Narrative İnfrastructure

Democracy is the least-worst political system

is the greatest lie of the United States of America


4th of JULY 2021

As an architect watching this film, I kept thinking our world would be impossible without lying. I saw all the settings of the scenes: city streets, cafes, banks, homes. I ran all of these through my head. How would I get this built by only telling the truth? I couldn’t see a way to do anything in civilization.

The premise of the film is an alternate world where everyone tells the unvarnished truth about everything going on around them. It is a hysterically funny film. 

In reality, everything that gets built starts off as someone’s fiction in their head. An idea is a fiction. Even an idea about something real but not physically present is a fiction. If you can’t point at it, you have to convince your conversation partner that it is real without it physically being real. That describes every project I’ve ever worked on. Everything in the built environment starts as a fictional story.

When I concoct a fiction, I try and embellish it with all manner of common material that you might already have in your head. Your experience is the target of my new idea. I want to add my new idea to your experience. You’ll listen to my idea and if I do a good job of adding in elements you already understand, you will likely map your own experience to my idea and say, “Yeah, that makes sense.” In the most literal terms, you are saying, “I can validate your story with my memory of my five senses.” That is your share of my story (referred to as the audience share). If you don’t have a portion of the story already in your head you will have no interest (the thing that rests between us: inter-rest).

For me, to ethically get a building built, I need to lie about best- and worst-case scenarios. I say lie because a scenario is a little scene—a one-scene play, a fiction. Neither the potential good nor bad results have happened yet; so, I can’t say, “Well, it’s self-evident. You have to build your building this way.” That would never be true if the building was yet un-built. I have to convince you, or con you into agreeing with my point of view.

When you listen to me tell stories about a building, we have interest and you will likely support maintaining that building. When we stop telling stories about a building, we lose interest. It falls into disrepair, and eventually it suggests its own story of decay or danger. We don’t like our cities to have stories of decay, danger, or disinterest. We attack such buildings with demolition permits—another kind of story that is told to the Public Works Commission to convince them that we have a dangerous structure that needs to be demolished before it hurts someone.

Everything around you is based on stories. They are how everything gets built, sustained, or demolished. As an urban change professional, stories are often my asymmetrical advantage in debate, but whoever tells the best story wins.

So a nation—founded on a pack of noble lies and derived from long-dead French and Greek thinkers—is a story-in-progress.

As soon as we finish one part of our common built world, another part falls into disinterest. We are constantly telling stories to re-build the United States of America. The public must have access to stories if they are to exercise agency in the built environment, including in the building of our laws. When you, the public, record your memories in stories in an organized fashion, you can out-tell the professionals; whether they are developers, politicians, or entrepreneurs.

In commemoration of the American Revolution—to help us remember—you must now demand a public infrastructure of stories. Democracy is the least-worst political system? Today, Americans reaffirm their common values, but what is uncommon is equally impactful to our union, and we owe it to ourselves to hold our stories in common. Join me and invite your elected representative to build a public narrative infrastructure.

*All images and videos are property of Warner Brothers Pictures


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