

      It is ON! Just bought thestorywars.com URL, installed WordPress, and announced “The Story Wars visionary fiction series about a writers group forced into the role of leading a rebellion against a brutal authoritarian cabal that has seized control over the United States government.”

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