I’ve lately been having a conversation with friends and fellow writers about the strategic use of stories — stories as propaganda, as weapons. It’s not a question of truth but utility: whether particular stories appropriately conform to or inconveniently contradict certain fashionable, or even ideologically mandatory, narratives.
One friend, who is trans, was peeved by a couple of recent articles about trans people who clearly don’t represent the majority of that population — some who reject any gender identification, and others who’ve second-guessed their transitions. Of course these stories deserve to be told, but, in a time when the larger population of trans people are in danger of being legally made Unpersons again, she wondered, are these the stories the public most needs to hear? Don’t they make ideal fodder for those intent on dismissing all trans people as deluded and their condition as a whim?
Another writer told me he admired an essay I’d written about a relationship I’d had with a much younger woman — a risky subject, he noted, in our current sexual-political combat zone. “Every possible permutation,” he wrote, has occurred in the realm of love and sex; shouldn’t every story get to be told?
In that essay, I recalled that the woman had written me to say that our relationship of several years earlier, while certainly consensual, felt to her in retrospect as if it had been exploitative. What I didn’t include in the essay was that, a year or two later, she contacted me again to apologize, explaining that she’d been in a bad place in her life when she’d last written me, and assured me that I had been a good influence. We’re now on friendly terms again. This is a very different story, one that awkwardly complicates the previous narrative.
A certain type of man would no doubt gleefully seize on this coda as evidence that women are fickle, self-dramatizing flibbertigibbets whose recall and accusations can’t be trusted. Does Narrative No. 2 invalidate Narrative No. 1? Does her more recent message exculpate me, or am I still indicted by the first? Should I not be telling you this story at all, for fear of undermining the stories of all the people for whom Narrative No. 1 is the painful truth? Maybe all it illustrates is that people may have radically different interpretations of their own stories in different phases of their lives. Very well, then they contradict themselves.
Yet these days, telling the wrong true story can get you called traitor, or worse, because in addition to all the other rhetorical wars being fought in rhetorical-war-torn America — over culture, gender, grammar, science, immigrants, cops, the planet — we are in the midst of another great war, one that encompasses all of the others: a war of stories.
It’s a war being fought on every front. Gun control proponents don’t want to hear stories about homeowners protecting their families with guns, whereas the National Rifle Association loves to cram its magazine with these items, telling their readers the same story over and over again, as predictable and satisfying as letters to Penthouse Forum. The mainstream media prefers to focus on sensational mass shootings and police killings of unarmed black men. Gun rights supporters don’t care to hear these stories, afraid that their enemies will brandish them as bogus evidence that guns are dangerous or something.
The textbook illustration of the convolutions of logic and perversions of truth that human beings will go through to force reality to conform to their chosen story are “hoaxers,” who insist that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, and harass the parents of murdered children as “actors” — rejecting any facts that would challenge their articles of faith, like those apocryphal cardinals piously declining to look through Galileo’s telescope.
This confusion of stories and narrative — anecdote for reality, fact for truth — is not unlike the confusion of weather with climate. Stories are weather (local, variable, unpredictable); the narrative is climate (global, long-term, inexorable). I suppose the worry underlying all these calculated evasions is that a story of, say, a woman fabricating a rape, or someone using a gun to stop a home invasion, or a Muslim being the perpetrator of a mass killing, will be used to undermine larger, more important truths, like the Republican senator Jim Inhofe tossing a snowball on the Senate floor to “disprove” climate change.
The fear is that introducing all these stories into the discourse will create narrative chaos, a land of false equivalencies, disinformation and conspiracy theory where we all get to choose our own boutique truths — one that closely resembles our current moment.
To make sense of all this conflicting anecdotal data, you’d have to turn to statistics — dull, fusty, dramatically inert statistics — which tell us, without embellishment, that the planet is warming up fast, that the percentage of demonstrably false rape allegations is in the low single digits, and that if you have a gun in your home you’re a lot less likely to repel an intruder than kill yourself.
Unfortunately, stories are far more compelling than statistics: Most people don’t think — or, more important, feel — in numbers. But they do have an inborn hunger for stories. Good politicians (meaning savvy, not virtuous) understand this instinctively: Ronald Reagan’s welfare mother buying vodka with food stamps and Donald Trump’s Muslims dancing in the streets of New Jersey as the towers fell told people something they wanted to believe, that they felt was true, and so were impervious to the feeble, dweeby rebuttals of fact.
But the big one, the Great War for the narrative, is being fought over the story of America. Most foreigners would probably be appalled, or maybe envious, if they were to grasp the extent to which even their saner American friends are living a mythic narrative. Whether you were born here or became a citizen or somehow just sneaked in, you are a part of it — the great experiment, Arsenal of Democracy, the City on the Hill.
I suspect one reason American life spans are plummeting is a deficiency of meaning: We’ve lost the thread of our story. We need someone to tell us a new one, a new Gettysburg Address or “I Have a Dream” speech — but is there one we could all agree on anymore? Is it going to be the one about a divinely ordained white man’s paradise, a bulwark of Christendom, uniquely blessed among nations; or the one about how we whupped the Axis and then the Commies and became the Greatest Country on Earth; or how we forced this nation to grudgingly become what it claimed to be, truly free and equal, gradually admitting more and more people into full citizenship and humanity?
In the introduction to his novel “The Magic Mountain,” Thomas Mann cautions, “Not every story happens to everyone.” Not every story needs to be a referendum on your worldview, either validating or refuting it. Looked at closely enough, any story becomes a world in itself, too big to be encompassed by any ideology, defying any slogans or morals.
In principle, I’m for every story being told, irrespective of its implications, because erring the other way threatens to lead to the sort of censorship-for-the-greater-good you see in totalitarian states. And I have some dumb idealistic conviction that every awkward, heterodox, contradictory truth adds up to create a larger, truer picture of the world.
In December, I read in an obituary of Eleanor Maccoby, a groundbreaking researcher into gender, that “a female colleague had advised her to suppress any of her research that might be disadvantageous for women,” but Dr. Maccoby declined to censor her results. She had faith in the facts, even if they challenged the dogma of narrative. Ultimately, I have an artist’s view of the world, not an ideologue’s: as complex, imperfect, paradoxical, a mess, containing multitudes.
Tim Kreider is the author of the essay collections “I Wrote This Book Because I Love You” and “We Learn Nothing.”B:
“【小】【鸢】，【要】【不】【要】【吃】【涮】【羊】【肉】，【还】【有】【驴】【肉】，【怎】【么】【样】？” 【朱】【起】【源】【看】【了】【看】【牧】【场】【之】【中】【的】【小】【肥】【羊】【和】【驴】，【他】【突】【然】【有】【点】【想】【吃】【了】，【涮】【羊】【肉】，【驴】【肉】【火】【锅】，【那】【叫】【一】【个】【美】【味】。 【俗】【话】【说】【的】【好】，【天】【上】【龙】【肉】，【地】【下】【驴】【肉】。 【龙】【肉】【指】【的】【其】【实】【是】【一】【种】【飞】【禽】，【可】【以】【说】【是】【一】【种】【很】【稀】【有】【的】【鸡】【类】，【名】【为】【花】【尾】【榛】【鸡】，【素】【有】【天】【上】【龙】【肉】【的】【称】【号】，【在】【以】【前】【还】【是】【皇】【室】【贡】【品】
“【有】【的】。”【贞】【妈】【把】【书】【包】【搁】【到】【酆】【程】【程】【旁】【边】【的】【座】【位】【上】，“【小】【姐】，【你】【快】【迟】【到】【了】。” 【酆】【程】【程】【不】【能】【说】【自】【己】【在】【前】【世】【中】【上】【过】【大】【学】，【只】【能】【拎】【着】【书】【包】，【往】【外】【面】【走】【去】。 【贞】【妈】【跟】【在】【她】【后】【面】，【极】【自】【然】【地】【问】【道】：“【小】【姐】，【邱】【少】【爷】【早】【晨】【打】【电】【话】【过】【来】【问】【你】【要】【不】【要】【跟】【他】【一】【起】【去】【补】【习】【班】。” “【谁】？” “【邱】【少】【爷】【啊】。”【贞】【妈】【以】【为】【自】【家】【小】【姐】【是】【没】【听】
“【哪】【里】？”【恕】【善】【使】【劲】【眯】【起】【眼】，【朝】【着】【褚】【槐】【所】【指】【的】【方】【向】【看】【去】，【可】【除】【了】【花】【草】【树】【木】，【就】【别】【无】【他】【物】【了】。 “【就】【在】【那】【里】【呀】，【那】【个】【小】【黑】【点】，【你】【看】【不】【见】【吗】？” 【无】【论】【恕】【善】【怎】【么】【看】，【始】【终】【看】【不】【到】【褚】【槐】【所】【说】【的】【院】【子】，【他】【只】【得】【惋】【惜】【地】【摇】【了】【摇】【头】，【大】【约】【褚】【槐】【所】【说】【的】【小】【黑】【点】，【在】【自】【己】【的】【眼】【中】，【已】【经】【和】【周】【围】【的】【环】【境】【融】【为】【一】【体】【了】【吧】。 “【这】【样】【么】……雷峰提供三头中特《【人】【非】【草】【木】》【上】【映】【后】，【一】【次】【集】【体】【体】【检】【让】【她】【有】【别】【的】【发】【现】。 【于】【南】【郊】【墓】【园】。【简】【洁】【点】【燃】【手】【中】【亲】【自】【鉴】【定】【亲】【子】【鉴】【定】。 【傅】【棠】【之】【和】【简】【静】【妤】【都】【是】o【型】【血】，【简】【洁】【是】，【夏】【亦】【欢】【也】【是】。 【当】【风】【扬】【起】【柳】【絮】，【火】【盆】【中】【纸】【钱】【燃】【城】【灰】【烬】。 ——【往】【事】【旧】【账】【已】【翻】【篇】。 【天】【尚】【未】【亮】，【简】【洁】【拎】【起】【行】【囊】，【与】【过】【去】【道】【别】。 【天】【亮】【之】【后】，【阳】【光】【非】【常】【强】【烈】。
【欧】【洛】【微】：“【我】【看】【你】【在】【出】【神】，【就】【叫】【叫】【你】，【你】【在】【想】【什】【么】？【想】【的】【这】【么】【认】【真】？” 【钟】【圳】【敛】【了】【敛】【眼】【神】，【淡】【淡】【的】【笑】【着】：“【没】【什】【么】，【就】【是】……【我】【觉】【得】【我】【那】【一】【挡】，【就】【刚】【好】【报】【答】【了】【你】【当】【初】【救】【我】，【现】【在】，【我】【们】【已】【经】【两】【清】【了】。” 【对】【啊】，【两】【清】【了】，【也】【没】【有】【什】【么】【羁】【绊】【了】。 “【可】【这】【完】【全】【就】【是】【两】【回】【事】，【再】【说】【了】，【当】【初】【救】【你】，【还】【不】【是】【你】【用】【那】【么】【可】【怜】
【西】【兰】【城】 【独】【孤】【琼】【回】【答】【了】【西】【陵】【赢】【的】【问】【题】：“【之】【前】【遇】【上】【了】【琊】【儿】【和】【镇】【国】【王】【府】【世】【子】，【他】【们】【在】【找】【安】【然】，【我】【们】【也】【就】【帮】【着】【找】【了】。” “【路】【过】【这】【里】，【在】【山】【脚】【下】【捡】【到】【这】【个】，【是】【琼】【儿】【之】【前】【送】【给】【安】【然】【的】【平】【安】【扣】。”【西】【陵】【歆】【拿】【出】【一】【物】，【是】【一】【条】【粉】【璎】【珞】【的】【平】【安】【扣】。 【西】【陵】【赢】【看】【了】【眼】【这】【枚】【平】【安】【扣】，【没】【有】【再】【说】【什】【么】。 【独】【孤】【琼】【抱】【起】【了】【昏】【迷】【不】【醒】【的】【安】