Storytellers Run the World: Welcome to the "Post-truth" Era

The "deep stories" that run your world are changing. The stories democracy and economics rely on aren't working so well...


1. “Those who tell the stories run the world,” writes George Monbiot. What are these world-running stories?

2. Stories also run your worldview. Our brains aren’t quite neutral truth detectors—often we seek and accept stories that only confirm our beliefs.

3. Trump and Brexit show a shift from fact-based to fictional winning stories (—>“post-truth”). Politics has always been theater, not only fact-checked documentary (—>facts often aren’t persuasive).

4. “Deep stories” also rule us indirectly by framing the worldviews of our rulers. For decades, a story by someone unknown to most voters has framed the worldviews of many key leaders.

5. Hayek’s “heroic narrative” of unrestricted entrepreneurs creating “trickle-down” prosperity captivated Reagan, Thatcher, Bill Clinton, and Blair. It claimed government regulation and taxes burdened “the market,” and hobbled heroic business titans—whose ruthless competition for rational optimizing customers would ensure efficiency. Government itself should run like a business.

6. Monbiot says Hayek would have “worshipped” Trump (+see Rand’s variant, Galt = selfish “saviour”).

7. There is truth in Hayek’s stories, but also in their counterstories: Competition can breed inefficiency. Businesses can contain “spectacular inefficiencies.” Sustainable competition can require regulation. Taxes can strengthen market infrastructure. Selfishness can hinder voluntary-market solutions. It’s an economic cartoon story that customers aren’t rational maximizers.

8. Plus crucially, “government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs,” Obama once told tech entrepreneurs.  

9. CEOs opine to Obama about “how we do things,” but businesses (and their “disruptors”) often profit by cherry-picking the easy segments.Government must handle the messy and expensive cases that businesses can just exclude (like pre-existing conditions pre-Obamacare).

10. Besides tech titans sometimes don’t even understand their own businesses. Mark Zuckerberg sees Facebook as a “neutral” platform not a media company, but it’s“America’s favorite media product.”

11. Zuckerberg called “crazy” claims that fake news on Facebook had influenced the election. But the top “fake news outperformed real news.” Techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci concludes Facebook is damaging democracy.

12. Zuckerberg’s shrug shows why we can’t trust tech titans (and their self-serving stories). News isn’t just a business, it’s democracy’s oxygen. Diminished real journalism has disrupted democracy’s connection with truth.

13. Trump brilliantly used social media to “hack” traditional media to amplify his stories (many trust information from friends and families more than from institutions—>Facebook’s “neutral” platform enabled Trumps win).

14. Tech titans typically dislike whatever can’t be done by algorithm. And ethics still needs humans (—>doesn’t scale—>lowers profitability). What happens to the ethics of what they’re disrupting?

15. Obama observes that today’s story ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true.” Calls for new information sources to provide “reason and facts… neither of which is partisan,” seem naive.

16. Modifying Monbiot, those who control those who make and distribute and tell the effective stories, run the world.

17. Want truer stories? Sarah Smarsh suggests putting your country ahead of your coffee—>pay for real journalism. “Without liberty, there is no true journalism.” Without true journalism there is no liberty.

 

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Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.

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