Posts Tagged ‘politics’

❝Since the inception of Malaya in 1957 and the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, the political narrative of our country has been one of race. Campaigns, parties, social movements rely on appealing to ethnocentric sentiments to remain relevant.

Post-1969, this narrative hardened and played on fears of ethnic violence. To a large extent, it has reinforced barriers between Malaysians, and created a siege mentality of “us versus them”.❞

In The Malaysian Insider

☞ From the Palestinian conflict to Australian politics: two very different issues and two very different sets of narratives. Both are political in their own unique ways, even if some of their features could be generalised or universalised. Both are also ultimately dependent on the right narratives to set things right for particular groups of people. It’s not the case that Australian politics or the Labor Party have lost all narrative: there are quite a lot of narratives or potential narratives going on there, with their own plots or potential plot outcomes. They are discussed in this article, and also, the readings listed below. The problem is not with narrative per se but the appropriate narrative or set of narratives that could save the Labor government. In this regard, the readings below have some interesting stories of their own to tell: such as the well-known one that there is a man waiting in the wings (a.k.a. Sir Kevin) who will very probably save the tribe (a.k.a. the Australian Labor Party); but his problem is that he is more popular in the land of Oz than among the fellow knightsmen and knightswomen of his tribe. Other narratives have to do with metaphors, such as Gillard being a zombie (“dead woman walking”) or that she is a woman with ba***. I am not sure if becoming the latter was helpful, or that, indeed, she has metaphorically undergone the tranformation (one of the occupational hazards of being a woman politician). She has in fact been accused by another female politician of using her gender to shield herself from complaints about her performance as prime minister.

“Governments ultimately thrive on narrative. Voters are not merely electing a suite of set policies. They are electing a party that will respond to future, unforeseen policy questions. They therefore need to know what you’re about. That’s what a clear consistent story tells them.

A party without a narrative is reduced to seeking your support as a lesser evil. Hence Labor’s focus on Tony Abbott.

Every successful government can be summarised in a phrase or two. Bob Hawke: a new, deregulated, globalised economy. Keating inherited that story, then added Asia, a growing economic power in our backyard we should embrace by shedding our British skin. Howard was about nationalism, security and capital’s triumph over labour. Everything – asylum seeker policy, counterterrorism, foreign affairs, even unsolicited social commentary about minority groups – was tailored to fit the story.

Exactly what story has Labor told us since 2007? It began with something about ”Australian working families”, but that too was a relic of the WorkChoices campaign. After that, it has been mostly a blancmange of conflicting messages. Perhaps it started when Kevin Rudd wanted to be ”tough but humane” on asylum seekers. It took Gillard only a matter of days as Prime Minister to continue the incoherence, declaring both that the number of boat people arriving in Australia was much smaller than many imagined, before swiftly going on to reassure those worried about invading hordes that their concerns were legitimate, and that they’re ”certainly [not] racist”. We learn nothing from this about how Labor sees asylum seekers. We learn only that it’s trying to please everyone.”

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☞ In an earlier post, where I quoted from an article titled “Narrative as scaffolding” on this blog, Phlip Zack argues that political perception cannot be immediate, as perception itself is mediated by narratives. I also mentioned that in the previous American Presidential election, Obama understood the importance of storytelling, and made good use of it in his campaign. Romney, as a contrast, did not, and in fact criticised Obama for believing that he should have engaged the people better through more effective storytelling in his first term as President (see Romney, RNC react to Obama’s comments on his biggest mistake). Romney’s failure to devise an effective narrative for himself was one of several factors that eventually led to his defeat. But would a future Republican Presidential candidate have a more effective story (or set of stories) to help him in his campaign? Jon Ward thinks that there is one, in the person of Marco Rubio, who, like Obama, appreciates the power of narrative in political engagement.

“Let us count the ways that Sen. Marco Rubio is already better positioned to be a competitive presidential candidate in 2016 than Mitt Romney ever was.

Marco Rubio - Caricature

Marco Rubio – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Rubio (R-Fla.) is younger. He’s Latino. He gives a good speech. But less remarked upon: Rubio understands the importance of talking about himself.

In other words, Rubio, 41, gets narrative.

For much of the last year, the Republican Party apparently did not. And the GOP’s self-examination in the wake of Romney’s loss has prompted many to say that the party needs to convey a more compelling, inspiring vision to American voters.

“The number one rule of competitive politics [is that] your story has to be rooted in lives of people. Having a narrative is really important,” said former president Bill Clinton.

Narrative has become an overused cliché in everyday political parlance, but as a concept it is as crucial as ever for any national politician. President Barack Obama paved his path to victory in 2008 by telling his own story in a 1995 memoir. And Obama’s longtime trusted adviser David Axelrod centered the 2008 campaign message firmly around the candidate’s biography.”

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☞ Narrative is not only confined to literature and mythology. It is a very important means through which we perceive reality. Indeed, arguably, reality itself is not only perceived through, but created with, narrative. Narrative is certainly important in politics, as we have seen earlier on this site, in the case of Obama, who understood the importance of narrative and storytelling better than his Presidential opponent, Mitt Romney. With a view towards explaining the importance of narrative in politics, Philip Zack argues, as seen in the series of quotations below, that it is something that we cannot escape from. The perception of raw sensory data is meaningless to us, unless it is mediated by narrative. In this light, narrative plays an active and domineering role in perception, and in the construction or reconstruction of perceptions in the realm of politics.

Change happens in any field because someone offers a different story of how and why things are or could be. We’ve achieved change by stepping into the world of a different narrative and making it real through our words and deeds.❞

Vase

Photo credit: Sunil Photos

✽ ❝Everything we know begins as raw sensory data, a pattern of light and color, perhaps. We make sense of that data by fitting it into a story — that the pattern depicts an object, in this case a vase. What happens next is important: we remember the vase, and discard the pattern.❞

✽ ❝There are all sorts of stories: static ones such as what that vase looks like from different directions, dynamic ones such as imagining pouring water from the vase, and complex ones such as having our medical bills paid for by insurance provided by the company that paid us to make a thousand of those vases. Some of these stories are our own creation, but most of them come from other people in the form of memes, or contagious ideas. The world as we know it is a dynamic ecosystem of interlocking stories, some of which are built on top of other stories. And like the animals and plants in biological ecosystems, some kinds of stories can only survive by dominating others, while other kinds of stories are able to coexist and even support one another.❞

✽ ❝Thinking of stories as living things — which is a meta-story you may not have encountered before — gives us a way to evaluate the relative merits of competing stories such as these. Set them down in front of you and see how they behave, how they interact with other storiesin the narrative ecosystem. Stories such as those with arcs about gaining dynastic power at the expense of others thrive by destroying competing stories that are not of benefit to them. Their objective is to be the last story standing, as it were. They do not make good neighbors. In contrast, stories such as those in which people benefit through collaboration are strengthened by building larger stories in which our personal stories have a stake.❞

✽ ❝Politics in the US has become a contest between competing stories describing what our nation is about, what the role of its government ought to be, and what is important in life. Thesestories, however, do not exist in a vacuum, because the narratives have been manipulated, and the raw data that we attempt to fit into these stories has been intentionally filtered and curated to appeal to our desire to associate it with a particular story so we can forget the data itself and go about our business.❞

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