Narratives and the Golden Rule
I was doubtful as to whether to complete this, since I guess things have kinda blown over in recent times, and perhaps we may not even need this message. But something I read recently made me want to write about it all over again…
You may have seen our great Wall of Text discussion recently in a recent article I wrote here, but you know, I think there was enough stuff in the comments between Bruce, Chanson, and me alone (so I can’t really recommend reading through all of them unless you have time…it might be considered torture in some states) to merit another full-blown article.
We quickly got into how the way we see things (particularly about the church) is guided by our own narratives. Our narratives are of course, incomplete, and sometimes formed on split second reactions (for example, our moral foundations) in a way that may make us think they are natural, normal, and perhaps unbiased. They aren’t necessarily objective (and sometimes, even when we recognize our bias, we can’t correct for these things because we’d be biased in our own bias correction…) But Bruce at Mormon Matters has already written about the idea of narratives and narrative fallacies several times, and I *do* recommend reading through those if you have the time…definitely not torture at all. (In fact, even if your gut disagrees with them and thinks they are torturous, read them anyway because that disagreement is the quickest way to understand narrative fallacy.)
In one comment of the article here at MSP, I remarked that even if we have these narratives and they are fallacious, people should trust their own narratives…because after all, they are practical for us. As was mentioned on yet another post at Mormon Matters (Bruce really does all the work for me), “all” of the narratives cannot be treated as equally true, because some of them have irreconciliable incompatibilities. We use our own narrative to discern between them — whether that will be a narrative that inclines itself to faith one to skepticism. Regardless of the actual truth (which may or may not be discoverable), we still have these narratives and personalities that get in the way.
But…alas, I realized that even though this is the way things *are* (or at least, this is the way I see things as)…this isn’t the way I think things should be. *Gasp*. Even I think there should be some ethical standards in place (so look at that; we aren’t all moral relativists here). In fact, I realized that many of my arguments were academic and positive, but they weren’t normative. Although I recognize that people are going to trust their narratives — we all do it –I realized that in some instances, we should suspend this and use the narratives of others.
What got me to reconsider. Well, Bruce had said something that reminded me of the Golden Rule…this set me on edge, because I strongly dislike the Golden Rule. I don’t know what element to assign it, but my ideal rule would be: Treat others as they would like to be treated.
Of course, this changes everything. It gives me what I think is a personal imperative in my dealings with others…if I am dealing with a faithful member or someone I see differently from on any issue, then really, I shouldn’t just default to accept my narrative and nothing more…I should try to see their narrative too.
Now wait…this…has problems. If I don’t stand up for my narrative, then really, others will walk all over me.
So, back to the drawing board.
I think nearing the end of the conversation, I devised a better view. I don’t (and shouldn’t) have to abandon my beliefs for those of others when I meet and communicate with other people…because that would be kind of silly and would actually hinder development (I really, really feel bad for all the people who pretend to believe whatever things even though they actually don’t believe for whatever reason — this seems to cause resentment and loathing and a misunderstanding of whatever the feigned belief actually was.)
However, where does my little rule come into play? I think…we do need to make concessions in narratives when we first come to discuss. We’ve had some less than ubiquitously positive discussions here at the MSP (or elsewhere, for that matter), and I’ve written about how I eventually hate arguments for this reason… but it seems that arguments have this tendency to escalate into wars about personalities. At some point, parties may feel personally attacked by another comment. Regardless of who starts it, there is a tendency for people to start speaking *for* the other party’s narratives. They might assume something like, “Oh, that guy is only saying xxx because he’s trying to justify his own erroneous beliefs and won’t admit his error.” When this happens, a person takes his own narrative at the exclusion of the other person’s…and he begins to think in the same ways that remind me of why I dislike the Golden Rule. So, we might drum up skepticism about the other person’s motives.
In some cases, we might very well be right. Our opposition might very well be bluffing, trolling, goading, assuming, condescending, etc., But regardless of the truth or falsity of the accusation, the accusation closes walls of communication and progress. We can’t even begin to communicate, for example, if we assume that someone is brainwashed and everything they say can be discounted because of their brainwashing. If we truly want to engage in conversation (because, let’s fact it, sometimes if we see it coming and aren’t comfortable with the perception of the other person, we don’t want to engage), we’ve got to accept, in these occasions, the other person’s narrative wholeheartedly. We have to trust that they are being open, not cynical, not jaded, not presumptive, etc.,
I guess this is tough. It’s probably a lesson we could learn a thousand times through experience and never get it down. But I thought it was important.
Why did I decide to revive this topic (which is kinda stale now, and probably off the minds of many?) Well, I was reading yet another blog, and I saw my idea written from a believing perspective:
Ultimately, in such “sacred argument,” it is necessary for each debater to be fully committed to the humanity, rationality, and decency of their opponents. The moment we begin to suspect (much less say!) that disagreement equals irrationality, stupidity, or maliciousness, we have lost the debate.