Stories All the Way Down

There is an idea called binary opposition that comes out of structuralism.  I don’t know that anybody studies structuralism anymore, but in 2016 after 10 years of social media it seems relevant.  Social media is narrative building on a global scale that has never been seen before.  Humans build narratives constantly and on Facebook or Twitter we can build them together 24×7.  Binary Opposition says that two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another.  It is what we see on social media every day in the arguments that go on and on and on.  Every post and argument extends the narrative which sadly is extremely boring and disheartening to most of us.  If one side doesn’t have enough people to tell their side of the narrative it can be easily accounted for and efforts can be ramped up by bots.  An equal measured binary response.  In the digital age there are no lulls in the narrative or no intermissions. At this point I don’t think we are defining what each side of the narrative stands for.  The structure of the narrative is more important than the content.  The structure defines the elements of the narrative itself based on the corridors of human cognition that we can’t even see.  We can’t seem to stop the narrative. The momentum is too great. Maybe someone can tell me how this ends or gets reset?  I am not sure we know.  This is new territory.  Maybe I’m telling myself a narrative and none of this true at all? Maybe, but I don’t think so.  I don’t think it’s turtles all the way down, for humans I think it’s stories all the way down.  Personally I am going to do what I always do when I am clueless about the world or depressed.  Pull out some old world narratives and read them for a few years.  Books.  At least most of those narratives have beginnings middles and ends.

Bless Your Heart – Then and Now

I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1998.  I had never lived in the South before and I quickly learned the phrase ‘bless your heart’ could mean any number of things both positive and negative.  It was the inflection or the timing or the smiling or sad face that accompanied the phrase that mattered more.  Often later there might be a moment that whoever spoke the words ‘bless your heart’ to you pulled you aside and spoke in a more intimate manner, clarifying their feelings or checking on yours.  Sometimes a quiet discussion was the best way to challenge someone or to console them.  1998 was a strange moment in Charlotte.  It had been a city forced to change by its own residents, by companies that moved there, by the Supreme Court, by all sorts of factors.  There had been far fewer quiet discussions, much more yelling in the years that preceded it.  From Julius Chambers presenting arguments for Swann vs. the Mecklenburg County Board of Education in 1971 to Pat McCrory fighting with theater director Keith Martin on Good Morning America over the NEA funded Angels in America in 1996 just two years earlier, the region was always in flux.

It’s been almost 20 years since then.  People rarely say bless your heart in Charlotte now and the city is ground zero for a battle over a law called HB2.  I don’t miss the phrase much, I never really figured it out.  I do miss people who spoke quietly and considered their words though.  They were skills that those people had learned the hard way.  They witnessed the failures of yelling.  People don’t hear you when you yell. They only hear the volume.  There is yelling everyday now. Sometime in the next few years we will acknowledge the fact that the yelling did us very little good.  We will still have LGBT people and evangelical people as neighbors.  They will still live some parts their lives differently than us and it still will not effect our lives much at all.  There will be times where we understand that treating each other with respect and dignity is for the best.  It will be agreed that all people are entitled to equal protection under the law. We’ll calmly iron out the details.  Those will be good times.  Then we will forget again.  We always do.  Then we will yell.  Bless our hearts.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2016

Goodbye Colubmia

To those who feel wronged by the Confederate flag lowering tomorrow take heart. Those of us for lowering the flag know that the minimum death toll of the American Civil War was 625,000. It was quite possibly 1,000,000. There were bastards, hero’s, no accounts, saints and sinners on both sides. The wrong side of history has room for many. There is one important fact we definitely know. We know that every death on both sides lead to Emancipation. Emancipation is the moment this nation began. Every sacrifice on both sides is remembered. It gave birth to anything great we are or will become. Our nation is the sons and daughters of Confederates, Unionists, Immigrants and Slaves. When our greatest sin ended we all began. Grace to all who made Emancipation possible. It is not forgotten.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2015

From The Great War and Modern Memory – Paul Fussell

Today the Somme is a peaceful but sullen place, unforgetting and unforgiving. … To wander now over the fields destined to extrude their rusty metal fragments for centuries is to appreciate in the most intimate way the permanent reverberations of July, 1916. When the air is damp you can smell rusted iron everywhere, even though you see only wheat and barley.