Monday, 2 July 2018

The articulation of stories and the dynamics of progress

On 29 June at 6.49am an account on Twitter named ‘Stand For Something Even If You're Sitting Down’ tweeted the following:
Trump: The press is the enemy of the American people.
Milo: The press should be killed.
Shooter: Kills members of the press.
The Left: Trump and Milo are dangerous and culpable in this.
The Right: The Left needs to be civil.
We tell ourselves stories all the time as we strive to function as members of a community that sustains us. Such stories are essential to its proper functioning and to maintaining our ties to it. They cement us within its fabric as essential parts of it. They are the glue that binds each community together, and part of that process involves us articulating aspects of the stories that animate our social lives, to form coherent narratives. The above tweet is a symptom of this articulation, where each step in the process of meaning-creation stems from the one that comes before. We locate ourselves within this process of meaning-creation by helping to tell either the whole story from beginning to end, or just one part of it that can then be taken up by the next person in the chain.

That chain ties us to the earth, from which all wealth derives. The earth sustains us as the stories we tell each other sustain us in our various tribes. They work in two ways: to keep us together and to keep others out. While the first aim is important for our survival, the second can prevent us from learning new things. So while stories can teach people entering the tribe what it is important for them to know, so that they can help the whole function more effectively, they can also exclude ideas that might function to help the tribe survive and prosper.

In our communities, the tribes operate much like sporting teams that are competing for the scarce resource of victory. In this flawed scenario, which is a zero-sum game, only one team can win, and so each member of it works to the utmost extent of his or her capacities to destroy the effectiveness of the opposition. In this earnest game we strengthen the bonds that keep us together by helping to articulate the stories that sustain the tribe, but we might also lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is for both teams to prosper and to increase the amount of wealth the earth surrenders, for the same amount of energy expended. Sometimes we need to borrow from the playbook of the opposition, and use ideas that have been articulated and developed by that tribe, in order to strengthen the chain that binds us to the earth. This is called “progress”.

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