How To Understand The Difference Between Fact And Narrative

by Cailin Johnstone Feb 4, 2019

A politician can run a flawless campaign, say all the right things from a place of authenticity, hold wildly popular positions and an impeccable public record, but if they say things which upset the powerful, the narrative can be reshaped to paint them as crazy, incompetent, unelectable, treasonous, or all of the above, keeping them out of office forever.

An investigative journalist can spend months breaking a story that severely incriminates extremely powerful people. They can get all the facts right, source everything perfectly, report clearly and concisely, and get full exposure in a mainstream news outlet. But extremely powerful people can use their influence over the political/media class to quickly shift the narrative in the wake of that breaking news story to almost completely nullify its impact by making it seem insignificant.

A leak outlet can create a new and innovative drop box to protect the anonymity of leakers, opening up the possibility of bringing transparency and accountability to power. It can take the utmost care and implement the most exacting standards in confirming the authenticity of documents and protecting the identities of their sources, and it can get true bombshell documents that expose appalling amounts of corruption and malfeasance. But extremely powerful people can shift the narrative around that outlet, and soon millions of people will believe it’s a Kremlin operation and its founder is a smelly Nazi rapist who abuses his cat.

We’ve seen all these things happen. We live in a world in which you can tell the truth at all times, make no mistakes, get very lucky, and be fully supported, but if you do anything to upset those in power, the narrative can be shifted around you to kill your ability to do any good.

The reason I talk about narrative so much is it’s ultimately what all our problems boil down to. The ability of the plutocratic class and their allied government agencies to manipulate the way people think, act, and vote is the only thing holding the ecocidal, omnicidal, unipolar world order in place, which is why billions and billions of dollars are poured into the plutocratic media, think tanks, the agenda to censor the internet, and other influence campaigns. Any attempt to replace that world order with a system that serves humanity instead of a few wealthy sociopaths must necessarily understand and interact with this dynamic.

Do you know the difference between fact and narrative? Are you sure? The ability to be as lucid as possible about the difference between raw data and the story that is spun about it is absolutely essential to understanding and fighting the establishment propaganda machine.

Let’s look at Russiagate for an easy example. The narrative is that Donald Trump is secretly conspiring with the Russian government to subvert American interests to advance the agendas of the Kremlin. But what are the facts? The facts are that a few people who were associated with Trump during his presidential campaign have been convicted and pled guilty to process crimes and some underhanded dealings with nations that aren’t Russia, while Trump has been staging a regime change intervention against Venezuela, bombing Syria, arming Ukraine, implementing a Nuclear Posture Review with a more aggressive stance toward Russia, withdrawing from the INF Treaty, throwing out Russian diplomats, sanctioning Russian oligarchs, expanding NATO and securing it more funding. The narrative and the facts couldn’t be more different.

But that hasn’t mattered, has it? The propagandists have been able to get everyone worked up about the idea that Putin has managed to influence the very highest levels of the US government, despite there being no facts whatsoever to substantiate that idea. It’s pure narrative, yet it’s been used to manufacture a conceptual framework which allows anyone challenging the unipolar world order to be undermined as a Kremlin crony, from Jill Stein to Tulsi Gabbard to Glenn Greenwald to Rand Paul. There is nothing but insinuation and innuendo backing up those narratives, but that’s all they need.

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This dynamic is not limited to political power, by the way. In an abusive relationship, for example, the abuser must control the narrative about what’s going on to keep the abused party from leaving: I hit you because you made me so angry with your actions that I lost control. I’m not sleeping around, you’re paranoid and crazy. You can’t leave, no one will ever love you and you’ll fail out there on your own. Narrative control is power, from the smallest possible group of people to the very largest.

Control the narrative in your relationship, and you can get away with any amount of battery and abuse. Control the narrative in your country, and you can get away with unfathomable corruption. Control the narrative of the world, and you can get away with endless imperialist wars.

Anyone who wants to legitimately challenge the status quo will necessarily find themselves up against this protective wall of narrative that the ruling power establishment has surrounded itself with, so it’s important to know how to fight against it.

There are a lot of great alternative media outlets out there, and a lot of good dissident politicians and activists, but the problem they run into again and again is that they often stay calm and monotonous while repeating cold, hard facts. This is a problem because while they’re trying to calmly fight the status quo using raw data, the establishment is using sparkly narratives in all the right places. They’re appealing to emotions, they’re condensing their stories into catchy 20-second sound bytes, and they’re using facts only when facts help advance the narrative.

I am not saying that dissidents should abandon truth and facts; if you’re not trying to build a world that is based on truth then what the hell are you fighting for? But it is absolutely essential not just to tell the truth, but to seize control of the narrative as well. Get all your facts right, then tell their story. Make it interesting. Make it funny. Activists can be some of the most dry, boring people you’ll ever encounter, believing that their rightness compensates for the fact that nobody’s ever interested in listening to what they’ve got to say. Bollocks! If you want to convey a message, make that message pop! What’s the point of speaking out if nobody’s even listening? Being right isn’t enough.

Humans are storytelling animals; have been ever since we invented language and campfires. If you want to shake people awake, you’re going to have to interface with that reality. Being able to rattle off a bunch of data about your issue of concern isn’t going to accomplish anything by itself; what the establishment understands and most dissidents do not is that people listen to stories, not data, and the more interesting the story the better. Russiagate didn’t gain traction because it’s factually accurate, it gained traction because it’s a scandalous story about the president of the United States conspiring with nefarious forces and being blackmailed over a night of water sports with Russian prostitutes.

So tell stories. Tell truthful, interesting stories. Fight their deceitful interesting stories with truthful interesting stories; authenticity resonates with people in a way think tank-manufactured narratives just don’t. If enough of us can find authentically interesting, funny, amusing, colorful ways to tell the story about what’s happening, it’s only a matter of time before they get picked up and circulated by the public like a good joke or a viral video. Help fight the narrative war against the plutocratic establishment that is strangling our species to death, and have fun doing it. The more fun you have with it, the better.

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