The Tiger Kills
When a tiger stalks its prey we take nor moral offense. Why not? The tiger shows no mercy. The tiger seems to enjoy the game and relishes the feast at the expense of the goat. We might wish the tiger be more utilitarian about his food supply, but we take no offense. It is a tiger.
Killing involves culture for us. We have expectations about how cows and pigs should be killed in the slaughter house. We have laws. There is no sport.
When we take down a deer there is challenge and relish, but we expect there also to be respect for the animal. We disdain the storied slaughter of buffalo from trains as waste and unsportsmanlike.
If someone teases and slaughters a small, weak animal for sport they make be arrested, serve time, and we will pass judgment their mental health.
Why are these cases different? Because people have story. Our self inhabits the story. The story creates the self.
A Twitter Spat over Calvin College
On November the 16th I happened upon Twitter to watch @rachelheldevans and @james_ka_smith have a Twitter spat over a comment Rachel made about the Chimes piece listening to some LGBT students and alumni stories. James took offense at her “I’ve got your back” statement and responded “I think we can handle this, @rachelheldevans. You can play saviour/martyr elsewhere.”
Before you know it folks were taking shots at Rachel for being anti-Calvinist and others taking shots at James for being anti-women and other taking shots at Calvin College for being too conservative.
Rachel’s comment came out of her impression of how LGBT students fare in conservative Christian spaces and imagined how it might be at Calvin. There is a story behind her mental map through which she saw these events.
James has ideas about how Rachel has pursued the agendas she values and wanted to object to this implied assumption about Calvin. He understands the story of Calvin’s engagement with this issue, values his community and institution and also wants to protect it with the influence he possesses.
Readers of the spat based on their mental maps will of course come to their own judgment about James, Rachel and Calvin.
Meaning and Story
The twitter spat arose and receded like a storm in Western Michigan and will be forgotten. No lives lost. No harm done. Hopefully some gained some self-knowledge, maybe not. It is a small thing in the great scheme of things. Is it more than a goat, a pig, a cow in the machinery of a slaughterhouse or the jaws of a tiger? Can we make an evaluation? How could one make such a calculation?
What James, Rachel, and the rest of humanity share is the weight of story possessed by beings of power. The words flashing across the stream of limit-imposed-soundbites ignite neurons in other watchers and story makers. Story begets story.
Rachel has 30k+ twitter followers, thousands of blog followers and admirers. If she tweets people retweet, listen, talk, feel, believe, vote, spend, decide. She has influence.
James has a PhD, is a popular speaker whose name is less broadly known but has more influence probably with a group of people with more institutional and academic clout. He’s got influence.
Rachel and James are at play in an economy that is seemly bloodless but seemingly invested with greater meaning. Feelings are in play. Reputations in play. Power in play.
The Weight of Story
Even though the cow, the pig, the goat and the tiger are involved in blood, life and death issues, they are free from the weight of story.
We humans are consumed by the weight of story. A look, a fear, a thought, a word, and the universe collapses or is filled with light. We live at another level. This is the “spiritual” world.
Artifacts of the the economy of power in which Rachel and James are at play can be found in the zeros and ones of Twitter’s server, and in the synapses of the brains of their fellow watchers and story makers. All of them possess the weight of story.
A young man takes his life because of the weight of story.
On Nov 22 1963 a nations waits to hear about Oswald because of the weight of story. Were the Russians behind it? Presidential blood was spilled, but it is the weight of story that governs the watchers and the story makers.
Does the Christian story govern the story of the world? Do you believe in the weight of story?