Exploring Political Stories

I spend a lot of time thinking about stories and what they offer us, their audiences and their authors.

It isn’t radical to describe a continuous circular relation between us and the stories we tell about ourselves. Nor is it radical to say that many stories we tell can be read as being about ourselves, whether they were intended to be or not.

Where am I going with this?

I’ve studied the creation and propagation of ideology through political speech. I’ve studied the creation of stories.

I don’t know why it took me so long to write something here about the political stories we tell ourselves.

Now, when I say political stories, I’m specifically talking about stories that are incorporated into political speech. I refuse to draw a line and say that these political stories are the only stories which are political—any story, like any art, is political. But I’m most interested in talking about the stories that we use, consciously or not, to ground our political arguments. I recognize that this is a somewhat mushy definition.

How much substance, and what sort, do I need before I’m willing to call something a story? Do I need to have an entire literal Horatio Alger novel about gaining wealth through the assiduous practice of Protestant capitalist virtue before I’m willing to call it a story? No. I’m willing to call most things that we tell ourselves about the world “stories” for the sake of this exploration. The important part, as far as I’m concerned, is that what we tell ourselves inform the way we see ourselves (or other people) and inform our actions going forward.

To clarify, “Some people have blue eyes,” doesn’t qualify. But, “People with blue eyes are good,” does. So does, “All men are created equal.”

Furthermore, you needn’t explicitly say “people with blue eyes are good” anywhere in your story if people are able to infer that from the text. And it’s possible to infer from a text stories that the author didn’t intend to include. Stories—and people—are tricky like that.

I suspect that’s part of why political ideologies aren’t static.

I’ve come to this late enough today that I’ll stick to this introduction for now. I already have some ideas of political stories I’d like to explore in more depth in the future, but I think any particular story I explore will deserve more time than I could give it today (and I want to post today). If you have a particular story you’d like me to write and think more about, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below.

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Two interesting articles instead of a big post

I’ve been doing research for my History of Children’s Book Publishing class instead of writing an article today, and tomorrow I’ll spend as much of the day as I can cooped up in the Houghton Library at Harvard doing more research.  I should have gone there earlier, but for the past week and a half every single day that I planned to go (and haven’t been busy with other things) the library has closed because of snow.  Fimbulvetr has struck Boston, such is life.

In addition to that, I’ve been trying to figure out which story I want to continue for Chuck Wendig’s current flash fiction challenge.  I haven’t yet decided, as I’m still reading through some of the initial submissions.

But that doesn’t mean I have nothing interesting to share!  Two things have caught my attention today: one is an article about the ideological and theological underpinnings of ISIS / ISIL / Daesh, and the other is some super cool news about nanotech being used to fight cancer.  The cancer one is a super fast read and is worth checking out, and the other one is just straight up fascinating as an examination of the self-proclaimed caliphate as a fundamentally apocalyptic millenarian organization.