pushing a narrative devalues truth and doesn’t resolve conflicts

A good story does not end a conflict of ideas. A conflict of ideas is more likely to end when tedium, absurdity desiccated of humor, or irrelevance obscures enough of the contending ideas. Accumulation of relevant facts and development of reasoning ability can help lead to this end.

Only bad story-tellers could possibly believe in stories with nice, conflict-ending closings. Do you believe this story:

As the information age deepens, a globe–circling realm of the mind is being created — the “noosphere” that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin identified 80 years ago. …
What may turn out to matter for all parties — the advocates and their audiences and adversaries — is the “story” being told, implicitly or explicitly. Realpolitik is typically about whose military or economy wins. Noöpolitik may ultimately be about whose story wins. …
This poses quite a challenge for information strategy, a concept that calls for knowing the enemy, shaping public consciousness, and crafting persuasive messages for friend and foe alike. It is about getting the contents of those messages right, while finding the best conduits. It is about deploying inviting, meaningful narratives to win the battle of the story.

If you believe this, what advice would you give to Mark Cuban when asked why he allowed a famous director freedom to produce Redacted? If you believe this, what advice would you give to Chris Anderson, who’s worried about how it might look to be disseminating knowledge to everyone, including Iranians, about how to build and control drones (aerial drones, not those other drones). Just read the comments to those linked posts, and you’ll find all kinds of story possibilities. The most influential communication may not be a story at all, like Mark Cuban’s final line: “And to anyone who has ever questioned my patriotism or love for this country, f**k you.” [redacted in honor of FCC indecency regulations]

While concern for narrative probably peaked as an academic fashion in the early 1990s, discussion of narrative still carries an air of sophistication. This air of sophistication has helped to sustain places like Durham in Wonderland. It can lead to pathetic bigotry devoid of good reasoning and concern for truth. Ponder this dumbfounding spectacle of story-warriors. While what Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson have done requires brains and courage, their example offers a much more auspicious possibility for the future of the world.

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Read more:


The quote above is from Ronfeldt and Arquilla (2007).


Ronfeldt, David and John Arquilla. 2007. “The promise of noöpolitik.” First Monday. , 12 (8, August).

Emily rules on what it’s like to have a poet for a husband

Emily Lord on poets, couch potatomen:

All that I’m telling you is based on true reality. I was married to one once and was thrown into the midst of hordes of them. Everyone was a poet or wannabe back in the sixties. I never met a poet I liked. They drink everything and vomit on your shoes and then run off with your raincoat unless it’s sunny…then they stay until they’ve eaten everything in the house. They kept taking my tweezers and pinking shears (god knows why) and their buttons fly off. Once I cloroxed all their ecru India guru garb till they were clean as diapers. They had to roll around in the front yard till they looked beat enough for a reading. We had a first edition of a paperback book that was worth a bundle (August Derleth? some one who wrote about Boston in a genre horror) and one of them took it and sold it and went somewhere, like France. That’s just for starters. They want you to cook tacos for them in N.H. when there are only root vegetables to be had. I got two pieces of bazooka gum and an old copy of The Rolling Stone for Xmas from one. I had just painted his entire house after plastering most of the downstairs, reglazed 39 windows and painted them all, made dinner for forty with Chicken comtadine, and real almond mousse junk in a casserole lined with madelaines I had to bake myself in a tilty oven that smelled like dead mice. I did all of the above wearing high heels in an unheated house (and garb). Romantic? Like NOT!! They kiss the mirror and you have to Windex it or you could catch something. The most romantic person I ever met was thirteen. After that you’re faking it. (thirteen-year-old is out at the moment. Now in love with pasty thin boy with faded green hair). Marvell was just romancing his self…he was the worm and in the end the poem gilds not the lily but the bulb.

This text, which I have slightly edited, appeared in an Internet discussion forum in 2001. Lacking trust in the great Internet cloud, I printed it out. Thus, apparently, this wonderful treasure has been saved from some benighted webmaster who pointlessly clear-cut space on a server.

a peculiar advantage of Wikipedia

For more than four months, hundreds of persons a week have probably viewed a display of minerals and meteorites exhibited at the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC. A collection of minerals and meteorites were part of James Smithson’s bequest to the United States for founding the Smithsonian as an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” James Dwight Dana, a mineralogist, looked at Smithson’s collection and described the minerals:

a choice and beautiful collection…comprising, probably, eight or ten thousand specimens. The specimens…are extremely perfect, and constitute a very complete Geological and Mineralogical series….

Dana described Smithson’s meteorites as “a valuable suite of meteoric stones, which appear to be specimens of most of the important meteorites which have fallen in Europe during several centuries.”

Smithsonian Institute Smithson exhibit

The minerals and meteorites exhibited at the Smithsonian are not Smithson’s collection. They are a small number of specimens gathered from a variety of sources to indicate what Smithson’s collection probably had been like. The exhibit explains that the minerals and meteorites in Smithson’s collection were destroyed in a fire that greatly damaged the upper floor of the Smithsonian Castle in 1865. But how could a fire destroy minerals and meteorites? Stones don’t burn!

Heather Ewing’s deeply researched book, The Lost World of James Smithson, notes:

There remains some confusion about what exactly survived from the regents’ room in the south tower. The report investigating the fire states vaguely that among the losses is “a part of the contents of the regents’ room, including the personal effects of Smithson, with the exception of his portrait and library.” Smithson’s library and portrait survived because they were kept in the west wing of the building ( which was unharmed in the fire), where the institution’s library was housed. [p. 356, note 9]

The fire at the Smithsonian apparently was an open fire fueled by wood and interior furnishings. There’s no reason to believe that the fire was hot enough to melt or transmute minerals and meteorites. The fire would have left Smithson’s minerals and meteorites disorganized and covered in soot, but not destroyed or even significantly damaged. So what really happened to Smithson’s mineral and meteorite collection?

Smithsonian Institute meteorites descriptions

The Smithsonian Institution has for more than a century offered nationally sanctioned and acclaimed displays of authoritative scientific knowledge. In those circumstances, a claim that stones were destroyed in a fire apparently passes unquestioned. That’s an impressive monument to the value of blogging and Wikipedia.

television's effect on public library use

The rise of television in the U.S. in the 1950s did not greatly affect library book circulation. The share of households in the U.S. with television rose from 9% in 1950 to 87% in 1960. Over that same period, public library book circulation per person in libraries’ service areas rose about 40%. While television looms large in much thinking about media, factors other than television were more important in driving library book circulation.

The rise of television probably reduced library book circulation in the 1950s about 20% relative to what it would have been without television. In a study published in 1963, Edwin Parker matched 14 communities in Illinois with similar population sizes, urban rural status, and public library book circulation. In one community in each pair, the share of television households rose from less than 10 percent to more than 70 percent from 1950 to 1953 (early TV sample). In the other community in the pair, that rise occurred between 1953 and 1958 (late TV sample). The patterns of library book circulation in the libraries’ service areas is consistent with the rise in access to television accounting for a one-book reduction in library circulation per person per year (see table below). That’s about 20% of circulation per person in 1958.

Book Circulation from Public Libraries
Year Early TV Sample Late TV Sample Difference
1950 4.021 4.579 0.558
1953 3.726 5.364 1.638
1958 4.838 5.490 0.652
Figures are average circulation in the year indicated per person in the libraries’ service areas.
Source: Parker (1963) p. 586.

Audiovisual items are more significant to library book circulation today than the rise of television was. Circulation of audiovisuals currently accounts for about 25% of public library circulation. Substituting audiovisual borrowing for book borrowing involves changing a smaller scope of behavior than substituting watching television for borrowing items.


Parker, Edwin B. (1963), “The Effects of Television on Public Library Circulation,” The Public Opinion Quarterly, v. 27, n. 4 (Winter), pp. 578-589.