Friday, April 22, 2005

Telling stories titilate all

I wonder how Canadians would have responded, if Bush said something to the effect of what Martin said last night:

"When I was young, I practically lived here in the White House. My father was president and he went to war against Iraq. He taught me that those who serve in public office have a duty to protect the integrity of government."

Telling stories is one thing, but to play into a story of nationhood that may be more a matter of mythmaking is something that Canadians have lacked in contrast to Americans.

Two rather fascinating quotes from George W Bush used at the beginning of Rogers Smith's new essay, Providentialism, Foreign Policy, and the Ethics of Political Discourse, sounds like something I'd never hear a Canadian PM say:
“We have a place, all of us, in a long story; a story we continue, but whose end we will not see…It is the American story…We are not this story’s Author, Who fills time and eternity with His purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty; and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another.” -- George W. Bush, 2001

“We go forward with complete confidence in the ultimate triumph of freedom…Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills…History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty…we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.” – George W. Bush, 2005
Rogers M Smith's thesis in the paper, I think, is:
[Bush's] ... providentialist discourse bears the hallmarks of a “story of peoplehood” that is being used politically to gain an aura of ethical legitimacy for policies that are otherwise unlikely to be seen as in accord with the nation’s dominantmoral traditions.
Though Smith is critical of the story telling, I wonder if a country can really do with out it.

For why do people find coercive force and persuasive stories convincing? You might recognize that behind the pusher and the story teller is an elite group of people who are using their power or ability to accumulate power against people, but why does it work? When pushed, why do people not just fall over and die, becoming useless to the state? When told a story, why do people not just say, "yeah, whatever"?

Political societies may indeed not be natural, as Smith says, but why is their naturally a favourable response to pushing and story telling? Is there something in Bush's story telling that does come natural? Or is the notions behind the ideas he appeals to in their linguistic context and syntax merely the product of nurture? Is there something missing in Canada persuant to the notion of an evolving story?


Jonathan said...

Interesting point. The more I think about it, the more monarchic/elitist it sounds.

Canadians are okay with that though. We have a queen, the Liberal party, and the Senate -- one's birthright in these spheres ensures one's level of participation in them.

Anonymous said...

I think your missing the point. If you want the answer don't look to the academic world, there's nothing academic about it. We the people want a politician that is honest and does what he says he's going to do. It's not complicated, it's freedom, JUSTICE(not the emphasis), and equality for all. Basically the same system we had in the 50-60's were there was confidence, security, and an emphasis on family and morals.

Academics always over read and twist these values to meet there own objectives. A good example of this is the Justice system, for which there is very little emphasis on accountability these days. This comes from the ever present push towards socialism by academics who feel it is the answer to the worlds problems, when it is the creation of the loss of independence and accountability, creating complacency and resentment.

Rogers M. Smith said...

Just came across Christo's comment about my essay. In fact, I agree that we can't do without stories that help express and give meaning to our lives. I disagree with some features of President Bush's story of America, but I also think these stories work politically because they respond to real, important needs that we have. I'd like to see us meet those needs through somewhat different stories of political identity and purpose, but it's up to people to decide for themselves what is most persuasive to them.

-- Rogers Smith