Controlling the Narrative, Part 1: Dilemma

I’m trying to “build a platform” these days. That’s writer-speak for creating buzz around your work so that agents and publishers will take notice. In other words, marketing. I have less gag reaction to cesspools and eviscerated bodies. Well, maybe about the same as to eviscerated bodies. I’m finding ways to do the necessaries while avoiding the really repugnant stuff, trying not to feel like a greenback whore in the process. I’ve always hated self-promotion, and that was even before I found out that I suck at it.

Still, some things must be done. How can I do the nasty without denigrating my self-esteem in the process? The more I think about it, like so many other things, my quandary comes down to intent. What I mean is what matters. How it might be perceived is secondary. That helps. I wonder if it works retroactively?

What Did I Done Do?

The only way that we can know if we did x, y, or z for good reasons rather than bad ones is to finally, simply decide that we did them for good reasons. No one else should make that decision for us if we want to maintain self-respect. And in the final analysis, no one else does. Any authority we defer to is one that we prefer. Any amount of evidence that we cite one way or the other boils down to what we decide the evidence means. Bottom line, we judge and we choose one way or the other, shades of gray and all. What comes after that decision are mostly rationalizations that serve to mask the most important factor: who did the judging and choosing? We can deny that we chose or even that we have a choice, thinking that nature or history or circumstances or other people left us none; but that would be our mistake. Firmly gripping our power over judgment and choice is to grasp the power of truly being human: the power of telling our own stories. Short of that we are just characters or props in someone else’s narrative.

Who is our storyteller? Who controls our narratives?

We who author our own stories determine our own intentions. What we want and what it means aren’t decided in someone else’s judgment, but our own. We control our narratives.

The apostle Paul gives a great description of controlling his narrative in the last half of Chapter 7 of his letter to the church in Rome. He took it beyond intention; he controlled his narrative about responsibility. Paul chose not only what he meant by his behavior, he chose whether or not he did it.

I’m going to take some license with the following text, because I’d like to avoid getting sidetracked by sticky terminology that doesn’t contribute to the discussion, namely “sin” and “evil.” I have yet to hear that theological or philosophical consensus was reached on the meaning of either word. On top of that, if you pay attention to how they actually get used, their value lies primarily in their emotional impact, not their rational content. So, as I do in such cases, let’s replace those quagmire terms with something that more closely resembles actual usage and has least as much punch, but is broad enough that we can all allow it. Distinctions are irrelevant without clear meanings, so I’ll use a single term to substitute for both. For my purposes here, what we lose as a result is beside the point. I’ve italicized substitutions.

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but shit which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very shit that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but shit which dwells in me.
I find then the principle that shit is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of shit which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of shit.
Romans 7:15-25 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Substituting “sin” and “evil” with “shit” helps us avoid definitional side-issues, carries the emotional impact that I think are appropriate, brings the entire matter down from ivory towers or saintly heights to a level closer to where most of us live, (whether we tend to euphemize or not,) and focuses on what, I believe, Paul thought was important. Regardless of the nature of the sin and evil he wrote about, he drew a critical distinction — and a complete separation — between himself and that sinful, evil stuff.

I Dunnit… Or Did I?

Paul was deeply, frankly, vulnerably introspective in these lines. His agonizing with such a subtle issue, i.e., whether or not he was responsible for his own shit, might seem foreign to us. After all, he did it, didn’t he? What’s to question? The dilemma might not be as strange as you think. I’m sure that you have gone through similar struggles when it concerned your impact on those you really care about. Just think of a time when you were mortified by the outcome of something you did. You did or said something you seriously, deeply wish you hadn’t. What did your actions imply about who you were and what you thought of them? Did the mere fact that you did it prove that you intended the outcome that resulted from it?

Being a jerk and doing something we later regret is one thing. Trying our level best to do something good, and then realizing how short we fell of what we intended — even that our efforts were counterproductive and ensured that we would achieve the opposite of our intention — is quite another matter. Paul wrote about the latter here. We don’t usually feel mortified when we accomplish what we intended, unless we later have a change of heart. But it’s easy to feel mortified when our best intentions backfire. If we aren’t in denial — blaming this, that, them, anything but what we did — we can understand the struggles that Paul wrote about here. I don’t think that he was being rhetorical or abstract in this confessional. I’m sure that he had in mind specific, concrete examples from his own experience that involved the “sin” and “evil” he referred to. On the contrary; I think it’s challenging to take what he wrote as personally as we should.

(My sister-in-law recently wrote “Good bless you” in an email. English is not her native language, and I assume she meant, “God bless you.” I haven’t asked her if “Good” was intentional, but I thought it was priceless. Even atheists can get some meaning out of Good, so maybe you’d allow me another, more benign word substitution. Having tolerated my last one, even sticklers shouldn’t balk at equating God with Good.)

Paul practiced the very shit that he did not want. He found another “law” in the “members” of his “body” that waged war against the law of his mind. Although I suspect his use of those terms differed somewhat from our understanding of them, again, the differences don’t prevent us from feeling his angst, a feeling that resonates in the core of everyone who struggles to be a better person.

Who Done Did It?

Paul could have excused his dilemma as an unavoidable feature of his constitution. He could have generalized this excuse, scapegoating his species like many of us do: it’s just human nature. In fact, his closing words to Chapter 7 almost sound resigned, defeated. After crying, “Wretched man that I am!” and pleading, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” he seems to simply give up and accept the situation as his fate. “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of Good, but on the other, with my flesh the law of shit.” That is how many people “resolve” their versions of Paul’s dilemma: there is no resolution. They just “accept things the way they are.” We are imperfect, fallible sinners. To be human is to fu — , er… err. Shit will happen, so our only option is to mitigate, mitigate, mitigate…

I find small consolation in conclusions like that. Besides, I don’t like the fact that they prioritize self-interest. Who precisely cares about the fact that we blew it? Not the ones we affected. Just ask them. What is foremost on their minds — our screw-up, or instead how to recover from the nasty surprise, clean up, heal up, and get on with what they were doing? We tend to make too much of ourselves. They might appreciate our mea culpas, but they probably would rather we’d wise up so that it doesn’t happen again. Chagrin over the fact that we were the ones who screwed up belongs almost exclusively to us.

There is an alternate solution to Paul’s dilemma. We’ll take a look at it in Controlling the Narrative, Part 2: Discovery.


About Millard J. Melnyk

Motley past, promising future exploring an open, potent understanding of mutuality, individual dignity and personal power through trust. DEAUTHORITARIANIZE EVERYTHING!
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5 Responses to Controlling the Narrative, Part 1: Dilemma

  1. Pingback: And Now, For a Little Hubris… and Hysteria « Millard's Blog

  2. Eric Waterhouse says:

    Well my friend, it’s good to read your thoughts. I started with part 3 but went back to part 1 to get a handle on your process. That is what I consider communication to be.. a process. You speak of intention. Understanding the intention of another is paramount for communication. That understanding requires trust. Trust in the analysis of the intention. I love my mother and when I understand her intentions I am able to achieve communication. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t, but I have such a wealth of history to draw from that I usually understand her intention.
    This enables me to jump over thoughts that are less clear in their delivery or simply hard for me to understand or receive. When dealing with Theology or analysis of scripture I have had such a long history of being surprised by the actual intention of some that I am slow in the development of trust in the analysis of the others intention. So far I’m right with you. I believe I am understanding what you’re intending to say. And that says alot! Now I’m intending to get back to work!

    • Hey Eric, sorry for the slow response. Got back from a trip and was wiped out most of the week. I’ll be back into it again this week. I liked your comments about intention. That’s where it’s ALL at, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be glad to clarify mine. 10:30 PM, just got back from a long ride, and I’m gonna crash, but catch you soon!

    • Haha, well I’ve spent the better part of a couple of days writing, and I’m still on the 3rd paragraph of the next installment! If I only better understood the connection between the part of my brain that wants to say something and the part that does the writing, maybe I could streamline what goes on between them. LOL Sometimes I really struggle to get it into words.

      I liked what you wrote about being wary of the intentions of people who deal with theology or analysis of scripture. If I take what you wrote literally, i.e., “I am slow in the development of trust in the analysis of the others intention,” you take time to develop trust in your own analysis of other people’s intentions. Maybe you didn’t mean it quite like it reads, but in case you did, you might be glad to know that I’m quite familiar with that kind of convoluted self-scrutiny. 😉

      The more I see and the deeper I look, the less reason I find to trust the analysis of people who promote themselves as authorities on scripture. In fact, the more reason I find to be sure that their real agendas are actually anti-Christ. My explorations and investigations are works in progress. Trying to work out descriptions of my findings as they develop is what this blog is about.

      Here are a few broad brush strokes of how things look to me at this point.

      No matter how you cut it, human history is dismally abusive. We are in a developmental path from a bestial past, hopefully towards a future that does some honor to our pretentions of humanity. At this point, I’ll settle for humanity. Until we manage to find alternatives to war, murder, and hatred, divinity is more ambitious than we have any right to hope for.

      All of our institutions and organizational savvy are, without exception, functions of the mentality responsible for our bloody, genocidal, infanticidal past. On scales that involve more than just a handful of people, we don’t know how to operate except in paradigms that I can only characterize as abusive: presumptively adversarial, in which authority demands submission, respect is coerced, might ultimately has the last word, and empathy is viewed as an intrinsic weakness.

      As an example, pay attention to how you FEEL on simply entering a Federal or State government office, like the IRS, Social Security, or Department of Homeland Security. Do you feel more safe or less safe while you’re there? Are they environments conducive to creativity and growth? Do you associate terms like “thrive” or “rejoice” with their atmospheres? Regardless of our rationalizations for their necessity or function, emotionally they affect us just like any situation in which a party has the right and the means to abuse us at will and without consequence. I was in East Germany and East Berlin before the Iron Curtain fell, the summer of 1969. I realized then that U.S. authorities weren’t different than Communist authorities in kind, only in degree.

      If you try to find a model that fits the way we look at life and human relationships on the grand scale, you don’t have to look far. We love totalitarian regimes. Americans love to tout “democracy” but we’re long past the point where our “political system” accounts for the way things really work beyond serving as distracting window-dressing. If democracy is so dear to us, why are ALL of our organizations–governmental, educational, corporate, ecclesiastical, EVERYTHING–structured as hierarchichal command-and-control structures? Clearly, democracy doesn’t go very deep.

      I actually characterize our society as psychopathic, not just abusive, for two reasons. First, it operates within a paradigm that would make sense to a psychopath: presumptively adversarial, in which authority demands submission, respect is coerced, might ultimately has the last word, and empathy is viewed as an intrinsic weakness. Second, rather than recognize this and invest in finding alternatives, everyone–from those who suffer at the bottom all the way up to the top dogs who make out like thieves on the backs of those beneath them–is committed to perpetuate the arrangement. Plenty of people want change WITHIN the current paradigm. Almost no one wants to change the paradigm.

      For example, we know that power corrupts, that maintaining integrity as you climb any ladder that you choose gets more difficult the higher you get, and that our best examples of humanity involve mutually cooperative relationships between peers. What kind of reaction do you think I consistently get from Westerners when I suggest that we need to learn how to live without leaders and hierarchical command-and-control systems, regardless where they fall on whichever spectrum you choose–liberal or conservative; atheistic or god-believing; environmentally green or pro-“development”; capitalist, Marxist, or any other -ist? It isn’t that we’ve tried and failed and this is the best we can do. People are not WILLING to consider alternatives. They are afraid of fundamental change. Who made them afraid?

      The vast majority are convinced that there is no viable alternative to practices that brought us, for example, the wonders of the 20th Century, the bloodiest, most atrocity-filled period of human history to date by ANY measure. Who convinced them? Their lack of consideration–let alone lack of BASIS–for their commitment to practices that have provably FAILED is rivaled only by other forms of fundamentalism. And fundamentalism is without exception a mind-set fostered by psychopaths bent on exploiting as many underlings as possible in order to pursue agendas which are all oddly similar in basic respects. Tears For Fears was wrong: not everybody wants to rule the world. Just psychopaths do.

      Jesus proposed radical change. He advocated abolition of hierarchical command-and-control systems, because within them power can ONLY corrupt. He stressed this in the strongest terms he could: the last will be first, the greatest shall be the servant of all, etc. He didn’t advocate love WITHIN the old ways of doing things; that would have been putting new wine in old wineskins. He advocated a radically new arrangement, a new kingdom. Being a heavenly kingdom did not imply that it would not be realized until we got to heaven. On the contrary: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Maybe Paul made a mistake by introducing hierarchy into church organization. Or MAYBE, the issues that make hierarchical organization necessary (when it is necessary at all) became over-prioritized, i.e., materialistic concerns.

      The first complaint in Acts came about because the Hellenistic Jews got overlooked in daily food distribution. For thousands of years, materialistic concerns required hierarchically organized systems, simply because human beings don’t come equipped with the technology necessary to avoid using people as information conduits and resource distribution systems. We no longer face those technical limitations. Given privileged access to high-value information and material resources, psychopathically inclined people abuse the privilege and use it to subjugate the less privileged. That isn’t just a matter of “human nature” because there are plenty of human beings who instinctively want to do just the opposite with high-value, privileged information and material resources. We have seen more and more of this over the last several decades, as “nerds” have started to stand up and speak and get into positions of power. Who ever heard of a company whose motto is to do no evil before Google came along? Capitalists didn’t conceive of an “economy of abundance.” Some people actually WANT to share their good fortune, not capitalize on it. This makes no sense to psychopaths.

      The apostles weren’t infallible. Paul publicly denounced Peter in Galatia for Semetic bigotry. Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John all wrote about anti-Christ (a.k.a. psychopathic) elements that were already active within the church. I have no delusion that by the time Constantine declared Christianity the official faith of the kingdom, the anti-Christ elements had successfully expropriated the church. That was the historical context, as I’m sure you know, in which the Bible was canonized. By that time the ecclesiastical psychopaths were in control and in cahoots with their secular counterparts.

      Haha, it is SO MUCH EASIER to write when I’m actually communicating to a person, not a faceless “audience.” That’s a few more than 3 paragraphs. LOL

      Don’t mean to overwhelm, but I wanted to say a bit about what I think are the opposite of anti-Christ, psychopathic elements. I’ve been led to the views above by looking for ways to experience the reality of what the Gospels and the letters in the New Testament describe. A few years ago, I started asking Christians where the rivers of living water are. I asked a number of them if they experienced what Jesus promised. The honest ones admitted that they didn’t. Then I asked them if they knew of anyone who had rivers of living water flowing out of their innermost being. Again, nope. I had a few people get defensive and argue that Christian good works and charities demonstrated rivers of living water, but it was clear that they were protecting status quos which by their own descriptions were notably void of anything as powerful as what Jesus’ metaphor implied. Lately, I’ve switched to asking who experiences “joy inexpressible and full of glory” like Peter refers to. Simply believing in Him produces rivers of living water and joy inexpressible and full of glory. Clearly, Jesus and Peter had a different understanding of faith than contemporary Christians do.

      One of the things I think is key is personal dignity, which I define as the right to be authentic. Dignity is the FIRST thing a psychopath attacks. Jesus said that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Dignity, the right to be who we truly are, is his first target. If a psychopath can intimidate us on that point, everything else he or she wants will follow as a matter of course. And ONLY psychopaths think that stealing, killing, or destroying dignity makes any sense, let alone is advantageous. In contrast, just watch what happens when you recognize and affirm someone’s dignity. If they aren’t psychopaths, you can just see them open, expand, and get infused with energy and confidence they didn’t have before. It takes so little effort to do and costs us nothing, and yet even the best of us do so little of it. And it isn’t the typical notion that do-gooders have of “loving” or being “gracious” which always seem to involve elements of condescension. Jesus didn’t condenscend, he emptied himself and became like us. Big difference. If you try to affirm a psychopath’s dignity, on the other hand, they don’t react the same way. Spiritually speaking, they lick their chops because they think they just met a sucker. It really isn’t hard to see the difference in their reactions, and again, it takes so little effort and costs us nothing, because once we know that they are psychopaths we know what to do with them and what not to do.

      I’d better knock off. Wanna get some rest and attack part 4 tomorrow. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I so long for people I can wrestle these issues together with. So far they have been few and far between.

  3. Pingback: Controlling the Narrative, Part 5: Outcome | To Christians

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