Metanarrative is a term used by the French postmodernist Jean-Francois Lyotard to describe a story used to explain other stories. And, in as much as we view our lives as stories, most people have a story to explain their lives. Although this could be couched in any number of terms, (and indeed, Lyotard, a notoriously complicated writer, does so), all that this post-modernistic theory means is that people usually seek a "higher purpose" in their life stories. This story seeks to tie together disparete elements into a single story, and provides a legitimization and grounding for them.
The standard metanarrative in European society for a very long time was the idea of a world unified by the Christian faith, which would eventually lead to economic prosperity on earth by turning Europe into a civilized, well tilled place safe from Barbarians, or at least gave a transcedental meaning to peoples' earthly suffering by promising them an afterlife, and by making everyday tasks somehow meaningful.
Of course, in modern life, we are not living in such a single minded society, and no single institution ties everything together. Also, of course, we don't daily live our lives with a unified belief that the things we do are somehow directly related to an eternal goal.
Which may lead some to think that we live in a society without a metanarrative at all. But only idiots and sages can live their life without some kind of reference to a "greater scheme", and I think that America is no different. We as a society and as individuals do believe in a metanarrative.
This metanarrative doesn't have a clearly stated goal. The goal, if anything, is a kind of prescriptive hedonism, that if everyone would just chase what gave them warm fuzzies, we could all share a coke in harmony. Anything more then that is very hard to describe, because a common mythic ground for why we can all get together, and what we are going to do once we are, is lacking.
What this story lacks in plot, however, it more then makes up for in villains (like any good Hollywood movie, the hero and heroine bond over their common enemies). Not to say that these villains are all the same, but they all have similiar charactertistics, based on who is telling the story. The reason that this is important to realize is because there are lots of people who are blaming our countries troubles on: (depending on their political leanings) Montana Militia members or Gangsta Rappers. This is not, as many would believe, just the cheap rhetoric of those cynical enough to pick on underrepresented groups to gain popularity. People actually believe that these groups (as examples) are responsible for a great part of our nations trouble. Since the system is so implicit to be non-existent, the only reason that everyone is not living in a world of Unbounded happiness and limitless energy is due to flies in the ointment, a few troublesome groups that are making it hard for everyone else.
The Southern Poverty Law Center actually believes that racism in America is not the result of large scale instituitional forces, or the result of capitalisms need for an underclass. They honestly believe that the best way to get rid of racism is to attack some fringe groups in Northern Idaho.
And Bill Bennett is not just a cynical old man. He is also an honest believer in the theory that if not for those violent gangsta rappers, that the youth of America would automatically be polite, happy, learn to love and cherish women, and never think about taking drugs.
With such honest beliefs, and others like them, can we blame these people for warring so vigorously against their chosen villain?
And, indeed, if we don't believe in a stupid, yet cunning enemy who is out to get us; how do we explain the uncertainty that plagues us on a personal and social level? The void that causes anxiety and fear and that has followed humanity since the very first thought can hardly be a matter for public discourse, because delegitimazation can hardly be a legitimizing principle.