Storytelling Matters

Two disparate pieces caught my eye recently: the first, an account of voters without photo ID combating new laws in Pennsylvania; the second, an effort to fact-check New York Times columnist David Brooks.

 

Where do these two intersect?  Both Brooks’s pop sociology and the arduous new voter ID laws rely on invented narratives, in which their creators have invested so much that the actual truth is obscured.  The phantom fear of “voter fraud,” which is nearly 100% unsubstantiated, leads to the erasure of actual human persons for the sake of persecuting imagined criminals — facts and lived experience cannot stand against the power of the invented narrative.

 

Similarly, the claims made by David Brooks are without support, and although he accuses the reporter fact-checking him of lacking humor, the truth is that David Brooks has never marketed himself as a comedy writer.  His field — or at least the field to which he aspires — is journalism, and such a pursuit is marked by a commitment to truth, not to preconceived ideas.  In creating caricatures of Red America and Blue America he, too, erases the actual lived experience of those whom he purports to represent; he imagines himself a conservative emissary to the Times-reading progressive set but by his determination to fit Red Staters into his neat, preconceived notion he trivializes their lives and beliefs more than Rachel Maddow ever has.

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now: the narratives we create — about others and ourselves — matter.  The narratives crafted by those in power, whether that power be over state voter legislation or the op-ed page of America’s paper of record, matter even more.  It is incumbent upon us all to honor truth in our storytelling, to acknowledge challenging facts, to account for the fullness and messiness of our common humanity, or at least to try.  To do anything less, as in the state of Pennsylvania (and so many others) or as in the writings of David Brooks, is, plainly, to fail.