Politica: War as metanarrative


Don't worry, I don't carry a double-barreled shotgun as I did as a cowboy in 1943, though I understand that currently just about a third of my fellow citizens are packing. Armed or not, like many of you, I am afloat in the sea of blood best described as the war metanarrative*. I come from a culture where we make war on terror, poverty, cancer, gangs, drugs, crime, waste, -isms, graffiti, and even war on making war. One of my alma maters is known as "The Fighting Irish" and its every newsletter leverages the metaphor.

So what is this all about? Now that we know better how our normal systemic "fast thinking" automatically shapes our immediate perceptions, feelings and judgements, we need to go further to identify the overarching cultural metanarratives that shape the worlds we live in and feed those frames we listen with. War is just one of these peculiar to my cultural upbringing. I am experimenting with approaches to help us do this kind of metanarrative identification. So, play along with me. See how it works, and perhaps create something similar for a culture you are part of.

What would happen if you were to read and notice how your mind completes the following commonly used words or phrases, and when it does, note what is contained in the "frame" around each, i.e., images, scenarios, judgements, sensations, feelings, bodily disposition–what soothes or twitches? What alternative frame could you choose and once you consider it, again what images, scenarios, judgements, sensations, feelings, etc., arrive with that one? I have picked expressions here commonly used in my US English speaking background.

The war on... The fight for... The battle to...
A patriotic slogan... Double-barreled... Kill the...
Rally the troops... Militant... The front line...
Siege mentality... Ready, aim, fire... Time bomb...

The language we adopt make us complicit in as well as reinforces the culture we create and the identities we foster. We might make another similar reflection using the abundance of sports language and expressions in business and daily lives. This, it seems to me, often echoes the war metanarrative, especially when business is played as a zero sum, winner-take-all game. As war and zero-sum gaming seem peculiar to my US cultural background, my examples may not work for you. Be assured, though, that your cultural group(s) live in the bosom of their own metanarratives. Discover them. Explore how they work, realizing that this deeper layer of awareness is essential to full cultural competence.

*Metanarrative: An overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Image: From cowboy & Indian wars to video games, a background of blood

 – plus ça change, plus de la même chose! 

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