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Postmodernism Law and Storytelling

QUESTION: Postmodernism Law – Storytelling


In place of objective reasoning, Postmodernists use storytelling as a better way to arrive at equitable law, since it is open to multiple points of view and varied interpretations. Stories are easier to manipulate to meet a political end than are empirical facts. Farber and Sherry explain the way Postmodernists rely on story: “Because the scholarship of women and people of color reflects their distinctive knowledge [gained from listening to and telling stories], the radical multiculturalists argue, it cannot be judged or tested by traditional standards. Instead, they imply, it should be judged according to its political effect: it should be judged ‘in terms of its ability to advance the interests of the outsider community,’ because ‘outsider scholarship is often aimed not at understanding the law, but at changing it.’”1

One current issue that illustrates the Postmodern use of stories is global warming. Although empirical scientific data show no significant temperature increases worldwide,2 pressure from the radical left has been exerted on the United States to sign an international global warming treaty. Some of the pressure comes from creating stories that appeal to the emotions. For example, the film The Day After Tomorrow is an emotion-charged story about what will happen when global warming gets out of control. The film does not deal with facts about whether global warming is an actual threat to the planet; it simply assumes it is and builds the story from there.

Postmodern Law – Rhetoric Rather than Logic
This illustrates the Postmodern focus on rhetoric rather than logic. Since logic and dispassionate reasoning are seen as tools of white male bias, rhetoric and story are used to effect political change, regardless of scientific arguments to the contrary. Farber and Sherry illustrate how this shift is impacting legal theory: “Rather than relying solely on legal or interdisciplinary authorities, empirical data, or rigorous analysis, legal scholars have begun to offer stories, often about their own real or imagined experiences.”3

The emotional impact of story can be used to replace rationality in the courtroom and in the media. Faber and Sherry cite the case of Tawana Brawley as an example of how racially motivated attorneys and politicians could manipulate a story to undermine legal facts in the courtroom. Brawley, a fifteen-year-old black girl, claimed she was abducted, raped, and tortured by a group of white men that included a state district attorney and two police officers. It was later shown that she had made up the entire story as a distraction to get her stepfather to forgive her for running away from home. However, even though the grand jury found that no crime had been committed, the following was written about the case: “Tawana Brawley has been the victim of some unspeakable matter who did it to her—and even if she did it to herself. Her condition was clearly the expression of some crime against her.” Farber and Sherry continue, “In other words, whether it was true or false, Tawana Brawley’s story tells us something about the condition of black women.”4

In this case, the story’s power to create an emotional backlash against the dominant culture of white males took precedence over the truth that those accused were innocent and that police officers and district attorneys protect women and minorities from danger more often than not regardless of race, age, or ethnicity.


Rendered with permission from the book,Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews(Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Daniel A. Farber and Suzanna Sherry, Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997), 30.

2 See Michael Crichton, State of Fear (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2004), for a fictionalized look at the global warming issues along with their political and scientific implications. For a scholarly look at the issue, see the website for Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.

3 Farber and Sherry, 39.

4 Ibid., 96.

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