When Narratives Attack
A narrative, that is. For reasons we will get into later, human beings are narrative-producing machines. Narratives are how we understand time -- how we link together experiences into a coherent and meaningful stream.
In order to do this, we must ignore the vast majority of "reality," sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. Just like the historian, we must select from the infinite pool of facts those we consider relevant. Thus, there can be no objective history outside the narrative, for it is the narrative that tells us what is relevant and historical.
As I've mentioned before, everyone comes into therapy with a narrative of their life. In fact, to a large extent, they come in because the narrative is "broken," so to speak. Either it's no longer making sense, or has run aground, or is unfulfilling, whatever.
The problem is, one's true narrative is never linear but multidimensional, both vertically and horizontally. For example, we have a conscious and an unconscious mind, a right and left cerebral hemisphere, an emotional nature and an intellect, spirit and psyche. Each of these can have different agendas and be at cross-purposes with other dimensions.
Freud focused on the conflicts between instinct, conscience, and ego, but there are also potential conflicts between, say, intellect and self-image, archetype and culture, self and ego, conscience and desire, biology and economics, spirit and tenure.
We call someone "insane" when their narrative has completely broken down into fragments, or when a part has hijacked the whole. But most people are more or less insane -- or perhaps unsane -- in the sense alluded to above. The opposite of this state is what we would call integration, in which all the parts are harmoniously participating in the narrative (a narrative which is meta-cosmic in nature).
In my experience, most people have to amputate certain parts of the self in order to keep their narrative functioning. When the pain of this amputation becomes too intense, that's when they come in for therapy (or experience a "breakdown" of some kind).
But most people do not seek therapy. Rather, they may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, or distract themselves in work, sex, or power games, or act out in some other manner. The list of ways in which people may pull the wool over their own eyes is endless.
What we call the "news" is nothing but a narrative. But most importantly, it is just like the narrative of a neurotic person, who is neurotic precisely because of his defective narrative. Thus, when things happen outside the narrative, he doesn't notice them. Or, if he can't do that, he might aggressively attack or devalue them.
From a psychological perspective, this is perfectly understandable. For example, if your self-image is invested in the idea that the world is catastrophically warming, you will be threatened by evidence that it is not.
The other day, Taranto made the point that "for white liberals of a certain age (read baby boomers), an important part of their self-image lies in the assumption that conservatives are racist."
The point of this self-serving narrative is obviously not to describe reality, but rather, to feel good about oneself. It is auto-therapy, as is so much of the liberal narrative. For the liberal, everyone who disagrees with him is racist, misogynist, "homophobic," "Islamophobic," "anti-science," contemptuous of the poor, etc. In each case, the characterization is simply a transparent projection deployed for the purpose of maintaining the self-flattering narrative.
If you want to know why the culture has become so "divisive," this is why. Liberal elites are so threatened by the collapse of their narrative on every level, that they cannot help lashing out in a primitive manner.
Thus William Kristol writes of "the Agenda Project," a major progressive group which "has launched the 'Fuck Tea' project," the purpose of which is to "to dismiss the Tea Party and promote the progressive cause."
"The 'Fuck Tea' movement -- that's what the left has come to. They can't defend the results of Obama's policies or the validity of Krugman's arguments. They know it's hard to sustain an anti-democratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they've degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents."
That's about as primitive as one can get and still remain in the realm of language. The only thing left after "fuck you" is violent action. But it is critical to bear in mind that state violence is different from personal violence. The state is a giant bully that has a kind of infinite reservoir of violence behind it, so it needn't necessarily behave with overt violence, since merely the threat is usually sufficient.
Change can be progressive, or it can be violent. Organic growth is a kind of change, but so too is a bullet to the head. Our Constitution is supposed to protect us from the violent predation of government, which is why it is Job One for the left to transform it from a document that protects us from the state to one which defines what the state can do to you.
Thus, "If a judge (or ultimately the Supreme Court) says the Constitution allows the government to force you to buy health insurance, then it’s a done deal, regardless of whether the Constitution says so or not. Under such a scenario, the Constitution thus becomes a tool for social engineering rather than a protection against government excess, as it was originally intended."
And "as the ruling class has more and more isolated to themselves the power to dictate what is and is not an appropriate use of the blessings of liberty, we have seen a corresponding decrease in the actual liberty we enjoy."
So in Arizona, a judge says that the people have no right to protect themselves from illegal aliens, while in California another judge decides that henceforth marriage will means something it has never meant and cannot mean. It is not so much that marriage between two men is "illegal." Rather, it is impossible, like being the father of your mother. But what is the left but violent insistence on the possibility of the impossible?
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Whatever happens in November, it certainly won't be a cause for joy. Transient relief, maybe, but not joy, because when narratives break down, people are truly capable of anything.