The Architecture of Life: Designing and Building a Nation III

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Designing and Building a Nation III

(Part of a series of related posts - First One here)

John Edwards and Rudy Guiliani abandoned their quests for the Presidency today. Their poor showings in the Florida primary apparently "slammed the door" on their hopes for a turnaround in their campaigns.

Politics in America is complex and hard to predict. The electorate - particularly in this election season - is boisterous, dissatisfied with government and ready for a change. At least that is the "story" being told today in America.

Just for fun, we are telling a story too. It is a story about how we might "build a nation" using the same techniques we might use when designing and building a home.

After all, most of us think of the nation in which we live as our "home country."

But the word "home" has a lot of different meanings which I go on at length about here.

So the first thing I want to talk about in this post is not the "bricks and sticks" that make up our national project, but the "story" that is the heart of it.

Because a nation and a home must start with a story in the minds of those who build them - and after they are built - that story never really stops being written.

Howard Mair puts it this way.

"Stories are habitations. We live in and through stories. They conjure worlds. We do not know the world other than story world. Stories inform life. They hold us together and keep us apart. We inhabit the great stories of our culture...are lived by the stories of our race and place...We are, each of us, locations where the stories of our place and time become partially tell able."

For a small town storyteller, that says it all. America is defined in many ways not by its geography, its political system or foreign policy, but by the inspirational tales at its heart.

That is also true of a home. A home tells the stories of the people who inhabit it, but the stories of both homes and nations are often largely fictional.

There is a perfectly good reason for that.

In a world where everything is subject to interpretation, the only truth is a useful interpretation. If you are going to live a story, you might as well pick one with a happy ending.

And life offers very few "happy endings" for a home or a nation. Both crumble into dust in time. Denying the evidence of history is the reason we are so committed to our personal, familial and national "stories."

Facing the inevitable decline of our bodies and of those we love is no fun and makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning.

The same is true about the true story of our country. There is nothing particularly inspirational about the real experiences of the genocide of Native Americans, the War Between the State, either of last centuries world wars, Viet Nam, the invasions of Grenada and Panama or our current adventure in Iraq.

So in order to rationalize our own self-interest, we weave stories of heroic struggles against tyranny and evil, repeating the oft-told tale that we are fighting to save freedom and the "American way of life."

But of course all those horrific wars were a very big part of our "way of life" and sadly, for many of us, the "way of death."

The stories we tell about our nation may not be true, but they sound a lot better when you tell them that way.

Next post is series here.