When Narratives Fail
Human beings are innately oriented to narratives; in other words, we are "story tellers," and we were telling stories to describe and understand reality long before there was such a thing as science.
Indeed, human beings cannot live outside stories, which is why for many people science itself has become their new, all-encompassing narrative, i.e., scientism. Scientism is simply science transposed to the key of myth, and draws upon deeper energies of which the believer is unaware and for which he cannot account -- which only makes him more, not less, irrational (think, for example, of Al Gore and his florid religion of scientistic paganism).
As we have discussed in the past, a neurosis is a kind of private culture, while pathological cultures are a kind of public neurosis. For vivid evidence of the latter, look no further than the insane behavior of the Islamic world.
True, that represents public psychosis, but the principle is the same. Psychosis often involves neurotic symptoms "writ large," so to speak, which is why studying the completely insane can provide insight into the more subtle workings of the less insane.
To put it another way, the neurotic is superficially much better adapted to reality than is the psychotic, but this doesn't necessarily mean he isn't just as disturbed underneath. You'd be surprised at how many "functioning crazies" there are out there. Imagine two identical houses with cracked foundations, one of which collapses due to an earthquake. The other house is just as vulnerable, but it will look fine so long as nothing comes along to expose the weak foundation.
One thing that unites the world of Islam and the world of the left is massive narrative failure. Only when a narrative fails are we privy to the irrational forces that called the narrative into being. In individual psychology this failure is called "decompensation," which refers to a failure of psychological defense mechanisms. Most anyone can suffer decompensation under sufficient stress, i.e., trauma.
I routinely encounter traumatized individuals in my practice, and one near-universal feature is the breakdown of their personal narrative, so to speak. Once the trauma breaks down their psychic defenses, you never know what you'll find underneath. A previously well-enough functioning individual might be swamped by unconscious material related to previously repressed life events.
So a narrative is not something to be casually toyed with. For many people it is their life preserver, their link to sanity. We all know people with fragile narratives, people we must humor and avoid provoking. We intuitively know that they cannot tolerate too much poking around at the edges of their narrative. In other words, they are defensive, which you will experience as a kind of brittleness in their presence. So you indulge them, as you would a child.
Another way this fragility comes through is via intense aggressiveness. Some people will instinctively respond to any threat to their narrative with a display of hostility that tells you to back off.
We all know liberals of this nature, since it has become such a common feature. First they reduce everything to racism, or homophobia, or class warfare, or corporations, or misogyny, or Citizens United, or Gitmo, or some other object of hatred, and then become outraged. The prior distortion legitimizes for them the release of primitive aggression.
In psychoanalytic parlance this is known as a "corrupt superego," corrupt because it greenlights a sanctimonious attack based upon a willful distortion. In other words, moral aggression is fine, so long as we are angry at the right things and do not call good evil and evil good.
Obama is a fragile individual (for example, if he weren't so fragile he wouldn't have to be so grandiose, grandiosity being a classic defense). He cannot be pressed too hard, or he is exposed as the stammering bumblefuck he is. It is difficult to know how much of the media's protection of him has to do with an awareness of this fragility. As alluded to above, we normally respond to such a fragile individual by backing off, because we don't want to shame and humiliate him. If you have any compassion, it's painful to watch.
Yesterday Jorge Ramos ignored Obama's fragility and plunged ahead anyway, with predictable results. Imagine if Obama had had to endure years of this kind of frankly journalistic treatment (as did George Bush, and then some) instead of just a few minutes.
What we call "political spin" involves the conscious effort to repair a narrative that is fraying at the edges. The problem with Obama is that he has been such a massive failure that the attempt to spin it just looks insane (cf. die chairhundt D.W. Schultz). Thus his campaign is reduced to two more primitive defense mechanisms: diversion and aggression.
Back to this notion of narrative. Remember a few weeks ago, when Obama conceded that his only real failure as president had been the absence of a good story to tell us? In other words, the facts vindicate his policies, but he just needs to assemble them in the right sequence. But even if he had been successful in conjuring such a Likely Story -- as was, for example, FDR -- this wouldn't alter the underlying reality (any more than FDR's superior political skills changed the reality of his failed policies).
There is, however, another way out. As we know, religion is man's proper vertical escape hatch from this messy world.
Postmodern thought provides another, albeit pathological, way to fly past the constraints of reality. For the postmodernist there is nothing outside the text. For such an individual, everything is spin, because there is no separate reality outside the text. Therefore, politics really does come down to a cynical battle between narratives. The leftist knows that he is simply propagating a narrative, and assumes -- insists, really -- that we are too.
As we know, it is essentially impossible to have a rational discussion with such an individual, because they have undermined the very basis of rational discourse. This is another way of saying that you can't argue with a false god, only the real one.