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Yesterday we began exploring how and why some Americans treat religion as politics or politics as religion.  Today we'll explore that topic further, but in a more generalized way that may point toward some balance points between our individual and social need for Big Narratives - global, unifying lenses through which to construct events - and our need to address real problems and find real solutions for real people.

And it being Friday, your intrepid Kossologist peeked at the stars while Woofie the Younger did his dootie.  There was a common scent to both....

Religion, Politics, and Big Narratives

Yesterday we began a discussion of how and why some Americans treat religion as politics and politics as religion.  Both religious beliefs and political philosophies are what I call Big Narratives: global, unifying lenses through which to view the events in our lives.

They are global in that they offer explanations and guidance on any and every aspect of human experience: relationships, work, hobbies, even the clothes we wear and the foods we eat.  We find that comforting because it gives us a coherent narrative for our lives, an overarching story with a common set of heroes, villains, victims, motivations, strategies, and some proposed resolution.  Absent these narratives, events can seem so complex as to be inexplicable, so random as to be unpredictable.  Because we need to explain in order to predict, and to predict in order to prepare, we seek global narratives to better adapt to events, to avoid dangers and seize opportunities.

These narratives are unifying in that they offer a bridge across the me-us gap.  Our social nature is neither abstract nor arbitrary; indeed, it is biological.  Large parts of our brains are hardwired to enable modes of cognition that make sense only for a social species: facial recognition, mirroring, language, and others.  Yet our individual nature is equally biological, down to unique collections of genetic patterns that form each person's DNA.  Unifying narratives allow us to construct experiences that are similar enough that we can share them, bond to one another around that sharing, and build an us-life that is more than just a collection of individual, unrelated me-lives.

Big Narratives inevitably collide.

The collisions between Big Narratives are usually less the product of a grand plan than simply that they offer guidance for the same set of problems.  That's inevitable, because by definition any Big Narrative offers guidance for any and every aspect of human experience.  There is an evangelical Protestant, or a Catholic, or a Jewish, or a Muslim, or a Unitarian, or a Buddhist, or a conservative, libertarian, fascist, progressive, socialist, or other-ist narrative of anything and everything humans can experience or imagine.  Raise any issue before a large enough audience, and it's likely two or more Big Narratives will offer an explanation of why the problem exists, who the heroes, villains, victims, and their motivations are, what strategies each is or may try to adopt, and what resolution should be sought.

As we discussed yesterday, we meet difficulty when Big Narratives collide.  When two people or groups are constructing experience through different narratives, it seems as if they inhabit different worlds.  Each can easily think the other out of touch with reality, when the problem is that each is out of touch with the others' narrative.  They've gone through life writing different stories, along different patterns, in part from events unique to their own experiences.  Even where the stories are "based on" common events, they are different stories, each with its own heroes, villains, victims, motivations, strategies, and resolutions.  And while each offers a sense of completeness, none is truly complete.

Big Narratives simplify events.

All narratives simplify events, because the nature of narrative is to select the characters, motivations, strategies, and other elements that tell a coherent story.  Events rarely make sense on their own; their dots usually don't come with convenient lines of connection.  Rather we make sense of them by means of narrative, selecting and connecting dots that provide a coherent story arc in much the same way and for the same reason that a statistician might draw a "best fit" curve:


Note that very few of the data points actually fall on that "best fit" curve.  It describes a pattern to the data, but you can't predict the exact data at any point along the curve from the curve itself.

Big Narratives work much the same way.  They simplify and offer a pattern to events, but that comes at a cost.  In order to treat the narrative as "reality" you must ignore events that don't fall on its proposed "best fit" curve.  Not surprisingly, the broader a narrative's scope - the more varied the events it claims to explain - the more likely it has to ignore events that don't fit its pattern, and the more events it has to ignore.

In policy-making, the simplicity of Big Narratives comes at a heavy cost, because those non-conforming events are real problems for real people.  A policy based on a Big Narrative - any Big Narrative - is likely to leave a lot of real people's real problems without any real solutions.  It may work brilliantly along the "best fit" curve of the narrative, but few of our lives fall exactly on that "best fit" curve.

If the objective is to preserve the Big Narrative, those whose lives don't fall on its "best fit" curve will be ignored.  Indeed, most Big Narratives have built-in rationalizations for why policy-makers should ignore the non-conforming data.  "They brought it on themselves."  "The greater good for the greater number."  "They're lying."  "They're being selfish."  Anything but "This solution doesn't work for them."

Small Narratives have their own problems.

It would seem that the better solution is to adopt smaller narratives, stories that encompass and thus better fit a smaller data set.  And to some extent that's true.  One Size Fits All policy solutions often do become All Must Fit One Size, and when that can't happen, One Size Fits None.  We end up with policies that would be perfect, if only everyone's lives fell along some "best fit" curve.  But they don't, and can't, and so the "perfect" policy ends up a nightmare of coercion or futility.  In many cases, smaller, local solutions, though messier in terms of any Big Narrative, would have provided more real solutions to more real people.

Yet Small Narratives aren't a complete solution either.  They don't offer as much unifying, me-us cultural utility as Big Narratives.  And they can encourage an amoral narrative relativism that many of us find troubling and even reject as fundamentally unjust.  Americans fought a Civil War because we could not abide local solutions to the issue of slavery.  The pleasant maxim of "live and let live" - a call for Small Narratives - is of little value when confronted with genocide, soul-crushing poverty, or the unchecked virulence of preventable disease.  A complete commitment to Small Narratives leaves the impression of having no guiding principles.

Indeed, a complete commitment to Small Narratives is itself a kind of Big Narrative, one that says we shouldn't look for "best fit" patterns at all for fear of ignoring the non-conforming data.  Pick a problem, work at it in the most locally optimized manner, and hope the whole solution - if it can be seen as a singular whole at all - will be more than the sum of its parts.

You can make the argument that George Bush's weakness was too great a commitment to Big Narratives, grand ideas proposing "best fit" curves that blithely ignored any data that didn't fit the narrative.  You can make the argument that Barack Obama's weakness is too great a commitment to Small Narratives, individuated policies narrowly tailored to specific problems, lacking any grounding in or fidelity to the greater vision of any Big Narrative.

In both cases, you could find evidence to support those arguments.  In both cases, you'd have to ignore evidence that doesn't.  That's because while our narratives can be "based on" actual events, the narratives are always simplifications.  They may be useful, even necessary.  But that doesn't make them "real."


Speaking of reality, there really were stars visible this morning while Woofie the Younger was doing his dootie.  The rest ... is narrative:

Aries - It's been your month, so we're blaming you for tea bagging.  And taxes.  If that seems unfair, lie about your birthday.

Taurus - You are ruled by Venus, which has a crushingly heavy, hot, toxic atmosphere.  Just sayin'....

Gemini - You like to explore a little bit of everything, and that's good.  But please explore a little bit less of my dinner next time.

Cancer - It's unfair to call you a lunatic because you are ruled by the Moon.  We'll find another reason.

Leo - Don't look for the ghost that isn't hiding under your bed.  You might not find that it's not there.

Virgo - Not saying you're too organized, but the ghosts that aren't under your bed are in perfectly straight lines.

Libra - Your eternal quest for an easy, uncomplicated life will be messed up by someone, again.

Scorpio - The two-headed cow in your dreams is not a cue that you need a double-cheeseburger.  With bacon.

Sagittarius - After months of random screw ups, you're due for some intentional screw ups.

Capricorn - Stop complaining about your love life, or we'll start explaining why.

Aquarius - You're ruled by Saturn and Uranus.  Rings around Uranus.  Doesn't that figure.

Pisces - Try to turn a fantasy into reality.  With a Capricorn.  At least they'll hush.


Happy Friday!

Originally posted to NCrissieB on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 03:49 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I love my Kossakscope (17+ / 0-)

    Much more accurate than my horoscope. Happy weekend, everybody! My plans for the weekend look something like this:

    Mr. Ilya

    "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."-- Isaac Asimov.

    by ssundstoel on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 03:52:35 AM PDT

  •  Wow, your big narrative of the small (11+ / 0-)

    narratives explains so much.  Or is that your small narrative of the big narratives ...?  Whatever.  Very interesting, thank you.

    look back, Obama, look back!

    by tovan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 04:06:37 AM PDT

  •  Good morning Crissie & krew (10+ / 0-)

    Hugggs to all.

    Quick post as my grandson will be here shortly.  Yesterday and again today the Allegory of the cave kept popping into my mind.  Today's diary, as with yesterday's, have opened so many avenues to consider and explore as well as having expanded my perception - at least for the time being.  

    Kossascope in mind; this is comment is still one of my many random screw-ups ;~}  

    Have a great weekend all...

    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 Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 04:08:27 AM PDT

  •  Crissie, great diary--good food for thought (12+ / 0-)

    I'm glad to catch you this morning! Giant morning hugs to make up for all the days when I had to get going before y'all arrived. (There now, start breathing again--sorry about those ribs)

  •  Narratives, big and small are important in (12+ / 0-)

    giving me structure in order to "tell a story." I never would have verbalized it as such, but it's a useful construct, Crissie, and thanks! I also notice that when I'm feeling negative, I will include some of the "off-track" topics as complaints, and when I'm feeling more positive, I'll stay on my narrative track and ignore the diversions that don't fit my narrative. Or, I may express sympathy or empathy as I encounter the diversions from my reality within my narrative. Great topic! Wonderfully written. Good morning Crissie and Krew and big Friday Huuuugggggs!

  •  Addressing Obama (9+ / 0-)

    in the small and big narratives view, I see him as essentially trying to take or make small narratives fit into an all encompassing big narrative.

    And addressing 'ists,' plf wrote a stunning diary a while back on the premise that when the 'ists' become 'isms,' therein lies the rub.  Even if one were to say, for example, I am a conservationist, would be much different than if one were to say I adhere to the ethos of conservationism, which might leave to to think of someone still using corn cobs in an out house.

    •  You mean people have stopped with corn cobs? (9+ / 0-)

      Umm ... what have they used as a replacement? ;)

      Seriously, I agree.  Big Narratives are useful, and we do need them.  We also need to be aware of their limits, and not get so committed to preserving the Big Narrative that we lose sight of real people, real problems, and real solutions.  The balance points are never easy, but if life were easy we'd have solved it a long, long time ago....

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggggs::

      •  Tea Baggers (6+ / 0-)

        Putting it nicely, it would seem that it is the small narrative thinking (not addressing MY issue) that leads to the Obama carping here on DKos.  

        What small narrative are the tea baggers part of?  Their complaints were so diverse, that it's hard to see any cohesion as a result - not that I was expecting cohesion.

      •  Parallel narratives are interesting. The first (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        winterbanyan, NCrissieB

        thing I thought of looking at your chart above was to wonder if there was a consistent difference between the patients around the drawn curve and the ones on the upper curve that isn't drawn; age, gender, diabetes or other disease process, etc. Some curves are very similar but for one factor. In that chart the factor decreases until they converge. I suppose if they stayed parallel that it could go either way for whether the commonalities that make them parallel or the factor that makes them different mediate their interaction.

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

        by FarWestGirl on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 05:53:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You looked at the graph more deeply than I did! (0+ / 0-)

          I selected it simply because it was the most visually accessible "best fit" curve I found in a quick search of Google Images.  I've no idea what the dots represent, and for my purposes all that mattered was that it was an image I could use to show how "best fit" curves don't predict individual events.  Which is a long way of saying ... I don't know how to discuss your question, because I don't know what "story" that graph is telling.

          Good morning! ::huggggggggggs::

          •  lol! Sorry, it's medical and showed interesting (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DBunn, NCrissieB

            patterns. The idea of parallel narratives went meta, though. A lot of religions have parallels, but they're offset by consistent differences. Their stories are the same except, for instance; Was Jesus a son of God, or the son of God, etc. And whether the septs concentrate on what they have in common or what makes them different determines whether or not they'll fight.

            Sorry, got distractd by the picture and separated from the pack.

            Good morning! :::Huuugggss:::

            Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

            by FarWestGirl on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 07:06:12 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  No need to apologize! (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Once you mentioned it, I looked back that the graph, wondering if there were some parallels there, and I just can't say one way or another.  I don't know what the data are, or what "story" that curve tells.  I'd be commenting in complete ignorance, and I try not to do that when it'll be too obvious I'm doing so.... ;)

              As to the parallels of religious narratives, there are some, though not as many as most Americans tend to assume.  For an excellent introduction to that, I suggest Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't.  He is the chair of the religion department at Boston University, and one of his core theses in the book is that it's a mistake to think all religions try to answer the same questions.  He proposes, for example, that Christianity (and to a lesser degree Judaism and Islam) are about the question of sin, whereas Buddhism is about the question of suffering, and the ways those are not quite the same question are as important as any similarities you find.

    •  True. Some big narratives are more robust. (9+ / 0-)

      They can tolerate a wider range of smaller narratives and/or offer effective solutions for more real-life problems.

      I think Obama is trying to demonstrate that liberalism can work not just for liberals but for all/most people of good will.

      Republicans are liars, by deed or proxy. There is no such thing as an honest Republican. Just those who do the dirty work and those who don't.

      by chicago jeff on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 04:27:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  An early morning getaway so just huuggggggs (4+ / 0-)

    I got to get kracking, or perhaps because it is taking me away form my Kolossal K responsibilities, get cracking.

    except for this question. why shld pisces get quiet from someone who is always complaining. unless he/she heeds the advice of the kossascoper.

    is that the meaning


  •  So...what's a good narrative for this? (5+ / 0-)

    Aquarius - You're ruled by Saturn and Uranus.  Rings around Uranus.  Doesn't that figure.

    Should I go big or small?

    Republicans are liars, by deed or proxy. There is no such thing as an honest Republican. Just those who do the dirty work and those who don't.

    by chicago jeff on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 04:20:23 AM PDT

  •  Fairly unpleasant wingnuttery this week... (11+ / 0-)

    Some of the "teabagging" protests here got pretty ugly. A coworker went to a local Augusta "tea party," and ended up leaving in distress. He says that the speakers included Republican Rep. Paul Broun GA 10 (R-Crazy); a radio commentator whose name he'd forgotten; and Michael Ryan, the editorial page editor of the dreadful Augusta Chronicle. One of the speakers rallied the crowd with, "How are we going to get rid of the greedy politicians?" He was met with a yelled, "Shoot 'em!!" And that was received with cheers of "Yeah!" At that point, my coworker (already feeling weird for being the only guy there who wasn't white) left. Or fled, choose your term.

    That's frightening, and dangerous, as is their current big narrative. I just have to say that when we were in the minority, and just HATED what the govt was doing, one didn't hear cries for violence against the government.  

    As far as the freaks wingnuts across the cubicle wall at work go, ignorance and sheer nonsense is back on the rise after a few weeks of blessed quiet. I told you about the "world is ending because of Obama so I'm gettin' me a gun" talk, which still fails to make sense to me. From her previous talk, she expects to be lifted away in the Rapture before the world ends. So, why, I ask, would she need a gun? But never mind. The other three things that have made my mind start to short out:  

    1. Abortion is a govt conspiracy so that they don't have to take care of people.
    1. The govt is conspiring with doctors to give kids shots that cause autism. Nonsensical, of course, and as the mother of a kid with an autistic-spectrum disorder (the Boy), irritating.
    1. The govt is conspiring to cause Alzheimer's. No, I don't get it, either.

    I think the thing that strikes me most about the things they're spouting of late is that they don't make internal sense. Shouldn't a conspiracy theory at least make some bow to an evil overarching goal lurking behind the actions?

    •  Oh dear. I really don't know how you can take (10+ / 0-)

      this day after day. My sympathy truly goes out to you. There's an interesting diary on the Rec List by Turkana that posits all the wingnut crazy verbage comes down to one thing: The wingnuts hate Obama because he is black. Also, Keith had a guest on last night (can't remember her name) who said basically the same thing: Race is the one and only issue and all the other silly issues they espouse are just a thin veil for their true "narrative." I had been thinking in this direction, but hoped I wasn't right. But the wingnuts silly teabagging made no sense, as their taxes are going down, not up. Their other rants about education camps, conspiracies, socialism, marxism, etc. also make no sense, even to senseless people. So, I don't know, but I'm tending to believe race may be the true underlying narrative. Do you see this at your workplace? Do you think their rants are thinly veiled race hatred?

      •  It was Janeane Garofalo (comedienne) [n/t] (5+ / 0-)
      •  You know, out in town (Augusta), it (11+ / 0-)

        unquestionably stems from race hatred (rummage through the commentary in our local paper if you've got the stomach for it). But at my work, I'm not so sure that's true. They don't say many things that strike me as based from race hatred. Maybe they're just being polite for work, but given the inflammatory things they say, maybe they're not.

        It has struck me in the past that the office with the wingnut-across-the-cubicle-wall has a totally white staff. Our office (which is wonderful and is why I still love going to work each day) is much more diverse. We're staffed by a Native American, African-Americans, people of Arab and Persian ethnic backgrounds, and Caucasians whose families came from a variety of European countries. And we're from all parts of the country, from Maine to California to Florida.

        Our office is also diverse from a political standpoint--my own little "pod" consists of two Democrats and two Republicans, but we all respect each others' beliefs. The two Republicans are both extremely conservative on the religious front (a Mormon and an evangelical born-again sort), but they both absorbed the actual message of Christianity and are kind and tolerant people who don't like extremism or hate. It may have helped broaden my Mormon coworker's horizon that his beloved little sister fell in love with another woman. He couldn't condemn her, so she and her partner are always welcome in the family rather than some silent shame that he's afraid to talk about as you'd see in many other conservative families.

        In all honesty, the pleasant difference between our office and theirs may stem simply from constant and constructive exposure to so many varied viewpoints. Who knows? All those data points do change the shape of the "best fit" curve, after all.

      •  and she is on the list of the Top 5 (7+ / 0-)

        Most Dangerous Librul (or some such list that Fox put out) She's right there with Olbermann and the New York Times.  It's an amazing feat considering she doesn't have a national audience or anything.  She has occasionally been on Maher's show, but I can't imagine any other way she's come into prominance.  Too funny.  

        But yeah, more and more I've heard people saying that this is out and out racism.  The photos of the signs from the tea parties were highlighted on Huffington Post and they were horrid (and sometimes in the hands of children -- just what are these parents teaching their kids!?!?!?) The Republicans were out to destroy Clinton, but there was no marxist, socialist, communist, not one of us, we need to take our country back with rifles to get rid of this usurper type of talk.  (at least as I can recall -- and when we lived in Tokyo, we got Fox News exactly as we get it here and I actually watched O'Reilly.)

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

        by theKgirls on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 05:10:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Morning, lady, and hugs! I've gotten the Boy (7+ / 0-)

          to eat a handful of macadamia nuts every day of late. Just something to try.

          And yeah, my coworker who went to the "party" out in town said he felt extremely uncomfortable being the only black guy in sight. He said their were some racist signs, but didn't go into detail. I'll press him today for specifics.

          One of the things that struck me was that our congressman was at a gathering calling for the shooting of politicians and didn't say a word to back that sort of talk down. Argh.

        •  That Top 5 thing just Kraks me up. She's gotten (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          winterbanyan, NCrissieB, theKgirls

          more attention for that than for almost anything that I've heard of for ages. I had to stop and think a sec when it was announced to place her. Silly.

          Good morning!:::Huuugggsss:::

          Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

          by FarWestGirl on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:05:09 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I've been thinking that (7+ / 0-)

        too, but I wanted to be more charitable.  Charity is about to be flung out the window, though.  These people just act so hateful and irrational.  I'm just glad I'm not them.  It must really suck to be so angry all the time about nothing.

      •  That's what I think (6+ / 0-)

        As this discontent has increased, I'm afraid I have to blame it on racism, at least for the most part.

        I was teaching in l960, when Kennedy was elected. I eavesdropped on a bunch of mothers standing on the sidelines at a field hockey game, right around election time. Now these were upper-middle-class moms, non-working wives of men who probably all worked in NYC, so they had "vested interests". The general tenor of the conversation was that electing Kennedy would be so bad that they would all have to move to Canada. Well, Kennedy was elected, I'm sure they grumbled a bunch for a while, then settled down and got on with their lives. This is what I assumed would happen this time around as well. I really did expect that the chorus of complaints would die down as they saw that the world was not coming to an end.

        Instead I think it has gotten worse. Some of it is the economy and some of it is the steps the administration has had to take to cope. But I also think that there is a sense of disbelief. They had been fed a heavy dose of "we make reality" by Rove, Newt, et al, and now they have run head on into actual reality, which is that a black man is really truly President of the United States. And apparently they just cannot accept it.


        I just hope that it doesn't spawn something terrible. Protests are something we can walk away from; violence is not.

        •  Actual conversation with my Dad (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn, Shuruq, NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

          Dad:  "I'm beginning to dislike Obama.  I don't like the things he says about the country."

          Me:  "You watch too much Fox News.  They're on a vendetta.  Try listening to something else."

          Dad:  "I like my news fair and balanced."

          Me:  "You want fair and balanced?  Try switching the channel from time to time."

          Yeah.  And I'm supposed to spend a week alone with him in August while my stepmother (a Black Widow, no kidding) is off racketing around the world on a cruise.

          I told him:  You watch Fox while I'm there and I'm taking your computer out of the den and moving to the other end of the condo to work.

          I'm looking for an excuse not to go.  If anyone has merciful suggestions, please let me know.

          Hugggs, Mary and everyone!

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

          by winterbanyan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 05:53:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Poor Winter! At least we've got time to come up (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            winterbanyan, Shuruq, NCrissieB

            with something plausible. How much of an excuse do you need?


            Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

            by FarWestGirl on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:29:03 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thanks, FWG (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              DBunn, Shuruq, NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

              and hugs.  Well, the solution may come on Sunday.  Dad is so ill he needs constant tending.  My oldest brother is planning to confront them on the way she's keeping him from medical care, killing him with "kindness" and trying to get his money.  If my brother gets thrown out, I'm just simply going to tell my dad to use his money to hire a nurse.  I'm not ripping up my life to enable his folly.

              <sigh>  It's all I can think of.  I'm seriously worried. (and not about the money!)

              More Huuuuggggs

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

              by winterbanyan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:33:34 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  That sounds really serious, is there a (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                DBunn, winterbanyan, Shuruq, NCrissieB

                possibility of a conservatorship or some legal action to exert some control? If nothing else, you can call social services and make a complaint, elder abuse is a big issue and isolating someone and preventing them from receiving care should fall under that. Putting it on the state's radar might also give her a heads up that she'd better behave herself and that that not only would there be inquiries if something happened, but there would also be a documented history of concerns. I'm so sorry, Winter, that's awful.

                Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

                by FarWestGirl on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:47:39 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  It's under consideration (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

                  :(  Depending on how Sunday goes, I'm ready and willing to call the DA and social services.

                  The things you think only happen on TV or to other people....

                  Thanks for your concern.  I'm afraid I'm not thinking too much about anything else, or maybe even not thinking well at all.


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

                  by winterbanyan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 09:23:21 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I'll cross my fingers and say good words for you. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    Remember I'm an RN, if you have questions, please ask. delveritas360 at yahoo(dot)com. I don't check it every day unless I know something's coming.


                    Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

                    by FarWestGirl on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 10:32:38 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  I'm hoping that it's just the hard line tail end (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn, Shuruq, NCrissieB

          of the curve that wasn't going to deal well with the race issue anyway hardening in their dissonance and making more noise. Obama's approval ratings are high and pretty solid with the independents that broke away and his numbers are improving steadily with those capable of learning, these are the ones that are entrenched. I think it may be those with intractible racial issues floundering around and finding excuses in which to lodge their discomfort.

          We are going to have to remain vigilant as long as he's President. Whoever said that we're Obama's Neighborhood Watch had it right.

          Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

          by FarWestGirl on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:26:56 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Ack ... not pleasant at all! (5+ / 0-)

      My tolerance for different views stops at the point of violence.  Wanting to "eliminate" those who with whom one disagrees is not democratic, in any sense of that term.

      As to whether it's all 'really' about race, I think some is, but not all.  To make that narrative work, you have to ignore the complaints against Reid, Pelosi, and other white Democrats, and say they're 'really' complaining about Barack Obama ... the black (and Democratic) President.  There's some racism, but a lot of it is also simple partisanship.  Their party lost in 2006 and 2008 and because most hang around with and get news from others who agree with them, and have constructed an America-is-a-conservative-nation narrative by ignoring the non-conforming data, they can't imagine that those electoral defeats could be anything other than some conspiracy to undermine democracy as they know it.  "Democracy as they know it" means, of course, Republicans win.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

      •  I agree-- race is part of it (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Shuruq, NCrissieB

        ... but not necessarily the whole story. I think we can construct a well-fitting line through the wing-nut data points without the need to rely on racism as the unifying factor.

        My explanation: people have a sense that the Big Narrative of America is at a moment of qualitative change. There's going to be a shake up, followed by the emergence of a new paradigm (sorry for the cliche). The wingnuts are choosing up sides and declaring their allegiance. The fact that their declarations are nonsensical from a factual or rational point of view is less significant than that they are making an intuitive choice and emotional commitment.

        Two paths lead forward from the crossroads at which we now stand. It is a choice between two survival strategies, both of which have worked at one time or another in the past. One strategy says that with cooperation and mutual aid, we can get through this dangerous time. The other says that's a fool's choice, and I and mine intend to survive at your expense if necessary. The paranoia and violent attitudes of the teabaggers is basically an expression of their commitment to the second strategy, and of the emotional state that led them to choose it.

        Of course, maybe the reason I see this as a best-fit line is that I see the world that way-- as being at a moment of potentially apocalyptic choosing-- and so I assume everyone else sees that too. It's my Big Narrative. If they claim they don't, I can easily explain that away by saying that they sense it unconsciously even if they don't recognize it consciously.

        •  Good that you admit the problems! :) (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn, winterbanyan, Mudderway

          There are problems with your thesis, but it's evident that you're both aware of them and, more important, willing to concede they're problems and still explore the thesis.  That puts you several volumes ahead of those who insist there are no problems in their Big Narratives!

          The central story arc I sense is less apocalyptic than yours, and (slightly) less race-driven than the story arcs of Janeane Garofalo, Turkana, etc.  Mine goes like this:

          Early in our history, some perceived a pattern in the fact that 9 of our first 12 presidents were from the South.  There may or may not have been any real significance to that pattern, but there was very definitely a perceived significance, especially in the South.  Of course, the next four presidents were not from the South, and by the 16th - Lincoln - the South was in an uproar over that fact.  Slavery was an issue of the Civil War, but the larger issue was the perception in the South that they would never again wield major political power in the U.S., because the demographic changes had made the North and upper Midwest the primary population centers.

          And their fears were well-grounded.  I suspect even if the Civil War hadn't happened, the South's years of political dominance were in the past.  Certainly that was the case after the Civil War.  Although Andrew Johnson (born in North Carolina and hailing from Tennessee) succeeded Lincoln, he was the last Southern-born president until Woodrow Wilson (born in Virginia, lived in Georgia and South Carolina in his boyhood, but in New Jersey as an adult).  And the next Southern-hailing president was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963.

          That's nearly a century that the South was shut out of the White House, and for much of that century the nation's center of political power remained in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

          Since LBJ that changed.  While Richard Nixon was no Southerner, he ran on the Southern strategy, and in the years following the South became a center of political power once again.  Four of the next six presidents were Southern-born or Southern-hailing (Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II).  Even in the Democratic Party, the strategic thought was that we could not win the White House unless we could carry at least some Southern states, and to do that we'd need a Southern-hailing candidate.  It reached the point that in 2005 Bill Maher quipped "Americans need to be willing to vote for a candidate who doesn't pronounce all five syllables in 'shit.'"

          Well they certainly did in 2008.  President Obama is not only not from the South, he's the antithesis of the Southern strategy.  He won Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, but not by winning the white vote.  Instead, he mobilized youth and minorities, and left "Southern strategy" voters an electoral minority in those states and nationwide.

          I think the rage we're seeing in the South has less to do with Obama's race than to do with recognition that the "Southern strategy" has lost its appeal, and their fear the South will once again become a political hinterland.  Every time any of us talks about the GOP as a "rump party" or the South as a "rump region" - and those phrases get tossed around a lot here on DKos and other progressive sites - we throw fuel on the fires of that fear.

          In this Big Narrative, racism is less an end in itself than a means to an end: regional prominence and thus having effective veto power on national elections and policy.

          •  Interesting perspective (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I take it you live in the South?

            From my perch in the Bay Area, I'm not so attuned to the regional aspect of our national political opera, although of course, like everyone, I've noticed how the GOP seems to have shrunk itself into a mainly Southern party, as measured by its chances for electoral success.

            But I have seen this shrinking process more in terms of "there are more people in the South who remain susceptible to the GOP's appeal", rather than "the GOP's appeal is specifically Southern in nature". The narrative you describe seems to imply that Southern chauvinism is a major motivational factor among the remaining conservatives, but I don't see how that explains the deep conservatism of CA's red counties, or of North Dakota, or Alaska.

            On the other hand, if you live in Texas or Georgia, it might explain a lot :)

    •  about the guns (5+ / 0-)

      Maybe they think they'll have to shoot their way into heaven.

  •  Poll re next week (5+ / 0-)

    On Tuesday, I, plf515, Associate Professor of Mathematical Geekology, have been asked to address you again.  What shall I talk about?
    A.  Polls, how they work, how they fail, etc.
    B.  The best math teachers I've ever seen
    C.  A book review of Ideology and Congress, which is about measuring the ideology of congresspeople, and the history of the US Congress (from 18th century to now)

  •  Good morning Chrissie and all! (7+ / 0-)

    Hugggggs to all who want them.

  •  There is a great quote from George Box (11+ / 0-)

    a famous statistician, that relates to today's topic.  He said:

    All models are wrong, but some models are useful

    we need to apply this to 'big narratives' - they are all wrong, but they may be useful.  Once we accept that, we will be better able to deal with the collision of big narratives - either in our own minds, or when talking with others.

    It's similar to a quote I've seen attribute to both Truman and LBJ

    When two men agree on everything, one of them is doing all the thinking

    •  it's a quote attributed to many... (8+ / 0-)

      I've seen it as "When two men agree, one is unnecessary." attributed to Churchhill, Wrigley, and Ezra Pound.  

      Morning Peter!  Looking forward to your diary on Tuesday...

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

      by theKgirls on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 04:59:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Big narratives are more useful to politicians (9+ / 0-)

      who are campaigning for office, while small narratives are more useful for administrators and problem solvers. Bush was very successful with his big narrative style, but he screwed up thinking it was a useful model for anything other than impressing the impressionable part of the electorate. This situation can also be described more succinctly as "believing your own bullshit."

      When two men agree on everything, one of them is doing all the thinking

      My dough is on Truman as the author of this aphorism. Truman thought with his head and his gut; the locus of much of LBJ's thinking was a little lower down, I believe.

      Your ad here could be reaching dozens of people each week!

      by revbludge on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 05:07:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'll second revbludge, above. (5+ / 0-)

      Big Narratives tend to be more attractive the farther removed you are from the problems.  The nearer you are to the problems, the more you're attracted to the Small Narratives that are more likely to offer real, workable solutions for more people.

      You can see that play out in any "reform" dialogue, from education to welfare to law to medicine.  The people farthest removed from the issue are the most likely to propose Big Narrative solutions that fit their idea of "how things should be."  The people nearest the working guts of the issue are the least likely to see those Big Narrative solutions as having much value beyond talking points.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

  •  One thought I had regarding (9+ / 0-)

    yesterday morning's diary is that Americans have a much larger  me-us gap than say (west) Europeans because of the lack of social welfare safety nets.

    It's an economic, exasperated, me-us gap.

    Large numbers of people can actually be homeless, penniless, without healthcare in the US.

    Organized religion bridges this gap and provides some measure of social safety net.  Thus there is an economic reason for American's treatment of  religion as politics or politics as religion.

    Now  organized religion needs a narrative to bridge the less important social the me-us gap. And it's economic role in the US (a substitute for government welfare) readily turns this narrative into an acutely political construct.

    In short, I guess social narratives  are far more study-worthy when there is an economic reason for their persistence and development.


    •  In America, there is no sense of 'community' (7+ / 0-)

      found in European countries comprised of mostly one set of commonality - that being mostly British, Scandinavian, Dutch...  America is racially diverse and becoming more-so all the time.  We do not have a shared commonality which leads to a me-us gap.

      I think of the U.S. as still being in its teenage years with one current example being Texas declaring defiantly They Will Secede!  Perhaps some of the vitriol against Obama is that of a slightly post puberty rebellion against a grown up?

      •  I'm pretty sure that Secede has been the state (8+ / 0-)

        motto since inception...  I was in high school during the great gas shortage of the '70's and the favorite bumperstick was "Drive 90. Freeze a Yankee."  

        A popular gift in the 80's was the Texas Passport just in case you ever had head north, this would make sure you weren't mistaken for one of those godless Yankees and you'd be allowed back into the state.

        I read about a woman who was nine months pregnant and had to go out of town for a family emergency. She packed a big bag of dirt for the trip and when asked why, she replied if she couldn't get back to Texas in time for the birth, she was going to lie on the bag so that her baby would be born on Texas soil.  

        I moved to Texas when I was ten, left when I was 28 and was known among friends as "a goddamn Yankee". People said that phrase as easily as they said their own name. The governor should know better than to feed into that type of hysteria, but it doesn't surprise me one little bit.  Sad.

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

        by theKgirls on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 05:51:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Morning, Kgirls... re:Texas (5+ / 0-)

          I enjoyed my time there, it was like visiting another country.  Yeah, I got frustrated at some of the attitude, but, well, it was another country.

          On the other hand, if I ever get another passport from somewhere "not an actual nation" it's going to be the Conch Republic.  At least they have an undying sense of humor :)

          Huuuuuugs to you and the girls.

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

          by winterbanyan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 05:58:41 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  That's an important point. (5+ / 0-)

        Most nations are "people of a place," which is to say they've been there long enough that to be from there is to be one of them.  Americans aren't "people of a place," Lou Dobbs' rantings notwithstanding, because we haven't been here long enough to have place-roots of the kind you'd find in Europe.  We are, rather, "people of an idea," or more correctly, "people of not-wholly-dissimilar ideas."  We unite around ideas like "freedom" and "democracy," even if we disagree on precisely what those ideas are.

        That idea-rooted identity may make us more prone to treat religion as politics and politics as religion, because both are ultimately sets of ideas ... and we are "people of an idea."

      •  I think we have to work harder to find (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JFinNe, winterbanyan, NCrissieB

        community that less diverse places, but night of the election, the Lincoln Memorial concert and the Inauguration felt like an enormous community.

        Texas also has some serious insecurity/inferiority issues that are the root of much of the bluster. They have a lot to be embarassed about.

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

        by FarWestGirl on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:37:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  That's true to a point. (5+ / 0-)

      In short, I guess social narratives are far more study-worthy when there is an economic reason for their persistence and development.

      That's true to a point, but it includes its own tacit Big Narrative: that social narratives are ultimately about economic issues.  That's a fairly common Big Narrative.  Marx wasn't the first or last to offer it, but he may be the best known, and like any Big Narrative it survives by ignoring the non-conforming data.  Those who seem to be voting against economic self-interest must be "confused" or "distracted" by "irrelevant wedge issues" - Marx called it "false consciousness" - rather than voting on other issues that they feel are more important.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

  •  Good morning and hugs (4+ / 0-)

    Thanks for another thoughtful diary.  The "big narrative/small narrative" concept was very noticeable to me when we travelled in the west.  People there complained about the strict environmental laws that make so much sense in more industrialized areas but, according to the people we talked to on our travels, were silly irritants to them.  I'm not sure who I agree with, but I do see the difficulty in trying to govern a nation as large and with as diverse a geography and population as ours.

    •  That's an excellent example. (4+ / 0-)

      Indeed law in general is a great study in Big Narratives vs. Small Narratives.  Non-lawyers tend to see law in terms of Big Narratives, things they were taught in high school civics classes and the like, which were of necessity more broad surveys than detailed studies.  Lawyers, especially practicing lawyers, tend to see law in terms of the Small Narratives that help them address real issues for real clients in real disputes.

      As a rule, the farther removed one is from the working guts of a problem, the more likely one is to adopt Big Narrative analyses of that problem.  The nearer one is to the working guts of a problem, the more likely one is to see Big Narrative analyses as little more than talking points.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

    •  Having lived both East and West (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      myrealname, NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

      I understand why folks with all those wide-open spaces consider some environmental laws to be ridiculous.

      OTOH, People out west can't understand why folks out East don't understand water conservation.  

      I live in Florida now and watch waves of Northeasterners come down here and bellow about watering restrictions, and needing green lawns and all I can think is, "You should have tried living in Colorado where having an outside water tap and a hose were illegal..."

      People have died over water out west.  They'll conserve that with their lives.  It's the other stuff they don't see the need for.

      Our environments help make our narratives.

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

      by winterbanyan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:16:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, good morning All :) (4+ / 0-)

    Okay, Crissie, you've done it again.  You've got me thinking so hard I don't even have much to say.  Yesterday's and today's diaries are brilliant, to the extent that I'm still working on absorbing yesterday's.

    I can't say when I'll have anything intelligent to say on these, as I'm still turning them around in my mind, sorting through all the ideas and implications.

    Huugggs to you and everyone else!  Happy Friday!

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

    by winterbanyan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:02:20 AM PDT

    •  The implications trickle pretty widely, yes. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      winterbanyan, FarWestGirl

      Most days, the issues we explore together in Morning Feature are narrow enough that it's pretty easy to see how different ideas might play out.  Yesterday's and today's aren't like that; their implications trickle out through everything in our lives, and ask us to question things we generally take for granted.  Sometimes that's useful, but at some point we do need to circle back to narrower, more accessible issues ... and we'll do that tomorrow.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggggggs::

      •  Thanks :) (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

        Right now I'm feeling pretty stoopid. :)

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

        by winterbanyan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:17:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not stoopid at all. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          These are issues most of us were told to dismiss as "coffee house navel-gazing" at various points in our lives.  And maybe they are.  But they still ask some questions that, to some at least, make us more aware of the advantages, disadvantages, and limits of the narratives we inhabit together.

          •  Well, not really stoopid LOL (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            But brain is buzzing like mad, trying to absorb, assimilate and come up with some thoughts about these things.

            At one level I've always been aware of these things, but I've never really thought them through.

            Thanks for all the food for thought.  A little more caffeine might be useful.


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

            by winterbanyan on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 06:44:51 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Rings around Uranus... Too funny again! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LI Mike, NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

    But I'll get to that in a moment...

    I find the big narratives to be cop outs... "this is what I am supposed to do, so I don't have to think so much."

    The small narratives require more work and more courage... "I don't really enjoy taking the garbage out, but if I don't we run into a serious problem."

    I so much prefer the path of "live and let live," not because I might look as if it tends to exempt one from contributing to larger social needs -- it really does not, IMO -- but more because, for as nice as pure Christianity does seem -- shed all personal desires and devote oneself completely to aiding the sick and poor -- it is such an unlikely path that one can only find a small handful of characters in all of human history who've chosen it. Though that is not to say that it is a wrong path. And, of course, the argument can also be made that those "selfless" individuals were also satisfying a personal desire that left them feeling the best they could, which is as much a selfish motive as any capitalist's.

    There are few "pures." There is no "pure" capitalist system that has no element of any socialist policies. And there is no "pure" socialist system that is devoid of people pursuing personal interests. But the larger narratives have been around longer, and again they would seem to be generally easier for people to accept and adhere to. While the smaller narratives would seem to allow for people to divide up as they see attractive commonness.

    Of course there are always going to be issues to complex for smooth resolution, but by paying attention to the details, we can only hope that we can be smart enough to work things out in ways where the largest number of people get the most benefits life can offer, and where the poor and suffering can have the best chances for relief.

    Now the funny part...

    Aquarius - You're ruled by Saturn and Uranus.  Rings around Uranus.  Doesn't that figure.

    I'm Aquarian, and I recently completed treatment for a lymphoma (which I am counting on not returning), and the last part of the therapy was direct radiation to the area in my groin where the tumor was. The radiation positively cooked my ass (please pardon the image), and I was left with painful red rings around my anus. You are prescient NCB!

    Thanks for the fine diary!

    Here's to a hug and kiss filled day!

    •  Wow ... Kossascope on "target" again! :) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The House, FarWestGirl

      I'm always amazed when someone tells me their Kossascope was right on target - in your case, the target not merely metaphorical - because I write them as spoofs.  As it happens, I don't think we can say all that much about adults based on their birthdates, and most horoscopes are so generalized that you could give any day's 'reading' to any sign and a lot of the people would say "That's so accurate!!!"  So when a Kossascope, which makes fun of that, really is "so accurate" ... I find that ironic in a Möbius strip sort of way....

      As to Big Narratives being cop-outs, they are and they aren't.  They are in that they often aren't of much help in solving actual problems.  But it may be a mistake to judge them by that criteria, as I think their larger purpose is to provide a framework in which individuated "mes" can construct experience as and thus of an "us."  And that us-ness - culture and a sense of belonging - is essential to our survival as a species.  So it may be better to evaluate Big Narratives in terms of their us-building utility, rather than their problem-solving utility.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggs::

  •  I'm struck by the origin and (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    winterbanyan, NCrissieB, FarWestGirl

    protection of big narratives. The Jesus is God narrative, for example. The nature of Jesus was debated for a couple of centuries until the Council of Nicea voted to claim Jesus God. Most Christians probably believe that Jesus told Peter that he was the rock upon which to build his church and that was that. 20th century discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the gnostic gospel discoveries at Nag Hammadi and other findings can't shake this powerful narrative. The 3rd century Bishop of Lyon, Ireaneus, St Paul and Constantine are the primary reasons we believe what we believe. The Catholic Church the main protector of this narrative.

    The narrative of America the good  -- what would our narrative be if Howard Zinn's peoples history of America was taught inschool alongside the founding fathers mythology.

    •  They speak to our need for us-ness. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LI Mike, winterbanyan, kktlaw, FarWestGirl

      I've long been suspect of Big Narratives, at least in terms of explaining specific events.  They tend not to do well at that, for the reasons I suggested in today's Morning Feature.  But that doesn't mean I'm ready to discard Big Narratives altogether.

      Instead, I'm coming to believe it's a mistake to evaluate them in terms of problem-solving utility, because that really isn't what they're about.  They are more about us-building, creating a culture and a framework for constructing shared experiences around which we can bond as a social species.  They become dysfunctional when we try to apply them as problem-solving tools, but when we recognize their utility as us-building tools that dysfunction lessens.  And it's important to remember that an exclusive devotion to Small Narratives is, itself, a Big Narrative.

      Good morning! ::hugggggggggggggs::

    •  That does it (4+ / 0-)

      I'm going straight over to Alibris and order a copy of Zinn's People's History. I've put it off long enough.

      Thanks for reminding me.

    •  It is taught. At least in some places... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NCrissieB, kktlaw

      It has been my primary text for AP US History every time I've taught it.

      I tend to use the school district's assigned text as my b-track. I should point out, though, that I do this with every class I teach. My AP Psychology text (primary text) is not the one the school assigns, but I use the one the school provides as a b-source. One of my favorite assignments is to have students compare and contrast two different texts treatments of the same topic and then give a reasoned reflection on which one they preferred, which one they felt they learned more from (with specific examples from both), and how they feel both could be improved. I only do this 2 or 3 times per year, on really big units, but when I ask students at the end of each year what we've done that really worked for them, this model is often mentioned.

      Had the privilege of hearing Zinn speak here in NYC last year. Went with a few other history teachers. We were like dogs with our heads hanging out the windows of a fast moving car, with Zinn at the wheel.

      Talk about big and small narratives! Yeee-hhhaaaa!

      The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments. - Friedrich Nietzsche

      by elropsych on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 04:49:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Okay, the coffee has kicked in. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NCrissieB, kktlaw

    I think I'm reading some moral relativism into this exposition. While I have no problem with the religious coming up with a variety of "imaginary friends" as Anwar Sadat put it, and allowing for an equivalency as to the narrative explanations of the universe as a moral agency, I do have trouble accepting that wingnut's political philosophies are simply another big picture narrative.

    I believe there is something to the idea that some narratives are more useful than others. In the religious arena, a useful religion is one, probably, that provides comfort in affliction, and motivates other believers to rally round each other in time of need. If there are enough believers around to provide this benefit, all well and good.

    But in the political arena, there is a presumption that elected officials will conduct themselves to provide for the common welfare, not just the welfare of the people who vote for them or fund their campaigns. So a narrative that marginalizes vast swaths of citizens because they are a different color, or have different religious beliefs, or behave, in private, differently than the majority, is less useful, less acceptable, that a narrative that attempts to include these people in the attempt to provide for the common welfare.

    At some level, the common good is the sum of individual goods. We build roads that everyone can use. We provide postal service so people don't have to hire messengers or hand deliver letters. And so on.  

    A political philosophy based on a dog-eat-dog fictional universe of unbridled capitalism is not just another narrative. Dubya's main fault was that he was lazy and a coward, but as far as his politics go, his big narrative included too few actual people to be considered worthy.

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

    by Orinoco on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 08:17:56 AM PDT

    •  Whether morality applies ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco, kktlaw

      ... is itself a narrative decision.  You and I would agree that it should, and probably advocate for those narratives that we feel are moral and against those we believe are not.  Not all narratives have a moral dimension, and we might even agree those are more dangerous than narratives that make moral claims with which we disagree.

      I'm less frightened by immorality than by amorality, because that permits what Hannah Arendt described as "the banality of evil," where the only issue is whether the gears of the machinery of horror are well-oiled and well-aligned.  As for the horror ... that's someone else's worry ... claims the gear-oiler and gear-aligner.

      Utilitarianism is one of those amoral narratives.  The argument you made here - "the common good is the sum of individual goods" - is often cited as evidence that the harms inflicted are not a problem, so long as the result is a net 'good.'  For me, that's neither a moral nor an immoral position.  It's an amoral position, of the sort I find most frightening.

      That said, I know you didn't mean it that way.

      Good morning! ::huggggggggs::

      •  Utilitarianism (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NCrissieB, kktlaw

        I think one of the arguments for torture is that, despite the harm to many individuals, the "greater good" was served, greater good defined in this case as "keeping us safe." I don't buy this for a minute. In the first place, actual harm, rather than good, was done.  The countervailing good, however real, does not balance harm. I just don't see an equivalence.

        The sum of the good implies, nay, requires, that good be done. I benefit by having a smooth paved path from my home to the grocery store. My neighbor benefits from a smooth paved path to the grocery store, too. Rather than each of us building our own private way, we combine efforts and hire a contractor to build us all a road. That's what I mean by summing the individual goods into a common good.

        The common good winds up being more than the sum, though, because my neighbors and I, working together (through paying taxes) can build a much better, safer, more convenient road than I could ever have done working along or with just people on my block or in my apartment building. Also, once built, the road serves not just me and the others who paid for it, but any chance person who comes by and uses it.

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

        by Orinoco on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 01:18:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  An alternative, "Hippocratism?" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Orinoco, kktlaw

          That is, an alternative to utilitarianism is "First, do no harm."  If having done that you can also do good, do it.  But "first, do no harm," meaning the intentional or foreseeable harms you cause can not be outweighed by the good you hope to do elsewhere.  In this Big Narrative the first priority is to minimize the foreseeable harms we cause, then to minimize the collateral harms - those we can't foresee directly, yet know that someone, somewhere will fall through the cracks - and only then look to indices of gain.

          And that's the moral Big Narrative I look to as my touchstone.

          •  That sounds good. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NCrissieB, kktlaw

            I'm reminded of some pop-psychology sage who, when asked about the purpose of life, answered, "The purpose of my life is to care for other people. I have no idea what the purpose of their life is..."

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

            by Orinoco on Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 03:44:32 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Symbiotic relationship of Small and Big (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NCrissieB, kktlaw

    I'll propose that there need not be an irreconcilable conflict between subscribing to a Big Narrative while also engaging an array of small narratives on their own terms.

    If we only engage the small narratives, the outcome may look like the best possible under the circumstances of each case, but the total effort is at risk of amounting to an incoherent stew of ad hoc patches, congealing into strategic drift.

    But as Crissie points out, we can't just fly at 30,000 feet all the time either. A limited set of formulaic responses, informed by some Big Narrative vision but not by knowledge of or concern for the great variety of small narrative realities, will result in fewer good outcomes for the real people who inhabit those small narrative dramas. The big strategy fails due to poor tactical implementation.

    But All-Small and Only-Big are not the only two choices. The third way is to formulate a coherent Big Narrative strategic vision, and keep it in the back of our minds while we address the many small narrative challenges on their own terms. For each engagement with a small narrative, we ask ourselves how the possible resolutions relate to and support the long arc of the Big Narrative. In this way, we can craft plotlines that are reasonably acceptable for each small narrative, while gradually converging the many small narratives towards the best line envisioned for the Big Narrative.

    In my own life, I have found this third approach to be quite useful in helping me choose an appropriate course of action in the multitude of small narrative situations of which any life is made. It made me a better parent, I think, and a better manager in my professional career.

    At the whole-world scale, with the sustainability problems facing us in this century, and the degree of transformation (chosen or thrust upon us) that achieving sustainability will entail, this third-way approach seems like the only way to go. If we are to be successful, it will be the result of many small steps taken by literally billions of characters. It will require the consent, or at least minimal opposition, of most of those characters, and that in turn will require that they have a sense of participation and some control of their own story lines. Yet somehow, the sum of all those individual stories has to resemble coordinated movement towards a coherent goal.

    •  I agree, we need both. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DBunn, kktlaw

      And recognizing how and why we need both, and what each brings to the table, is important.  From our Big Narratives we need social cohesion and basic moral touchstones.  (See my reply to Orinoco, immediately above, for my Hippocratic take on utilitarianism.)  But then we have to move to Small Narratives and work to solve real problems for real people.  Just having those Big Narrative visions does no good if we never leave "coffee house navel-gazing" and get our hands dirty working with real people's problems.

      And that "getting our hands dirty" is not a snobbish comment on people who have problems, but recognition that once we start dealing with real problems, the moral touchstones of our Big Narratives will be at best incomplete guides.  We'll face hard choices and sometimes there won't be "right" answers, if by that we mean answers that are unquestionably good.  A lot of the time, the best we'll be able to manage is to "do no harm."

      But if more of us would "do no harm" more often, I daresay we'd see a far better world.

      •  Big Narratives and foolish consistency (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        What's that quote, something about "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"? (I just googled it, turns out to be by Ralph Waldo Emerson.) Inflexible application of the purported goals and values of some Big Narrative, to every small narrative situation, would seem to fit the definition of foolish consistency.

        "Do no harm" is a good motto, one I can embrace. Of course, the word "harm" can have a subjective quality to it-- one man's meat is another man's poison, etc. What is a good outcome from one person's point of view may be quite harmful from another's. We can get dizzy trying to sort out the math on these puzzles.

        That's why I personally have found it useful to have my Big Narrative at the back of my mind. It helps me see when accepting a short-term (small narrative) setback (harm, from my point of view) is a small loss, neutral, or even positive for the long-term strategy, and when it is not. When to graciously or grudgingly concede, and when to make a stand.

        One thing about logging a few concessions somewhere in the first couple of acts, it helps the other characters understand the true meaning and force of a determined stand you may choose to make later on, when it really matters. A person who takes the same principled stand on every single thing, is a person whose opinion we need not seek.

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