Left versus right: The power of narrative

You may boil down your beliefs to a series of ideas, but odds are that every lesson you ever learned came at the end of a story, either one you lived or one you watched unfold. All great religions are taught to us as stories. Every great journalistic exposé came in the form of a story. We evolved to learn through stories. We may as well be called homo relator, or storytelling man.

Ideas are surprisingly easy to let go of, if pried loose by the right story. Stories, meanwhile, are shockingly difficult to let go of, even if they convey a bad idea. Just try to tell someone who has gotten a raw deal in life that their story is not typical of America. Or, if you prefer, try to tell someone who’s been fortunate at every turn that their story isn’t typical either…

Similarly, so much that passes for ideological opposition to capitalism is in reality loyalty to a storyline disproved by reality. Indeed, one reason climate change hysteria is so hard to combat is that, unlike previous indictments of capitalism, it is immune to falsification — if temperatures rise or if they fall, it’s evidence of impending calamity. For generations we were told that democratic capitalism was bad for the environment compared with the enlightened rule of socialism. But everywhere this proposition was put to the test, it failed.

I understand that the difference between narratives and ideas can be a subtle one. But if you keep the distinction in mind, the arguments tearing apart America become more comprehensible. It is a conflict of visions driven by adherents of two versions of the story of America. And whichever side wins, the victors will determine the story taught to the next generation.