Beware of “The Narrative”!

Beware of “The Narrative”!

Back in 1979 philosopher Jean-François Lyotard was commissioned to do a report for the province of Quebec that turned into a book, The Postmodern Condition. I remember that book well because I read it during my graduate studies that focused on narrative analysis. A central theme of Lyotard’s book was the “death of metanarratives,” such as the Idea of Progress or Marx’s Class Struggle as the engine of history.

Fast forward to 2021 and “The Narrative” has become a core talking point of right-wing paranoia and propaganda. Whatever they disagree with is framed as a totalitarian Narrative that makes their rebellion against it heroic. Of course, a large part of this anti-narrative narrative is projection. The conformity of the GOP/Fox talking points is notorious. But that is precisely what makes their precious melodrama so effective. By first accusing their designated other of foisting a narrative, they disarm any criticism of themselves foisting a narrative.

Dr. Julie Ponesse, Professor of Ethics at University of Western has made herself a lost cause celebrity with her stand against the “narrative” of Covid-19 vaccination. Professor Ponesse builds her case against the presumably monolithic narrative by cherry-picking some research studies (that wouldn’t even exist if the narrative was as monolithic as she claims) and by flagrantly misrepresenting VAERS data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Professor Ponesse, she has been put on administrative leave and faces “imminent dismissal” for refusing to comply with the university’s vaccine mandate. 

The National Post reports that, “Ponesse has also made questionable claims about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. In a video posted online, she calls the vaccines ‘experimental.'” The CBC quotes Maxwell Smith, a bioethicist and assistant professor in the faculty of health sciences at Western and Co-Director of the Health Ethics, Law & Policy (HELP) Lab:

The strength of a position in ethics comes from the support provided via reasons & arguments, not that it’s uttered by an ethicist. And her reasons used to support her position are distorted by falsehoods & concern areas about which she has no apparent expertise.

But pay no attention to the opinions of all those authorities, her employer the university, the official guide to interpreting VAERS data, and The Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health who has strongly recommended mandatory vaccinations. They’re all part of “The Narrative.”