I’m an intern for the IT department of a call center. It has its headquarter in Texas, but it has two call centers in Mexico, which means that I have the unique opportunity to pop to Mexico on occasion to get a good idea of how the business works. It also means that they have a unique opportunity to get to know many English-speaking Mexican people on a first-name basis, and I have become especially fond of getting to know their stories whenever possible. This has broadened my horizons more than I could have guessed and caused me to think twice about many things that, as an American, I’ve taken for granted.
One night, several American and Mexican employees went to dinner. Needless to say, it was fantastic; I have a special love for Mexican food that surpasses exaggeration. As the conversation started to get political, I opened up my ears a little wider and took in all I could.
“I don’t understand,” said one of the Mexican executives, “If Fox News is for Trump and CNN is for the Democrats, and there are many others out there, which is the… the right one?”
One of the Americans shrugged, saying something that I’ve found to be true from my own experience. “You can’t really trust anybody,” he said, “You have to follow five or six different networks and then come to your own conclusions.”
At first, lacking an ‘official news source’ may seem like a bad idea. If there are no absolute standards, nothing to agree upon, then how do we prevent having a fractured nation? If everyone’s objectives and ideals are different, then how do we function as a unified nation? Is this partially to blame for the divide in our country, split on partisan lines and warring it out in the comment sections of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?
Many of these questions don’t have obvious nor easy answers, but a few can be logically deduced. Here are my two cents regarding why people are willing to accept narratives, what a narrative is, and why it’s essential to a free society that multiple narratives are considered acceptable.
Using the past as context
To some degree, our divide shouldn’t be surprising. We’re human beings with isolated brains, fed information about the world through limited senses and only able to communicate through agreed-upon symbols. We come to our own conclusions about everything we take in, whether we’re aware of it or not. When you burn your hand on a stove, you come to conclusions in the future that will affect whether or not you put your hand on the same stove. Failure to function this way is literally the definition of insanity, to attempt the same action multiple times, expecting different results. We are creatures that are designed to use the past as context for future decisions.
Unfortunately, this has unintentional side-effects when used outside of the parameters set by absolute values. We haven’t all robbed a bank, curious about what would happen. We understand from education and other individuals that certain things happen under distinct circumstances. This concept of trust is essential to what it means to be a functioning member of society. After all, if we couldn’t trust anyone, we wouldn’t be able to eat anything (most of our food is packaged by others), live anywhere (you probably didn’t build your house yourself), or interact in a meaningful way with other human beings.
This does not mean that every idea is valid. It does mean that the more ideas we are allowed to experiment with, the more likely we are to stumble across something that is valid.
Everyone is free in their own mind to do whatever they want, regardless of where you are. However, the freedom to act upon ones’ desires varies depending on what system of government you are under, with systems existing on either end of the extreme. Whether or not one is responsible for the consequences of one’s own actions is not relevant to this discussion at this time — however, the concept of free education is. I’m not talking about free college. In a nation like the United States where, for the most part, people can pick up and read any book or watch any news story they can get their hands on without fear of getting shot, people are going to have different opinions. And because people have different opinions, other people are going to characterize current events in light of their previous experiences, weaving a narrative. With that said…
What’s wrong with having a narrative?
I have not seen a convincing argument explaining why the concept of a narrative is wrong. Just like the concept of rhetoric, if an argument is ethically sound and believed to be true by the speaker, it has the possibility of being at least worth your time, right? Everyone believes in one narrative or another due to the fact that our perceptions are limited. The great irony in this is that those who disagree with this statement are themselves believing the narrative that no one believes in narratives!
In many ways, it’s unfortunate that the United States is a state in which many individuals cannot agree on anything substantial, let alone news sources. As Matt Walsh puts it, “…there are 325 million people in America. We can’t all be friends. We don’t know each other and never will. We don’t have a common personal history or even a common cultural history. We cannot unite in the intimate, personal sense in which two old friends may unite. We need something broader, something larger, something that millions of strangers can share together. What is it, then? What’s our thing? If a people will not be united by their beliefs or ideas then they must at least have a common heritage, a common tradition, a common language. We have none of those things. In fact, even worse, those things are themselves causes for further division and contention.” Ouch.
Where’s the good in all this?
It only makes sense that we’re fallible. However, our desperate search for some sort of correct answer to all of life’s issues. At the heart of it, many solutions to issues are just that — what people believe to be solutions. This does not mean that every idea is valid. It does mean that the more ideas we are allowed to experiment with, the more likely we are to stumble across something that is valid.
In George Orwell’s work 1984, he explains a society in which Ingsoc, the ruling class, has successfully subdued culture into accepting a smorgasbord of false narratives. Any alternatives are immediately subdued and broken, and with the usage of Newspeak, a federally mandated language with a limited vocabulary, the concept of even conceptualizing any other ideas is impossible. The word ‘good’ was synonymous with the will of the ruling party, while ‘bad’ was synonymous with anything against their authority. I am not suggesting that a society exactly like this has ever existed, especially since this was obviously a work of fiction. However, it is likely that if a situation like this were to be successfully implemented, only one small group of people, led by Big Brother, would be fit with the responsibility of deciding what is the correct decision in any dilemma, and if Big Brother was mistaken, there would be no hope for the right solution to ever exist. It’s a sacrifice of ethics for the sake of power.
It is my belief that Jesus Christ and the good news of his death and resurrection are imperative to understanding any problem, since the story of his forgiveness and reconciliation are dear to my heart and loud in regards to my own life. However, it’s all-too common for people with a desire for power or respect to distort the good news in their own favor. Nonetheless, I in no means desire for the commanding, Christ-less rule of the Catholic church to ever exist again. What existing during the dark ages was the antithesis of what Jesus represented. But that’s not why I’m writing this. All I’m saying is that if they were wrong, then everyone was wrong. The Lord’s desire for our lives was that our salvation occurs between the Lord and ourselves, as it says in Philippians 2:12–13, “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Not that advice and direction are unimportant — they are incredibly important, as we are limited human beings — but it’s backwards to be spoon-fed and to keep your eyes closed. If it’s the truth, then why aren’t our eyes open the widest?
It doesn’t matter where you get your news from. Everybody’s coming at it from a different perspective. What I would recommend is that you keep an eye on the purpose of why you’re checking the news. If you’re pursuing the right thing, you’re going to find it. If not, then you won’t. The truth is usually different than what we expect it to be. And thank goodness it is.