The Story Animal investigates the existential paradox of human existence – why, since we are clearly the most intelligent species on the planet, do we constantly engage in stupid, ill-advised, objectively unintelligible activities?
Generally speaking, most creatures are content to live their lives in pursuit of the essentials that sustain existence – food, drink, procreation etc. – in this sense the non-human world is entirely rational. In their day-to-day existence all other animals avoid activities that would be detrimental to their continued existence. Of course, humans also do everything they can to survive and flourish, but we are endowed with a set of skills and abilities that set us apart from all other living things – we are brainy, self-aware, highly socialised and most importantly we have Language. Taken together these attributes have made us Masters of the Planet, but they have also inclined us to structure our lives around systems of belief that are not always rational or provident.
In short, since acquiring language, we have relied on Stories – to tell us who we are, of the nature of the greater world and our place in it, how we should behave to others, what we can expect of them. And the human imagination is remarkable inventive in constructing reasons and rationales. But these accounts, whilst supporting the complex cultural attitudes that sustain our social milieus, and our moral sensibilities, can also constrain and distort our otherwise extraordinary intelligence. Unlike all other creatures the majority of our responses and attitudes are mediated by transmitted narratives. At best these provide the basic presumptions and comforts of civilised life – at worst they can lead us to pursue deluded, self-destructive, and occasionally, thoroughly mendacious courses of action.