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March 16, 2017 / Congau

National Narrative

A nation constructs its narrative; a story of the past that is to fit into a simple format, grasped intuitively and believed. It serves the purpose of creating an undefined feeling of unity among a more or less arbitrary group of people and is used to contrast them against other groups. It is all a construction; that is, it is a lie.

Nevertheless it is considered to be an important and a decent enterprise. The word “narrative” has become the respectable cousin of propaganda. That is all the more incredible since a narrative doesn’t even claim to be the whole truth. It is just one version of history out of many possible others; a rhetorical device designed to stir emotions and caring little about objective balance.

Creating a story is an educational exercise. Above all it must be effective, emphasizing dramatic highlights and avoiding tedious overloading. It is said that too much memory kills the memory and that is probably true, but how valuable is a memory that has been selectively picked to fit a purpose? The conclusion has been stated in advance and the premises are then made to suit it. This is the worst kind of lie, reminiscent of the way statistics is used to create falsehood from seemingly undeniable truths.

Our nation is great; that is the preconceived conclusion. Then certain events are selected, some victorious battles and moments of successful defiance. Everything else from a long history is left out for pedagogical reasons and the pupils learn their syllabus. The products are wonderfully obedient patriots; under other regimes they would have been brainwashed victims of propaganda, but in our realm they constitute a well-educated and informed populace.

Sometimes one may wonder if education is any good at all. It may have been better if people had never learned to read and then never had become objects of manipulation. That is not true of course; real knowledge cannot be bad even though what we learn has always been through a filter of interpretation. However, we should be skeptical to the narrators who feed us, and if someone tells you that a national and cultural narrative is necessary, don’t believe them. We don’t need to be lied to.

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