Deconstructing Narratives

In the study of postmodernism, one is confronted with the concept of narratives — overarching and comprehensive accounts of events, experiences, and social and cultural phenomena based on an appeal to universal truth or universal values. The narrative is the story that’s presented about the event, one that legitimizes power, authority, and social customs.

Each of us in the U.S. makes assumptions about life based on some or many narratives that seem to have been set in stone and against which we have no choice but to go along. We’re in a season where skepticism is increasing, however, as more and more people discover that these things aren’t really concrete but stem from the narratives of others like the ruling class, those who have the power to force rules and hierarchies on the powerless. This growing skepticism is a frightening perspective for the status quo, who demands that the rules be followed regardless of their source. Here, the great enemy is the postmodern exercise known as deconstruction, where narratives are examined to uncover both source and path. Deconstruction is the great commoner counterweight to the status quo.

Here’s an example from my own history. In the early 1970s, I was a morning news producer and part-time Assignment Editor for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. I lived in the suburb of Shorewood, not very far from the campus of WTMJ, and had to be in work around 4 o’clock in the morning. My street was a one-way street that ended at a normally busy street. I needed to turn left, but there was a sign saying “No Left Turn.” There was zero traffic on the street, so I simply turned left, and one morning, a cop was watching. I got a ticket and was pretty upset about it. I can’t emphasize enough that the street was completely empty.

I did research and discovered that many years earlier, a woman pushing a baby stroller was run over by a car making a left turn at the intersection. The driver didn’t see the woman, because he was blinded by the setting sun, which was directly in his eyes. The story got a lot of attention, and so the authorities banned all left turns at the intersection. Based on that narrative, I was able to successfully argue that the circumstances at the intersection were very different in the middle of the night, and I convinced the Traffic Safety Commission to change the law from No Left Turn to No Left Turn 7am-7pm. If I hadn’t found the narrative that was used to justify the law in the first place, I would’ve had much more difficulty reaching the commissioners.

The point is it can be very valuable to know and understand the narrative behind the things we encounter around us and elsewhere. So let’s dig deeper. According to the New World Encyclopedia:

A grand narrative or metanarrative is one that claims to explain various events in history, gives meaning by connecting disperse events and phenomena by appealing to some kind of universal knowledge or schema. The term grand narratives can be applied to a wide range of thoughts which includes Marxism, religious doctrines, belief in progress, universal reason, and others.

The concept was created by Jean-François Lyotard in his work, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979). In this text, Lyotard refers to what he describes as the postmodern condition, which he characterized as increasing skepticism toward the totalizing nature of “metanarratives” or “grand narratives.”

…Many Christians believe that human nature, since the Fall (Genesis 3), is characteristically sinful, but has the possibility of redemption and experiencing eternal life in heaven; thus representing a belief in a universal rule and a telos for humankind.”

The challenge for all of us in 2021 is to recognize narratives when confronted with events — especially those political — so that we might have a chance of separating the facts from the bullshit. If we adapt to this form of understanding, we’ll see it everywhere, because every person, every business, every institution has a narrative that helps explain their language and their behavior. A personal narrative is called “agency,” the freedom I have to present myself to the world in any way that feels right to me. The problem, of course, is that we’re all human beings, and agency narratives can easily slip into selfishness, which is a serious problem for those who are trying to exercise love in their lives.

MAGA Christianity, for example, is narrative, and that’s exactly why it’s so dangerous. Universal plausibility, not fact, is what determines the story, so the grand narrative presented is false but effective in providing its denizens with what sounds like a reasonable story.

“The democrats are socialists who want to take your hard-earned money and give it to those who ought to just work like the rest of us.”

This is, of course, quite false, but it fits the conservative grand narrative that the rich people are the smart folks in our culture and provide a path for people to follow, because wherever democrats are in charge, there is waste. All one has to do to succeed in this life, therefore, is follow the rules and conform to the narrative, including the popular myth that teaching a man to fish is better than giving him a fish. The simple truth here is that the fishing pond doesn’t evenly spread the fish (resources) out in such a way that they can be caught equally.

If you understand narratives, you’ll begin to understand the old adage that “in war, the victor writes the history,” and you’ll also start asking questions about the narratives that you uncover. If you’re super lucky, you’ll soon begin — at some level — the postmodern practice of deconstructing those same narratives in an honest search for truth. History is not truth. History is narrative. As Peter Lurie pointed out in his marvelous 2003 essay “Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left: Deconstructing Hyperlinks”, the web puts us automatically within deconstruction’s reach, because every link beckons us to dig deeper and discover for ourselves. We have no idea where this is going to lead culturally, except that it is going to be terribly difficult for the status quo.

“The content available online is much less important than the manner in which it is delivered; indeed, the way the Web is structured. Its influence is structural rather than informational, and its structure is agnostic. For that reason, parental controls of the sort that AOL can offer give no comfort to conservatives. It’s not that Johnny will Google “hardcore” or “T&A” rather than “family values;” rather, it’s that Johnny will come to think, consciously or not, of everything he reads as linked, associative and contingent. He will be disinclined to accept the authority of any text, whether religious, political or artistic, since he has learned that there is no such thing as the last word, or indeed even a series of words that do not link, in some way, to some other text or game. For those who grow up reading online, reading will come to seem a game, one that endlessly plays out in unlimited directions. The web, in providing link after associative link, commentary upon every picture and paragraph, allows, indeed requires, users to engage in a postmodernist inquiry.”

Be a deconstructor, but think positively. This is a time of tremendous opportunity. Distance yourself from the status quo, for it is crashing and will blow up in time. Before that happens, however, the heat on all of this is going to be burning furiously, and it points right now to civil war. Trump and his cronies continue to pull followers further to the right, and there will come a point when all their guns will begin firing. The ensuing terror will exceed that of 9/11, because this will be perpetuated by our neighbors, not foreigners who already hate all of us. Follow the narrative to get a glimpse of tomorrow. By presenting their political ideas as an overarching narrative, followers have no choice but to go along to the very end. The appeal, after all, is universal plausibility.

The media doesn’t get this, because the media presents itself as a special class, which is part of its own narrative. In other words, the media is simply unwilling and therefore not capable of presenting life as narrative. Goodness, that would be a lot of work.

A citizenry that does its own deconstructing is not easily fooled by political narratives, and that’s where we’re all headed thanks to the World Wide Web. This shift in human understanding is eonic in nature, and we can say with great confidence that the era of modernism is over, which likely accounts for all of the current conflict between ideologies that we’re experiencing today. One era dies; another rises. Welcome to the era of postmodernism.

The irony is that this changing narrative was brought about by a pandemic and the shutting down of the culture for a season. Suddenly home alone and with tons of “free” time, people retreated into survival mode and began a great awakening amongst the people that “jobs” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and that nobody really cares for anybody else, just themselves. This has spawned an entire generation of unsatisfied people who’re working the system to start their own businesses and thus be their own employers. Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, Doordash, and others have given many of these people a way to make a few bucks while exploring their options. I use Uber several times a month, and my survey of drivers strongly suggests this is so.

So, who’ll run things when the era matures? We will. The people. And that has a chance to be glorious.

The Postmodern Expertise Conundrum

Areas of expertise | Charles Darwin University

Here’s an interesting question for the experts of our world. What do you do when the knowledge you possess that qualifies you as an expert becomes common? Is your speciality really necessary anymore, or does it simply become a fish flopping around on the dock of life? Make no mistake; modernist views of expertise and its accompanying authority are being challenged and changed right before our eyes.

Experts are the high priests of the various institutional silos built by the management culture in its ongoing efforts to herd and control the rest of us. Authority is granted to those with assumed expertise, because in the modern world, expertise is the secret handshake of those who occupy the higher rungs on the hierarchical human ladder. They do not lead by innovation; they lead by managing existing systems. Order and safety are their public goals, but maintaining the status quo is their real purpose.

Let me refer once again to the profound statement by Henry Adams at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution: “The way of nature is change. The dream of man is order.” The order of the management culture produces a governor on everyone except the super rich, for they are the ones who demand (and need) the equilibrium that comes with order. Meanwhile, nature moves us forward, whether we like it or not.

What may seem like a political disagreement between well-intentioned activists is actually a profound struggle for preeminence in the reinvention of liberty for us in the West. Life (nature) is taking us into the unknown, and our response has been to elect a guy who knew how to ping all that fear in the name of authoritarian dominance. Since order benefits the wealthy, it’s also the core mission of the Silk Stocking Party, a.k.a. the GOP. Their law & order platform cares about nothing or nobody else, and it has driven our culture to the brink of collapse under the weight of trying to take us backwards in the name of order.

Therefore, one of the great enemies of postmodernism is this contemporary view of expertise.

Licensing based on one’s expertise is the purview of the haves, who believe they’ve earned the right (as in paid for it) to make the rules, because, through their expertise, they know better than others. Once one acquires status, one wishes to make sure one keeps it. Consequently, we’re forced to follow a set of rules that favor only those who have the resources to compete for positions of expertise within the culture.

This is one of the most difficult of concepts of modernity to deconstruct, because it seems so logical and reasonable. Logic and reason, however, are the twin gods of modernism and cannot be trusted as anything other that a self-centered method of “managing” one’s life through education. And then there are those whose credentials include a family name or famous roots. It’s the American way to struggle against the odds in achieving success, which is why the first job upon entering the secret handshake crowd is to prevent others from coming in behind you. No where is human nature more on display than with those who push their modernist expertise in other people’s faces. Such folks will trample all over everybody else to be first in line.

Expertise is not only easily corruptible, but it’s corrupt on its face, for one man’s expertise is another man’s homelessness. It’s why celebrities end up in prison for “buying” their children’s entry into Ivy League or other “good” schools. The only “why” that matters is to separate oneself from those beneath one’s place on the ladder.

Expertise requires a paradigm that’s always increasingly complex, ‘lest expert knowledge become common. Experts will always strive to expand and obscure the complexity for which they provide clarity (h/t Clay Shirky). For the consultant, it’s a paradox, for the more expertise they gain, the less they can share with their clients, because renewal of the expert’s contract is always job one. If their expertise becomes common, then their place in the world crumbles. Expertise will always defend itself, so as to never lose its fatted calf.

Credentials given by higher ups are what fuels expertise and governs it at the same time. Getting inside the protection of credentials is the number one path to success in our capitalist culture. And, some people will go to great lengths to acquire even the appearance of credentials. I know a woman who was trying to develop her own consulting and life coaching business, but she didn’t have recognized expertise to be taken seriously by potential clients. She knew that if she could only introduce herself as a doctor, everything would fall into place. Don’t get me wrong. This woman is very smart and has a big heart for women and girls who’ve been through sexual trauma. She’s naturally gifted when it comes to helping such people, and her work deserves to be acknowledged by our society. Why not? Because she lacked the proper credentials. So, she researched the easiest career path for which she could legally be called “doctor” and settled on a health doctorate in Global Health and Wholeness. Bing! Now, she’s “Doctor” in the world of trauma consulting. It’s a great story of how important those credentials are in the marketing of oneself as an expert.

Of course, experts will defend their credentials by stating the many ways people benefit from them, as if the rest of us don’t ever thank them for being so special. It’s a great argument to state that if you’re going to have brain surgery, you want the very best expert there is, but these kinds of obvious arguments are designed to dissuade ANY thinking to the opposite. Fortunately,

TV commercials have been known to pick on credentials for humor’s sake. The Holiday Inn overnight experts were funny, but my favorite is FedEx involving a new employee with an MBA who thinks he’s above doing shipping when asked by a coworker to help out. “Oh you have an MBA? I see. Well, in that case, I’m going to have to show you how it’s done.” We’ve all met or known people like this, because easy is very often the expectation of people fresh out of school. Education provides the idea of expertise, but it doesn’t take into account the innate ability in all of us to observe and learn.

Access to power became the private playground of expertise and is another reason the situation is so volatile today. Thus, our government and our press became servants of the haves, those who could buy influence through marketing and propaganda. This is the life we’ve lived ever since, until the internet.

People are better and more experienced at using the web every day, and that’s a big problem for modern expertise. The geeks built it, and that’s important. They were not controlled by big business and essentially built what they wanted for themselves. While it’s true that these people can build whatever you’d like, the problem is that once it’s in use, the copycats will follow. Humans are always better at copying than innovating.

And, today, everyone is marketing. Everyone is pushing and pressing the envelope of their place in the world. The coronavirus has exacerbated this by taking jobs away and forcing new players into the market. These new players have no choice, and they’re discovering completely new ways to support themselves. Who knew that Instagram Influencer would be an actual job description that anyone could attain? Who knew there were so many women (and men) willing to take their clothes off for people and get paid (rather well) for it? When you’re a single mom who just lost her job, it seems a reasonable way to feed your kids and pay the rent. This is all new under the sun, and every day that goes by with this virus makes more and more fertile ground for innovation.

Let’s face it. No mass marketer came up with YouTube. No existing expert ever saw the value of free. In 1995, the American Medical Association launched a new initiative to assure that only THEY could “practice medicine” online. Their site — WebMD — provides no medicine but lots of referrals to seeing “your” doctor instead. This is just one way that Western Institutions are fighting back, and it’ll work for awhile. Meanwhile, patient sites keep popping up, places where patients can meet other patients and talk about their treatments. It is arming patients with knowledge but causing problems for certain doctors who prefer that THEY be the only expert in the room.

Another word for expertise is authority, and when it begins to slip, there will be new authorities that rise to take their place. Always remember that we are on the leading edge of a change of eonic proportions. Like Dylan sang, “The times, they are a‑changin’.”

Autodidacts will have their day. They may have to prove their worth to us, but postmodernism favors experience over learning anyway. It’s going to be an interesting evolution to watch, because expertise isn’t going away; it’s just being redefined. The doctor is still the doctor, although his authority is not as absolute as it once was.

Just as movable type was coming into its own in the 15th Century, John Wycliffe was finishing his common English translation of the Bible, which brought forth this mysterious statement from him: “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” There followed the Reformation, and Wycliffe’s belief never really materialized, because newly-created hierarchies became, once again, the governing bodies of the faith. The era that followed was dedicated to the processes and systems of culture, dragging us all into the elevation of logic and reason, science and math, computers and technology.

The dawn of the web is often referred to as the “Second Gutenberg Moment” of Western Civilization, for as modernism was to the faith culture, so postmodernism will be for us today.

It will continue to change everything.

Dear Parents and Grandparents

The Scroggins Family of St. Louis

I want to speak to you here as a person with a peculiar study focus. I don’t know why or how, but I’m able to see what appears obvious to me, the birth and growth of the Postmodern Era in human history. Modernity with its logical systems focus has painted itself into a corner and must give way to the new. As modernity was birthed in the printing press, postmodernity was conceived and delivered from the womb of the web. I do not speak of philosophical postmodernism, but rather the changing of the eras in history. The mantra of modernity is “I think and reason, therefore I understand” but it has changed to “I participate, therefore I understand.”

Are you with me?

We must be able to see what’s coming in terms of the big things as this era develops further. We may not be around for the payoff that our children and grandchildren will experience, but there are ways we can equip ourselves to help them today, beginning with an acknowledgement that life is definitely changing. It’s super important for them to participate, even though we’re making this up as we go along.

We are all connected now. That means I can connect directly and sideways with everybody else or just a select few. This is something completely new, and we can’t even image how much life on earth is being and will be changed as a result.

First, a warning. You either do this for them, or somebody else — with less concern for their individuality — will do it for them, and this is not a best practice for tomorrow.

Even to the young man, let’s say, who’s only interested in working in the trades, either for somebody or as an independent contractor, even he will sink or swim on his ability to use the network effectively. It’s the way of future competition, and nobody will be exempt.

Our digital identities will actually be more important than what we know under the sun, and this is where we can help our progeny.

  • Equip them before they are even able to help themselves. Buy domains. Secure usernames. Sit with them and help them develop their online IDs. If they don’t control their own brands, someone else will do it for them.
  • Show them the dangers, but don’t dwell on it, for it’s their creativity that needs tapping more than their security needs protecting.
  • Teach them about links and how everything is linked together. Links are the currency of the web, and you need to teach them why. These links teach a practical lesson in deconstructionism, something that is of enormous value in helping our children shape their lives. It must be taught early and often.
  • Do not discourage their involvement in video games, because they teach mental and manual dexterity and mind-to-finger channeling, skills they will likely need downstream.
  • Teach them to avoid being herded into traps by the lust of their own eyes.
  • Buy a generator for your home, so you can teach the value of being prepared for anything.
  • Show them that their attention is the only real scarcity in the commerce that’s being brought into existence, and as Kevin Kelly says, “We should be paid for it.” This means that postmodern advertising will seek out customers and pay them to watch their ads. The logic of this is solid, but feathers will be ruffled in the process of its development.
  • Teach them to back-up their work before they go to bed at night. Use a form of a server in your home that can serve as storage and back-up for everything.
  • Put searchable books in your digital library, including everything they’ll need for school and the interests that they display.
  • Get them private lessons in Google/YouTube, coding, Photoshop, WordPress, and social media. There are people in your community who will do this on any level you wish.
  • Teach them to think of school as a place where they can practice their branding, to not be swayed by eyes that are being exposed to cultural fads and stereotypes. Just keep them pressing forwards.
  • Show them that the more dependent we become on electricity, the more vulnerable are EMP weapons. Personal protection against such will be a thriving business downstream. Think “shielding” or similar responses.
  • Teach them all you can about human nature, and how it doesn’t change in the digital world. Teach them to study the whys of human nature, which will open the door to better understanding motive. A certain degree of cynicism is healthy, because they will certainly be exposed to propaganda in their search for truth. Teach them discernment.
  • Personal branding belongs to each and every person on the block, and it’s perhaps the most important subject to learn while growing up.
  • Do not forsake teaching them grammar and good English, for technology is still learning nuance.
  • Teach them the true nature of God, for God is most certainly One who participates with us in our everyday lives and provides an internal governor for our behavior.

No matter how much modernist people insist that IRL is better than URL, we’re learning in the 21st-Century that the efficiencies of URL render much of life to be wasteful. Take the current kerfuffle over the Post Office and mail-in ballots. Do you honestly think we can’t eventually create a secure voting system online? The web may lose some of its anonymity, but would that really be all that bad?

I see the day when the opportunities of the web vastly outweigh concerns from our old ways of doing things. We will listen to the naysayers and thank them for their concern, but we must never put them in charge.

Modernity is done; long live the Age of Participation.

Postmodernism Marches On (Although Most Still Don’t See It)

Postmodernism — that is the new cultural era brought about by the advent of the internet and the web — is advancing far from the sight of those whose oxen are being gored in the process. Call it what you wish, but long after I’m gone, and on into the centuries to come, the empowering of the people will continue. Chaos will be the on-the-table discussion item in the years ahead, because those people who are latched onto the tit of logical and rational modernism can see only chaos with anything else. Always remember the precision of Henry Adams’ observation that the way of nature is chaos, but the dream of man is order.

Let me state emphatically, too, that chaos is in the eye of the beholder. To the postmodernist, there’s nothing inherently chaotic about this new era, only that it is a welcome change from the silos of logic and reason to the breath of creative fresh air.

Even now, the evidence of the conflict between the old (modernism) and the new (postmodernism) is everywhere. It’s in every human institution, like a slimy monster that fits itself into places where it seemingly doesn’t belong and challenges us to rethink just about everything and especially the form of personal advancement known as “credentials” or “expertise.” Jeff Jarvis refers to such as “the high priests” of culture, those who’ve managed their way to the top through their lineage, schooling, hard work, luck, and especially through the protections in place to help those already near the top and to make it difficult for everybody else. Witness the current scandal involving the purchase of bogus “scholarships” to access the best universities in the land. This is a logical behavior in a world that values credentials based on schooling.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in his commencement speech at King’s College, University of London, in 1944 titled “The Inner Ring,” once a person makes it into the inner circle, she defaults to making it harder for others to get inside.

“…your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.”

Protected knowledge is that which separates everyday people from the experts in a logical, modernist culture. For example, it’s what gives doctors the fortitude to suggest that their medical degree beats Google searching, but this is merely self-preservation in a chaotic tsunami of informed patients. This will rage on, and it has already partially disrupted the authority of the physician. It’s not that she isn’t an expert anymore; it’s just that her expertise — with its incumbent authority — isn’t what it used to be. This conflict will continue until we find and accept that we’re all better off with such knowledge. The medical industry? Not so much.

We all have personal stories of how the institutions of the West have failed us in one way or another. The simple truth here is that the “push” world is being replaced by one that “pulls,” and no matter how many lawyers get involved, the rise of the people — those who’ve today known a freedom that our ancestors never imagined — will not go backwards. Look, information is power, and power that is distributed horizontally in a democracy will forever tip the scales away from absolutism at the top, much to the dismay of those at the top of the modernist pyramid.

Try to search ANY medical condition, and you’ll find at least one group of people with that condition who are ready and able to help those newly diagnosed. If one’s medical degree is, in fact, the be all and end all, then why are these groups forming? It’s because, for a great many people, medicine has its own fatted calf to protect, and its needs are not always in the best interests of patients. As long as the A.M.A. governs medical practice in the U.S., the practice of medicine will never be fully patient-friendly. The demands on practitioners is so great each and every day now that they simply don’t have the time or the inclination to discuss or argue medicine with patients. And that is to their great shame. Higher education doesn’t make you smarter; it merely positions you for scaling the imaginary cultural ladder.

In his seminal argument, Everything Is Miscellaneous, Harvard author David Weinberger makes the case that no knowledge storage retrieval system that humans can possibly create could ever outdo basic search. This is the “pull” concept in long form. Knowledge can’t be sorted into any directory system that can compete with search. From grocery store shelves to libraries to any institutional silo, it’s impossible to even come close to the efficiency of search. And search has gotten so good that even coming close on a guess often leads to what the user is actually seeking. This is not about to go backwards, so those who insist that THEY can organize their goods in such a way that physical proximity is necessary are being quite ridiculous. After all, these sorts of organizations exist to advance themselves, and it doesn’t matter to them if consumers are inconvenienced.

But, Terry, what if shoppers need what they’re seeking NOW? Enter Amazon’s new “same day” delivery. This is a powerful game-changer that’s getting very little publicity, but just try to imagine a downstream scenario in which such a service is thriving. Amazon has turned the entire retail system on its head already. People will soon come to accept such and will revel in the magic of it all. Imagine the time saving! Shoppers won’t have to go store-to-store in order to find something; they’ll simply search for it online, and it will come to them. This is uniquely postmodern, because stripping away hierarchies is the logical future of empowered people. Grocery chains offer pick-up service, and while that’s nice, it can’t compete with same-day home delivery via Instacart. This will change. I promise you.

And now comes Amazon Prime Wardrobe, where the company will send a box of clothes pre-selected by the user along with a handy convertible box which is used to send that which the customer doesn’t want back to the company. This eliminates the need for the store and the booth in which we try on clothes and moves the whole process to the living room or bedroom (or whatever). So, the customer gets a box of clothes, picks out what he wants, is charged for those, and returns the rest at no cost to him. This is designed to further destroy the value proposition of retail clothing shops, and for Amazon, it’s a way to say “anything you can do, I can do better.”

Those who fear that this horizontal empowerment itself will lead to future hierarchies are stuck in the past and fearful of Orwell’s 1984. The problem with this thinking is that the web provides the same opportunities to Aunt Helen that it does to Big Brother, for the web views them as identical. This is just one of the many reasons we fought so hard for net neutrality. The internet belongs to the people, and although we lost the first round on the issue — it’s a modernist response to the loss of control — we’ll be back and better prepared for what happens next.

Postmodernism is moving power to the base of the pyramid, while institutional power must be at the top. When people at the bottom seize the power given them through the net, they’ll never give it back willingly. So, we’re in for turbulent times as the culture groans in reaction to what it views as an assault, and there’s nothing new to this. The same thing happened with the dawn of the printing press and for the same reasons. At that time, the power was with Rome and the church. When Gutenberg had the audacity to print a Bible, the shit hit the fan, for the priests knew well the danger of putting “the word” in the hands of everyday people, and they were right. The reformation would never have happened, if only Rome held access to the book’s contents. It was John Wycliffe’s common language translation that led him to say, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The same concept is alive and well today.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the years following Gutenberg produced the same kind of Western response that we’re seeing today. Erotica was one of the first genres to be printed. Rome wanted to establish a licensing arrangement where only they could approve of those who wanted to print the Bible. It didn’t work, and the power of the Vatican in all matters cultural slowly but steadily slipped away.

Christian institutions ignore the web today and press for top-down control, which is kicking against the pricks of culture’s progressive but steady march. It’s not hard to understand, because all they know is a stage and the audience. They want little to do with the work of a more horizontal experience, because they simply cannot trust people who aren’t on the podium. “They’ll never get it right,” the thinking goes, “if they don’t have a group of educated higher-ups holding their hands.” Such nonsense. Look where we are today with Christian leaders saying that Donald Trump was ordained by God in the manner of the ancient Persian King Cyrus. This flagrantly false and misleading reference is so dangerous that we’ve become a people tripping up a step that isn’t there.

The hue and cry over fake news is another example of the modernist crowd screaming for control. I don’t deny this is an area that needs our attention, but it’s nothing more than a Trojan Horse foisted upon us by the top-down and right-wing crowds in an attempt to frighten us into submission. The originators of fake news came from the law and order right wing of American politics. In olden days, we used to call this “propaganda,” but it reached new pinnacles with the horizontal nature of the web. The right wing’s response to the clamor was simply to label opponents “fake” in order to hide their own mischief. In the wake of New Zealand, we now have people demanding that we regulate social media. This is akin to swatting a fly with an atomic bomb. We wish to shield our children from everything we went through (or “could” have gone through), and in so doing we’re preventing them from experiencing the very things that shaped our own character. It’s like beating our kids over the head with a 2x4 rather than giving our permission for them to scrape their knees.

The managers of the status quo come from two different groups — the lawyers, those rule-bound grifters who suck the life out of everything they touch and turn it into profit for themselves and those they represent — God bless ’em — and the world of business, where players sell their souls for profit and suppress anyone who stands in the way, including the government and especially the poor. The more people become aware of this, the more they’re going to object, and nothing will be impossible for them.

After me, there will be a sweeping constitutional convention to address all of this, because our government was formed in a previous cultural era and is insufficient to govern people who are connected horizontally. Traditions will be given more weight than today, perhaps even equal to laws, for traditions can be discussed and argued whereas our laws are currently given to us by lawmakers, those who exist at the pyramid’s top and therefore have their own self-centered wants and needs. Influence will slowly move to the bottom, although new forms of hierarchies are quite likely. The buck still has to end somewhere, at least that’s the way I think today.

Much is given to the politics of those who have the final say in our laws, the Supreme Court. The law says there shall be no litmus test for the selection of those who make it to this upper bench, but that is just lip-service. And, while we are kept busy with arguments about, for example, abortion or religious freedom, the most glaring political difference in the selection of nominees is the extent to which each supports business or the rights of workers. This is the real differentiator, because real power in our culture is a struggle between the top of the pyramid and the bottom. Everything else is a side show.

The Bible says the poor will always be with us, and it’s our reaction to this truth that is the great determinator of our response. If it gets in the way of those at the top, then it’s thought to be a nuisance to be ignored or even made worse, and this is another revelation that comes with empowering the bottom. Civil war in America today would not be political nearly so much as it would be class-motivated, and this energy has grown, in my view, during the Trump election and administration. So far, Republicans (the silk stocking crowd) have been successful at keeping the truth from their bottom supporters through arguments about religion and abortion, but that will not last forever.

Information is power, and power has a way of opening eyes.

Look, I know we’re in a season of cynicism and confusion, but please do not underestimate — under any circumstances — the power of the masses in determining their own government. This was Wycliffe’s point back in the 15th Century, and it’s the point today in the wake of the web.

If I had any influence on the Democrats, this is the message I would pound home to the people. It’s the money. It’s all about the money. Modernist thinking, however, forces the discussion to the box of “what new policies will you put in place instead?” This moves the narrative away from simply fixing what’s wrong to providing solutions ahead of time, so that they can be analyzed and dismissed by those at the top. That’s the cart before the horse and the source of our current gridlock.

If the base of the pyramid crumbles, the top will have no backs on which to stand. Think about it.

War Propaganda as “Weaponized Narrative”

Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace is a fascinating and highly perceptive take on the use of manipulating narrative to impact culture. The idea is that individuals, institutions, and nations are using disinformation campaigns to manipulate others to their bidding through the creation of easy-to-understand stories that support the interests of the storyteller. Technology is the bad guy.

Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.

The efforts to muscle into the affairs of the American presidency, Brexit, the Ukraine, the Baltics, and NATO reflect a shift to a “post-factual” political and cultural environment that is vulnerable to weaponized narrative.

The writers, however, Brad Allenby and Joel Garreau, oo-directors of The Weaponized Narrative Initiative of the Center on the Future of War, a partnership of Arizona State University and the Washington think tank New America, make four critical errors in their own narrative.

  1. The most glaring is that the entire concept is framed within a modernist world view where top-down, one-to-many-communications is the operating mechanism for communicating deceit. This embraces the worship of order, the vision of a psychopath (benevolent or otherwise) seated at a command and control desk pushing levers this way and that with a sinister smile enveloping a cigarette that appears to have been there for at least a week. Elevating this to an act of war is old wine in new wineskins, because reality isn’t nearly as Orwellian as the fear-mongers would have us believe.
  2. The second error works with the first. It’s a blindness to the disruption created by the bottom of today’s communications pyramid being able to talk with each other and back “up” to the top. This ability turns mass marketing on its head, although you’d be hard-pressed to find any institution that will embrace it. Some political types are tapping the space, but it is always with the assumption that it can be used to get others to pass their narrative around. This is just more modernist thinking, and the future will include educating the bottom in such a way that fooling them will get more and more difficult. I realize some will call this utopian, because it’s too chaotic and we still live in a time where a disruption to order can only be dystopian. I reject this assumption. At best, therefore, this “weaponized narrative” is temporary and not systemic, as the writers believe.
  3. Thirdly, while presented as something new, it really isn’t. Controlling narrative has been around for centuries. It was practiced by the Roman Church until the printing press allowed the laity to access that which had been reserved for the priesthood, and everything changed. It was called “propaganda” by the father of public relations Edward Bernays, a social engineer who used a form of weaponized narrative on behalf of his clients, including the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Bernays was a member of the Creel Committee, organized by Woodrow Wilson to help America justify getting into World War I. If this isn’t “weaponized narrative,” I don’t know what it is.
  4. Finally, how does one pen an article about weaponized narrative without mentioning the real experts at the practice, Israel? The fear of being tagged antisemite blocks all reason when it comes to investigating this phenomenon, for not only is Israel writing the book on how to weaponize narrative, they are doing it in full view of everybody. Within the public information office of the State of Israel are special departments who work with companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to quash anything they view as “incitement” against the crimes they commit daily in the Middle East. This is a frightening reality, for Israel can turn any event into self-defense, regardless of the heinousness of crime. It truly boggles the mind that two highly intelligent people can publish an introductory article on a concept so important without even a mention of the successful efforts of hasbara.

The article also presents America as behind other players in the world in this skill, but the jury is still out on that one. It’s self-serving in the spirit of the Shirky Principle, for the effort the writers are leading attempts to understand weaponized narrative and present solutions. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here, for the article really does present some brilliant thinking and prose:

Narrative is as old as tribes. Humans are pattern-seeking storytelling animals. We cannot endure an absence of meaning. Rather than look up at the distribution of lights in the night sky and deal with randomness, we will eagerly connect those dots and adorn them with the most elaborate – even poetic – tales of heroes and princesses and bears and dippers. We have a hard-wired need for myth. Narrative is basic to what it means to be human.

It’s easy to critical, but this is not nitpicking. The solution to any form of totalitarianism is along the bottom of the new communications pyramid, and I don’t think these manipulative storytellers can count on ignorance forever.

BONUS LINK:  U.S. To Build A “Weaponized Narrative” Into The Future Of War

The Mining of Christian Discontent

It’s never enough, never, never enough. Why is all that we have simply never enough?” Olivia Newton-John

To watch the news these days, you’d think that President Trump’s army of dissatisfied white Christian people is happily moving its agenda forward, but you’d be mistaken. Hundreds of the ear tickling promises made by Trump-the-candidate are off the table or have been brushed aside entirely by Trump-the-President, and people are having doubts about their man. This is most readily expressed in the social media discussions among friends. How long those people will cling to the guy can’t be known, but one important thing is being overlooked by the professional observers: the anger for a revolution against the status quo that Donald Trump originally tapped remains unsatisfied. This is only going to get worse. Victims of a film-flam man aren’t likely to buy in again, but that anger is still festering.

My father was a factory worker in the furniture industry in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He operated a router, cutting the same piece of wood for the same furniture over and over again as part of an assembly line. He was a working man and a Democrat of the Adlai Stevenson brand. My father simply could not vote for Republicans, because they represented the wealthy, including the boss, the owners, the managers, all those who got rich on the backs of others, especially labor.

At the annual company picnic, the children of employees were each given a silver dollar, and it was a big deal for all of us. They were heavy and big, and they made our eyes pop. However, those shiny coins were also emblematic of the reality that the people carrying the bags full of them were the overseers, and we, as recipients of their largess, were not. When you hold a big silver dollar in your little hand, the mind wanders to what it might be like to hold two. Or three. Or more.

“Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor.” Ecclesiastes 4:4 ESV

My father even disliked Gerald Ford, the local boy who became President in the wake of Watergate. Ford came from East Grand Rapids, considered the other side of the tracks from our modest means. The idea that the haves should govern the have-nots is straight out of the colonialist playbook, the outcome of which is only good for the conquerers. I think my father knew that, and it’s one of the things that drives me in my old age. I believe that the people can rule themselves and that the net makes this possible.

But amazingly, disgust with the rich is now gone from our culture. It’s been replaced by envy and the dangled carrot that liberals have robbed you of your chance at the good life through the tyranny of the minority. All you have to do, the carrot reminds, to get your share is vote against the troublemakers. This forms a fascinating paradox for the people who elected Donald Trump, because there simply aren’t enough bodies in the one percent to elect a candidate anywhere. You must have working class people included, and that remains the biggest mystery of the Trump phenomenon. How do you get people like my father to vote WITH those above you in every status measurement?

Television reality shows pay their stars well, so even “realities” like the Jersey Shore, a Louisiana swamp, or a small town in rural Georgia are skewed because everybody seems to have money. Then there are the Kardashians and other famous families, the Housewives of wherever, the Sharks, the Bachelors and Bachelorettes, and the bargain hunters who always seem to hit it big. Endorsement deals featuring reality show “celebrities” create a wannabe sub-culture that mimics the wealthy in ways that contribute to the envy of our neighbors. How much of the debt in our culture comes from young people trying to emulate those they see on TV or online? Johnny has that car, so why not me? This is the self-centered cultural core that we explored at The 700 Club to raise money and channel this discontent to the Republican Party. It’s all in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.

Envy unsatisfied easily becomes stored anger.

And the problem with anger is that it can redirect energy away from truth. Resentments always color one’s existence, because the narrative can only present a skewed reality. Resentment also burns the insides. The revenge we seek by remembering, which we intend for the source of the resentment, has nowhere to go except inward. We end up beating ourselves with the two-by-four intended for someone else. We paint ourselves as victims who deserve better, but the best a victim can do is survive. Those willing to let go and embrace life, however, are free to win.

The paradox of prosperity is that discontent increases with opportunities for acting on it.

Despite the election of Donald Trump, that anger is still throbbing in the hearts of the working class, white Christian mid-Americans that supported him as an agent of change. What he’s changed mostly so far is to switch the welfare of the poor to the welfare of the rich, making rules that benefit the rich, so that they can be richer. The jobs won’t show up. The promises he made to that disgruntled heart of America won’t be fulfilled, and the real revolt lies just around the corner.

My hope is that somebody will come along someday with a message that points to the Bible’s categorization of the rich as “oppressors” and opens the minds of middle America to the possibility that perhaps God isn’t a Republican. The reason I’m not optimistic about this is that these people aren’t driven by reason; they’re driven by faith.

Any person who will dance and kick with arms raised in church, speak in tongues, fall to the floor “in the spirit,” lay hands on the sick for healing, and generally give themselves over to a public display of emotional worship can easily be convinced to step outside reason on matters of conscience. The mind is a fertile field when opened by extreme forms of worship, which is why it most often comes before the message in church. Sixties rock superstar Jimi Hendrix said in Life Magazine’s October 3, 1969 edition: “I can explain everything better through music. You hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state which is pure positive—like in childhood when you got natural highs. And when you get people at their weakest point, you can preach into the subconscious what we want to say.

The point is that the “personal relationship with Jesus” preached by the public face of Christianity has come to represent the gathering to one’s self for personal gain along with a Bible that’s used as a self-help manual from God Almighty. These Americans are not satisfied — nor will they ever be satisfied — as long as they are convinced that they deserve more due to their loyalty to Jesus. As George Carlin would say, they’re “out where the busses don’t run,” a place where reason is a mile wide and an inch deep. Donald Trump tapped their inner disillusion with promises he would never be able to keep, and that is only going to turn up the heat on their anger.

The press would be smart to understand that this battle has only just begun.