The narrative – dangerous to believe and dangerous to project


The demonstrations against the anti-Islamic video have died down a bit; they have not completely disappeared ,but it is much quieter now and probably safer to be working at an American embassy in an Islamic country.  At this point, it is clear that there were two kinds of events on September 11th, the demonstrations against the video organized by someone for some political or religious purposes and the violent, organized, military attack in Libya on the American embassy that resulted in four deaths.

There have also been two separate sets of outcomes, probably more, but for my purposes two; first the backlash in Libya against all armed non-governmental groups.  Those groups seem to have lost a great deal as both the citizens and government have taken action against them.  The second outcome is more a series of outcomes; across the region there have been new many sanctions introduced against anyone who degenerates Islam and against any media outlet – primarily Google and YouTube – that distributed the video.  At least one governmental official has unofficially offered a reward for the life of the creator of the video.  At the same time, there have been a series of opposite reactions from outside the Islamic world; a French newspaper published cartoons making fun of Mohammed and in several cities in Europe there have been efforts to show the entire film from which the video was taken and a bit of showy rhetoric from the “nationalist” movements, like those in Germany.  As well as some suggestions for limiting that kind of freedom of expression, whatever that kind is; but on that front the naked pictures of Kate have stolen the show.  It seems clear showing the breasts of a British royal is forbidden speech, but showing a naked prophet is not – go figure.

There has not been much reaction from the United States, although President Obama in a speech to the United Nations did condemn the video and all such hate-filled attempts to incite social and political unrest; but Obama also clearly said there was no justification for the resulting violence.  At that point the issue just sinks into the muck of the presidential campaign with both candidates pontificating on the issue and finding fault with their opponents position . Outside of the political debate there has been a lot of confusion and disbelief as many people have tried to understand and explain the severity of the reaction to the video.

All of our attempts to make sense of it have failed – at least all of the ones I have seen – for the same reason in my opinion; our national narrative does not account for that kind of violence or that kind of reaction to any film or literary depiction of anything.  Narratives are a natural part of human life and society; every person has a private narrative.  It is the voice in your head that explains the world in terms of your life experiences – we rarely bring it out in the open or discuss it, but it exists nevertheless.  In some fields of psychology it has even been described as essential to human survival as it helps to maintain emotional equilibrium.  The narrative makes personal sense out of a confusing, ever-changing and even nonsensical world.  Our national narrative does basically the same thing for the entire nation – it gives us a boilerplate explanation for human political and social behavior.

In our narrative we believe that all men are created equal, church and state are to be separate, all men desire political freedom above everything else, capitalism is the best economic system and all men want to acquire as much money as possible, personal financial success is the ultimate goal of everyone – there are of course more.  Not everyone would agree that we have such a narrative and even among those that do agree, most of the ones I cited would get argument from someone.  But we do hold individual rights as being above collective rights – except in case of war, or maybe union activity – and we do hold that religion is a matter of choice and should not influence government.

Almost none of that would be part of a national Libyan narrative; but as the Libyans fought to free themselves from Gaddafi we did not understand that; we also did not understand that in the case of the Egyptians struggling to rid themselves of Mubarak, or the Syrians fighting against Assad.  We thought they wanted what we want – we projected our national narrative onto them.  And when they turned around and attacked our embassies we were shocked, stunned and hurt; We asked, “How could you do that, when we supported you and helped you gain your freedom?”

Nothing that happened in Libya, Egypt or any of the other demonstrations or embassy attacks was about us, it was about the people in those countries, their political system and their religious beliefs.  Obama could not have waved a magic policy wand and changed anything, nor could any other president.  We get confused thinking we are the subject of the incident, we are not; we are just a convenient target – an outlet for their feelings, anger, frustrations and agendas.  Whenever we give aid and support to a country, we have to remember that we are simply trying to buy short-term political alliances; however, our narrative says we are doing it for humanitarian and noble reasons.   In truth we are not giving aid for the noble reasons that our narrative suggests or we would never have supported Mubarak, the Shah of Iran, Gaddafi (until he went rogue) or many other less that democratic leaders and countries.

It is important to understand our national narrative, but it is very dangerous to believe it implicitly.  Oh, and while I am wandering down this road, both the Republican and Democrat have their party narratives, too.  Those narratives need to be understood, but never blindly believed, accepted or followed.  The narrative is a doctrinal, subjective explanation – at times an after-the-fact rationalization, but it should never be confused with objectivity or truth.  And it is extremely dangerous to project our narrative on others – it can only lead to some very unpleasant surprises.

 

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3 Responses to “The narrative – dangerous to believe and dangerous to project”


  1. 1 rexdstock1 September 25, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Just because at least half (47%?) of Americans have a calculated amnesia or ill-informed memories, does not mean that people living in other parts suffer the same malady.  Why we think that “things that happened way back in 2003, 1998, 1980, etc.) should not affect how people feel today about America and its international transgressions falls outside of the “narrative” argument.  We’ll see this in full force quite soon, as our actions prior to Obama (and even his use of Drones as long as those drones kill innocent civilians) will incite more to rise up against us.  Or, we can send more troops and fortify more of our outposts, and then have everyone look away when we get hit again.  I just finished Brzezinski’s book, Strategic Vision, and there are two paragraphs early on that explains, I think, exactly where we are, with the two narratives that exist in America (think tea party vs people who can think outside their own dogma and catpa) sealing our fate until all the angry selfish white folks die off, which very well may be too late…

    Write more on this Kenny.  Please.

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  2. 2 rexdstock1 September 26, 2012 at 6:41 am

    This may be a narrative that you and I share, but my point is that an alarming (to me) percentage of Americanos do not embrace it (especially the separation of church and state).  And, to the gain of “…personal financial success” being the goal of “everyone”, I think it is even more complicated than that.  I think we buy into the narrative that says it is possible, but I don’t believe that is the primary goal of everyone.  In other words, while these narratives may be what we have heard time and again, but reality is showing many of us that it just isn’t true.  And, that while we can have a black man named Barack Obama as our President supports this notion of American Exceptionalism (which is funny, because it isn’t even a grammatically correct word), most black people would tell you that they still struggle mightily to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

    In our narrative we believe that all men are created equal, church and state are to be separate, all men desire political freedom above everything else, capitalism is the best economic system and all men want to acquire as much money as possible, personal financial success is the ultimate goal of everyone – there are of course more.  Not everyone would agree that we have such a narrative and even among those that do agree, most of the ones I cited would get argument from someone.  But we do hold individual rights as being above collective rights – except in case of war, or maybe union activity – and we do hold that religion is a matter of choice and should not influence government.

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  3. 3 Ken Adams September 26, 2012 at 10:47 am

    You remind me of something I did forget in the piece, a person’s political-party narrative influences his national narrative. For example, your national narrative would have less “get rich” values in it than Mitt’s national narrative would have. We all share the broad narrative, but in the specifics there are many differences. I guess what I did in the blog is what people from other countries often do, stereotype the values to make some of them and by implication some of us appear to be crude and money grubbing. I have personally never known anyone that fits the stereotype; I have heard people refer to someone else in those terms, but it is always an opponent and never a friend they are referring to.


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