The Primacy of Narrative
I’m at a Fourth of July celebration, Ashland, Oregon. The float in front of us is simple but fun: a bunch of people from a very conservative church dancing and singing away to Bible songs. They are obviously having a blast.
Behind them? Dykes on Bikes (yes, that was the name of the organization), very serious, very tough, very over the top. However, neither of them had a problem with each other.
And why would they? They were in a parade! They were celebrating.
Years later, I was in a Pride march in San Francisco, while attending one of the first Green Festival Expos. The march ends, people are dispersing and we’re outside the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts.
There’s a street performer there, with a Tibetan prayer bowl, taking advantage of the excellent acoustics. There’s a band, fresh from the march, that spots her and they saunter over. They launch into a haunting and beautiful improvised tune together.
Why not? They were both musicians, in a place that celebrated art. This is the function of the primacy of narrative, that ability that humans have to read the situation and story it quickly. It’s a vital part of who we are.
On January 18, 2019, there was a confrontation between two sides: a set of white, Christian highschoolers and two groups of non-Christian protestors. The actual confrontation is being drowned out by people screaming about details, but what I want to do is take a look at the narrative at work.