We all need a story to live by. We need a narrative to center our lives, provide reasons and justifications and even excuses for what we believe, what we value, and what we do. We need to be part of a grander scheme of things, adding our voice and our actions to a commonweal that makes what we do seem to matter. Or at least to matter more than it would otherwise. As the philosopher Alistair MacIntyre once put it, “if you want to know who I am, ask me what stories I am part of.”
In America we have two competing national narratives. They are deeply political, which is as it must be for a people and a nation born in a people’s revolution against a King and hardened by years of democratic debates, where, for four years at a time, those out of office tolerate but argue strenuously against the other side of the story, if only in the hope of defeating it next time around. In America, we and the politicians who represent us perform a battle of narratives that simultaneously unites and divides us. On a daily basis, we are not only such stuff as these stories are made of, but we endure their consequences.
So it is that as we bring 2010 to a close I am fully prepared to declare the obvious: The Republicans/Teapublicans narrative is this year triumphant. Their simple story of an America defined by individual liberty, low taxes, limited government, and deregulation of industry aimed at producing an American Dream that John Boehner could cry over beat out our more complicated and less compelling story of an American defined by the public good, taxes that promote it, a government that does good things for all of us, and re-regulation of industries that recent evidence has taught us require a stern disciplinary task master to ensure they don’t do stupid, greedy things and as a result destroy us and the ecosystem.
In the grand American story we like to tell ourselves about the relationship of a popular democratic uprising and the resulting freedom it brings, we often edit out the boring and nasty parts. Nobody really wants to hear about the years of dangerous clandestine work, or the risky publishing of posters, leaflets, broadsides, and tracts; or about the off-camera torture, the beatings, and bloody deaths of those associated with the cause; or how much time dissidents spent forging alliances; or how many godforsaken prisons they endured before some tipping point was reached that finally, finally brought down a tyrant and brought about democracy in places like Poland, or Romania, or for that matter, the good ol’ U. S. of A back in the day.
Now, however, because of that editing, we expect quick-time miracles. We expect, as if this whole protest thing were just some televised drama sponsored by the Wisconsin Dairy Association, that revolutions can be accomplished in a fortnight or at most, in an action-packed season.
You don’t have to be a genius to see where the inspiration for the Republican bulldozing of worker’s rights in Michigan and Wisconsin comes from. All you need is a memory. The inspirational act occurred in 2003, shortly after the U. S. invaded Iraq to overthrow a dictator in the name of freedom and to rid that country of all those WMDs in the name of national security.
Once the city of Baghdad was “shocked and awed” and martial law was imposed to halt the looting, the first official Republican action by the newly imposed administration was to fire of all of the Iraqi officials who ran things. They were replaced by political cronies known as “private contractors” with no culture or language skills but bagfuls of bribe money, as well as their own private mandate to please their new boss.
I place a Para Ordinance SSP 1911 pistol on the black coffee table.
It is a fine weapon and it is loaded.
When I teach my narrative writing seminars I begin with the Aristotelian or “classical” approach to structuring a good story and move through a history of literary innovations – structuralism, post-structuralism, postmodernism, and so on. My aim is to reveal to students the importance of craftsmanship to a well- told tale, where “craftsmanship” means how each part – the scenes, acts, characters and their attributes, and (if we are reading a masterwork) how every word spoken or silence retained, and of course the gun on the table contributes to the whole.