Monday, January 05, 2009

Caretakers of the National Narrative – National Memory

In a prior post I tried to demonstrate that personal narratives can have an educational and even a healing effect; not just for the storyteller but the recipient of the story as well. That led to the next question. How does a country express the narratives of its people? Who gets to share that story and how is it held in trust for the future? 

I struggled with finding a way to explain this and I happened to land on the Deep Muck Big Rake blog where the writer noticed something interesting between a passage from a Peggy Noonan book and one from a book by Studs Terkle. The short version is if we don’t know our history or the foundation for our beliefs we lose the vision and the purpose of our society.

How do we carry the past forward and incorporate it into our daily narratives?  We make use of existing institutions called universities, libraries, museums and archives. We keep writing and recording.

I am going to try to restrain myself by picking just three narratives that I felt were dominant in 2008 and match them with a “memory keeper” and a blogger or two that represents potential source material for the libraries, museum and archivists of the future. This is purely subjective attempt. I am looking at this from a collection/acquiring perspective.

A Business/Economy Narrative

A few of alumni of Harvard Business School have gotten themselves in trouble on Wall Street this year. I think these were the folks that slid into class just in time to turn in the paper bought from an entrepreneurial student. Unfortunately some of the former alumni got the wrong set of crib notes on the ethics of business class.

I do not wish to cast aspersions on Harvard or the Harvard Business School.  Any university that can have the foresight to create the Baker Business Historical Library is jake with me. The founders of the Harvard Business School understood that business is not just about making money but it is a vital connection point in our society. It is a necessary anchor. Harvard University also had women attending the business school starting in 1937. The library was created to collect books, pamphlets and, yes business stories and business leader profiles to understand trends, concept and long term good business practices. That mission continues today. The library has a public online photo retrospective of its history that anyone can view to witness the higher goals of what good business practices can revel about how we intended to do business.

So who might the future librarians and acquisition staff look for in 2108? They might take a look at Milena Thomas at Quiet the Thunder. She is a libertarian blogger that would like the country to understand the difference between deregulation; government sponsored support of anything and well, check out what she has to say:

The now-soured phrase “unfettered markets” does little to reveal the sources of unfettered-ness. Government deregulation coupled with private profit-seeking are the Bonnie and Clyde of this crisis – but few bother to mention neither of these activities are laissez-faire pursuits in and of themselves. Quality matters. Therefore, not all deregulation and profit-seeking is created equal. Similarly, neither is all regulation created equal. Furthermore, when any of the above activities enables fraud – those involved deserve punishment, not taxpayer support or continued public service as legislators.

They also might want to document the rise and dominance of women in business by reviewing a post by Amy Blais from the Women On Business  site. Amy lists a few steps that will help ethical entrepreneurs to move forward in 2009. Other possible selections could be from Lauren Bloom at the Business Ethics blog or check out Country Parson who did indeed teach a MBA class on ethics.  I think I know where some of his former students ended up. At least you tried Parson but if they walked in the door crooked, well...

Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Queer Narratives

What do you do when people try to tell you who you are does not exist? How are you supposed to react when other people cite text from their book of beliefs that invalidates your humanity? Or introduce laws that define the limits of your participation in the society?

Well, first you seek others with similar narratives. Then at some point there is a collection or a centralized place to store those narratives. Perhaps viewing a GLBTQ Encyclopedia  or you might decide to build your own museum. At the Gay Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered and Queer Historical Society website is the first stage in the process of building a GLBTQ museum in San Francisco.

You can learn about the origins of the society, watch videos on the GLBTQ YouTube channel, I confess, I got a little distracted in the video section because they had Sylvester singing with Two Tons O’ Fun.

So when the museum is finally built what will be a part of the collection? Certainly some mention of California Proposition 8. Well maybe they will take a look at Moosh In Indy and her perspective:

…Cody is well versed in the laws that are in question as far as the church being a not for profit organization, and a religion’s legal right to get involved in politics. Also an individual’s legal right to be involved in politics. And I’ll let him explain that at a later date if needs be.

As much as I want to scream and yell about this, I’m not going to because I know it’s gut reaction to all the hate that is floating out there in the news and on the internet. I can see both sides. Really, I can. I’m writing this from the dining room of my cousin who has been with his partner for over 10 years.

I have seen plenty of GLBT families who have their crap together WAY more than hetero married couples.  If I had it my way, no one, gay or straight would be allowed to get married unless they were going to take their vows seriously.

I realize a lot of my readers look to me as the token Mormon in situations like this.

Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan counter Pastor Rick Warren’s assertion that marriage has been the same for 5,000 years.

Proposition 8 and similar ballot measures motivated a lot of people. There were million of dollars spent in support of “traditional families.” There is the other side that is represented by California Crusader is an elementary teacher and Proposition 8 grassroots supporter. Jennifer Roback Morse is from Maine and mentions local actions to prevent gay marriages in that state. 

I hope they build the museum with a zettabyte capacity for digital memory. The museum will not lack for subject matter.

Political Women’s Narratives

The mainstream media, both news and entertainment, certainly had an interesting take on women running for political office this year. Either a woman was a nut cracker or a nut cozy. First time in my life that I heard any man say he’d want to do the candidate for the Vice-President of the United States.

According to the National Women’s History Museum there have been 37 other women who have run for the office. You can see photos of the women and learn of paths each of them paved for the next woman to follow. There has been a long term diversity of women in state legislatures.  On the museum’s Women Wielding Power page you can click on a section of the map to find out the pioneering women in your state and their effects on the community and the country.

Anyway, the surface narrative that I heard was of identity or gender representation; especially from conservative women bloggers. They felt that the Republican vice presidential candidate reflected their values, lifestyle and stood solid on their ideology of what they want from the country.

There are more conservative women bloggers, and there is a spectrum of women who consider themselves conservative.  Smart Girl Politics who ask the lyrical question “Do You Travel to the Dark Side and Why?” The dark side being liberal publications and blogs.

I do not, however, go to individual left leaning or liberal websites. What's the point? It's not about their beliefs, it's about mine. I definitely do not go there and try to debate them on their vision of the world. Do you go to the dark side? If you are conservative, do you go to liberal websites and leave comments berating their point of view? Do you go there and call them names, tell them how stupid they are, and they should go back where they came from?

The comments section was very educational. I had no idea I was such a despicable person. Well, you live and you learn. There is also Mom’s on the Right and there are other conservative blogs but I don’t think I’m welcome to do more than lurk. Not sure that they want me to do that, being so close to being evil and despicable.

For the left side you can check out Alicia at  Last Left Before Hooterville or for the centrist among you the Moderate Voice.

Well I guess I want to make sure that Peggy and Studs are resting a little easier no matter which side of the veil they are writing on. I think that if we as a community use and support our institutional memory keepers, the real ones as well as the virtual ones, we will be in good shape.

A version of this post appeared on BlogHer. I made grammatical changes and fixed a sentence or two.

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