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We often discuss the ways one group of Americans - call them the religious right, social conservatives, or whatever name you like - try to make their religion into our politics.  And they do.  But there's a flip side to that coin: the many people, left and right, who make politics into a religion.  It's a fascinating comparison-in-contrast, and it probably says more about our need for unifying themes around which to base our lives than it does about either religion or politics.

More below the fold....

Religion as Politics, Politics as Religion

Perhaps it's my bias as a novelist, but I often say that homo sapiens sapiens is a storytelling species.  To read history deeply is to read a battle for the overarching story of our existence, with historians of different schools bringing different narratives to the series of events they describe.  Narratives, stories, make things easier to understand.  A set of character types, with clear motivations, actions directed toward those motivations, conflicts where those actions oppose each other, all toward a resolution either written or postulated in the future.  We tell stories to make sense of experience.

Both religion and politics can be seen as narrative constructs, and of a very particular kind: both are global, unifying constructs that purport to encompass the whole of our lives.  For the deeply religious, everything we do is a religious act, from our relationships to our jobs and hobbies, to the foods we eat and the liquids we drink.  In their perspective, we are inherently spiritual beings and as evidence they can offer a spiritual analysis of any proposed idea or act.  For the deeply political, everything we do is a political act, and again as evidence they can offer a political analysis of any proposed idea or act.

The Cartesian Analytical Fallacy

The Cartesian fallacy is a critique of the writings of philosopher René Descartes, and specifically of Decartes' assertion that our subjective perceptions correspond to objective reality.  In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes wrote:  "I now seem to be able to lay it down as a general rule that whatever I perceive very clearly and distinctly is true." (AT VII 35)  Simply, if you see it, it must 'really' be there.

But that is not always reliable, especially as regards our perceptions of others' motives.  I see this often as an artist.  Critics "see" meanings in my writing that have more to do with their own ideas than anything I wrote, but then write about those meanings as if I had intended them.  To deny such an intention is to invite a response of the form: "You may not have been aware of it, but it must have been there at a subconscious level, because it's there on the page."  That they may be projecting their own ideas onto the page is dismissed out of hand.  If they see it, it must 'really' be there, and that means out there in the work itself.

Similarly, a deeply religious person can "see" religious meaning in any thought or act, and a deeply political person can "see" political meaning in any thought or act.  The leap from "I can see it" to "it must 'really' be there" is taken for granted, and thus as they reason it, the thought or act 'really' is religious or political.

The Global, Unifying Lens

Both religion and politics are global lenses, in the sense that each purports to offer guidance and meaning for every aspect of our lives.  Any question you might think to ask, on any subject, and any answer you might reach, can be supported or criticized on religious or political grounds.  Having made that analysis, the supporter or critic can then impute your religious or political intention.  That you might not have considered that intention does not disprove the analysis; it simply means you're unaware of your intentions, or you're lying about them.

So the deeply religious view every question and answer, every thought, word, or deed through the global, unifying lens of religion.  Similarly, the deeply political view every question and answer, every thought, word, or deed through the global, unifying lens of politics.  Both lenses offer coherent narratives, with heroes, villains, victims, motives, strategies, and postulated resolutions.  Events "make sense," not necessarily because the events themselves are coherent, but because the analysis is coherent.

And we homo sapiens sapiens like coherence.  We need things to "make sense" because then we can predict and try to control them.  We can structure our lives to avoid dangers and embrace opportunities.  We can be certain we've done or are doing the right thing, even when we have too little information to justify that certainty, or don't get the results we hoped for.  The fuzziness and randomness go away, replaced with a stable and, more important, comfortable narrative coherence.

Viewing everything through the lens of religion or politics offers us comfort, and something else.  To the extent that we find others who share our religious or political beliefs, that lens offers a sense of unity.  We are a social species, and that is not merely an abstraction.  Large chunks of our brains are wired for processes, from facial recognition to mirroring to language, that are only useful for a social species.  Our social-ness is biological, yet our individuality seems equally if not even more concrete.  We need ways to bridge the gap between "me" and "us," and unifying lenses help us to do that.  If we see things in the similar ways, find similar reasons for the events around us, can support or criticize the same goals and decisions, our individual and social existences fit together better.

When lenses differ

The problem, of course, is what happens when we bring different global, unifying lenses to the discourse.  When different lenses collide, each sees the others' actions through its own lens.  That makes it difficult to have a dialogue, because each is constructing a different narrative.  It is not unlike Scarlet O'Hara from Gone With the Wind debating Celie Johnson from The Color Purple.  The two characters inhabit different stories with only tangential points of contact.

The conflict challenges our Cartesian analysis: Is it 'really' there just because we see it?  That highlights the me-us gap between our individual and social experience.  The social-ness of our species cries out for an us-ness, but if we're inhabiting different narratives, we're not an "us" at all.  Our narrative, one we can "perceive very clearly and distinctly," must be real, and those who claim to inhabit some other narrative must either not understand their own world, or be lying.  And of course they feel the same about us.

Those are "us-us" narrative collisions, but there's another kind as well.  Call it "me-us."  It's the conflict we feel when some element of our lives invokes or seems to invoke a narrative counter to our religious or political beliefs.  Can you enjoy this kind of book, movie, or hobby and still be faithful to your religion, or your politics?  Can you play Go, a game of claiming and defending your own and invading your opponent's territory, and still be progressive?  What TV shows or sports can you like, or dislike?  And if you ask that question, someone - religious or political - will be ready with an answer of "No."

So how much of your "me" to you lop off to conform to the us-lens of religion or politics?  At what point does the argument become one of whether you can have a "me" at all, or whether you are inescapably and always conforming to or resisting an "us?"

These are questions without easy answers.  Recognizing the questions should encourage us to be a little less dogmatic, with each other and with ourselves.  Or maybe that is itself merely another global, unifying lens, a narrative of variety rather than coherence.

+++++

Happy Thursday!

Originally posted to NCrissieB on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 04:43 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Great diary, Crissie! (10+ / 0-)

      I'm going to get some coffee and read again.  These are important observations, and more important questions.

      Good morning and huggggs!

      The austerity you see around you covers the richness of life like a veil -- Anonymous

      by winterbanyan on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 04:55:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't have many answers. (7+ / 0-)

        There are ideas and acts that are inescapably public, where our "me" preferences must yield to some "us."  Crimes are an obvious example.  There are other ideas and acts most deem private, such as one's preferred flavor of ice cream, or indeed whether one likes or dislikes ice cream.

        Then there's this huge swath in the middle, and that's what this diary is about.

        Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

        •  Great diary, funny timing. I was reading up just (4+ / 0-)

          before bed last night on "biocentrism" -- as described by Robert Lanza, the stem cells genius. In short it purports that "real" things depend on, and are in effect created by our consciousness. I read an article in this month's Discover magazne entitled "The Biocentric Universe," and then found this, Lanza'a essay on the subject.

          I cannot agree with Lanza's (and of course others have offered these kind of ideas from time to time, notably Descartes) theory, though I find great value in considering the idea, and in going through the process of relaxing enough mentally to try and understand the principles involved.

          I feel pretty sure that a new level of attention may be paid to the importance of perception and consciousness in education in coming decades. And perhaps there is a powerful unifying lens in the understanding that we each have a unique perspective. Maybe "live and let live" will take on deeper meaning. And maybe when people find ways to pursue their own interests and dreams, they will be less interested in controlling the daily matters of others.

          XXO

          •  Thank you, and I agree to a point ... (6+ / 0-)

            ... although at some point "live and let live" misses the essential social-ness of our species.  Few of us are fully capable of living without others' help, so "live" and "let live" themselves come into conflict.

            Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

            •  Real conflict is always a potential problem... (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              NCrissieB, addisnana, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

              and anticipating conflict is a powerful tool in avoiding it. It would seem that increasing awareness would make people better able to anticipate potential conflicts. And when people vigorously and honestly pursue their interests, presuming those interests have nothing to do with forcing others to do one thing or another, then we should be able to live socially and let live. And, of course, it seems that is what we as a species tend to do. Throughout history there has been much more peaceful cooperation than disastrous conflict, though the amount of disastrous conflict throughout history is certainly terrible and tragic.

              Off to work now. Have a great day NCB, and a happy one to all you all.

              •  Conflict or sometimes simply neglect. (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                The House, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

                Sometimes it's less an issue of conflict than of neglect.  I'm not a farmer, so if I'm to have food, someone needs to be farming.  And so on.  We can all agree to "live and let live," yet within that we all need others to do the things that make our individual lives possible, just as we do things for others.  How we mediate that is an eternal challenge.

                Have a great day!

    •  Brilliant presentation, Crissie! (11+ / 0-)

      You've certainly given me much to ponder that I'll refer to each time I'm feeling particularly dogmatic or intolerant.

      "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." JFK - January 20, 1961

      by rontun on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 04:59:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Good juxtapostion to yesterday's diary. (10+ / 0-)

      Yes, a narrative with heroes and enemies makes for a satisfying explanation to an unsettling case. And yes, I can watch TV shows that I would not confess here at dKos for fear of being labeled not-good-enough.

      Many years ago I was a neighbor to a family that was killed in their house by an intruder. This, in a nice neighborhood, right before Christmas. The murders happened on a Friday night, and the scene wasn't discovered until Saturday morning when the neighbors heard a smoke alarm (intruder tried to burn down the house). We had no real news until Monday (no Sunday paper) and the fear here was palpable. Some said it was a Mafia-style hit, some said a drive-by. Oh, many theories, no answers. I can't really remember what Day After I read details in the local paper about ATM withdrawls and abandoned vehicles, and deduced that I had seen something that Friday afternoon that I found odd. I called the police, and as it turned out, I had seen the murderer on his way to the house. Short version, I was called to be a witness at the jury trial of a second person who was supposed to have been there to do cleanup, but it turned out to be a case of investigator misconduct.

      I had thought that maybe I was of the right mind to be a detective type. That whole thing with the trial and the aftermath, still rattling through the courts, turned me off.

      My intent relating this story is to express that there are stories, and I pieced together part of one, which turned out to be right, from a few clues. No doubt I have conveniently forgotten those I didn't get a hunch on, and so back to Columbine, where everyone's memory can get so contaminated so quickly.

      My political life is much more private than my spiritual life. I am a registered Democrat, but I can admit that I have crossed the line and not voted Dem. I never knew that I was spiritual, but I guess I am, just of my own accord, and there ain't no heaven.

      Hugs to all, this is meandering, but the last two diaries set it off, Crissie!  

      Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

      by riverlover on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:44:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I too was thinking about (5+ / 0-)

        yesterday's diary as I read this one.  The connections beg to be drawn :)

        Thanks for the interesting story, too.

        Huuggs, riverlover!

        The austerity you see around you covers the richness of life like a veil -- Anonymous

        by winterbanyan on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:52:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you for a great story! (5+ / 0-)

        And yes, there are points of contact between today's and yesterday's diaries, in terms of our quest for a narrative to make sense of events.  It's especially difficult when, the deeper we dig into the facts of an event, the less they conform to any narrative at all.  At some point, something in us calls out for the pieces of the story to begin to bend together as they would in a well-written novel, all loose ends neatly drawn together in a coherent package.  And the damn loose ends just keep fraying more and more.

        That happens more often in life than most of us would like to think, or admit.  And that frayed-ness is not only uncomfortable individually, but more difficult to embrace in a coherent us-ness.

        Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

        •  Thanks NCrissieB (4+ / 0-)

          I personally hope that I understand that the frayed ends are just gone. There will never be a real-life story that doesn't have gaps and questions. We all get enough of that in our family lives: for example, why did both of my in-laws change their first names, and only reveal first marriages (during WWII) after their deaths? We.will.never.know.

          Huggggs again. Sunny here, today, so I am happy but have to work on stripping winter coat out of the dog.
          You know, a votive for the nest-builders outside.

          Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

          by riverlover on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:24:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Rec'd tipped hugged but not commented... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NCrissieB, kktlaw

      ...doing my part for Franken this a.m. chez winerev.

      and btw, for the rational types, there was a numbers based diary on the teabaggers that showed what dKoskoverage and dKosKovery (not in legal sense, Chef) can be.

      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      see ya tmr. Kudos to the Kommenters.

  •  good morning Crissie and Krew! (11+ / 0-)

    great to be around. I've been absent the last few days but ya'll have been in my thoughts, fer sure. ;D

    great diary Crissie, as usual. I fear you're working too hard. The shmucks over at WaPo get paid too well for far less. Maybe we ought to take up a collection!

    hugs everyone!!

    •  Wow ... I'm flattered. :) (8+ / 0-)

      I'm not entirely sure it's fair to compare Morning Feature to the WaPo (or any other newspaper) op-ed page, as this is an interrogatory rather than an expository form.  Morning Feature invites readers to a conversation, whereas a newspaper op-ed seeks to convince readers of a conclusion.  That gives me a different set of parameters to work with.  But thank you for the incredibly kind words!

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

      •  Perhaps WaPo is making a mistake (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DBunn, mdmslle, Dichro Gal, NCrissieB, kktlaw

        Certainly it is more interesting, productive and enlightening to be invited to a conversation than to merely be persuaded (or not) of someone else's conclusions.

        Perhaps if newspapers were not so quick to push conclusions on people they would have a greater readership.

        Quite agree that we thumbed talking critters are a storytelling species. I've seen some speculation that our knowledge of words is connected to stories we know about those words, that context gives words we use meaning and nuance.

        Quite a thought provoking piece this morning, but I will need some time to digest it. ::huggggggggggggs:: and good morning to all the Kula Krew and Crissie too. :)

        "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

        by Orinoco on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 07:08:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Orinoco, DBunn, Dichro Gal, kktlaw

          Briefly (and therefore inaccurately) stated, our language shape the ways we construct experience.  If you know 22 words describing kinds of snow, your experience of a snowy hillside will be more nuanced and detailed than that of someone who knows only one or two words describing kinds of snow.  That seems to carry over into syntax, gendering of nouns in the many languages where all nouns have gender, etc.

          Indeed that's one of the reasons I was given for the schools requiring foreign language classes.  To learn another language is to learn another way to experience the world.

          Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

    •  I've been saying the same thing. Repeatedly. (6+ / 0-)

      :)  

      Morning, mdmslle.  And huggggs!

      The austerity you see around you covers the richness of life like a veil -- Anonymous

      by winterbanyan on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:23:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I totally agree that people have different (13+ / 0-)

    narratives for history and I have had actual arguments with people about certain presidents where we've seen that person in a totally different light.  It's not because on person might be wrong and another right, its just that I see that president from the eyes of someone whose ancestors were black and someone else sees if from a perspective of their own culture and beliefs.  

    It's fascinating when it is a well informed disagreement.  It is scary when it isn't so much so.  lol

  •  Good Morning Crissie and Krew... (10+ / 0-)

    Let me expand that in view of my religion, Unitarian Universalist.  (>>>>getting up into the pulpit...)
    Our seven principles almost require us to be political.  We talk about justice, peace, respect and dignity, and the interdependent web.  It is an "us" religion...

    *The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    *Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    *Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    *A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    *The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    *The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    *Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

    All shall be well again, I'm telling you. Let the winter come and go. All shall be well again, I know. (S Carter)

    by MinervainNH on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:11:19 AM PDT

    •  That's common in most religions. (6+ / 0-)

      Most religions propose solutions for problems that also have solutions from political perspectives, and vice-versa.  To the extent that each narrative offers solutions for a common set of problems - and as both tend to be global narratives, that's inevitable - it is equally inevitable that those narratives collide.

      How we handle those collisions, both the us-us and the me-us conflicts, is really what this diary tries to question.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

      •  I do see the me-us in other religions... (7+ / 0-)

        I don't experience it in mine. I felt conflicted while listening to other sermons, dragged down by the dogma.  They say one thing, but their members act on other things.  
        Every religion/belief across the globe has a "do unto others..." built into their beliefs.  But, the way our principles are front and center, in every sermon preached, is a comfort to me.  

        All shall be well again, I'm telling you. Let the winter come and go. All shall be well again, I know. (S Carter)

        by MinervainNH on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:32:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I am also a UU - I do feel a conflict at times (7+ / 0-)

          that whole "inherent worth and dignity of EVERY person."  Sometimes I feel I want to revise that to ALMOST every person, when someone espouses something especially repugnant.  

          I love being a UU - I have met such intelligent, generous, and kind people in this congregation.  And more and more people are coming to our church lately.  It gives me hope.

          Here's where we meet - a converted (ha!) dairy barn...

          Photobucket

          "We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering!" - The Shoveler

          by Pandoras Box on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:51:24 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Oh...are you in New England? (5+ / 0-)

            Vermont, right?  We get requests to help you with funds, I think.

            All shall be well again, I'm telling you. Let the winter come and go. All shall be well again, I know. (S Carter)

            by MinervainNH on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:52:51 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  You are right about "almost"... (7+ / 0-)

            But, I heard Bill Sinkford during the elections last fall.  He said there must be some use in the likes of Sarah Palin, and we have to work extra hard to find that.  I think he was joking, sort of, given the smirk on his face.

            All shall be well again, I'm telling you. Let the winter come and go. All shall be well again, I know. (S Carter)

            by MinervainNH on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:58:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  we have some Republicans in our (5+ / 0-)

              congregation, and it is always a wonder to me how they balance their conservative political beliefs with our very liberal spiritual principles.  I still give them a hug when I'm a greeter tho.

              "We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering!" - The Shoveler

              by Pandoras Box on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:08:35 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  LOL... (6+ / 0-)

                Not one in mine...most are Democrats and a smattering of independents.  Not one Republican.

                All shall be well again, I'm telling you. Let the winter come and go. All shall be well again, I know. (S Carter)

                by MinervainNH on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:14:52 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Greetings and greeters (4+ / 0-)

                I was reared in a very staid, high church Episcopal Church where even singing too loudly was deemed 'just not done.'  The Sunday services were conducted as a prayerful hour just between me and God (or whomever one had on his/her mind that morning.)  There is a moment in the service that a Peace Be With You prayer was considered a 'blessing from God.'  Later, that became a giddy moment when we turned to those beside us, in front and behind us, and shook hands and greeted our neighbors.  And that is precisely when I quit attending church.

                The 'greeting' business moved the church from a serene quiet interaction with something holy, into a social atmosphere and I did not want to belong to that club.  

                •  I understand your perspective. (5+ / 0-)

                  Though I don't share it.  For me, religion is a social construct by its very nature.  It is another way we bond our "me" into an "us," and to strip it of that "us-ness" - sharing and enjoying each others' sharing - is to strip away something important at the core of (my narrative of) religion itself.

                  By the same token, I do understand your perspective, and I've known many people who agree with you.  I'm not saying you're wrong, but simply that our religion-narratives are very different.

                •  We just greet folks at the door (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  JFinNe, NCrissieB, kktlaw

                  on their way in, and try to determine who are the new visitors so we can show them where to hang their coats, get them a name tag - stuff like that.

                  But we have people at our church who feel just like you do - they don't want to be greeted and feel overwhelmed by the ubiquitous friendliness and very social atmosphere before and after church.  For me, I love that part and it's part of what connects me to our congregation.

                  I facilitate a little community circle which meets once a month - just 10-15 church members who get together outside of church and talk about whatever we feel like actually.  Some people's only connection to the church is this - the Sunday scene is just too much for them.

                  "We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering!" - The Shoveler

                  by Pandoras Box on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 08:48:15 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  OMG, Minerva, I have a story for you! (7+ / 0-)

              My grandmother was an alcoholic and on her fifth or sixth marriage when she died.  She had a funeral Mass at the Catholic church.  Being only 13 at the time, I probably shouldn't have felt like cracking up in laughter when the priest eulogized her, but it was all I could do to keep silent. My mother kept shooting me dirty looks as my sides heaved with the effort of holding the laughter in.

              The priest, faced with such a problematic and (in church terms) sinful deceased, had clearly tried to find something nice to say.

              "June was beloved by her family.  And while it is not given to us to know these things, I can say for certain that we all have a God-given purpose in life, and I'm sure June fulfilled hers."

              To this day I still grin.

              Huuuuggggs, Minerva!

              The austerity you see around you covers the richness of life like a veil -- Anonymous

              by winterbanyan on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:16:33 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  What's the one, someone can be a good example, (4+ / 0-)

              or a horrible warning? I'm thinking that's where Palin fits in.

              Good morning everyone! And :::Huuugggsss:::

              Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

              by FarWestGirl on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:43:33 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I sooooooooooo wanted to say yesterday ... (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Pandoras Box, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

                ... in response to the tacit argument that people always have reasons for what they do ...

                ... "Okay, please parse for me a representative sentence uttered by Sarah Palin."  If you can find in there anything other than random collections of words, you're doing way better than I am....

                Good morning! ::hugggggggggs::

        •  I'll have to learn more about (7+ / 0-)

          the Unitarian Universalist religion it sounds very promising.

          As you state

          They say one thing, but their members act on other things

          I find this frustrating enough to want to throttle some of them.  They seem to me to be self-rightous, hate filled people using their religion to promote their particular cause.  All three of my children as well as my son-in-law and daughter-in-law worked at the Olive Garden and hands down agreed that Sunday brunch was the absolute worst shift to work.  All the front pewers coming in w/frowns and scowls and looking for a fight.  They would frequently try to bait the wait staff with statements like "Why does the Olive Garden serve liquor?".  Of course spoken loudly and harshly, yet not once did any of these people choose to address their comments to management.

          As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. -John F. Kennedy

          by JaxDem on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:53:30 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  this "religion" of our convictions became so (11+ / 0-)

    clear to me when we lived Tokyo...  We could be having the most benign of conversations (like about our kids) with someone from the East Coast, California, Kentucky, Germany, India, and England and it was as if we were from different planets that had no connection to reality whatsoever. Everyone spoke in absolutes about the way kids are -- and there was almost no point on which everyone could agree, but we all assumed that we knew the absolute truth and no one (up until that point) had really considered how culturally based our assumptions were.

    Thankfully it was a lively and fun discussion that broaden our horizons and made each of us think about the spirit of these little creatures in our midst. But I can certainly see where one of us could have taken a hard line that our way is the truth, the proper way, and the world would be better off if we all learned to raise our kids according to that truth. I'd like to think I'm a better parent for having that broad view.

    Good Morning Crissie! Huggggggs for another great diary!

    Good Morning Krew! Huggggggs!  

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics" FDR

    by theKgirls on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:14:49 AM PDT

    •  Morning Kgirls - (5+ / 0-)

      missed you yesterday...huuugggs.

      As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. -John F. Kennedy

      by JaxDem on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:15:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  yeah, every once in a while I need to peel myself (7+ / 0-)

        away from the Morning Feature and accomplish something.  I try to keep that to a minimum, lest my family start to have some expectations of what I can get done each day. :D

        I've been avoiding taking care of myself while I take care of my kids and I figured it's time to get back to me. Yesterday was the dentist, next week it's a trip to Palm Springs for my mom's birthday, then off to the doctor after that.  Maybe I'll even get a hobby someday. Something that no one else in my family has any interest in whatsoever so it's all mine!

        Morning Jax! Huggggggs!

        "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics" FDR

        by theKgirls on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:28:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  That is often a worthy outcome. (7+ / 0-)

      Like you, I've had conversations where someone else's narrative was vastly different from my own, yet each of us was sufficiently willing to explore the others' that we had what might be called a moment of enlightenment: truly seeing events through an entirely different lens, if only for a brief time.

      And I'm sure we've both had the other kind of conversation as well.  Those are ... not so enlightening.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggs::

    •  Morning Kgirls, and hugs! (7+ / 0-)

      I'd like to hear more about those conversations.  They had to be illuminating and maybe somewhat Zen. LOL

      Huggggs!

      The austerity you see around you covers the richness of life like a veil -- Anonymous

      by winterbanyan on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:25:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  it started by watching a 2 mo old Japanese baby (10+ / 0-)

        eating a strawberry and everyone offered an opinion about the proper time to introduce solids and foods that may produce an allergic reaction. There was wide disagreement about peanut butter -- Americans feel that kids are fussy eaters and peanut butter is a godsend. Europeans and Asians just feed their kids and those kids eat things like blood sausage, kippers, and seaweed with nary a complaint.  It was quite illuminating and hilarious.  Then we started talking discipline (wow, there was HUGE cultural divisions there and not quite as much laughter). And things got more interesting as we launched into teenagers and society in general.

        I'm so glad to see my daughter's school has penpals because I think it should be mandatory to see the world from a different perspective.  Some days I think they would learn just as much from having a penpal in Omaha as one in Sydney...

        Morning Winter! Hugggggs

        "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics" FDR

        by theKgirls on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:44:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  You've blended the two together (8+ / 0-)

    magnificantly Crissie.  I'm printing this one up to save since there are so many avenues to take off from and as winter put it "important observations and more important questions."

    Happy Thursday morning to you and the krew.  Huuugggs to those who need 'em and want 'em.

    As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. -John F. Kennedy

    by JaxDem on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:15:04 AM PDT

  •  I Think You're Conflating "Religion" with (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LI Mike, NCrissieB

    Christian evangelicalism.

    Evangelicalism or "Christianism" as we often describe it is working to take over society. There are several authors who regularly diary about the several formal institutions that formulate and coordinate evangelicalism's move into the military, including military academies and into elected government. It's public knowledge that they've been founding their own educational system, from youth education over the past 30 years or so and onto higher education.

    They've got programs with formally stated missions to place evangelicals into all prominent sectors of culture and economy. They have programs to coordinate the infiltrating of liberal Protestant churches, stirring up fundamentalist Biblical issues, and taking over the congregational property. One of my mothers' last 2 churches was taken over this way, and the other narrowly fought it off although from what I've seen at a recent visit they may collapse in bankruptcy as a result.

    All this stuff is regularly diaried here with plenty of references, occasionally written up in the press, and you can all see the foundations of it first hand if you'd simply attend a megachurch service any Sunday and pay attention, as I've done periodically serving as a visiting wedding & funeral musician over the past 40 years.

    There is really no "religion" issue in America, aside from this somewhat quiet but large scale struggle. It's certainly nothing to do with mythology or "narratives."

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:15:19 AM PDT

  •  Sausage gravy and other enlightenments (10+ / 0-)

    Most of can almost pin point that moment Eureka! when we recognize that some things we read or see are presented from a specific point of view, of which hitherto, we were unaware.

    Mine was in college when as a Psychology class assignment, we read Loeb and Leopold - the story of two quite brilliant young men who kidnapped a young boy (Bobby Franks, I think) and killed him.  The chilling book was written from a Freudian POV with one example being the two kidnappers hid his body in a culvert translated into Freudian terms, they stuffed him back into his mother's womb.

    Another eye opener was the concept of Kosher cooking.  How could it be possible to live a compleat life without sausage milk gravy and biscuits or fried chicken and milk gravy made with the chicken drippings.  

  •  Our founders had it right (7+ / 0-)

    Keep "Church" and State separate and we will ALL live happier lives.   Somewhere along the line we allowed the 'clear line of separation' to be erased and we are ALL suffering for that mistake.

    becoming educated is now a Patriotic Act, our President said so!

    by KnotIookin on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:19:21 AM PDT

    •  Religion informs our political lives (8+ / 0-)

      like it or not.  You can separate church and state legally, but you cannot separate a voter, a congressman, a president or a judge from the conscience inculcated in him, often by religion.

      Some take broad principles from their training and education.  Others take a much narrower view, but you cannot take those things out of the people who pull the levers, either in the voting booth or in government.

      Looking at those lenses and asking questions of ourselves and others is the only useful thing to do.

      Hugggs.

      The austerity you see around you covers the richness of life like a veil -- Anonymous

      by winterbanyan on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:30:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  personal morals and ethics (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

        what we use as our personal guidelines has nothing to do with the arguement that RELIGION should not be allowed to dictate what the rule of law will be in a secular democracy.   render unto ceasar that which is ceasars and keep religion out of the house of government...and we WILL all be happier, in the end.

        becoming educated is now a Patriotic Act, our President said so!

        by KnotIookin on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:22:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And of Martin Luther King, Jr.? (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          winterbanyan, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

          His was a political effort, certainly, but it was conceived and largely carried out from a religious base.  King believed that segregation was a moral evil, even though it was legal, and called for his followers to oppose that evil through civil disobedience.  While they accepted civil punishment (and some UNcivil punishment) as inherent in that, they did not believe that punishment was "justice" even when it came in the form of law.  King taught that the law itself can be unjust.

          That teaching, which most of us now celebrate, had at its core a concept of morality which superceded the law.  He did not "render unto Caesar."  He said "Caesar is wrong."

          And King was right.  "Caesar" - expressed as Jim Crow - was wrong.

          •  MLK was not an ELECTED Official (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NCrissieB, KVoimakas

            he was speaking as a Pastor...

            it is the elected officials who choose to blur the 'clear line of separation' that I object to...  we are a secular nation politically or we are supposed to be.  When we forget to be one we do so at a risk to the very freedoms we hold so dear.

            becoming educated is now a Patriotic Act, our President said so!

            by KnotIookin on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 07:23:23 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I dunno ... a lot objected to Rick Warren. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kktlaw

              And I don't blame them for objecting to Rick Warren, by the way.  Both King and Warren purported to offer religious narratives.  The problem isn't that Warren's narrative is religious; the problem is that it's bigoted and wrong.

    •  Some of our Framers believed that. (6+ / 0-)

      Not all did, however, and there are remnants of that unresolved dispute scattered throughout our earliest civic documents, including the Constitution.  This is not a new debate.

      And that isn't exactly the question I was exploring, though admittedly it's related to that.  Rather, the question I was exploring is how we react when two different narratives - different religions, different political philosophies, or one of each - collide in an us-us or me-us setting.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

  •  Different narratives (7+ / 0-)

    Okay, gonna try... with a bit of caffeine. :)

    I can understand why you chose politics and religion as two lenses through which people see things.  But behind those lenses are a great many narratives.

    As a novelist, I have to be leery of those narratives and lenses, because if I take a wrong step I can jar my reader out of a book.  And if the step is a big one, in terms of commonly accepted narratives, it'll either be slashed from the book or I'll get bags of mail from unhappy readers.

    It is my job to hold up a mirror.  Not to teach, instruct, argue, but to hold up a mirror.  Unfortunately, there are so many narratives and lenses out there that I will often hold up a mirror that some find distorted.  And the further I get from the most widely accepted narratives behind those lenses, the more likely something is to be slashed from a book...or engender bags full of angry mail.

    Yet what I write IS a mirror.  And you, the reader, are looking into it.  What you see there mirrors your world view at least to some extent.  It is my job, and my curse, to see things just a little bit differently so I can write about these narratives.  But the only person in the mirror is you.

    Huuuuuugsssss and Happy Thursday to everyone!

    The austerity you see around you covers the richness of life like a veil -- Anonymous

    by winterbanyan on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:19:37 AM PDT

    •  As a novelist I agree. (7+ / 0-)

      I had one book shredded by both pro-war activists who believed it was an argument against the Iraq War, and by anti-war activists who believed it glorified the Iraq War.  The book wasn't about the Iraq War.  In fact, it wasn't even set in our 'reality,' as it was plainly a fantasy novel.  But as far as each of those critics were concerned, it was a commentary on the Iraq War, and a bad commentary because it wasn't the argument they'd have made.

      I didn't argue with either of them.  The story they read had only the most tangential contact with the story I wrote, and my own aesthetic position is that my readers are allowed to read whatever stories they find in my work.  In that sense, the stories are what you said: mirrors rather than lenses.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggggs::

  •  asdf (8+ / 0-)

    Those are "us-us" narrative collisions, but there's another kind as well.  Call it "me-us."  It's the conflict we feel when some element of our lives invokes or seems to invoke a narrative counter to our religious or political beliefs.  Can you enjoy this kind of book, movie, or hobby and still be faithful to your religion, or your politics?  Can you play Go, a game of claiming and defending your own and invading your opponent's territory, and still be progressive?  What TV shows or sports can you like, or dislike?  And if you ask that question, someone - religious or political - will be ready with an answer of "No

    I have what (I think) is a pretty good example of this:

    I don't like Dick Cheney or the ends justify the means philosophy (when it comes to the republicans anyway) but I thoroughly enjoy watching Vic Makey (who was once characterized as Cheney with more muscular pecs) beat the crap out of some drug dealer on TV to get him to leave the country.

    As a human, I'm a living cycle of endless contradictions. I hate smokers but I did (a while [years] ago) smoke a cigar. I see my interest in firearms contradicting the opinion of a vast majority of the people I identify with (you guys.)

    I espouse certain doctrines but I, like everyone else, can be a hypocrite at times.

    Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.62, -3.44

    by KVoimakas on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:20:47 AM PDT

    •  Is it always hypocrisy? (6+ / 0-)

      Isn't hypocrisy itself a narrative that assumes all of our likes, dislikes, interests, and beliefs must fit a coherent, overarching narrative?  And who gets to define the parameters of that narrative?  If we see a meaningful distinction (e.g.: fiction versus reality) but someone else does not, whose parameters govern whether the "narrative" of Kviomakas "makes sense" or whether that "narrative" is hypocritical?

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

      •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        guyeda, NCrissieB

        mine. your's.

        I might be a hypocrite in someone's eyes (or my own) but not in someone else's. It depends on your point of view.

        When it comes to hypocrisy, the only person's opinion that matters is your's. Which becomes very interesting considering how much we delude ourselves on a daily basis.

        Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.62, -3.44

        by KVoimakas on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:38:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  "how much we delude ourselves on a daily basis" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kktlaw, FarWestGirl

          That was a key question in today's Morning Feature, and thank you for bringing it to light.  It goes to the very heart of Cartesian analysis, which assumes that what we "perceive distinctly and plainly" must, of necessity, be "real."

          A lot of the time, it's delusion.  Perhaps comfortable, perhaps even necessary, but delusion nonetheless.

          •  If you really want to get into it: (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NCrissieB

            what does 'real' mean anyway?

            My perception determines my reality.

            Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.62, -3.44

            by KVoimakas on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 07:17:01 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  We've discussed that before ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kktlaw

              ... here in Morning Feature.  There is an extent to which "perception is reality," but only a limited extent.  At some point you can't bluff the universe, and no amount of insisting the facts are X will make them X.

              One example I used was the Bush administration's statements about how the Iraq War was progressing.  They kept saying, stubbornly, insistently, repeatedly that we'd won and were just mopping up the last few insurgents, that the media weren't reporting the real truth of the victory, etc., in stubborn denial of the many contradictory reports coming from reporters, Iraqis, and even our own troops.  They tried to enforce their perception as everyone's reality, but that only works so far.

              The contrasting example I used was the Obama candidacy, which almost no one gave any chance of winning the nomination back in 2007.  It was a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, and likely the next president.  But the Obama people refused to bend to that perception, and indeed were able to create a different reality.

              So belief in the face of contradictory evidence is not always foolish, but neither does it guarantee that you can impose your own reality.  Reality is plastic, but it's not entirely plastic, and we can only bend it so far.

              •  Good point. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                NCrissieB, kktlaw

                And I should have been a touch more specific. When I say my perception colours/determines my reality, I don't mean that my point of view makes something 'real' and therefore correct or true.

                Better example:
                I am colour blind. In my world, dark blue, black, dark green, and dark purple all look the same. I might be able to discern the difference if they were right next to each other but I wouldn't put money on it. I also see blue as purple (depending on the shade.) I have a blue shirt (or so I'm told) that I don't wear because I see purple.

                Different example:
                I'm fat. I know this (255lbs) but I used to be even more overweight. People see me after I've lost 65 lbs and go 'Kyle, you're skinny now!' And my response is the same to each: "No, I'm just less fat."

                Does this influence other people's reality? No. And that wasn't my point (sorry if that's how it came across.) I can insist a shirt is purple (and have done so on occasion) but that doesn't mean other people are going to see things my way.

                I remain fat to myself (just not as much) and to people who didn't know me when I was fatter.

                Blue is still purple to me and therefore part of my reality.

                Abolish gun control, marriage, and helmet laws. -7.62, -3.44

                by KVoimakas on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 07:50:40 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  A 'fill in the blanks' that we do automatically, (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NCrissieB, kktlaw

            like the way the brain fills in the space where we're blinking and we perceive our vision as continuous.

            Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

            by FarWestGirl on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 07:26:27 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Had (10+ / 0-)

    qto laugh at your description of others projecting their own thoughts into/onto your work. As a songwriter, I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I know just what you were saying." Only to find out that I wrote about my cat and his litter box, and they were hearing a love gone bad. Fun though.

    Common Sense is not Common

    by RustyBrown on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 05:23:29 AM PDT

  •  Good morning and hugs to all (8+ / 0-)

    Great diary, Crissie.  When I read the title I thought, "Oh boy, it's going to be hard to be persuaded by this argument" but you convinced me from the first paragraph that the two are related.  

    As usual, I'm going to be thinking about this all day.  Thanks for another really great diary.  I especially love your diaries when you challenge me as much as this one did.
    I wish everyone a beautiful day.  We're off for a walk, so I'll check in later to read all the comments.

  •  I got it bad, ie, seeng things through a pol lens (7+ / 0-)

    I'm a Dodger fan and a friend is a Yankee fan. We used to argue which franchise was the more liberal. Me: Dodgers, of course, they broke the color barrier. She: Yankess of course, they didn't flee the city even when things got really bad; they're committed to the urban fan. They stayed in the South Bronx for crying out loud.

    And with that, I'm off to get ready to see the opening of the new Yankee Stadium and the home opener and to continue the debate. And for both of us to mock teabaggers between innings.

    Another terrific diary Chrissie.

    •  That was part of where the idea began. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      addisnana, theKgirls, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

      Not the Dodgers-Yankees debate, but rather the debate about the NCAA men's basketball championship game between North Carolina and Michigan State, and which of those teams "progressives" should root for.  I found myself wondering when one's choice of a favored team became a political statement, then remembered my time living in D.C. and the eternal feud over whether area residents should support the local team (the Redskins) or remain faithful to the teams from their home towns.  I don't think I need to explain the presumed political implications there....

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

  •  The questions makes sense (5+ / 0-)

    when we are talking about religions whose perspective can be thought of as providing a single lens as it were; a single reality, and a single narrative.  

    One liberating experience for me is exposure to religious perspectives (generally polytheistic) that contain multiple truths and that encourage multiple narratives.  That is, they encourage  "me-me" conflicts in the language of your diary.

    These "me-me" conflicts tend to resolve all the me-us and us-us difficulties.

  •  Cognitive Dissonance (7+ / 0-)

    The collision of different lenses, as Crissie puts it, also describes the psychological construct of cognitive dissonance. When an individual experiences these conflictual narratives--when cognitive information about what they see or do or want disagrees with their beliefs--a dissonance arises that is largely unsustainable. The human instinct is to actually close down the dissonant distance and lop off, as Crissie says, the discordant elements.

    We do the same thing when we judge and observe others--individuals and groups. I run little cognitive dissonance experiments for my writing and critical thinking students. The key thing I want them to learn is that they need to sustain that state of cognitive dissonance in order to be open to discovering the truths that lie somewhere in the middle of that dissonant field.

    Thanks to Crissie for her wonderful insights.

  •  Answer narratives vs question narratives (9+ / 0-)

    In both religion and politics there are narratives which stress "the answer" and narratives which stress the questions or process. For me the biggest narrative collisions are with people who have the answer (the right answer) before the question is fully articulated.

  •  Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels (6+ / 0-)

    And religion is the first

    If Liberals really hated America we'd vote Republican

    by exlrrp on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:01:42 AM PDT

    •  And yet somewhere ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, winterbanyan, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

      .. as a social species, we need refuges of shared experience.  Our brains aren't hardwired for exclusive me-ness, and the separateness of our bodies precludes exclusive us-ness.  We spend much of our lives trying to bridge that gap, and I'm not sure we're ever comfortable with all of those bridges ... especially when some event happens that is so inescapably senseless that it defies coherent narration.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

  •  This is a great one!!! (8+ / 0-)

    You put some wonderful perspective on an experience I had yesterday.

    Professionally, I'm the director of a non-profit working with troubled youth. Yesterday we brought some folks in to our staff meeting to talk to us. It was two black men who are working with a group of late-teen to early 20's "gangsters." They also brought two young black men they're working with to the discussion.

    As these young men told their stories of growing up with no stable family, no home, and basically no one to care about them - coming together with their friends for protection and a place of belonging - getting targeted by police in their EVERY move - I heard a powerful life narrative that I have never experienced.

    Due to my work I see the beginning stages of all of this daily. But to hear it from two young men who are on the other side and reflecting was powerful beyond words.

    The narrative of fear that we want to tell ourselves about young men like this juxtaposed with their amazing wisdom as well as their need for comfort, respect and guidance is something I'd like the whole world to hear.

    •  So often overlooked ... (7+ / 0-)

      ... in the stories of "gangs" from any era is why those gangs came to exist at all.  In most cases, the gang provided a social coherence that was lacking in the greater society, for whatever reason.  Often the reason was race, ethnicity, or national origin, where the greater society simply didn't feel the issues of "those people" were worth hearing or addressing.  So "those people" formed their own groups to hear and address their own issues, and to the extent that their having created their own social cohesion, or the ways they did so, brought them in conflict with The Powers That Be ... they were labeled (or became in fact) "criminal gangs."

      Ironically, from the inside - as best I can discern from conversations, reading, etc. - they often see the government as little more than "the biggest, best funded criminal gang."  And sometimes it's hard not to agree with that assessment.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggggs::

  •  This ties in to today's feature (5+ / 0-)

    Came across this from Washington Monthly

    THE UNSHAKABLE VICTIM MINDSET.... Fox News' Martha MacCallum host an on-air segment yesterday, telling viewers, "I think most people accept that there is ... an anti-Christian bias in this country. It's fine to bash pretty much, you know, the only acceptable bash-able group. You know, 'Ha ha ha, look at the Catholic Church.'"

    while reading this diary by RussellKing over at Street Prophets. which is full of interesting tidbits.  

    As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. -John F. Kennedy

    by JaxDem on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 06:46:07 AM PDT

    •  There is plainly an anti-X bias in the U.S. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      myrealname, JaxDem, kktlaw

      And that is plainly true, regardless of the value of X.  You can find some group who make a point of criticizing another group, idea, or belief ... no matter which group, idea, or belief you posit as the target.  It is someone's target.

      As a psychology professor once put it: "We really need to reconsider the definition of paranoia.  If you're alive, someone is out to get you."

    •  Everyone is the star of their own movie (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JaxDem, NCrissieB, kktlaw

      There is something of an imperative to interpret events in terms of what they might mean for each of us. For some people, that can slide over into interpreting all things as being all about them.

      The block quote shows a person who sure is attached to a particular narrative with a specific plot and cast of characters!

      Here's a new narrative for Martha MacCallum-- lots of us would be happy to live our whole lives without without thinking about her or her religious views. If she wants us out of her face, all she has to do is get out of ours.

  •  I am ideologically opposed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    myrealname, DBunn, NCrissieB, kktlaw

    to all ideologies.

    Opposition to an ideology is not inherently another ideology. When you're at the South Pole, there's no other direction to go but north.

    by sxwarren on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 07:27:09 AM PDT

  •  Stimulatin' diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    myrealname, NCrissieB, kktlaw

    Synapses firing in all directions today! I'll just pick one direction, and go there.

    Yes, we are a social species. We're not designed to survive purely as individuals in the natural world. Instead, we live in our social group, and the group collectively survives in the world. Therefore, a large portion of our effort and involvement is directed towards maintaining social relationships within the group, and supporting the effective functioning of the social group as a whole.

    The universal human compulsion to create narratives complete with characters, imputed motivations, moral coloration, and projected outcomes seems like a very useful tool for managing social relationships.

    As for effective functioning of the social group as a whole, clearly there needs to be a sufficient degree of cohesion and unity of purpose. A shared narrative, whether religious or political, supports cohesion and unity. In your diary, you point out that our constructed narratives can have a somewhat spotty relationship with objective reality. I agree, of course. An interesting question is, how accurate does the narrative have to be in order to be useful-- that is, to confer survival value for the social group? Arguably, there is not and never has been a perfect narrative-- one that corresponds exactly with reality, with nothing left out and nothing extra thrown in-- and yet we, the species that lives by our narratives, are all still here.

    If a narrative conforms at least somewhat well with reality, we can see some survival value there. The areas of non-conformance may not have great practical significance. For example, it doesn't matter much in this world what really happens to our souls after we die, but the moral implications of a widely shared belief in Heaven may have great social utility.

    Within a certain range of accuracy, it may matter less that one narrative is more accurate than another, than that we all agree on the same narrative as a social group, so we can all act together in a coordinated fashion. Consider George Bush's approval ratings after 9/11, which amounted to 90% or more of Americans all agreeing on the same (crappy) story, at least for a time. Because this phenomenon is so widespread, we can assume it is an instinctive behavior, meaning that over the course of evolution it has tended to confer survival value.

    Of course, not all social groups have survived. It is possible for a shared narrative to be so out of touch with reality that it becomes a liability rather than an asset to survival. We can invoke the sad stories of the Easter Islanders and the Greenland Norse here-- two societies that rode lousy narratives right over the cliff's edge. In our day, a large social coalition has united behind the narrative of global warming denial. That may be their story, but I'd advise them not to stick to it.

    •  I very much agree with this part: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DBunn, kktlaw

      An interesting question is, how accurate does the narrative have to be in order to be useful-- that is, to confer survival value for the social group? Arguably, there is not and never has been a perfect narrative - one that corresponds exactly with reality, with nothing left out and nothing extra thrown in - and yet we, the species that lives by our narratives, are all still here.

      If a narrative conforms at least somewhat well with reality, we can see some survival value there. The areas of non-conformance may not have great practical significance. For example, it doesn't matter much in this world what really happens to our souls after we die, but the moral implications of a widely shared belief in Heaven may have great social utility.

      My follow-up questions: how much of its narrative must a group member adopt to be welcomed?  How much of its narrative must a group member adopt to feel at home?  And to what degree does participation in a different group, with a different narrative, say anything about one's allegiance to the group(s) of which one is already a member?

      As to your last paragraph:

      Of course, not all social groups have survived. It is possible for a shared narrative to be so out of touch with reality that it becomes a liability rather than an asset to survival. We can invoke the sad stories of the Easter Islanders and the Greenland Norse here-- two societies that rode lousy narratives right over the cliff's edge. In our day, a large social coalition has united behind the narrative of global warming denial. That may be their story, but I'd advise them not to stick to it.

      There is a certain social utility in apocalyptic narrative elements: the group needn't worry as much about the practical utility of the rest of its narrative.  When an apocalypse happens, that merely proves out that element of the narrative, and even if they all die - as we all do sooner or later - they die believing they were right.  I find that a frightening utility, but for many it's comforting.

      •  You are a great conversationalist (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NCrissieB

        How much of its narrative must a group member adopt to be welcomed?  How much of its narrative must a group member adopt to feel at home?

        Since we live in a social ecology, we are highly attuned to threats from other humans. Thus, the degree of perceived threat probably affects the degree of conformity to the official narrative that is required. When the dominant hierarchy feels secure, they can tolerate some divergence from, or only casual subscription to, the official narrative. When they feel threatened, the hierarchy will require more rigorous and fervent compliance.

        Let's test this hypothesis. In the McCarthy period, there was a great fear of Communism, which we can call an alternative narrative sponsored by a rival hierarchy. Suddenly, everyone had to be signing loyalty oaths and whatnot.

        Religious fundamentalisms of every stripe map pretty well to this model. A side effect of modernity and globalism has been the penetration of external cultural influences into areas where a single dominant culture had previously enjoyed a monopoly. The reaction is an intensified requirement for demonstrations of loyalty to a buffed-up version of the local theology.

        Sad to say, feminism or its precursors (namely, women living with some degree of independence and self-determination) is especially alarming to entrenched hierarchies that sense some other, external threat. It has always been the concern of male primates to control who "their" females mate with. Human social groups could be described as coalitions of males cooperating to exclude other males from access to a pool of females. An alternative narrative is at least analogous to, if not absolutely indicative of, the presence of a rival group of males. The notion that "liberated" females could choose to go their own way under such circumstances is anathema, because they might mate with the other guys. This may be why religious fundamentalism seems to be so concerned with the strict obedience of females to whatever their theological narrative happens to be. Absent the threat of an alternative narrative (analogous to a rival group of males), there is no particular reason that females should not be allowed to act as they please-- after all, no matter how they choose to live their lives, who else are they going to mate with besides the local, dominant male hierarchy?

        •  That's a viable narrative, certainly. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn

          It tags onto a narrative I've often offered about war.  I've suggested war is at its root an exercise in genetic dominance/fusion, where the objective is to kill enough of another tribe's males, and mate with enough of the females, that either the losing tribe is subsumed into the winner, or the two become so intermingled as to be essentially one.  In this narrative, the political, economic, and/or cultural reasons usually offered for war are mere pretext.

          Both your narrative and the one I just offered can be mapped to enough events that they seem to offer some explanatory value.  And both have a common flaw: they rely very heavily on confirmation bias.  Both declare non-conforming evidence to be pretextual, thus not to be trusted, preserving only the evidence that maps to the narrative.  Yet at some level both have something important to teach us, even if neither is as complete an explanation as it purports to be.

          And that's a common problem with Big Narratives.  They often claim to explain more than they can, to offer more coherence than is present in the events themselves.  Big Narratives usually do that by ignoring non-conforming evidence, but as I'm fond of saying: "Any theory is true if you ignore the non-conforming evidence."

          I've seen that pattern hold often enough that I've become inherently suspicious of Big Narratives.  The wider the scope of events a narrative purports to explain, the more likely that narrative has to ignore non-conforming evidence in order to prove its case.

          •  Science as narrative (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NCrissieB

            (Before I get in too much deeper, I should make it clear that I don't have any credentials to be talking about this stuff. Not that that's ever stopped me, heh.)

            Science could be considered a type of narrative, in that it accounts for things that happen in the objective world, makes predictions, etc. But it differs from the types of narrative that we've been discussing in that it lacks characters and moral coloration. Maybe that's why some people find it so threatening-- science doesn't care about us.

            Speaking of Big Narratives, how about that Theory of Evolution! Both you and I, in the last two comments, have been trying to fit what we see out there into the evolutionary narrative. Somewhat successfully, IMHO.

            And then there's the concept of Brownian motion, which, if I remember my high school physics, allows that a volume of gas can be in a given state without each individual molecule within that volume being in that state. In a hot gas featuring a great deal of molecular motion, some molecules will be quite motionless.

            I don't know if any of that narrative applies to this observation

            Big Narratives usually do that by ignoring non-conforming evidence, but as I'm fond of saying: "Any theory is true if you ignore the non-conforming evidence."

            ... but it might. The fact that an individual case does not conform to the prediction of some Big Narrative does not necessarily mean that the narrative is not useful. Instead, it could mean that the narrative predicts where the fat part of the distribution curve will be, but not where every individual outcome will fall on that curve.

            The behavior of a molecule in a volume of gas reflects the sum of all forces acting on that molecule. Returning now to our human experience, living our lives as individuals and social beings... I am romantic enough to believe that awareness, rationality, and free will are among the "forces" that determine the path of our individual lives. As are the unconscious imperatives of the genetic derby, our evolved instincts. What we know, the logic we use, our personal tastes and preferences, and the choices we make obviously have a large, even determinative, effect on the storylines of our lives. But over a large population, these things will be somewhat random. My warped logic and odd preferences are cancelled out by yours. But along with these random factors, that can push any of us in any direction, we all feel the unconscious, non-random force of evolutionary logic, nudging all of us in the same direction. That nudge might not be enough to change any individual outcome, yet over a large sample, could still be a useful predictor of the overall shape of events.

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