Narrative Politics

I have a friend named Tyler Borchers. The kid is a freakin’ encyclopedia about politics. I say this only because I’m about to talk politics for a brief post (in my Spencer sort of way) and if you get frustrated at any point with my lack of knowledge, you should go to Tyler’s blog.

Anyway, I’ve been really intrigued by this whole Occupy Wall Street campaign, mostly because of its dependence on narrative. Lacking unified demands or opinions, the Occupy Wall Street-ers do have stories. Lots and lots of stories. So many stories, in fact, that there is a pretty successful Tumblr out there to document them. The people against Occupy Wall Street, though, have retaliated, telling their own stories and starting their own Tumblr.

I don’t think we fully appreciate how much of political debate is narrative. We think that our political party has it all figure out, but we think that because our political party frames the narrative in such a way as to make¬†themselves the winner. When you are in a group, you are always considered “in-group” even though your group is the “out-group” to someone else.

I am in a pretty interesting political situation. At school, my peer group and mentor group are almost exclusively liberal, while at home, my peer group and mentor group are almost exclusively conservative. And I find that my views sort of stretch in either direction depending on where I am physically located and with whom I am talking.

I used to think that this was because I didn’t have a back bone. That I was some kind of jelly-fish citizen with no real opinions of my own, but then I realized it had everything¬†to do with narrative. Conservatives never (or very rarely) frame their story in terms of keeping a group down or keeping the impoverished impoverished.

The above video is admittedly one of the notable exceptions to this rule.¬†Conservatives frame their story in hard work and old-fashioned elbow grease. And who doesn’t like hard work and old-fashioned elbow grease?

And liberals very rarely frame their stories about welfare by saying that “All lazy people should have government benefits.” No. Liberals frame their story by assuming that people aren’t lazy. And who doesn’t want to believe that all people are hard-working?

And this is why politics is so difficult. Politicians have to do much more than solve problems; they also have to paint a whole new vision of the world in which their party is eternally indispensable.

But we can’t blame the politicians too much. We do this day-to-day all the time. Have you ever heard the other side of your friend’s break-up story and realized it wasn’t as bad as he said it was? Certainly, you have. Everyone has.

What story are you selling?