Carol Platt Liebau: A Lie Agreed Upon

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Lie Agreed Upon

This is guest blogger Wile E Coyote.

Napoleon once said that history is "a lie agreed upon".

Part of the lie arises from the fact that human beings are hard-wired to remember stories. Often, in retelling things that happened, we embellish or omit things that would not otherwise fit into a familiar narrative structure. This makes them both familiar and easier to remember. It also allows us to incorporate what we think happened into a pre-existing pattern. When events match our pre-existing patterns, we feel in control. We feel safer. Things are as we thought they were. We don't have to re-think or change.

One familiar pattern is subject-threat-object. For example, the knight killed the dragon to save the princess.

To give an example, the history of the civil rights movement has, in my view, been altered to fit this pattern. Martin Luther King (or the Robert Kennedy Justice Department) shows up, slays the segregation dragon and saves black people. Now, I take second place to no one in my reverence for King as a great man and an American hero. But, the fact is he did not create the civil rights movement. Millions of American blacks organized, worked and sacrificed to advance the cause of civil rights. King became their voice and their leader, but these millions of blacks were not just objects but subjects in their own right. Rosa Parks, for example, was not a merely a "humble seamstress", an everybody's aunt: she was a hard-nosed political activist who refused to give up her seat long before King came on the scene, knowing full well that she would be arrested and made a test case.

There is a whole genre of American movie where the black American is persecuted but prevails through our justice system. These stories allow the white liberal to play the part of the knight, with bigots as the dragon and humble blacks as the princess (Mississippi Burning anyone?)

These stories are largely concocted so that white liberals can believe they are heroes. No big deal. White conservatives have there own myths, usually starring Arnold, Sly, Bruce or Segal. But, these liberal stories also perpetuate the lie that black people are and must be objects and not subjects of their own lives and their own country.

As you listen to candidates in this election (Republican and Democrat), listen for the subject-threat-object pattern and ask yourself whether the candidate is not inviting us to imagine ourselves (or the government as an extension of ourselves) the hero of the tale, and thereby to denigrate the object as something less than a fully formed subject in his/her own right.

Don't agree to a lie.

5 Comments:

Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

These stories are largely concocted so that white liberals can believe they are heroes.

Concocted by whom? By the Comintern? The Illuminati? By the Secret But All-Powerful Liberal Cabal?

I have never understood why the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum insist upon perpetuating these silly conspiracy theories.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here.

Concocted by people who want to make money selling movie tickets, of course.

Who said anything about conspiracies?

And whom are you calling "extremist"?

9:54 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Or concocted by political party leaders and activists to rally support for a cause. Simplify the story, make yourself (and everyone who agrees with you) the hero. Gain support, get elected, secure power.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Coyote, my point here is that the notion of these stories being concocted by Dark Forces to advance political objectives is, well, silly and paranoid. Only extremists engage in such extreme thinking.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

I don't really see some grand cospiracy to "create" a new hero-dragon-princess scenario in order to influence the public. But I can certainly see where all sides try to frame existing issues according to this narrative.

And I can see where various "object" groups are kept from bettering themselves by being trapped in an established story line. They come to depend on the hero to provide for their well-being when their situation might be greatly improved if they didn't.

12:29 PM  

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