I’ve sometimes been accused of “having a narrative.” It’s a common enough accusation in popular debate, and you can see from the way it’s usually deployed what effect the accusers expect it to have. There’s rarely any attempt to engage with the supposed narrative, to deconstruct it, to correct it. It’s rare enough that anyone bothers to describe the narratives they impute to others. The accusation alone is supposed to be enough to cast doubt on a person’s position: they “have their narrative,” as though narratives were inherently false.
The problem isn’t narrative, though. Narrative is just the way we choose to relate a sequence of events. Every news story, historical account, anthropological reconstruction and personal anecdote, whether true or false, has a narrative. The Marlins scored two runs in the 3rd inning and their pitcher threw a no-hitter—that’s a narrative, the sort that’s told in dry detail in sports pages across the country most every week. The critical question is not whether or not an account has a narrative—if time is a factor, it almost certainly does—but whether the chosen narrative relates the truth.
Used correctly, the purpose of such accusations is to point out when the desire to tell a particular story has run roughshod over the truth. When a reporter knowingly omits salient facts in order to tilt a story toward an angle they know will sell better than the likeliest account, we say that they’re promoting a particular narrative at the expense of the truth. That’s unethical, of course, but it’s not the fact of their having a narrative which makes it so. Even if they told the story without bias or manipulation, they’d still have a narrative, but it would be a narrative that avoids distortion or falsification.
That’s why, the several times my arguments have been dismissed as “having a narrative,” I’ve mostly just rolled my eyes and moved on. Of course, I have a narrative. The accusers real issue is that it differs from their own narrative. But if they don’t show where my narrative goes wrong, then I have no reason to abandon what seems to me like the most sensible arrangement of events. And if they can’t explain how their narrative better accords with the truth, then I have no reason to think they’re any better informed than I am.