Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.



 . . . In the end stories are all that matter . . .
 . . . Stories . . . give us our names, our identities, the places we belong, the people we hate . . .
 . . . What existed in a story could be more real than what existed in the world . . .
 . . . There is no greater power on this earth than story . . .
 . . . The King of Stories ended up being King of the gods . . .
 . . . People only fight over imaginary things . . .
 . . . You can't just stop being in a story, you have to have another story to be in . . .

In all of the analysis of the recent political campaign, I have seen very few mention the idea of story. As in, each candidate has a story to tell, and the one who tells the better story is the one who gets elected. Who tells the story, at least, that appeals to the largest number of voters at that particular moment in time.

I think a large part of why Trump won is that he was the better storyteller. He did a better job of telling a story that resonated more strongly with more voters.

This did not happen in a vacuum, of course. Much of Trump's career has been based on storytelling. The selling of his name, the reality TV, his masterful manipulation of media attention, all of it has been part of creating a narrative about who he is, what he does, and what he is capable of. All that matters is perception, and he knows how to control it.

On the flip side, there have been people creating a narrative about Hillary Clinton for over 30 years, one where she is "crooked" in all kinds of different ways.Trump and his campaign brought that narrative to the forefront. For all of her gifts and talents, Clinton is not a great storyteller, and it showed. She was not able to provide a counter-narrative that evoked positive passion equal to the negative.

Many other factors played a role in contributing to the election results, but one of the biggest was the storytelling contest. Trump won.

A couple of related thoughts.

My previous post, Election Thoughts, contained a section where I recorded my frustrated attempt to capture some of the storytelling happening about each candidate in the media. While each entry representing Trump was different, there was only one for Clinton, repeated over and over: EMAILS!!! Too much has been written to delve into here, but that was the linchpin of the Trump narrative about her crookedness. The leaked DNC emails and the FBI investigation into her Secretary of State emails (and a few others), and the stories told about what they meant. The timing of releases and announcements. The help of foreign powers in leaking them. There was a strong pre-existing narrative about Clinton, but it was emails that were the final story.

One of those who has written about the competing liberal-conservative narratives and Trump's ability as a storyteller is George Lakoff. His recent (less than monthly) blog posts:

  • Why Trump? - Why Has Trump been Winning in the Republican Primaries? Look at all the conservatives groups he appeals to!
  • Understanding Trump - As a longtime researcher in cognitive science and linguistics, I bring a perspective from these sciences to an understanding of the Trump phenomenon. . . . I will begin with an updated version of an earlier piece on who is supporting Trump and why — and why policy details are irrelevant to them. I then move to a section on how Trump uses your brain against you. I finish up discussing how Democratic campaigns could do better, and why they need to do better if we are to avert a Trump presidency.
  • Understanding Trump's Use of Language - So far as I can tell, he is simply using effective discourse mechanisms to communicate what his wants to communicate to his audience. I have found that he is very careful and very strategic in his use of language. The only way I know to show this is to function as a linguist and cognitive scientist and go through details.
  • Understanding Trump's Name - There is a subfield of cognitive linguistics that studies sound symbolism . . . As a person’s name, tr- followed by -ump symbolizes a person who acts with force on existing chumps or creates them by his exertion of force. In short, it names someone who has the power to take advantage of others.

What follows is a collection of some of my favorite quotes from books I've read about the power of storytelling--and the repercussions of those who abuse it.

'Sticks and stones may break my bones', as they say in the Middle Worlds, but with the right words you can build a world and make yourself the king of it.
Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki

"They’re only stories," he would say, "What do stories matter?" But he wasn’t stupid. He knew as well as Myrddin that in the end stories are all that matter.
Philip Reeve, Here Lies Arthur

The stories that bind us, Halli. The stories we live by, that dictate what we do and where we go. The stories that give us our names, our identities, the places we belong, the people we hate.
Jonathan Stroud, Heroes of the Valley

At that moment Jack reached an insight, one he never forgot: a bee in a story could tickle worse than a real bee. He realized, too, that a story peach could be sweeter than a real peach, a story flower more fragrant than a real flower, a story song more melodious than a real song. What existed in a story could be more real than what existed in the world. And by reaching this insight, Jack understood the true power of his art.
Edward Myers, Storyteller

"There is no greater power on this earth than story." Will paced the length of the room. "People think boundaries and borders build nations. Nonsense--words do. Beliefs, declarations, constitutions--words. Stories. Myths. Lies. Promises. History."
Libba Bray, The Diviners

Words are what remain when all the deeds have been done. Words can shatter faith, start a war, change the course of history. A story can make your heart beat faster, topple walls, scale mountains--Hey, a story can even raise the dead. And that's why the King of Stories ended up being King of the gods, because writing history and making history are only the breadth of a page apart.
Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki

All reality is a blender where hopes and dreams are mixed with fear and despair.
Holly Goldberg Sloan, Counting by 7s

Reality is just this game people play together, something their brain decides on, and the minute their brain gets iffy about reality, they realize everything they know about the world is just their own made-up version of it, and that would mean everyone is walking around in their own made-up world, all alone, and reality is just something we invent together to make us feel not so alone.
Martine Leavitt, Calvin

This isn't about what is . . . it's about what people think is. It's all imaginary anyway. That's why it's important. People only fight over imaginary things.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

You know, I'm really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.
Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

That's the trouble with a story spinner. You never know what's real and what's made up. Even when they are telling the truth, they can't stop themselves from spinning it into something better; something prettier, with more of a pattern to it.
Philip Reeve, Here Lies Arthur

He wondered whether growing up was learning that most stories turned out to be lies.
Holly Black, Doll Bones

"I think I figured it out." She sniffed, looking up at the stars. "Hester asked me what the difference between a story and a lie was. At the time, I told her that a story helps folks. 'Helps 'em do what?' she asked. Well, I think I know the answer. A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide."
Jonathan Auxier, The Night Gardener

From what I can tell, morality is a word. Nothing more. There're the things people do when others are watching and the things we do when they aren't.
Stephanie Kuehn, Charm & Strange

If we didn't execute bankers and rogue traders found guilty of financial mischief, it might give them the clear signal that it's actually okay, and then where would we be?
Jasper Fforde, The Eye of Zoltar

A lot of people seem nice when you first meet them. Then later you find out that they are evil villains who plan to take over the world.
Dan Gutman, Miss Daisy Is Crazy!

When a man wants the soul of something but has no soul or conscience himself, he's almost always impossible to stop. You have to sacrifice some of your own soul to beat him, which means that he wins by that much more.
Lesley M.M. Blume, Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties

And, finally, the theoretical ideas from the quotes above captured in a much more applied fashion:
And what did Hitler have to tell the German people? . . .

A story in which the Aryan race and the people of Germany in particular had been deprived of their rightful place in the world, bound, spat upon, raped, and ground into the dirt under the heels of mongrel races, Communists, and Jews. A story in which, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, the Aryan race would burst its bonds, wreak vengeance on its oppressors, purify mankind of its defilements, and assume its rightful place as the master of all races. . . .

It may seem incredible to you now that any people could have been captivated by such nonsense, but after nearly two decades of degredation and suffering following World War I, it had an almost overwhelming appeal to the people of Germany, and it was reinforced not only through the ordinary means of propaganda but by an intensive program of education of the young and reeducation of the old. . . .

As I say, there were many in Germany who recognized this story as rank mythology. They were nevertheless held captive by it simply because the vast majority around them thought it sounded wonderful and were willing to give their lives to make it a reality. . . . Even if you privately thought the whole thing was madness, you had to play your part, you had to take your place in the story. The only way to avoid that was to escape from Germany entirely. . . .

I'm telling you this because the people of your culture are in much the same situation. Like the people of Nazi Germany, they are the captives of a story. . . .

[You've heard of no such story] because there's no need to hear of it. There's no need to name it or discuss it. Every one of you knows it by heart by the time you're six or seven. Black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, American and Russian, Norwegian and Chinese, you all hear it. And you hear it incessantly, because every medium of propaganda, every medium of education pours it out incessantly. And hearing it incessantly, you don't listen to it. There's no need to listen to it. It's always there humming away in the background, so there's no need to attend to it at all. In fact, you'll find--at least initially--that it's hard to attend to it. It's like the humming of a distant motor that never stops; it becomes a sound that's no longer heard at all.


There's nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act like lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now. . . . 

People can't just give up a story. . . . you can't just stop being in a story, you have to have another story to be in.


At 11/21/2016 9:10 AM, Blogger Degolar said...

The Kremlin Would Be Proud of Trump’s Propaganda Playbook:
The Donald is a master of these four techniques of misinformation.

At 12/09/2016 10:02 AM, Blogger Degolar said...

The 'latte libel' is a brilliant strategy. The left cannot counter it with facts alone

Rational argument and good policy cannot win against the emotional appeal of railing against elites. Just ask Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard


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