It takes more than facts

Excellent article by George Monbiot. He’s right to assert that one’s worldview narrative trumps all other considerations, like facts. Such stories organize how we see everything through their lenses. Monbiot notes that the two major narratives of our time are social democracy and neoliberalism. While having different means and goals they both have the same narrative structure:

“Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful and nefarious forces working against the interests of humanity. The hero – who might be one person or a group of people – revolts against this disorder, fights the nefarious forces, overcomes them despite great odds and restores order.”

This notion of a hero has to go; we the people collectively and collaboratively become the initiators and maintainers of the story, not some special class of enlightened ones. We work together to enlighten each other, and it is in that connective interaction where the enlightenment resides, not some special individual achievement.

He explains why we can’t simply go back to the earlier story of social democracy to overcome the current story of neoliberalism. Among other reasons, the earlier story assumes continual economic growth with the same consumer lifestyle, devastating to the environment and more fuel for climate chaos.

So we must create a new story ASAP. This story must be based on our evolutionary capacity for mutual collaboration and aid. It’s one that rejects the narrative told by neoliberalism of  “extreme individualism and competition.” Instead we share ownership and stewardship in community, respecting and honoring each other and the environment.

“We will develop a new economics that treats both people and planet with respect. We will build it around a great, neglected economic sphere: the commons. Local resources will be owned and managed by communities, ensuring that wealth is widely shared. Using common riches to fund universal benefits will supplement state provision, granting everyone security and resilience.”

Monbiot shows how this story has already been taking shape and having positive effects. Sanders’s campaign was one huge water mark. It organized numerous small networks via the internet and got most of its spending money from a large number of small donors. Such tactics were used successfully by Corbin in the UK. The Indivisible Guide grew out of this learning process.

In keeping with Lakoff it’s the Big Picture Story around which everything else revolves. Rifkin would wholehearted agree. The collaborative commons narrative is here to stay, gaining ground by the day. The more we feed it the more it becomes a reality. Keep up the good work citizens.

5 thoughts on “It takes more than facts

  1. This article reiterates the theme and provides some examples of new stories.

    “In campaigning for change, the art of storytelling has been too often replaced with reliance on a deluge of facts and polices. Progressives have learned the hard way in an age of Brexit and Trump that it is messages that resonate with mythologies – such as ‘making America great again’ tapping the former frontier optimism of nation-builders, or ‘taking back control’ for the brave, resilient island – are impervious to fact and rational argument. In both you might also glimpse the village whipped up by the charismatic trickster who appears in its midst, into a fury of self-destructive suspicion and isolation. If you want change to happen, you have to change deeply embedded cultural narratives. Progressive politics needs better stories as much as it needs facts and policies. Without them it will flail and flounder.”

    1. Good article. I agree that fact-based reasoning is impotent for emotion-based issues. I also agree we need better stories for progressive messages. When I search my memory for influential folk tales that emphasize positive, non-fear-based, non-xenophobic messages, not much comes to mind, but I’m sure there may be examples. Perhaps any effective story must shock the amygdala into action.

  2. For those of you not familiar with Rifkin, here’s a short 10-minute video on the collaborative commons. Also discussed is how it is implemented via the internet of things, creating smart-grids via sensors on things. It’s a sort of AI that is rapidly developing. This might satisfy the requirement of the embodied cognition thesis that ‘intelligence’ requires a body-environment relationship.

  3. This wiki* on cognitive bias mitigation is instructive. An excerpt from the section on evolutionary psychology follows, noting that it takes intensive training of our system 2, reflective reasoning capacity to overcome such bias. Hence the reason political programmers are hell bent on decimating our educational system, which function had previously been to provide that training. As noted above, we can also find inroads into changing biases using stories designed by system 1 but within a system 2 format.

    “This discipline explicitly challenges the prevalent view that humans are rational agents maximizing expected value/utility, using formal analytical methods to do so. Practitioners such as Cosmides, Tooby, Haselton, Confer and others posit that cognitive biases are more properly referred to as Cognitive Heuristics, and should be viewed as a toolkit of cognitive shortcuts] selected for by evolutionary pressure and thus are features rather than flaws, as assumed in the prevalent view. Theoretical models and analyses supporting this view are plentiful. This view suggests that negative reasoning outcomes arise primarily because the reasoning challenges faced by modern humans, and the social and political context within which these are presented, make demands on our ancient ‘heuristic toolkit’ that at best create confusion as to which heuristics to apply in a given situation, and at worst generate what adherents of the prevalent view call ‘reasoning errors’.”

    “There is an emerging convergence between Evolutionary Psychology and the concept of our reasoning mechanism being segregated (approximately) into ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’. In this view, System 1 is the ‘first line’ of cognitive processing of all perceptions, including internally generated ‘pseudo-perceptions’, which automatically, subconsciously and near-instantaneously produces emotionally valenced judgments of their probable effect on the individual’s well-being. By contrast, System 2 is responsible for ‘executive control’, taking System 1’s judgments as advisories, making future predictions, via prospection, of their actualization and then choosing which advisories, if any, to act on. In this view, System 2 is slow, simple-minded and lazy, usually defaulting to System 1 advisories and overriding them only when intensively trained to do so or when cognitive dissonance would result. In this view, our ‘heuristic toolkit’ resides largely in System 1, conforming to the view of Cognitive Biases being unconscious, automatic and very difficult to detect and override. Evolutionary Psychology practitioners emphasize that our heuristic toolkit, despite the apparent abundance of ‘reasoning errors’ attributed to it, actually performs exceptionally well, given the rate at which it must operate, the range of judgments it produces, and the stakes involved. The System 1/2 view of the human reasoning mechanism appears to have empirical plausibility (see Neuroscience, next) and thus may contribute to a theory and practice of Cognitive Bias Mitigation.”


    1. Also see this* previous post. E.g.: “To get more conservatives to turn on the intentional system when evaluating political discourse we need to speak to emotions and intuitions—the autopilot system, in other word. To do so, we should understand where these people are coming from and what they care about, validate their emotions and concerns, and only then show, using emotional language, the harm people suffer when they believe in lies. For instance, for those who care about safety and security, we can highlight how it’s important for them to defend themselves against being swindled into taking actions that make the world more dangerous. Those concerned with liberty and independence would be moved by emotional language targeted toward keeping themselves free from being used and manipulated. For those focused on family values, we may speak about trust being abused.”


Leave a Reply