Last July in an interview with Charlie Rose, President Obama said that “the mistake” of the early years of his presidency was his failure to be a better storyteller.
“The mistake of my first couple of years was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important, but the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.” In a second term, he said, he would “spend more time with the American people, listening to them, but also being in a conversation with them about where do we go as a country?”
This week’s show is not about Obama or politics. It’s about story and narrative. My guest is JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL author of THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL.
The late evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould called humans “the primate who tells stories…” And it’s not just Gould. Anthropologists have found societies that have existed for millennia without the wheel, but they’ve never found one that doesn’t tell stories.
My website leads with a quote: “On the radio, I tell stories of a world that just might work. As a consultant, I help you tell yours.” Building on time as a teacher, two decades in the entertainment industry, and 15 years of radio interviews, I help non-profits, foundations, public agencies, and businesses to tell better stories and build better narratives.
I’m eager to learn from Jonathan what the latest science has to tell us. Why is narrative so powerful? What is its evolutionary value? And can what we’re learning help us get even better at tapping its power?
Free Forum Q&A – RICHARD HEINBERG, Author of SNAKE OIL: Fracking’s Promise of Plenty Imperils Our FutureWritten on December 3rd, 2013
What do you know about hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of natural gas?Probably depends on who you’re listening to. The fossil fuel industry tells you it’s the biggest energy development of the century, which promises America energy independence for the US and a huge boost to our economy with benefits to local economies. Many of the communities themselves tell a different story – of pollution on the one hand and social disruption on the other.
For the spoils of success, I recommend an article in March 2013 Harpers, Where Broken Hearts Stand, Grief and Recovery on the Badlands of North Dakota by Richard Manning.
RICHARD HEINBERG has a new book, SNAKE OIL: How Fracking’s Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future, looks at fracking from both economic and environmental perspectives, informed by the most thorough analysis of shale gas and oil drilling data ever undertaken.
Join us as I try to find out, Is fracking the miracle cure-all to our energy ills, or a costly distraction from the necessary work of reducing our fossil fuel dependence?
Free Forum Q&A- ANDREW BACEVICH, author of BREACH OF TRUST: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their CountryWritten on October 7th, 2013
What do you feel when at sporting events or other public gatherings crowds join in a call to “support the troops?” If you’re like me, I always have some misgivings. On the simplest level, the gesture seems pretty meaningless. What am I or anyone else in that crowd actually doing to support the troops? And when they add some clichéd phrases about fighting for our freedoms, a voice in my head always asks, “Yeah, how? Where?” In Iraq, Afghanistan, operating a drone that’s flying over Pakistan or Yemen?
Today’s guest ANDREW BACEVICH has thought long and hard about such things, and has written a series of fairly short, very readable books that pursue questions that too many ignore or pretend don’t matter.
The United States has been “at war” for more than a decade. Yet as war has become normalized, a gap has widened between America’s soldiers and the society in whose name they fight. For ordinary citizens, as former secretary of defense Robert Gates has acknowledged, armed conflict has become an “abstraction” and military service “something for other people to do.”
In his latest book, BREACH OF TRUST, Bacevich takes stock of the separation between Americans and their military, tracing its origins to the Vietnam era and exploring its implications, which include a nation with an appetite for war waged at enormous expense by a volunteer army and a huge number of privatecontractors unable to achieve victory.
A friend tells the story of striking up a conversation with a hip looking man in his late 20s-early 30s in a movie line on the west side of LA shortly before the 2004 election between George Bush and John Kerry. He asked the young man who he planned to vote for, he answered that he hadn’t made up his mind. My friend said to him, “Two words. Supreme Court.” To which the young man replied, “Oh, are we voting for them too?”
While we may be disappointed in his apparent lack of civics knowledge, in his own way, he spoke the truth. The most lasting actions a president takes may be his appointments to the Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices serve for as long as they wish or as long as they are able. Their decisions very often set precedents that can live forever. Bush had appointed John Roberts Chief Justice in his first term, but according to today’s guest, it was his second term appointment of Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor that really solidified the Roberts Court.
O’Connor had been a much more moderate conservative than Alito has proven to be. The center of the court shifted to the right, which may matter little in decisions with large majorities – more than 50% of cases each term are decided unanimously or by 8-1 or 7-2 votes — but can be crucial in decisions decide 5-4.
MARCIA COYLE has chosen to focus her book THE ROBERTS COURT: The Struggle for the Constitution on four such 5-4 decisions – Citizens United on campaign finance; District of Columbia v Heller on gun control; on race in school choice; and on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
How difficult is it to be a government whistleblower these days? A dozen years after 9/11, with a former constitutional law professor in the White House, the sad news is that to expose government negligence or illegality is to jeopardize one’s career and life savings.
The newest documentary from producer and director ROBERT GREENWALD and Brave New Films, WAR ON WHISTLEBLOWERS: Free Press and the National Security State highlights the stories of four individuals who felt compelled to reveal acts of government illegality and violations to the U.S. constitution in the military industrial complex in the years following 9/11. In the film, whistleblowers, journalist and experts share what happens when the government punishes those who stand up to demand accountability and defend the constitution. Such actions and the atmosphere they engender has a chilling effect on the speech rights of citizens and the free press. This week I speak about all of this with GREENWALD as well as with two of the courageous whistleblowers featured in the film, THOMAS TAMM and FRANZ GAYL.