Politics as storytelling

Two decades ago, during my biweekly game in Berkeley, the black, white, and Latino players engaged in a series of long, heated debates about O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. We didn’t necessarily change each other’s opinions about the case, but we gained a far deeper understanding of each other—and our respective group’s experiences—in the process. This surely affected our political perspectives too.

I’ve been mulling this scene. I think the reason I like to discuss politics with people of all perspectives is peeking under the onion layers. Prod someone into talking about something they are passionate about, and they tell stories. They describe how something makes them feel by talking about how it relates to a past event.

Okay, some people are going to be purely factual about a position. That is boring to the human brain. A story engages us. So people eventually fall into telling stories that make their point.

Most people fall near the center of a spectrum on a random issue. And, how they are asked about something can influence how they respond. Ask about abortion and someone is either for or against. Ask about different types and some people who are against turn out to be okay with allowing some types. Tell different stories about a certain type and depending on the details some people can flip their stance depending on the elements it contains.

We do this without really being aware. And I love to notice people not being aware of these inconsistencies.

And these stories reveal far more about them than just the stance. The stories we tell reflect an attempt at shaping how a person wants to be perceived. We instinctually leave out the parts that we don’t want others to know, but others who have experienced the same event know those details. Those omissions also over time get lost as we forget them.

Spoilers

Ewww? Sports: I bought my first DVR specifically to record the 2006 World Cup games while at work. I was in my first few months and did not feel like I could afford to take off work to catch all the games I desired. For the 2010, I tuned out of Facebook because I knew lots of people posting live about games. Comments by friends on social media during a game is usually better than the announcers. Unless someone I know is actively posting about a game, I tend not to post anything of my own trying to respect others who might be time shifting the game.

Books and Movies: If asked, I tend to spoil books and movies. I tend to be better about holding myself back for movies newly in theaters or on DVD/Bluray. But if something has been out for a long time, then someone has had plenty of time to consume that story. Maybe they eventually will, but I tend not to save up things. Probably because the longer I wait the less likely I ever will. The exceptions for me tend to be the movie version of books where I watch after reading. The difficulty for me is explaining why someone would or would not want to see something with them feeling like it has not been spoiled.

George R. R. Martin killing off the sympathetic characters is a good example. Some people hate it. Some people love it. It feels unfair not to warn people that it happens in each book. Why someone might like the TV series better without saying anything that happens? Ugh.

Scripted Television: Pretty much both issues of sports and movies apply. I am not very sympathetic regarding shows that have been around for a long time. But I try not to spoil things that are live.

So, I guess people should avoid talking about things they want to see or read around me.

TED Talk: Epic Wins

While I like video games and found Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter an entertaining ride, I am skeptical when people describe video games in all glowing terms. Like everything, they improve specific skills. Also people are attracted to games in which they have specific skills.

For instance, girls are said to be attracted to games which tell stories and can create their own story. This explains the female attraction to Final Fantasy series with its hours of video between minutes of play. As the stories got longer, my interest waned.

Using a game to solve the world’s problems reminds me of the Last Starfighter. If you need me to go blow up a space ship, then I’m your guy. Solving global warming is far, far down my list of interests.