This trend for the “front line” healthcare workers (front line making a allusion to war) to be referred to as “heroes” has a disturbing subtext. If you study storytelling, you know the hero has the agency:

“…to be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.”

– Phoinix to Achilles in Homer’s Iliad 

Health care workers should NEVER be heroes except in extreme singular events. A pandemic is a prolonged tragedy, not a crisis.

The hero must be taught to be a hero before his prophesied demise.

Two conflicting cultural tropes operating at once

The western medicine ethos pushed by the medical profession over the last century is that we must trust doctors with our lives without question. The result has been a declining personal responsibility for our own health.

The tendency to distrust authority in polarized political theaters has warped our relationship with the very people who we rely on to provide medical care.

Heroes die or become the villain

The story arc of a hero ends in their demise or the target of changing opinion. The only rule of political agency is “tear down your perceived oppressor” (or whoever is currently got the spotlight).

The medical professionals saving lives everyday are doing their jobs, not acting in public. It is an absurd disservice to them to equate their jobs as political acts in any shape or form. The real absurdity is the majority are unwilling to police a dying minority who endanger us all by their unwillingness to follow scientific authority.

But the dying minority’s response to the pandemic was eminently predictable based on the patterns of political discourse over the last twelve years. The dying minority will die on the hill of personal freedom. They will sacrifice their children and ailing parents on the hill of personal freedom. Their ethos is rooted in an anti-authoritarian (literally anti-author) that defines party membership through unwavering subservience to an ideology of personal freedom as the highest public good. Their righteousness is unrelenting: life itself is less valuable than freedom.

So they rebrand heroes as villains

Putting nurses and doctors on the “front line” was a general act of cowardice by the majority. This isn’t their war. They didn’t sign up to be heroes. Police the dying minority like a civilization. Conscripting heroes to fight in your place because you’re too comfortable and distracted is why the pandemic is entering its third wave.



Turkish mystery theater

how much do we understand? 

Does it matter? 

How much of a story do you even need to understand? Last night was the first “Mystery Turkish Theater”. We watched classic Turk comedy movie in Turkish, with Turkish subsite titles.


language learning advisory


What struck me was the frustration of understanding only bits and pieces of the dialog. My significant other was able to help fill in some gaps, but it reminded me of watching annoying television my parents and old siblings growing up. When I was a kid, their programs didn’t make any sense. Why did they want to stare at two people talking about nothing?


Setting week-night programming aside, my big television day was Saturday. Saturday Morning Cartoons was a vital ritual for kids in the 80s. There was a conspiracy to draw us kids out of our parents’ hair on their first morning off from the work week. Our parents knew we were occupied and sitting in one place doing nothing dangerous. Although I have no testimony to support this suspicion, I do suspect this provided time for parents to enjoy each other’s company.

So hot they’re cooool!

This suspicion is further supported by the ritual breakfast that accompanied Saturday Morning Cartoons: Pop Tarts(tm)—the one meal a child of four could safely make on their own, which means parents didn’t need to even get out of bed.


But there was more to this conspiracy. It went beyond the parents. Advertisers knew exactly when a captive audience of children were staring at their media. In the post-Star Wars, age, every children’s television show was effectively one long advertisement for merchandise that accompanied that show, be it, Transformers, GI Joe, or My Little Pony. Each show was explicitly created not to entertain, but to create backstories for toys that children would demand their parents buy, so we kids could enact the stories.


What we kids want most is to be in the story. Stories are how we learn—they lead to understanding and meaning. For a child, understanding is our purpose. The common world is a very confusing place with many layers of cultural complexity. Stories are how we learned about all that complexity. The most powerful learning mode is to do, to act out the story.


This is the big difference between play centered on fantasy and play focused on physical activity. The latter is activating the body in a laborious way, and it just feels good to be alive to dance, to run, tumble, to be in your body. Pleasure is rooted in the body by its very nature.

Fantasy play is another kind of pleasure. Both kinds of play trigger neurochemical rewards in the brain. This is why people will read the news incessantly, or watch TED talks into the wee hours each night.









But round about noon, when mom and dad emerge groggily from their private chambers with plates of sandwiches and glasses of Tang, the television suddenly shifted its programming. The older siblings would emerge from their comas and plunk down next to you on the couch. There were only four channels, so there was no arguing over what channel to watch. The programming would become increasingly mature, starting with reruns of M*A*S*H and classic Star Trek. These were incomprehensible to us kids, but there was still guys in army clothes (telling unfunny jokes) and spaceships floating around planets (with adults occasionally wrestling with ugly muppets.) But we kids could not understand the story plot or the character motivations.

We didn’t get the dopamine hit from the same as the cartoons. By the time the Saturday afternoon movie came on, we were restless and headed outside or to our rooms. 

Later, the family would reconvene in the night for shows like Dallas, Magnum PI, and Murder She Wrote. All of these shows were confusing, even frustrating as a kid. We knew many of the words, but we only knew to laugh when the left track on the show, told us to be mirthful. We wanted our siblings and parents to like us, so we try to understand what they saw in all these talkie-talkie shows. 


I don’t know when I toasted my last Saturday morning Pop Tart™. It was probably when I moved to Canada in the late 80s. I was dismayed to learn that this backward country didn’t have proper cartoons (WTF is Astroboy?!) They didn’t flood Saturday mornings with children’s programming (never really thought how insidious the term children programming really is, chills,) and no Pop Tarts! They had some cardboard substitute for Pop Tarts filled with carob. The horror—the root—of that shock in moving to Canada was that all of my pleasure rituals had been taken away at once.


My sister got me into knights and dragons fantasy novels and friends got me into Dungeons and Dragons. So my entertainment/product/acting out paradigm was reestablished. I started to learn to tell stories, got new friends, new rituals, and new brand loyalties (stupid GURPS.)


Last night I reexperienced the frustration of a child trying to watch adult programming (again, chilling.) My new self-programming and entertainment is to learn the Turkish language by watching old Turkish films. Now, I’ve taken steps to enhance the pleasure potential of this programming. I grilled şeftali, and made a kabob feast, complete with two generous servings of rakı. We put on Üç Kağitçi with native subtitles 3/4 speed and ate and drank the strange scenes as they unfolded before us.

We’ve studied enough Turkish to recognize past and present tense, ownership, which word is the verb, and we have a small Turkish vocabulary. We got all the way to the end and gleaned a glimmer of the plot, the gist of some of the side stories, and some insight into 70s Turk culture.

Many second language speakers have told me that it was television that really made the difference, and I believe it. The ritual consumption of media, the multi sensory experience is what made Saturday Morning Cartoons such a defining part of growing up in the 80s.


Why Spalding Gray is not yet a national treasure is a mystery to me.

Expert Storyteller

He developed a body of work that allows us to experience the classical hypodiegetic story, or frame story, which forms the core of every major story tradition or song cycle. This story structure, which predates settled civilization, is an excellent analogy for understanding sense of place.

Spalding Gray



In brief: a frame story is a macro narrative that is tangentially referenced occasionally by individual stories. Shahrazad and Shahryar are the frame story for the Alf Layla Wa Layla (aka Arabian Nights Entertainments), and the 1000 and 1 tales are framed by her struggle to entertain her murderous husband. Similarly, Manhattan, the city, frames a variety of modern entertainment that forgoes long-narrative arcs by maintaining an episodic format (such as Seinfeld, Friends, or Sex in the City). These situational comedies are situated in a particular place that frames the stories: Manhattan. We as story consumers (aka audience) are entertained but have our own frame (aka our lives) which we experience all other stories within.

We live in a frame story of which we rarely see the boundaries.

A eulogies is a frame story of our whole life, into which loved ones provide anecdotes to humanize us in the eyes of others (our last audience). Our lives will be meaningful depending on how much of our frame story influences the life-paths of others. Some of us take enormous risks, act in surprising ways, and shift the frame stories many of us share at a familial, neighborhood, city-wide, national, or (rarely) species-wide level. Those individual acts of such import are still within the frame story of the individual’s total life, so sensationalist biographers are keen to find a thread of continuity that transforms a great political actor into a classic hero or villain by suggesting the great action was always coming.

Any one person’s life-story is meaningful when related without theatrics.

This is what Spalding Gray demonstrates. He provides a significant scope of his life as defined by an outside event (ex. his first film, Swimming to Cambodia is framed by his experience making the film The Killing Fields, his second, Monster in the Box, framed by his process of writing his first fictional novel). While the outside event is occasionally referenced in the thread of his monolog, it is utilized more to close episodic stories and start new ones. The frame story allows us the audience to anchor our expectations into a big undertaking that sets up a domain, a kind of neighborhood to which the rest of the stories are giving deference.

The individual stories within a frame story are best when they show characters in different lights.

One story may seem heroic, another craven, and yet another loving. That diversity of themes allows the character to reflect the human condition that we share with them. This is how a character or storyteller behaves ethically: by showing they are neither divine nor deviant. This explains the fundamental power of ethos described by Aristotle in his Rhetoric. An audience is much more likely to take a teller seriously if there is an expressed honesty in the story, an honesty anchored in common human experience.

In a similar way, when setting is leveraged as a frame for many stories, it humanizes the characters by imposing its requirements. Manhattan’s imposition of subways and homeless people on the characters grounds their reactions in a real place that unites them, but also is meaningful to any city-dweller anywhere. The sense of place is a frame, and that gives us something powerful to work with: personal lives in a context are meaningful because of the colocation of those stories.

Spalding Gray: a national treasure storyteller 

Three full films by Spalding:

Monster in a Box

Monster in a Box

Eclectic ObsessionIt's a Slippery Slope

It’s a Slippery Slope


Image credits:

Kristin Baldeschwiler
Ken Regan
Ransome Center Magazine, University of Texas
Theatre Gigante
All About Actors

Mayor Sánchez says the town is the talk in the street

The small rural village he serves is seeking UNESCO recognition for their pastime of retiring to the street to chat with neighbors. In the hot months, the streets fill with chairs as inhabitants abandon their traditional (stifling) salons to enjoy the early evening breezes. Beyond saving on electricity, the social engagement galvanizes community inter-reliance as they share their woe, joys, and opinions with one another.

“My mother is 82 and sits on her street every day. There are days when I pass by after work, sit down and we catch up. It’s the most beautiful moment of the day.”

José Carlos Sánchez 

Mayor, Algar, Spain

“Residents come out onto the street and instead of feeling that they’re alone, what they get is a therapy session. They share their stories or the problems they’re going through and the neighbors try and help.”

Rural communities lend meaning to the cities

Algar, Spain (Province of Cádiz), is a rural village that follows the same pattern of population decline of many rural communities. In the last twenty-five years Algar has lost twenty-five percent of its population. The municipality of Cádiz grew it population by twelve percent over the same period. The cultural diversity of these regions fade as the draw of urban life continues to depopulate the hinterlands.

Is talk on the street an intangible cultural heritage?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has specific criteria for local rituals to be recognized:

“The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next… It contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large.”

link to UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage, (accessed on 020210819)


Sense of place 

is reasonably easy to quantify


Our senses have a place

Sense of place is assumed to be ephemeral or an intangible experience. Often is is given only poetic treatment by scholars, tourism boards, and developers. If we explore the terms sense and place we can come to a convenient definition of sense of place.

First, things (objects) must be sensible by the five senses routinely over the time scale of a year. Hence regional food that is seasonally dependent is a strong contributor to the sense of tasting and smelling a place. That same sense of natural seasonal smell is also is part of the bouquet of a place, be it the spring rains or sear fall leaves. Seasonal animal calls can be added to sense of ambient sounds of a place. Limiting the menu to only these items, clearly their combination will create an ambiance unique place-by-place.

Our memories have a place

To make something a place which can be sensed, there is a required intentionality by some actors. Place is not the same as space. Space is the definition of an absence into which energy or things are added. A place is a space that has yielded to the emplacement of energy or things. Something has to be emplaced routinely to convert a space to a place. To say this simply: things have to happen in a space over and over for it to become a place.

Natural settings can give rise to a sense of place in our minds if we ourselves routinely visit that natural space. We are adding our own energy to visit the natural setting, and a sense of place arises in our own memories. To do so adds that natural setting to our domain, it stores our memories for us.

Home as a stage

A cultural setting, such as a neighborhood or village, has a cast of characters who inhabit that space. The inhabitants routinely emplace their energy and things into that space. Their sense of domain over the space is reified daily, seasonally, religiously, gastronomically, and so on—and they will quite reasonably refer to it as home. All of these rituals of reification need to be practiced in the space, to be emplaced, so that the “sense of the place” manifests. The sense of place cannot be recorded in a book or video or artificial media.

Sans sensation, there is no sensing.

Sans live actors, there is no emplacement—only history.

“All the world is a stage
And all the men and women merely players”

As You Like It, Act II Scene VII Line 139, William Shakespeare

Appearing to our senses

Melancholy Jaques’ monolog from the play clearly describes the requirement of appearing in public to be a polis. Stepping onto the stage of community life is to invest your energy in the space, and those you share it with. Political thinker Hannah Arendt describes this prerequisite simply as appearing, demonstrating yourself in public to take a certain ownership of the common emplaced structure of the city (Arendt, Life of the Mind, Book one: Thinking; 1978). Like all actors, the inhabitants of a town emplace their story for others; though the story is evolving over the years. Regardless of the evolution of the stories, they are continuous.

Living Stories are not History

Do not confuse their stories with history as that would remove the potential to share in the sensory experiences. The sense of place arises as a contemporaneous experience of the stories being told with the literal sense perceptions specific to that location. The continuity of the senses and stories over time manifests the emplacement, the domain. Actual stones will be placed to shape gardens and homes based on the combination of stories and sensory experience. Remove the sensory experiences (as dead media or social media will) or the actors’ stories (as depopulation will) and continuity is broken. The emplaced culture is then lost forever.

Using community chats

as infrastructure to plan the future

The citizens of Algar share this use of the street with many communities across Spain and around the world. Famagusta, Cyprus, similarly takes to the summer evening’s streets of the old town by ones and threes. While acknowledging the necessity of being present, Famagustians have begun to experiment with capturing the stories on a map. While the cultural practice of sharing time together is irreplaceable, the value of the telling of stories has been amplified by mapping those stories of daily life. The stories are in fact a vital resource not for simply remembering the past, but for planning for the community’s future.

By emplacing the stories of the community, and demonstrating how stories overlap one another, the narrative infrastructure of Famagusta does a variety of interesting jobs for the community:


It helps neighbors see how their lives are thoroughly intertwined and interdependent. 


But developers can now review the local memories to sift for meaningful ways to shape economic projects.


Visitors and new villagers can quickly familiarize themselves with the fabric of stories that hold the community together.


Politicians have a greater sense of the meaning of each street corner.


All the world is a stage, but that stage is there to host our stories

In support of the UNESCO application, Algar should map their stories. This manifestation of the intangible heritage to provide depth to the sense of place converts a quaint practice into a civic duty. A villager’s stories explain how and why things are meaningful in a community. Those stories can then influence the future development, making the future full of meaning.

When we map our stories the intangible heritage can shape our tangible future.


This story is based upon the article by The Guardian, Ashifa Kassam, Sun 8 Aug 2021 12.46 BST @ashifa_k

Imagery here attached is the property of the City of Algar, Google Earth, and El Pais


At our biological root

we are subject to eating and breathing, drinking and eliminating. If you would desire to be free of necessity, you would be forced to forgo the need for food and water. You are slave to these necessities more than any indenture imposed by other men: your thirst will slay you in three days, hunger in thirty, air in mere minutes. In the simplest sense, to live is to need, to need is to be enslaved.

We have managed to develop elaborate cultural rituals to spice up our servitude. Often referred to as the “spice of life”, variety is only various flavors of our necessity. It is astounding that we create such extraordinary inter-cultural conflicts around our common needs rather than focusing on ensuring all in our genus are provided for.

There are no opportunities

only obligations

The drive to compete, to take more than our share, is ancient and the root of evil. We strive to stand taller, to see further, yet we find ourselves atop a lonely ladder, as imprisoned in solitude as much as when we were in cages.

Each new venture becomes territory for our own use that we would deny to others. Any boons we acquire instantly burden us with the threat of their loss. Loss being the normal result of all acquisition, we worry even though out cake is in our hand. Either we will eat our cake, or someone else will eat our cake, or it will spoil. We enslave ourselves to our homes, friends, and pleasures.

If you want to go fast,

go alone

If you want to go far,

go together

-African proverb

Whether in a cage or perched atop your accomplishments, to be alive includes enslavement to necessity. There is a place for the hermit in the wilderness, and those that choose to withdraw have taken their burdens upon themselves and seek little help.

Those of us who choose to remain in the community are tasked with this common world we share. It is an enslavement to our infrastructure that sustains us. In these works is the embodied stories that one person told another that started with “Hey would it not be great if we…” and so we listened to their story. We accepted the obligations associated with that new work be it child-care, potable water, or roads. All these improvements do allow us to live longer, but not forever.

“…life is slavery,”
Hannah Arendt, “The Human Condition” (1998, p.121)

An Architecture Manifesto

Buildings which enrich the experience of the moment, or at least fail to detract from that experience.

Some good buildings intentionally blend the line between nature and culture. Those buildings are difficult to photograph. Most easily-photographed buildings are sculptures in space – attempting to stand forward from nature or local context, often to the point of contrasting – and tend to disappoint when experienced in person. They are akin to the fashion expert who brings no books to the book club. Like us, building design is a balance between the contemporary and the timeless. My goal for buildings is to tilt the scales towards a timeless quality.

This modest goal requires buildings avoid superficial attempts to suggest “meaning”. This is the failing of expressionist artistic artifacts that often rely on dualistic expression to convey “meaning” about something other than what is at hand. Modest buildings, like other artifacts of craft, express the process of their creation and persistence. While the details delight, the overall design helps the user engage with the environment and neighbors, not estrange them by being overly focused on one audience.

Persistence is critical

The most sustainable building is the one that is maintained. Neglected, buildings will return to the Earth. We can buffer buildings from this fate by making them important to people who have stories involving that building. Buildings are performance stages where we set the plays of our lives. Once we stop setting our stories in a building, it is truly doomed. The long-lived building is kept healthy by human hands. We adore that which helps us see beyond our day-to-day shuffle. That which orients us to an expansive view points out a way towards broader perspectives.

In addition to hosting good stories, good company, and insight, a building needs to be efficient and flexible. A wasteful or constrained building is like a beautiful hat that is too small and constantly needs gold threads replaced. You will eventually discard it for a floppy sun-hat that is less attractive but more practical. In buildings, this is accomplished by designing for a “loose fit” that we can renovate later; by directing resources towards a stronger structure and greater utility-capacity rather than towards fancy finishes.

The Uncanny Valley

Aesthetically, an abstract design built without regard to the subtle differences in land, light, breeze, and views is like an android. An android looks a lot like a human, but its designed-perfection lacks the common thread of humanity: time and our adaptations in the form of foibles, neurosis, humor, and wisdom. There is something uncanny that distracts us, and if it is too close a simulacrum, we fall into the “uncanny valley” which the object of design cannot recover from.

Most, if not all, of us harbor a love of antiquity and respect for elders

Such antique culture is the backdrop for our own stories. Old buildings’ stories lend orientation and depth to our stories by being tangible links to our history. When people see the utility or function of a building as still valid to them in their day-to-day lives they will make the time to affect any required repairs. Veneration for the elder is normal as it reminds us that there is continuity in the human realm.

The ironic truth is that we look favorably upon the past but with the full insight that only hindsight grants. We were all just as confused in the past as we are now, but we now understand that earlier territory and would like to go live there. Obviously, this is not possible. We each are facing new challenges as we age, our children age, and the wheel of life spins on. Nostalgia is a kind of mourning for the past, and we need each other’s help to stay focused on the opportunities before us right now. Buildings designed in a historical mode cannot deliver us from the present; rather they lead into the uncanny valley of theme-park design.

Our homes tend to become an extension of our state of mind

It is filled with our belongings. We decorate with reflections of our mind, creating a personal model of our neurosis and aspirations. Thus the power of geomantic arts like Feng Shui are not limited to working with Kami, Drala, and faerie folk, but an actual input channel to working with our minds. Architects can facilitate such personal work, but your habitation needs to be intentional. My role as architect ends when you take possession of your home, but my aspiration is your home helps you achieve your aspirations.
We use buildings both as vessels for our neuroses and containers for realization. They are an expression of our desires and aspirations. They are on display for all to see. They are artificial constructs of culture and our personal desires, aversions, and inattention. Done well they are commodious, flexible, efficient, locally adapted, and adaptable to future generations’ needs.

They are commodious, adaptable, facilitate hospitality, and easy to maintain.

Each is a container that mitigates the natural elements for human activity.

Nostalgia, on the other hand, is a desire for a simpler existence.

Even without a design theme, a home is highly suggestible


Lost in Boulder, Colorado



I grew up a neighborhood kid. If I saw different parts of Boulder it was because of the indeterminable car-rides with my parents.
When I was a boy of about 7 or 8, I got permission from my dad to ride my bike to the bookstore about 10 blocks away.
I had lied–my intention was to ride out to the big bookstore at least 40 blocks away.
I got lost. 

Jason and Dilgo Khyentse R.

I rode past the Trident, a book store I’d already tapped out of their best options.

About 1/3 of the way there was the old army-surplus store my dad took me to several times. I remembered that there was a map of the town on display in the store, so I went in there to get my bearings. Total failure: it was a tourist map (none of the landmarks I needed where on the map). 

map of the route

I kept riding, further than I’d ever ridden before

This was a scary adventure, because I had no idea how far away that bookstore was! Moreover, while I knew what it looked like and what was around it, I didn’t have a map of the intervening space. Being driven by my parents, the automobile had allowed me to have two independent domains that I knew had to be linked, but I didn’t know how. 

Boulder skyline

That day my domain expanded dramatically by using systems. I knew my home was at the foot of the mountain (and the sun set behind that mountain), and the streets of the city were nearly all cardinally aligned. My whole sense of “city” emerged. Nodes became connected by grids. I noticed the street numbering system (east to west) and the street names (north to south). I still thought I could influence traffic lights with the powers of my mind, but I did know where I was.



He stood there.
In the middle of a riot, with tensions high and water-cannons on stand-by, he just stood there.
He was not trying to stop a line of tanks.
He was not impeding the British cavalry.
He stood there—in public—

and thought.


Erdem Gündünz

In 2013, there was a dramatic uprising in Turkey initially inspired by the desire to preserve a public park. Erdem Gündünz, an artist, was struck by the portrait of the political idealist of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk). There, in the contested space, he stood and thought for eight hours.



The Life of the Mind

This is a modern example of what is described in the “Life of the Mind” (Arendt, 1978) as one of the few moments when thinking had a direct political expression.

Normally, thinking is a withdraw from the apparent world to develop fictional worlds. It is an act of storytelling, of developing “what if?” scenarios.

Thinking is not, in fact, a fact-oriented process. Science and cognition is fact-oriented, and seeks to turn the cogs to make the machine of science extrude a new answer that was better than previous answers.

Thinking is not reasonable. There is nothing that needs to lead to thinking, it is not in order of any process, there is no reason to think. When I want to make bread I do not think about it: the reason I add the starter to the pre-mixed dry ingredients is that is the correct order. Thinking about this order would only distract me from the order that has reasons. Thinking withdraws me into my fabricated mental world, and disassociates me from my senses–the sensible world where cooks do their best work.

(caveat: there are moments when both cooks and scientists engage in thinking to create something wholly novel and delicious, but it is not the core of the cookbook or method.)

Thinking is largely an activity without a use. It is somewhat difficult, but we can all think. Most of the time we reason based on past experience from our senses. This “2nd Order” thinking as Schank (1990) and other refer to it is not storytelling, but a mental state that relies on understood patterns that easily lead us astray because they are based on old data, rather than new givens from our environment.

As a useless activity, it, like storytelling, is given little credence. You can’t think a phone into existence. You can’t think a new research paper, you must write a research paper. You can’t think dinner on the table, you must cook. I can’t feed you by telling your a story, but we need stories more than bread itself.

In addition to the setting, and the characters, and the plot of a story, it must spontaneously give rise to a theme. The theme is the take-away, the lesson learned, the warning. The theme is the ultimate culmination of all the action. It is the what everything “means”.


Different from truths which must invariably be consistent under all circumstances, meanings are infinitely variable depending on the context. The meaningful-ness of bread is quite different to me if I am starving or if I am gluten-intolerant. Bread is not “true”: to some it is salvation to others it is poison. My individual story makes the bread meaningful. What I think about bread makes it meaningful to me. It is true that bread is a carbohydrate, but “bread is poison” is not true, it means that I am gluten-intolerant.

Keeping with our culinary example, thinking and reasoning quickly gets very triggering: it is true that eating meat ends an animals life, it is not true that “meat is murder”. What eating meat means to some people is equated to the politically egregious act of murder. But the same people would not say when a lion kills a deer that the lion is a murderer. To humans, the ending of a life is murder, but to most other animals it is necessary.

We as humans have polity between us that allows us to live together and cooperate to reduce suffering (both minor and major suffering—from “I want shoes but can’t make them” all the way to “I can’t get any bread, but others will share”). The story we hold in common defines the themes which we all agree to.

When we do not agree on themes is when we have political disagreements. When we do not agree on a theme it is typically because we do not share the same story in all its parts: settings, characters, and plots. In the story of vegetarianism, for example, the meat-eater does not see the animal as a victim in the story. As a result, the theme of the story is quite different between the vegetarian and the meat-eater. Everyone can agree to the facts, but if they do not agree on the characterization, then the lessons learned from those facts are quite different.


Thus political differences are all about storytelling. Using stories well was the core of Rhetoric as described by Aristotle. Once a story takes hold it becomes meaningful and inspires actions. This is the goal of all political speech.

When someone stops, thinks, and fails to take action, they are making their immobility meaningful. In that moment, when he refused to be influenced by the themes of either side’s political story, his thinking shocked both sides of a political debate. The thinker, in failing to act, has disavowed the ideas currently prevalent.

That failure to act, is a powerful moment in any political debate because it is the very definition of being “undecided”. His very inaction causes a frisson of potential: something new could arise because a story, a “counter-narrative” is playing out in his mind. Doing so publicly is an inadvertent statement to both the mobility (“mob”) and the ruling party. The subtext is “This is not true. So what does it mean?” This is not civil disobedience, it is thinking.

What followed was examples of political statement using the same inaction. But the original moment was thinking acting politically. The situation caused a dancer to be still.


None of this post should be construed as a political statement in favor of any agenda here above described. It is a discussion on how thinking through the story of relevant actors, in a particular setting, can lead to revealing the meaning behind contention. Doing so publicly is meaningful to all parties concerned. Thinking is available to all of us at all times, and is necessary to examine the narrative of others. In that examination, we can see past our own 2nd order thinking and develop compassion. 


Narrative Infrastructure proposes that we can speak our oral history and then map those stories. How those stories over-lap spatially becomes a starting point for finding intersections of themes. From this we can build a common world reconciled to our varied stories.

Lean more at NarrativeInfrastructure.org


Arendt, H. (1978). The Life of the Mind. New York: Harcourt.

Aristotle. (1929). The Art of Rhetoric (J.H. Freese, Trans.). In Cambridge: Harvard University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

Schank, R. C. (1990). Tell me a story : narrative and intelligence. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Image Credit:

Hurriyet Daily News

Video Credits:

“Arabian Nights” (2000) Hallmark Entertainment
“The Standing Man – Erdem Gündünz” (2014) SAMAR Media



Telephone poles are the original community billboard. I cannot imagine a more perfect metaphor for local social media. “Lost dog”, “Garage Sale”. As our communities grow increasingly decentralized, these distributed post-boards have become essential to local free speech.

As much as we’d prefer to bury the lines and clear our sky of wires, these old-tech telecommunication infrastructure were co-opted by the local community and pressed into service to help neighbors talk to one another.

Given that digital communication is going to slowly make these obsolete, we should capture the benefit they unintentionally added to our communities.


We need a place to share locally, by locals, for locals

local Narrative infrastructure 

Ask your elected representative to build public map of narratives. Review the white paper here:


Feel free to use the form letter to send them an email:


The drums start at sundown in the Medina

Don’t get caught on the plaza after midnight.

Down the side alleys off the Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh, the unwary can find perdition or boredom, but never salvation. It is choked with vast sprawling food stalls, dozens of entertainers—from monkey and snake wranglers to henna artists—but the princes of the Fnaa are the storytellers.

For centuries, Marrakesh has been a center for culture of North and West Africa, drawing entertainers, artisans, and merchants. By day, it is an enormous open-air market where you’re equally likely to get run down by a donkey as a motorbike. But at night, the pavers open to reveal a network of cooking gas and electricity. Several dozen mobile kitchens appear, seemingly from nowhere.

The songs of a dozen countries from a dozen different musicians begin drift across the square, competing for your ear with the sellers of treasures and grilled meat.

The storytellers are easy to find. Look for a ring of silent people staring at one old man. He gesticulates, shouts, then whispers to one small boy, his stories pulling you inwards and closer till the circle is intimate. 

Just as he reaches the peak of the action, he holds his audience, breathless, and passes the hat. When the hat jingles, he closes the action. Everyone breaths out a sigh or laugh, the tension released and the story concludes.

You’re so caught up you ignored the lady daintily applying a lace-work of henna to your left hand while a snake charmer wrapped a python around your right arm. Don’t get caught on the plaza after midnight.