Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Day Narrative Special

Here՚s another of my mostly-unsuccessful attempts to engage at SlateStarCodex.

Context: Scott says that the election “shouldn՚t change the narrative”, because whichever way it goes the two sides and interests are still going to exist and be in play. To some extent I agree with this, but it՚s a strawman – nobody expects the other side to go away, quite the contrary, all the liberals I know are worrying about what kinds of havoc the Trump supporters are going to be wreaking after their leader hopefully goes down to an ignominious and crushing defeat.

What he really seems to be arguing for is more quantitative thinking and less narrative thinking – this is kind of a theme of rationalism. And it seems like a good thing, because narrative is emotional and weird and misleading, perhaps it is the real “mind-killer” that underlies politics. Narrative is hot, statistics are cool. (Note he doesn՚t exactly say this in the post, this is my attempt at sketching out his general POV). Narrative is what leads people to label others as heroes or villains, and join together to fight their enemies.

I don՚t want to exactly argue against this, but it seems somewhat wrongheaded, because it is wishing for humans to be other than they actually are. We are creatures of narrative, we tell stories about ourselves and our society to make sense of it, it՚s just part of the package. It՚s not all that we are, but it՚s a major part. And politics, as part of the cognitive system of society in the large, is also going to be based on narratives.

This election in particular offers a stark choice of character and narrative. An America with Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office will have a different character than one with Donald Trump there (spits over shoulder). And the stories we will tell to make sense of this crazy year will also be different.

In short, there are plenty reasons to be suspicious of both politics and narrative, but I don՚t think we can dispense with them and it՚s a mistake to try. But we can get more cognizant of how they work.

1 comment:

Dain said...

"I don՚t think we can dispense with them and it՚s a mistake to try."

There's such a vast gulf between not trying and making it your mission to do away with narratives entirely that it's hard to say where to come down. Defending narratives, but e.g. in the most localized political decision-making possible, seems one way to go, so as to minimize the amount of "noise" and wrongheaded narrative impeding the reception of raw, unfiltered data, and what this data might tell you about reality.

A simultaneous trend toward big data and partisan, national-focused media seems a recipe for distress in the rationalist community. Gotta feeling like spitting in the wind at times.