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Does Truth Need a Narrative?
This post is inspired by a comment posted by @westernchauvinist linking and quoting from a piece by Thaddeus McCotter on the American Greatness webpage. McCotter was discussing the origins and worldview of the Left and, for the purposes of this post, how “narratives” fit into their strategy:
[W]hen the Left’s tactics and aims are imposed through public policy they prove ineffective and, to no rational person’s surprise, unpopular. But this is why the Left spends so much time and money crafting “narratives”—i.e., lies—to obfuscate their unpopularity. Sometimes they are successful, other times not; but the Left’s narratives and disinformation should be easily exposed when one remembers the upside-down nature of their delusions.
In McCotter’s formulation, the Left’s narratives are lies. But are all narratives lies? Is truth and narrative mutually exclusive?
In searching for a definition of “narrative” I found several versions many of which are now featuring political action. But at base, a narrative is storytelling, plain and simple. Unlike a dry recitation of facts, a narrative is intended to address the emotional nature of people. Scott Adams often states that facts unattached to emotional content persuade no one.
Conservative speech is often thought of as avoiding passion; focusing instead on hard realities and facts. The Left, as McCotter notes, is famous for stirring passions through slanders and misstatements of fact. But narrative is a device, not content. And its power can be harnessed for good or ill.
In a recent post, The Tragedy of Truth, I noted that “the pace at which truth is known and, most importantly, widely accepted and acted upon, is excruciatingly slow”. The key is wide acceptance, i.e. generally known and accepted by the population. Truth is truth and exists whether or not it is seen or believed. But it has no utility in our individual lives or society unless it is seen and believed.
Truth without narrative makes no emotional connection with us. Truth does not need us, but we need truth. So it is critical that truth be combined with narrative to promote its sharing and acceptance. Conservatives need to become storytellers and not cede that ground to the Left. Truth is not the sole property of the effete, too sacred to be popularized. This was, to NeverTrumpers, the great sin of Donald Trump: that he used narrative to spread truths. His stories were a little too messy and not refined; his stories could be falsified in part, but the truth remained.
Conservatives will never rule again if they cannot master the narrative. It is narrative, not truth, that motivates. It is truth, not narrative, that guides. They must be combined if we are to restore a democratic republic.Published in General
We all live by narratives. We live by the stories we tell ourselves to make meaning of the world.
I think you are right: Conservatives tell poor stories.
A narrative can also begin as a journey to find truth. When we begin, we might just be seeking, trying to wade through the lies and distortions. The narrative becomes clear and stronger through that exploration. And Conservatives need to learn how to do it.
Truth is such a great big thing, and a well-crafted lie can be quite self-contained. A piece of the machinery which fits the other pieces well but which malfunctions in a specific, internal way can last quote a long time.
The Truth is of course infinitely large, and you can never express all of it. You will always be restricted to just a slice, or a chunk, or a perspective. You can name it, you can praise it, but you cannot explain it. Trivially small truths can be stated, but they are not compelling except as they either fit or do not fit more fully-developed storioes. Stories are all we have, and well-crafted stories about the truth can become egaging while remaining true.
Our sense of story is an outgrowth of our pitiful brains beginning to graspo the linear nature of time, of cause and effect, and of anticipating things. It is not incorrect to say that we are made of story — it’s just putting the quarto before the Horace.
To tell the truth is to write an encyclopedia — forever. To tell the truth to a person is to tell a good story made of true facts, selected with integrity.
A well-crafted (and “true”) narrative must honestly account for exceptions and accusations in its construction. Those which do not aspire to truth may safely omit the honesty, of course.
See me rambling? Hardly scratched the surface.
Yep the Left knows this a lot better than we seem to. It’s why they take every element of any kind of narrative we might craft and twist it. Manliness, an ideal every American used to honor, is now “Toxic Masculinity.” Patriotism and love of country is now “Nationalism” so they can associate it with Hitler. And everything else just goes into the general “White Supremacy” bin. Being on time is White Supremacy! Math is Racist! Staying in school and speaking standard English is “Acting White.” They’re trying to demolish Western Civilization brick by brick. I think it’s way past time for us to fight back. Bring back Trump.
I think this is a key debate in the adoption of narrative by conservatives. If we are totally anal we will never construct an effective narrative for a truth. If we simplify the narrative by not accounting for exceptions we open ourselves to falsification. This is the basis for “fact checking” wars between political adversaries. It cannot be all one thing or the other. Choices have to be made.
The problem is that, the way the teams are divided up, “conservative” narrative is always reactive. Leftist narrative is crafted, matured, and coordinated behind the scenes and it takes 24-48 hours for the beginnings of a counter narrative (or truth) to find a footing. By then the willfully ignorant and/or stoolies have memorized the nuggets or themes of deceptive narrative and are programmed to regurgitate instead of think.
A good example of a regurgitated nugget came up just the other day:
That anyone recites that with a straight face this late in the game is preposterous. As is clear to all who know, this individual does no such thing and is clearly not a serious source of intelligent thought. But yet he uses the carefully crafted “truthful” statement to push the greater lie and avoid good faith, intellectually honest discussion.
Sometimes the Leftist narrative nuggets are so galactically stupid…yet, as part of the firehose of such things in each news cycle, they become ingrained in the greater narrative and tend to be effective with the willfully ignorant:
How do you compete with stupid?
The first step is not to rely on counterpunching. When traditional American values were dominant in the culture the narratives of our founding and history were taught in schools, preached in pulpits, enforced in our courts, reinforced daily in our governmental activities, and featured in our entertainment. There was no need to be proactive in putting out a narrative since it was the default setting for our society. We relied on it always being thus, but it is no longer. So we have to find ways of making traditional American values popular in a way that makes our corporations pull back from wokeness and denies financial rewards to media and entertainment that pushes wokeness. Scott Adams makes an interesting point: our government will not do anything that 70-75% of us don’t want to have happen. But when a slim majority wants anything, government will ignore us and do what it wants to do. Traditional American values are not a default in schools, entertainment, big business, and government. We must proactively make it so again or our republic is lost.
What makes you think we want to rule?
Citizen self-rule. Democratic republic and all that. If we do not have enough people who are willing to identify and publicly act as Conservatives, Classic Liberals and such, then “conservatives” will never rule again.
As Monty Python observed:
This is more or less how the left operates. Ambiguity is key. Chaos helps the sew the seeds of confusion. “Never let a crisis go to waste.”
Counterpunching is important for the daily news trend. But a jujitsu would be to turn the daily story to a lesson on convervative principles told through a story. The Bible is full of such stories and as they are a fantastic method of teaching a memorable lesson. Conservatives need a good set of parables to teach from.
But, the narrative was always being put out. WWI and WWII featured *lots* of patriotic propaganda. The Cold War did too. The 1900’s were a century of narrative been promulgated throughout society. The Pledge of Allegiance was revised and added to the school day for just this reason. We need to bring it back. We have a wonderful origin story and we need to sell it hard. If you have ever watched a Sci-Fi or comic book movie, you know that the origin story is the most important part of a character. The origin story doesn’t need to be accurate, either. It just needs to be agreed upon and support the desired principles.
But the government Oligopoly believes it can control public opinion and most people are sheep. The narrative drives the reality.
I immediately thought we already have a narrative, composed of three more like. The Genesis narrative, the Mosaic narrative, and the Messianic Christian narrative. Rejecting these seems to be at the root of all the US societal failures, along with the growth of narrative lies.
Except that the Christian narrative also states that the Christian narrative is a part of the other narratives.
Yes, and doesn’t the Mosaic narrative rest on, and even arguably begin with, the Genesis narrative?
The narrative becomes essential when there is no truth-since there is no teleology, no truth than the narrative is the only way to sway people. The world consists of competing narratives (not facts-not truths since there are none) and narratives appeal to the emotions -to the feelings-which are the most authentic expressions of each individual. The left doesn’t believe in the Truth-hence the oft repeated phrase “my truth”.
WRT the Mosaic etc, there’s nothing inconsistent with drawing from a source and then going beyond that. Ahem.
Ronald Reagan found a way to work with the narrative with a smile on his face, and won by a combined 25 million votes over two elections.
Human beings are hardwired to seek out story structure in our lives. You know instinctively, for instance, when someone reaches the climax of a story, or when part of a story is missing. We fill story in when we watch the news or observe other people in their lives. It’s just what we do. And yes, it behooves conservatives to learn how to do it better. If we can master storytelling, well, we already have truth on our side, and common sense, and love. Put them all together and you have an unbeatable combination. Add in some wit and humor, and you have Reagan.
For some reason this thread made me think of the movie Fargo. Is it a conservative movie? Liberals would say no, obviously, because the bad guy who sets everything in motion is, like, you know, a businessman, and the hero is a female cop, and conservatives don’t think women should do anything except sit home and pop out a baby on a regular schedule.
But the bad guy acts to sunder the moral order, and the cop works to restore it: not exactly modern liberal messages. The cop’s husband paints wildlife art for a stamp competition, which they view as a Wal-Mart level of aesthetic. The comity of the cop’s town is kept by people subsuming their impulses in a Scandahoovian desire for a stable polity, which is conservative.
A few months ago there was a panel on Fargo that included some of the actors, and they revealed that the original script had an element that didn’t make the final film.
A policewoman from outstate who was tremendously pregnant, being pro-life. CAN YOU IMAGINE
They can’t, which is their Achilles Heel.
The last Nolan Batman flick, The Dark Knight Rises, is (in some places) considered a conservative flick – someone comes in, smashes the old world order, puts the rich out onto the streets, the city is now for the citizens, etc. What happens? A dark, fearful winter, where food runs out.
Much more to it than that, the “free” electricity device that becomes a bomb that threatens the city (large capital investment company invests in ESG project), the riots, etc. Even if it’s got that kind of message deliberately in the subtext, you’d really have to pay a bit of attention to see it, even if you thought that was legit.
Politics is downstream of culture. The narrative is part of the culture. Control the narrative and you control policy.
Conservatives have narratives also, just those narratives don’t have the blow horn of big tech, education, and entertainment behind it.
The left are not going to give them up, we have to fight and form our own versions.
Central governance in a country as large as the US will always be based on narratives. There is no such thing as political truth for individuals. Folks have different narratives even about brief specific language such as in the constitution. When most conservatives refer to truth what they mean is their efforts to reach honest views on matters. Some liberals may do the same but my impression is they adjust what they say to conform to what they think is in their interest at the moment as decided by the group they belong to on that matter today.
It was either Lewis or Tolkien who called the Jewish-Christian story, “true myth.”
Andrew Klavan has been preaching this sermon to conservatives for years now.
This is exactly my view. They want to support any idea that is getting momentum just to take ground anyway they can. Odds are very high that you won’t have a straightforward discussion.
Try sticking to policy details when you talk to them. Good luck.
Yes and no. Take reparations for instance. Sure, many blacks believe it’s in their interest to receive “free” money, but they also think it’s a matter of justice.
The problem with leftism isn’t self-interest — everyone has that no matter where they land on the political spectrum. The problem with leftism is that leftists convince themselves they’re right even if it means receiving money you didn’t earn for slavery you never suffered from people who earned it and never enslaved you. It’s the work of the devil.
Yes, and though this doesn’t make sense, it is an effective narrative that everyone can comprehend in under five seconds.
I think Klavan said Tolkien said it to Lewis first.
In Lewis, I’m thinking it’s an essay called “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock.
Even Jordan Peterson is struck by the Resurrection.