Dangers of Political Narratives

John Fraim

Certainly not all see benefits in the creation of political narratives. In the 7/20/16 Kennedy School Review, Stephen Hawkins and Tommy Flint provide an interesting article “Two Stories, One America: How Political Narratives Shape Our Understanding of Reality.” Drawing upon the support of a burgeoning field of academic research, they describe how our allegiance to narrative leads us to misperceive reality in three ways: we ignore pieces of information that don’t fit our narrative, we dispute facts that challenge our narrative, and we maintain demonstrably false beliefs that confirm our narrative.

Just as there are psychological benefits of believing in narratives, there are also dangers. If narratives help connect the dots in our disconnected culture, they also supply the dots to be connected. Society is always forced into battle so that the battle will distract from the government who started the battle in the first place. The common belief is that private citizens can be a part of the grand political narratives of the times. This is the grandest of narrative to be associated with. In our current time of division, one narrative is to return to a nostalgic past of commonality and community in the nation. The other is to race headlong into a future of division and separation.

These two grand political narratives have an opposition relationship to the symbolism of time. One narrative moves backward while the other narrative moves forward. The Conservative wants to conserve things of the world. The Liberal wants to destroy things to create a new world. The Democratic Party represents the Feminine archetype symbol while the Republican Party represents the Masculine archetype in the world. The grand narratives of each party are Equality for the Democratic Party and Freedom for the Republican Party.

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The point is that citizens are given two grand political narratives in America. Only two and not three or four or more choices available in the political structures of other nations. Perhaps one of the biggest efforts of modern American government is in keeping citizens engaged in a two-party narrative, rather than a three-or-more party narrative in other nations. Modern American government largely through distracting the populace from its effects. A battling two-sided narrative is the best way to distract. Politicians come and go from government. They rise promoting one of the narratives. They fall when the opposite narrative rises.

But the government is always there. The old “deep state swamp” as one narrative imagines it today using the metaphorical connection between America’s capital and a swamp. (A great use of image and metaphor, the great use of a literary device as we will discuss in the next chapter)

It is the true yet hidden controlling force of the nation through its history, through Republican, Democratic and Progressive eras and administrations. The world wars. Civil rights. The Civil War. The early years after the revolution. Administrations and political parties come and go. But the government is always there. The same, unchanging government that was the main force against the individual citizen. As Thomas Paine saw in Common Sense, the grand propaganda piece of the American Revolution.

In this later stage of American history, most Americans have forgotten their original struggle was between a people and a government. In most cases, one of the two narratives – Republicans and Democrats – have infiltrated all culture. The two-sided narrative is almost completely invisible to the populace. People are aware of this two-sided narrative as much as fish are aware of water.

In this later state of American history, most voters of the nation have decided which narrative he/she is loyal to. As Hawkins and Flint argue in the article in The Kennedy School Review, allegiance to one of these narratives leads citizens holding this narrative makes them misperceive reality in three ways: they ignore pieces of information that don’t fit our narrative, they dispute facts that challenge their narrative, and they maintain demonstrably false beliefs that confirm their narrative.

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One can see all of this happening today if they can momentarily peek outside the two-narrative structure they are caught within. Everything is a constant back and forth constant between the two narratives. American culture is directed towards this two-sided narrative. Again, narratives of other nations that do not operate with the two-party system, will offer more major narratives than America’s two.

If one can rise above the two-battling sides of culture today, even briefly, can rise above them and look down on them like watching some game from the stands. No longer on the field of play. Up here in the stands. The government always sits up here in the stands and watches the game below. An individual feels different if they can remove themselves from the dual narrative that battles each day in America. It is a battle that more and more seem to get caught up today in these incredibly divided times. Addiction to the daily battle between narratives can be almost like watching a constant tennis match, the ball always going back and forth, the game never at rest.

It is good to be able to observe narratives for a while, even try them out, rather than immediately adopt them as worldviews. But there is the great danger of the narrative of blocking off a great section of experience and reality to a person. The blockage is necessary to maintain a particular view. Maintaining a particular narrative – between the two of them we are always offered – seems more important in America today than searching for new common narrative.

(The above is part of a new book on the creation of scripts for political narratives)

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