The powerful aspect of classification such as that of the vertebrates into birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish is that provides us basis for predicting the behaviour of each phyla of based on the physical similarities by which they been classified. There are things we can predict about mammals (care and nurturing of the young) that we can be fairly certain reptiles will not be engaged in.
This is the first and most powerful test of whether classifications are useful: does it provide a simple and understandable tool by which behaviour can be understood and predicted with a reasonable degree of confidence. Thus it becomes obvious that some classifications are more useful than others because some physical classifications are more useful than others. The fact that someone is a red-head is not a reasonable predictor of their behaviour. In fact it is difficult to think of any physical characteristics, such as hair or skin colour that help us understand human behaviour.
The next step in our mental processes is to be able to use forms of classification, such as socio-economic grouping, education or income to create a plausible narrative that can be used to understand and predict behaviour. At the heart of the creation of this narrative is the concept of causation. A good narrative (or a good story for that matter) is a sequence of events that people accepted as being a reasonable representation of reality. What holds this narrative together is the logic of the causation within the narrative. Goldilocks finds Father Bear’s porridge too hot, and Mother Bear’s porridge too cold but Baby Bear’s porridge just right, so she eats it.
It’s a simple analogy but one that applies to the tragedy of the killing of the two teenagers in Little Falls, Minnesota. In understanding the motivation of Byron Smith it is necessary to (re)-create the narrative that brought him to the point where he fired the gun. Some of this narrative is a emerged in the press already: he suspected the teenagers were coming to burgle him and that he suspected them of having burgled him beforehand. This narrative begins to explain, but not excuse, his actions. There is another narrative to this tragedy and that is the narrative of the two teenagers. It is highly likely that their narrative works on a different timeframe to that of Byron Smith but it is highly likely that it is parallel and possibly interwoven with that of Byron Smith. In other words, there is some history to the relationship. So, it becomes important that we we try to find narratives and particularly narratives that have the same time span.
What we are presented with in the press is often only a snapshot of the incident: “Man shoots teenagers”. Such an analysis is really only a classification, a simple description of the event. It provides little narrative and hence little indication of the causation leading up to the event. It is by constructing narratives within equal timeframes that we can deepen our insight into the nature of these occurrences.
Often these community conflicts are indicative of conflict on a much wider scale. The sectarian violence in Ireland goes back hundreds of years and it becomes impossible to construct coherent narrative that has an inclusive timeframe. Both sides of the conflict will seek to classify and describe some point in time that will justify their cause.
Unfortunately, this retrograde approach turns the analysis back to classification rather than creating the causal narrative. It is only in developing an agreed causal narrative that there is any hope that some reconciliation can be made in such long-term conflicts.
And the same is true in Little Falls, Minnesota where this particular tragedy is result of two parallel but unresolved causal narratives. Until communities find some way of integrating and understanding the narratives that people carry around in the heads, tragically such as this will continue to happen.