Okay, let’s get back to narratives! So as we covered last time, narratives are ways that we wrap ideas into stories. These really appeal to our brains, but also lead us to ignore and discount evidence counter to narratives we already believe.
Because of how powerful narratives are in our heads, they end up influencing culture a lot more than you might think. Another framework used when dealing with narratives is the concept of dominant and alternative narratives.
Any culture or group is prone to end up with certain ‘dominant’ narratives that are held by a large majority of the members of the group. This is obviously the case with political parties, but even works if you look at a family, which may share a narrative around why saving money is virtuous.
One narrative may have the upper hand now, but a changing of the guard is only a matter of time!
Yet it’s inevitable that any group will have someone who disagrees. These are the contrarians, the rebels, whatever you want to call them. They are likely to look at the status quo and challenge it. For the family this may be the rebellious daughter who believes spending money is a better option than saving it. Political parties see the same dynamic at a larger scale.
At the political scale, one needs to look no further than our current President to see how dominant and alternative narratives can play together. In the primaries, Trump and his ideas were an alternative narrative, trying to bend the party’s culture to be more protectionist on trade, foreign policy, and immigration.
And as we saw with Trump, yesterday’s alternative narrative is today’s dominant narrative. Many polls show just how drastically the opinion within the Republican party shifted as he became more successful.
Though I’m picking on Republicans here, you can see the same dynamic with Democrats – particularly with Bernie Sanders pushing an alternative narrative for the party that moves it closer to Socialism.
Lastly, I’ll note – there is nothing inherently good or bad about either a Dominant or Alternative narrative. Given that one can easily become the other, it’s more important that we ensure the evolution of narratives is driven by a healthy system of discourse. But more on that next time!