What’s the Story? It’s Spinning out of ControlThursday, May 12, 2011
We’ve all heard of “spin” or “spinning a story.” Newscasters give us their spin on different events everyday and we understand that. That’s why we watch our favorite stories analyzed to death; we want to get as much information and opinion as we can. But we’ve moved beyond spin as a culture and it’s not a good thing. We’ve moved into changing reality itself.
An eye-opening statement caught my attention the other day. Stephen J. Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, was on CNN’s “State of the Union” show talking about the situation in Libya.[i]He noted, “The narrative we want to come out of this is that the Libyan people overthrew a dictator, not that we came in and toppled a despot.” The truth is that the American government does want a despot toppled and is indeed working toward that. But that reality doesn’t look good so the story has to be changed.
The statement caught my attention not because of its brazenness or because I believe the U.S. government is always truthful. No, this kind of thing has been going on for a long time. It’s the language that caught my attention, specifically, Hadley’s use of the term “narrative.” He’s talking about the narrative or story he wants people to believe and history to record. “Narrative” is a big term in postmodern thought. Let me explain.
In answer to the question, “What is truth,” the postmodern answers, “Truth is what you make it to be.” We create our own reality; what’s true for me may not be true for you. There is no such thing as objective truth or something that’s true for everyone; each person makes his own truth claim and every truth claim is equally valid (except for the claim that there is absolute truth).
But let’s think further. Postmodernism says there is no metanarrative, or big story, that explains everything (like the Bible); whatever metanarrative we’ve been taught cannot be believed. There is no big story; there are only many little stories. Because we create our own reality, we really don’t have a true sense of history; we can even revise it. We can’t believe things like the Bible because we don’t understand what the writers meant with the language they used based on their understanding of reality; therefore we can make the Bible say what we want it to say. The French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard defined postmodernism as the incredulity of all metanarratives. They are inadequate to represent or contain us all. In other words, we must be suspicious of all big stories. All we can talk about is our own little stories.
Here’s the issue: if all we can talk about is our own little stories, then facts go out the window. All that matters is our interpretation of the facts; our feelings about a matter; our impressions; our desires; our perception of or perspective on the facts; what we want the truth to be.
This idea has so penetrated our culture that we can now speak openly of the story we want to create regardless of what the real story is. Stephen Hadley has no problem manipulating the facts in Libya to create a pleasant story for us because facts are not real; only what we want to be real is real. And in the end, those who have the power to put forth their story have the right story. In a postmodern construct, might makes right.
Obviously such a development is deeply troubling. If we are not committed to the truth or the facts, how can we really communicate, have a sense of what’s right and wrong, make sound judgments and decisions, or even understand our world? These are massive idea shifts in our culture with equally substantial consequences.
This language and way of thinking is everywhere now. MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow said recently, “The idea behind President Obama’s insistence on talking to other nations, is to change the narrative. Do you want the narrative of America’s role in the world to be ‘America leads Western aggression against Arab countries?’ President Obama wants the narrative to be something different by showing reluctance to partake in the struggle. He wants everybody to know how reluctant he was while trying to force to the forefront the Arab world.”[ii]Again, it’s not about the real story but the story we create for our benefit.
And isn’t it this kind of thinking, this philosophy, that explains the evolving narrative regarding the death of Osama bin Laden? Certain facts have been put forth, disputed, and retracted. The story has changed in some way almost daily since the raid. And there have been admissions that some of the false facts were put forth to avoid possible negative public opinion. Regardless of where we fall down on the Osama bin Laden issue, we don’t want the White House’s best narrative: we want the truth.
So what do we do? As always, we tell the truth. The truth of a situation is what matters because there is objective truth and we can know it. And that notion is rooted in the reality of Christ, truth itself. Yes there are different perspectives on facts, but the facts are the facts regardless of how you perceive them. It’s that message alone that will bring sanity to a world “spinning” out of control