For the LORD is going to destroy Babylon, And He will make her loud noise vanish from her. And their waves will roar like many waters; The tumult of their voices sounds forth. Jeremiah 51:55
The biblical narrative: What happened really in Babylon?
THE BIBLE TELLS OF A PEOPLE from the East who speak the one (holy) language and settle in the plains in a land called Shinar. There it wants to build a city and a tower with a top to the sky. The Lord descended to look at the city and the tower that built the children of men and anticipated, that the people could become cocky and stop at nothing that comes to their minds. To prevent hubris which would destroy these people, God confuses their language and drives them all over the world. The further work on the tower ends subsequently because the language confusion makes the building of the tower impossible.
The building of a tower which reaches to the sky is a pretty effective descriptive picture of the human endeavor, to develop a technology-based civilization, to rebuild the lost paradise on earth. The cause for the Babylonian confusion of tongues as God’s punishment though is the self-indulgence and hubris of men. As consequence, the inability of a joint understanding results in the failed endeavor to build a civilization. The confusion of tongues is not an arbitrary punishment but has as a purpose to inhibit a wrong way to build a civilization. In any case, the joint understanding of the people is the key to success or figuratively to a humane civilization.
Babylon is about understanding, not languages
IF GOD’S PURPOSE was to destroy the hubris of mankind to become God-like, the destruction of the one (holy) language would not be efficient enough. Humans are smart and clever. In the antiquity, they created the Rosetta Stone, in the 21st century the AI-powered Google Translate who both smooth the confusion of tongues. But these great little helpers do not prevent the profound misunderstandings between the people which result in the failed building of the tower of Babylon and in many regards to distress and wars in our time.
ASK ELEVEN PEOPLE if they are in favor of social justice. Ten will say yes. Ask those ten about their understanding of social justice and you will get ten different explanations, meanings, descriptions, though all use the same expression. Ask the same in Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese and you will get about 50 different meanings to one expression! Finally, every individual has its own understanding and cannot communicate with the others anymore. People use the same words in the same language and have different meanings. This is the real Babylonian confusion of tongues, the true Babylon. How can they build a civilization together if they have not the same understanding of their wordings?
Therefore the task of using expressions, of language, is to reach a true, joint understanding. If this is finally not possible, is storytelling an appropriate means to get near to it?
STORYTELLING SUPPORTS a better understanding of the variety of meanings. In biblical times, the prophets, religious leaders, used parables to explain the will of God. In contemporary times, stories help to explain abstract scientific knowledge. The story of Jonah and the Whale is not about how to survive in the belly of the sea-beast which will barely occur in real life, if in the antiquity or today. It is a dramatic teaching about doing the wrong things, landing in the pit as result and getting out of it, even out of seemingly unsolvable situations. The story will be understood by all audiences, regardless their native language.
The Allegory of the Cave, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Schrödinger’s cat as thought experiments are great examples how storytelling works in thinking and science. Storytelling explains an abstract issue to a person, kindles the understanding for the heroes and participants by identification. With these means, abstract issues can be transformed into roles, action, a script, a storyline.
On the level of individuals, I learn not a lot about a person of data like prename, name, birthplace. I learn from their life-stories which make a person appear to be alive, even if this person does not live anymore.
Storytelling to overcome Babylon
PURE DATA ARE POOR DATA without the relating stories. The assembly and synopsis of all stories give an understanding of humanity as a system, as a species. Storytelling helps for a better common understanding in everyday life as well as an understanding of the human race.
A systemic endeavor: the collection of individual stories and the story of humanity
A COLLECTION OF ALL INDIVIDUAL STORIES could result in a better understanding of humanity. On the one side, this would become an invaluable data vault for multiple use cases analysis. On the other side, everyone can reflect the own life story in the light of other life stories for an individual as well as a joint understanding.
I do not expect storytelling to become a panacea against hubris, hypocrisy, bias, and a myriad of other human failures. But as a contribution to prevent or mitigate these shortcomings, storytelling is a promising remedy.