“Narrative”

David Roberts is still on an amazing tear. Don’t miss his latest.

Keith shrugs; his first comment is “I just read it and it blows my mind. Amazing when liberals act like neocons in 2002/2003.” I have absolutely no capacity whatsoever for making any sense of that reaction. My reply is here.

As a side effect of this exchange I have become aware that the use of the word “narrative” is increasingly looking to me like a reliable symptom of a deeply bullshit-encrusted argument; typically found in bullshit about bullshit. Maybe I can get it on Life in Hell’s forbidden words list next year. Anyway it is my new pet peeve. If you want me to hate you for a couple of seconds, use the word “narrative” the way journalists do.

Comments:

  1. Grist is knocking on the door of an answer, but he's missing something. Kloor completely misreads it, and marginalizes as usual. Incredibly boring. Grist connects the dots about intensity and population shifting and Overton Windows. While he is correct also about the "right" shifted their party, the views of the conservative tea party movement is still fairly unpopular. By this I mean, the gun culture, the anti-union stuff, immigrant hating white ethnocentrism, small government for business but big government for social issues etc. These are all deeply unpopular ideas. Yet, they can connect with the voting populace through sharing certain values - individuality, freedom, ruggedness, taxing grandchildren etc.

    This is what the climate movement is missing. There is no core set of values that gets moved to the front of the movement that excites people. I can say the same for the issue of sustainability. What we do instead, is try the climate hawk approach, where we work within the value system of the establishment. We even bend over backwards to make rational economic arguments that don't solve the main issues. For the Grist approach to work, this all must end. We need to attach the risk of future climate change and sustainability to a value system, and not the one that serves established politics. Ultimately, these issues revolve around human connection, social contracts, and the power of people working together to fix shit.

    You don't start a movement with a 10 point economic plan. You do it by plucking their heart strings...

    • "There is no core set of values that gets moved to the front of the movement that excites people."

      An utterly devastating diagnosis of failure at triviality: What about that almost-spherical thingy below our feet? We might contemplate its wonders for a moment while getting the head out of the heavens of anthropocentric omphaloskepsis. Eppur si muove!

    • Yeah but the thing about really heartfelt movements is this: six times out of ten you fail, and one time you succeed in changing the world for the better, and the other three you create a monster.

      The thing I would like to know is the Smallest Sufficent Adjustment Strategy. I know it is no longer small, because of past mistakes. But I still would like top know the smallest. The odds are getting longer and increasingly it looks like the bottleneck will be a fierce one. But our job is still to find the best path out. That is not necessarily the most heart-plucked one.

    • "But our job is still to find the best path out. That is not necessarily the most heart-plucked one."

      I've thought quite a bit about this. Buddhism seems to be the safest religion/philosophy - it's not that prone to develop bloodthirsty monstrosities.
      So, one of my hopes/strategies is to yoke the Buddhist Mahayana. Well, actually all of Buddhism should be profoundly alarmed, but the Mahayana is most explicit about compassion with all of life. (It's not just that the rebirth math no longer adds up in a shrinking biosphere... :-))

      Alas I got a bit disillusioned about the following radical (yet obvious) idea of an anthropogenic carbon sequestration machine. They don't get it, it looks.

      Someone should posture as n-th Buddha and found the "Gaiayana" order, which is based on the 2 self-evident principles Homo S Sapiens needs to heed in case we want to decently get on:

      1) carbon-negativity (not nevessarily poverty)
      2) non-procreation (not necessarily chastity)

      I would add a 3rd principle: Have maximum fun. Carbon negativity can be achieved by producing stable carbon rich soil, perhaps boosted by adding char coal. (So, here's what the 21st century bhikkhu needs to do: Work some land and give food alms to civilization (instead of traditionally rely on food alms from civilization). :-))

      • Beautiful. How about:

        "Carbon negativity is not necessarily poverty. Non-procreation is not necessarily chastity. The longest future is the one where we have the most fun."

    • "The longest future is the one where we have the most fun."

      Perfect! Now that's contagious. There is is hope and joy for us yet.

    • "Carbon negativity is not necessarily poverty." Hmm... that sounds a little too much like hedging to me, like you can't honestly promise what you propose won't mean poverty... What about "Carbon negativity need not mean poverty."

    • Oh! The 3 principles on page one! But Florifulgurator is misspelled...

      Eric, I guess it would be best if many (1-2 billion) would practise small-scale carbon-negative agriculture and do that in maximum simplicity, i.e. in what economists would call poverty. But you can have fun with simplicity.

      This looks more effective than large scale farming with some fancy tech added to get a little carbon negative.

      (wrrr, more elaborations lost by wrong click - browser did not memorize text field data.)

    • (Luckily those elaborations got lost. Here's something more crisp and to my point...)

      A. The obvious 3 principles are not necessarily aimed at the individual. The first two should be understood as aimed at the species as a whole or some group of individuals of Homo Sapiens Serious.

      B. Indeed I seriously propose to bootstrap an anthropogenic carbon sequestration contraption by butt-kicking Mahayana Buddhism. (I wrote Pali bhikku above, but now I'm getting more theoretic and use Sanskrit spelling :-) ) Here are the 2 tautologic hindrances of taking refuge:
      1) Not carbon negative, no bodhisatva
      2) Not carbon negative, no sangha

      If this isn't butt-kicking enough, imagine Martin Heidegger levitating next to Shantideva, asking: Why is Earth keeping silent at this destruction? (Beiträge zur Philosophie, Nr. 155)

      There is of course the problem of Emptiness Philosophy (Śūnyatā). Many a good Buddhist can turn into having nihilist views over too much śūnyatā and lose his/her butt. Methinks it possible to make clear the existence (for all practical (incl. soteriological) purpose) of a nonempty thing, Gaia. (Def. nonempty := being an essential element/process in a finite system which itself is uncaused and unceasing f.a.p.p. E.g. Life in solar system.)

  2. Micheal, I don't know where your numbers are from, but it is a good point nonetheless. Social movements have a long history of failure, but values have a way of coming back and evolving and reestablishing movements. That's why the sustainability movement needs them at the forefront. The economic inequality movement is a good example. This movement was on a precipice when MLK was killed. The 2nd piece to the civil rights movement was supposed to be the focused on the economic disparity of blacks. The War on Poverty was the establishment political solution. This has failed. Thirty years later, it's all people talk about all over the world and governments are toppling because of it. As far as monsters, we already have one. I don't fear this at all.

    I also believe in the "Smallest Sufficent Adjustment Strategy", but it's likely passed us by, both due to physics and politics. I'm even for the incremental low-hanging fruit solutions, and in fact, I wish those promoting them would get it done and stop blaming people like me for their failures. But these solutions find the same political obstacles as global treaties. The problem is that no one cares! Or not enough of them, and not enough! It's time to think big, and we are at a time where big arguments are getting play. We sit on the sidelines at are own peril.

    As an aside, tacking back to political solutions - after mass demonstrations succeeded in getting the president to delay the Keystone pipeline, the Senate has sneaked it through as a rider on the payroll tax bill, and is awaiting approval in the House. If it got through the Senate, I imagine the prez has not threatened veto again. Obviously, there are significant powers working every angle to win this. And we know we can't lose it. So what now?

    • Numbers admittedly out of my hat. But it is important for people proposing revolutionary changes to note the low success rate of revolutions.

      People look backwards at successful societies and see they were forged in revolutionary change. But this is sample bias. One should look rather at revolutions collectively and see their outcomes. The prognosis is poor and these should be undertaken in desperation.

    • But how many societies didn't go through revolutions and continued to fail their citizens? The failures of revolutions should also be measured against the failures of status quos.

      Oh, and I quite like the term 'narrative', but I'd hate to be hated. What term should be used to describe the deliberate creation and constant re-embellishment of a story line that reflects how a commentator wants to see the world?

      • I'm not about to start a vendetta against the word. I admit it has its uses.

        But "deliberate creation and constant re-embellishment of a story line" sounds more or less indifferent to truth, i.e., as synonymous to "bullshit". Your definition is pretty much in agreement with what I was saying.

        So if you are using the word "narrative", you seem to cop to talking about bullshit.

        The thing is, talking about bullshit, while necessary in small amounts as a defense, is actually a distraction from real issues. So the correct approach to bullshit, no matter how tempting it is to respond to it, is to ignore it in adult conversation. Under your definition, I would say that the minute you see someone "advancing a narrative" you can't trust them. (And as soon as someone advances a "counter-narrative" you can't trust them either.) Sometimes you're hosed and you'll never know what went down, but a "narrative" is and has always been a pale and shallow substitute for "the story".

  3. I don't see narrative creation as being indifferent to truth as such. We all need to simplify reality to make sense of it and to communicate about it. I see narrative creation as a form of that simplification, one where the narrator wants a stronger level of coherence than exists in reality but where no part, necessarily, of that narrative is untrue.

    But that's still probably synonymous to, or at least subsumed within, "bullshit".

  4. "People look backwards at successful societies and see they were forged in revolutionary change. But this is sample bias. One should look rather at revolutions collectively and see their outcomes. The prognosis is poor and these should be undertaken in desperation."

    This is true, although revolutions are by their nature, fits and start-overs, learning and pushing on etc, ie. the relative success of OWS can be traced back to the Wobblies from over 100 years ago. But I understand you point, we don't have time for a "revolution" of sorts.

    But that wasn't really my point either, although interesting to speculate on. I am commenting on Robert's essay and his theories regarding getting a certain percentage of "concerned" people that infects the rest of the populace. My argument is that by not tying that concern to powerful emotion, or ethical duty to the species, then the intensity is rather moot. He blames it on an equally or more intense effort in the other direction that is leaving the majority confused. I disagree. People just don't yet know why they should care. This is how apathetic we've become.

  5. Pingback: Collide-a-scape » Blog Archive » Collide-a-scape >> What Climate Communication Sorely Lacks


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