Worldview and Babel

Par tof the methodology by modern progressives is to put much weight on narrative over dialectic. Personal and other narratives … story is put to the forefront when defending policy choices. An odd factor in this choice of narrative as important is that, for example, I can’t remember any particular time, if ever, my friendly neighborhood liberal/progressive blogger David Schraub bloggin at The Debate Link has ever given any narrative explanation from a conservative point of view that resonated as being a good description of the conservative mindset. That is, he’s often given his perception of the conservative take and explanation (narrative) to explain a policy or point of view on an event. As far as I remember, it’s never been right.

Likely this means as well, that as far as that goes, I’m also completely misguided and wrong when I attempt to interpret and diagnose liberal points of view. How much more likely are we to be completely off base and confused when we try to interpret the point of view or narrative of Iranian politicians or Hamas militants? It turns out that modern historians have some techniques that might be useful. This method is outlined in The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. Bp Wright wears two hats as it were. He is both a theologian and a 1st century historian. In this book, in the first part, he explains the methods that historians have developed for trying to come to understand and, well, crawl into the head of people who lived long ago, in his case the 1st century middle east. In our case, we might consider trying to use this to cross the left/right divide in this country or the Islamic extremists (mostly) overseas. Below the fold, I will attempt to summarize some of what he writes on these methods.

Story is a fundamental building descriptive facet of human existance. From pg 38:

It is not the case that we perform random acts and then try to make sense of them; when people do that we say they are mad or drunk. As MacIntyre argues, conversations in particular and human actions in general are ‘enacted narratives’. That is, the overall narrative is the more basic category, while the particular moment and person can only be understood within that context. [… a short bit elided … ] I shall argue in chapter 5 that all worldviews contain an irreducible narrative element, which stands alongside the other worldview elements (symbol, praxis, and basic questions and answers), none of which can be simply ‘reduced’ to terms of the others. As we shall see, worldviews, the grid through which humans perceive reality, emerge into explicit consciousness in terms of human beliefs and aims, which function as in principle debatable expressions of the worldviews. The stories which characterize the worldview itself are thus located, on the map of human knowledge, at a more fundamental level than explicitly formulated beliefs, including theological beliefs.

When examining worldview four interacting elements are abstracted by Bp Wright. These are:

  • story — cultural symbols held and cherished in story. Story as well provides a basic way of getting at the what the other elements are and how they interact and what they mean.
  • question/answer — Four key questions are identified.
    1. Who are we?
    2. Where are we?
    3. What is wrong?
    4. What is the solution?
  • symbol — Cultural symbols, e.g., Temple in 1st century Israel, World-Trade for al-Qaeda. Cultural symobls are important in distinguising cultural meaning. Symbols donned (see this post) might tie to the badging/covering discussion. Part of symbol are those symbols we don to signify our following of particular worldviews. In part, covering is seen as a violation, or dishonest display, signifying holding a particular worldview when one does not in fact do so.
  • praxis — We are told, and it might be true, that part of the struggle between Sunni/Shiite or Arab/Christian/Jew in the Middle East stems from large cultural divides embodied in different daily praxis of peoples living in close proximity.

As far as the first case goes, the right/left divide to use worldview in this context might be to examine those four instances and how we differ in them. How do those on the different sides react differently to those questions? It’s clear that we get the other‘s story wrong. But, there are better techniques than just examining stated narrative. One of them, is to examine their respective writings, their literature. Right and left indeed cherish and favor different works of literature. I’ll get to those techniques next week. But first, some questions.

So to begin, a bleg/request/prayer for my several readers who willing to comment (and perchance those who do read this might reach out to others who are of like mind). My question for you would be the following, please indicate in comment or email:

  1. What “category” to which you belong, i.e., right, left, Christian, Atheist, communist, Libertarian … or whatever? What label would you put on your primary “worldview” affiliation if one had to choose.
  2. ┬áThen, please name three or four works of Literature which best this worldview. For example, many Orthodox point to Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov.

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  1. To preface, I have in fact spoken out favorably on the matter of constructing “conservative narratives” that are worthy of attention and discussion. See, e.g., here (arguing that conservative members of minority groups have a unique story to tell that is often marginalized) and here (approvingly linking to a conservative recasting of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” as a liberatarian manifesto). Obviously, I’m not qualified to tell the conservative “narrative”, as I am not, in fact, a conservative, but the conservative narrative project is one I have spoken out in support of.

    As to your questions:
    1) I think the dominant categories in my life are Jewish, White, male, heterosexual, and progressive (in no particular order). These categories inform and intersect with each other to form my worldview, which I would probably label “progressive” but which cannot be fully understood without situating it within the aforementioned categories.

    2) It’s so rare that I read literature anymore, but The Chosen and The Promise by Chaim Potok would be two examples that might fit. Extending the definition of literature out a bit, we could include W.E.B. Du Bois’ Darkwater, and a variety of post-Holocaust literature (Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower and Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God, most notably).

  2. Mark says:

    Sorry if I was picking on you, but you have in the past interpreted or at least represented what you think the POV on various conservative matters and in those cases it seems to me you missed the mark. And thank you very much for the very prompt response.

    And thank you very much for your literature examples.

    And, by the way, if narrative and story are important, as I think they are to you, why do you choose not to read literature … for isn’t that our best repository of story?

    And by “literature”, I should remark I don’t mean necessarily high-falutin works regarded by all as “great” literature. Common “popular” fiction is perhaps just as, if not more, representative and formative of worldview in my opinion.

  3. I read short stories sometimes, and I read scholarship which incorporates storytelling (Yoshino’s book would be an example, as are the writings of authors like Derrick Bell and Patricia Williams), but unfortunately high school English classes bled my love of fiction out of me.

    I do read Harry Potter, but I don’t think that constitutes a “worldview” per se….

  4. Mark says:

    I knew you read scholarship that incorporates narrative, which is why I thought it unfortunate that you have abandoned literature.

    However … I too had a similar reaction to literature from my educational experience. It didn’t last a lifetime. At some point, I realized that I was ignoring some really good reading material.

  5. Anne says:

    Sorry I’m late to the discussion. Hope it’s not exclusively political. I consider myself first and forement a quester after reality, someone seeking to know and understand the world in which we live. This has led fairly directly to my coming to Christianity from a liberal/agnostic home, and my increasing commitment to Christ over the years. I’m not sure if any fiction has really captured that worldview. If non-fiction did, it might be G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy — the discovery that when he set out to evaluate the facts on his own and create his own heresy that tied to reality as best he could, he found out that he had re-invented Orthodoxy.

  6. Mark says:

    I’m hunting down narrative, so non-fiction isn’t where I’m looking, although Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is very narrative in style.

    As far as questing for reality, narrative is how we frame our view of reality.

  7. […] my discussions Tuesday, following N.T Wright, one of the four “irreducible” elements of worldview is symbol. […]