Of which stories am I a part?

I first came across this question posed in a book called Leadership for social change. Alan Johnson quoted A MacIntyre, who I have since discovered is a Scottish philosopher. Here is a paraphrase of this part of MacIntyre’s view, which is consistent with the meaning Alan Johnson gave it – “So basically, to answer the question of what I as an individual should do, one must first know of which stories I am a part, and what my roles in those stories require. Hence, the conception of an individual’s good is embedded in the histories in which the individual himself is embedded. The narrative unity of a life, then, is the unity of the narrative which is an individual life. MacIntyre writes: “To ask ‘What is the good for me?’ is to ask how best I might live out that unity and bring it to completion.” Only this way can my life as a whole be intelligible, and only thus does it constitute a unity.”

This seems to me a powerful help in understanding why not many people are choosing to be socialist activists in Australia right now, and why people who do begin to engage in left politics might decide on the path of careerism rather than democratic mobilisation. As less people live out a socialist tradition, a rank and file working class tradition, the story is less visible, the practices and values that comprise it are harder to learn, and harder to share. I just came across Teo-lohi‘s post here and explanation of MacIntyre adds depth to the original reference I read. Teo-lohi also explains the connection of the story with practice and values. MacIntyre may well not be writing about dissent, rebellion or revolution (feminists have criticised him for not recognsing the power behind certain practices) but I would argue that dissent, self-organisation against power are also practices, with values, and stories, a conception of history or at least historical possibilities. In fact this helps me to make more sense of what are referred to as internicine and sectarian differences on the left. These differences actually reflect different stories, about humanity, history, the path to liberation and the role that each group sees for itself in that history/ narrative, though these differences can be difficult to make explicit, transparent.

MacIntyre may hold completely different values from me, see himself in a different story, but he does see the individual as part of a collective story – a person in a human, social, collective context. To me that is an important clue – how as socialists can we bring to life the story that people could be part of, without clutching at horror stories as the Stalinists have, of USSR, China, Vietnam, fantasy stories Cuba, Venezuela etc, or being stuck in very old stories unlinked to any current continuing practice – Paris Commune, 1917, Barcelona, Hungary 1956, etc.

MacIntyre also throws another light on meaninglessness of post-modernism. How are people to see themselves as part of a story, if there is no more narrative / history to be part of, and to change?


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