THE TERRITORIES OF MEANING- STORIES QUESTIONS TELL

Where are we when we ask WHY? What direction in time are we drawn to? Not the future normally. “Why” is not found up ahead, though it might well be that we did what we did because of what we hoped would happen. But ‘why’ tells a different story. Its the story of behind or before. Even our dream of a future was in the past- where the WHY happened. WHY happens in a place, which is where we go looking for it -in The Territory of Why.

Why the recession?? This question points us to look at what comes before the financial crash, not after. Why did we have the wars? Because of what happened leading up to it. Why did she leave her family? Because she hated her life. It is the present interrogating the past. When we are obsessed with Why, why 9-11 or why the recession, or why war, or even Why me- we tend to be facing backwards,even if what we find might help us next time face more fiercely forward. WHY has us looking in a certain direction. It is positional.

Where are we when we we ask HOW? How did she manage to win the gold medal? How did Obama win the nomination? What direction in time are we looking at? We are focusing on the unfolding process, not the reason or motive behind or before. HOW wants to grip the workings of the plot within and go back to the present of that past- what was happening and what led to what. It has us looking with a certain focus which is also positional. HOW is also not normally found in the future, but in the territory of HOW.

Where are we when we ask WHEN? We want to mark the time, to put an event into some sort of sequence, or chain of events. When did he say he was leaving the company, before or after you wanted to fire him? When did you see the accused, before he left the nightclub or after? ‘When’ is a significant marker to be able to deduce what came before and what came after. In other words, its one more locative question. It gets asked for and asks from a position in time which is the territory of WHEN.

When we start to think of specific questions as markers of a certain territory, we start to see differences in the way meaning gets shaped, and how borders are drawn around knowledge. It might even help us understand the conflict between those asking WHY and those asking HOW and those asking WHEN.

They who ask WHY are going back to the past, for understanding or vindication. Fair enough. But a nation that is always asking Why tends to be always facing backwards until they flip the question to Why Not? In my own nation Australia, there seem to be so many commissions of inquiry into what happened and why that one fears that there is little oxygen or appetite left for the future. We get so upset at how we treated the refugees or aborigines back in the 1950′s that we don’t see that we are not doing much better now. If you want to stop a focus on the future dead, ask a WHY question about a tragic past. It happens in the Middle East all the time.

Those who ask HOW are the ones obsessed with the present, pragmatists who get it done and don’t worry why. HOW people address the task, not the telos. As Americans, we used to being problem solvers who didn’t waste time on WHY when clearly, what mattered was How. What is the problem? Lets solve it. We have seen it in Washington these past 5 years. The question has been: How do we reform health care, not WHY do we need health care reform. The HOW’s soon run out of patience with the WHYs. Why versus How tends to become the Past versus the Present.

Those who want to know WHEN are the ones who want to know the times, not why or how. At what point did it or will it occur.They are about what came next or what comes next, the future, as in WHEN will it be done by? When can we expect an answer? WHEN is another positional move directing our gaze to the stream of time- before, during, after. It sees events as contemporary, “with time” and wants an answer that relates what happened to when it happened. When did women get the vote? is probably as informative a question as Why and How. The Times, they are a changing, which means that WHEN picks up on that more than the WHY or the HOW.

If we map this on to Washington politics, we see more clearly into the impasse. It might be because of partisan rancor, but what if its because people are asking different questions-The Why’s
(Republicans) are fed up with the How’s (Democrats) while the When’s (we the People) are impatient with both because nothing is happening, for lack of know why and know how.