I prefer stories over theories.
Stories help you experience and remember; theories help you explain and predict. Neither endeavour is flawless. Stories change over time, and in some ways, this is the point of stories, since we only need to remember what is important to us, and that changes over time too. Theories change over time, and in some ways, this is the point of theories, since we need theories to explain the available data and predict the future and the available data changes whenever the future arrives. But of the two projects, I prefer stories.
Stories make us us. That is a theoretical claim. Here is a story:
When I was twelve years old, my grandfather was arrested. He and a group of other Mohawks began operating private casinos on the reservation after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was passed by the federal government in response to a growing sentiment that state prohibitions on gambling should not affect Indian tribes, who were under federal, not state, jurisdiction (and who thought of themselves as sovereign anyway). But the federal government had a problem with these private casinos operating on Indian land, and they arrested the casino owners.
My grandfather always walked with his head to one side. He had injured his neck as a young man, and could not keep his neck straight for long periods of time. The story goes he was working as an iron worker and fell off a girder, but stories…well, you’ll see about stories. He was also diabetic, missing half of one leg, and used crutches and a wheel chair to get around a lot of the time, even when he wore his prosthetic leg. But he was Mohawk, and the stories we tell each other about resisting the government, fooling white people, being tough, never bending, taking up arms, protesting, barricading, fighting, fighting, fighting, those stories made other stories out of people. They made stories out of people like my grandfather.
The story of my grandfather’s, my tota’s, arrest, is full-blooded Mohawk. When he heard the feds were coming to arrest him on Mohawk land, his land, and take the gaming machines he believed he owned by right of sovereignty, law, and history, he went to war. The troopers pulled up in squad cars on the highway adjacent to his casino, but feared setting foot on the property, because there was my grandfather, sitting in his wheelchair in the middle of the parking lot, with a shotgun in his lap. The story goes he sat there for hours, facing off against the white government, while other casino owners were arrested next door and down the road. Not him, though. The old Mohawk man sat and stared and defied, and there would be no end. But, say the storytellers, a friend who was too pleased with my grandfather for what he was doing, and too drunk to know better, congratulated him for his standoff with lots of smiles and laughs and a slap on the back. This jarred my grandfather’s hand, and he pulled the trigger of the shotgun in his lap; the empty shotgun in his lap. The feds heard the relieving click and moved in immediately, taking my grandfather off to jail.
That story has been in my heart for over twenty years. It tells me about being Mohawk. It tells me about my grandfather. It tells me about the people who knew my grandfather. It is not a theory about Mohawks, though. It does not predict what people will do.
It is probably not true, at least on one view of truth. The explanatory, causal model of history, the one that dominates Western thought, the one that requires explanations and looks for causes and reasons and fears the uncertainty of linear future, that model of history preserves two elements that are important to itself:
1) A theory of people. This theory counts, in the Western mind, all by itself as evidence against the story’s veracity. Why didn’t the feds just shoot him, if he was sitting there in the parking lot alone, brandishing a weapon? Police have slaughtered homeless men carrying sticks; why waste hours on menace in a wheelchair? When we think we know how people are, that we have a theoretical model of their behaviour, stories about actual people often don’t make sense to us. Why would they allow anyone else near the scene, especially someone who was drunk, to approach the armed menace?
2) A theory of evidence. Evidence supports truth, in the Western mind, but not everything counts as evidence. And the more theory-laden a piece of evidence is, the more integral it is to the system, the more it would cost the system to abandon, the more weight it is given over other pieces of evidence, even to the point of denying that those sources count as evidence at all. The story, and the storytellers, have one version of events. The court documents that remain have a different version. In them, my grandfather is never charged with brandishing a weapon, or resisting arrest. He is just charged with operating an illegal casino. The fact of the document, all on its own, undermines the storyteller. The storyteller’s version cannot be true, since surely if it were true there would be something written down. On our theory, if something happens, we write it down. If it is asserted, but not written down, it is more likely, to us, that it did not happen than that it happened and we didn’t record it.
We want to know if stories are true when the world doesn’t make sense to us, when the future is uncertain because time moves straight and events fall into one another like dominoes.
On a different view of history, a cyclical one, the future is not uncertain at all. It is coming back around, and causality is built into the circle, not into past events. You don’t need to look for causal chains to explain an uncertain future, because the future is known. Truth, on this view, is about what matters, not about what happened. Truth is about what we can make useful, not what we can make a theory from. We don’t need theories, on this view, we just need stories.
I know the story of my grandfather’s arrest, and it is Mohawk through and through.
April 2, 2013 5 Comments
An email I received this morning opened with these first two sentences:
Are you a Mom with an idea for a great new product? Mompreneur’s are taking the business world by storm and The Women Inventorz Network can help you take your idea from pipedream to successful business.”
Let’s see if we can spot the mistakes, shall we?
1. No, I am not a mom. I’m a dad. Way to read an e-mail address. (backpackingDAD at backpackingDAD dot com; it’s also in the blog name, for those who need extra help).
2. Nor am I a “Mom”. Why is that even capitalized? I don’t mean to disparage moms here, but it’s not a nationality.
3. “Mompreneur” is not a word. However, if it were a word, the plural form would surely be “Mompreneurs” and not “Mompreneur’s”.
4. “Inventorz”. Oh, just kill me.
So, to sum up: dads are Moms, Moms are Mompreneur’s, and Mompreneur’s need an inventorz network.
February 19, 2013 3 Comments
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco sits Fort Baker. Fort Baker is an old army installation, and future site of the Starfleet Academy, but in the interim some of the old buildings have been put to other uses. One of those uses is a children’s museum, the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
We had never been to the museum, though we’ve had pictures taken nearby in front of other Fort Baker buildings. But it being a long weekend, with nothing else to do, we decided to make the trip north to check it out. (Note: Driving to Sausalito, where Fort Baker is, from Santa Clara County will take as long as a trip to Monterey. It doesn’t look like it on the map, but since there is city driving involved it can take forever. Leave early.)
The kids liked the mix of outdoor and indoor installations.
Emily liked the hula hoops.
We all liked the view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Erin liked the woodsy parts.
She especially liked playing hide-and-go-seek in this “building” with some boy she just met.
Adrian was all about the giant table with wooden trains.
And they both liked the sunken treasure ship play structure.
While the kids weren’t looking, Emily and I scored some cuddle time on a rope web.
And while we weren’t looking, Erin found an awesome climbing tree to get into.
Eventually, the kids found the gravel pit, with its trucks and tables and shovels. And shoe gravel.
And we ended the visit in the Storybook exhibit, putting them to work making new shoes. It’s educational.
The Bay Area Discovery Museum is only open until 5pm on Sundays, and we weren’t ready to drive all the way home, so we went into downtown Sausalito to explore, and have dinner.
Erin asked for a coin to toss into the fountain.
Not to be left out, Adrian demanded his own coin, but evilly.
Erin’s wish: “I wish my parents were the best parents in the whole world.” Aw, thanks, kid…I mean hey!
We walked along the waterfront to a spot where we could see San Francisco, and I took one, almost good picture. I told Adrian I had candy so he would look at me. This seemed to puzzle Erin, who had been smiling, but who now just wanted to know where the candy was.
We avoided all the romantic restaurants and pizza parlors on the waterfront. We walked along the street until we found a simple, totally greasy, fish n’ chips joint. The kids had hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches, then ended the evening with a shared cup of vanilla ice cream.
Maybe it’s because we don’t give the kids that much sugar to begin with, but we can see what happens to them when they have even a little bit. They go insane. They were giggling, and laughing maniacally.
And when Emily tried to help Adrian get some ice cream from the bottom of his spoon, he resisted like someone was trying to take his crack away, going so far as to mouth-bomb the spoon while Emily was holding it, just in case she was never going to give it back.
We had a brief walk to our car after that, just long enough for the Crazy Twins to burn some of that energy off. And five minutes after we got in the car, Adrian was out cold, two hours earlier than his usual bedtime. He slept all the way home, woke up a little at home, but then went to sleep so quickly we didn’t even put his pajamas on. Thanks, ice cream.
Erin, though, was awake for another couple of hours. Thanks, ice cream.
February 18, 2013 2 Comments