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Monday, November 4, 2013

Changing the Story, Part One

(preamble) The big Story that we presently  tell ourselves about ourselves is largely a product of modernity: the U.S.A. Story and the rest of the developed world.  They are closely related, but not the same as we are seeing more and more everyday as the “U.S. government” displays its arrogance and distain for other nations, as well as its own people.

But, it is too easy, to say ‘US Government’! What is meant is the power centers vying for control of both specific regions of power and, ultimately, power over as much as is possible with the present technological and economic designs.  These power centers are not always obvious – see essay: A Creeping Encroachment. The first rule is to not be recognized as arrogating power until it is a fait accompli.  At present all those jockeying for power are blaming ‘the government’ for its failures, by which they mean the others vying for power, failures that they claim they will correct.  Of the various factions some are business/corporate in origin, some are more ideologically based and some are more purely political – power for power’s sake – but almost none are what they present themselves to be to the public.

 None are the US Government per se; that responsibility is still Constitutionally with The People even as they have effectively been removed from power through economic marginalization– and in part as a result of a long and torturous process of giving up. Ultimately, however, the final consequence of the following argument is that the power still resides in The People and they will implement that power in whatever form they perceive it.

I wrote in another essay: unless the Story is changed, the play stays the same with only a change in the players.  But changing the players is so much easier; we hope they will deliver the lines in some new and evocative way – though they never do.  Without a different Story presented as a different play, the lines and the outcomes remain the same.

A different play! Now there’s the rub.  What is to be the plot?  What will be asked of the actors?  Will the present company be able to do it well? Do it at all? The present players will demand good roles! Perhaps it is better to stay with the same old play and just let the theater close when it has gone stale.

All the present efforts seem to be to create a “new” play that is still the same old play with new characters; many of the same actors in different makeup, the same plot, the same situations, the same dramatic moments, the same jokes, the same meanings, the same messages… all the old and reliable niches for all the old and reliable people doing all the old and reliable things.

Before a new Story can be told it is vital that we actually know the details of the present Story; some parts need to kept, though perhaps changed in their relations to other parts. Other parts discovered, rediscovered, created from whole cloth or through wild serendipity added to the play.  We must know the old play completely to be successful, but a major theme of the old play is that it not be examined critically: such examination is described in the present play as sacrilegious, unpatriotic, mean spirited, intellectually elitist and deeply suspicious: all such efforts have been accused of attempting to destroy “our way of life.” --- And, of course, that is true.
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What is the present Story and how does it work?  What are the major themes, plots and subplots of the play?  First and foremost we must be prepared for a very complicated, convoluted, contradictory and cryptic interweaving of elements, putting the most complex 19th century Russian novel to shame.

It is both tempting and commonplace to believe that there is some pervasive pattern of order in the organization of human idea – some pattern that has origins other than in random variations settling into arrangements that are the least fragile – but commonplace or tempting as it can be, such a belief (or hope) is false.  Human stories are like the perceptual phenomena of filling in the gaps.

Story is bits and pieces that can be strung together into linear narratives, but Story, as we must understand it, is non-linear – many parts can be combined in many ways – if the elements are seen as coming from the general story (valid parts of Story), they can be contradictory without dissonance.  Just as we fill in the gaps in an image or visual sequence, we fill in the gaps between and around story elements and believe that the gaps were never there [1].

The swirl of events draws up various elements of Story as cognitive mapping needed to explain or guide potential responses, blending the biological, the learned and the imagined into a tangle that it is our habit to rationalize into a coherent narrative. Story, as it functions in daily life, becomes a trove of interrelated anecdotes ranging from official narratives that “everyone” is expected to give, at least, lip service to, to stories that define one’s family, kinships (of all sorts) and habits.

I am thinking of Story as largely unarticulated foundational idea – unarticulated and perhaps unarticulable in the normal course of the consideration of our thought.  A good model of Story might be as an interface for ideation in language laid on a biological armature.

Untangling the various elements of Story is more taunting than explicating the human genome.  The genome, for all its variations is structured on an understandable framework and functions within understandable boundaries.  Story doesn’t exist in a fixed place with fixed relationships and yet it is still the underlying informational structure for human action.  What follows is a monumental presumption – the attempt to clarify some of the major themes and plots of, especially, the U.S. American Story.
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Big themes of the US American Story:

(1) Belief in the human right and responsibility to dominate the earth  (without any consideration of any need to integrate actions into the material and energy economies of natural cycles).  This belief, combined with #4, takes on the special form of ‘American Exceptionalism’

(2) Belief that human life is specially anointed by a non-material superior entity who created the universe and then created humans as its material representative. (another, less institutional, form of this belief is that humans are the culmination of the evolutionary process – what evolution was proceeding toward from the beginning.)

(3) Belief in agency (human agency and supernatural agency) rather than events being moved by the immediate and direct action of preceding events and the statistical properties of randomness.

(4) Acting on a “natural” hierarchy based on how much a living thing is like one’s self and one’s community: some humans are more “human”, more worthwhile, than others.  Some can be considered as having the same worth as animals, and animals are valued (and feared) in relation to how much they display human-like appearance and behavior.

(5) The human leader principle: another, more CSO based, system of valuing (while still tied to primate group dynamic principles) is based on accumulations of power-related objects and behaviors: defined in the US American society as wealth and charisma. Ultimately, this has to do with the biology of leadership and its adaptation from primate social evolution into human communities. (Charisma is interesting in this context, not a mystical quality, but the product of display of confidence and the ability to rapidly read others and appear to be like them – a specialized form of imitation, magnified in effect by attractiveness. Confidence without empathic connection is considered boorish, empathic connection without confidence is considered weakness and attractiveness without the other two is considered frivolous.)

(6) The accumulation of material possessions is the measure of worth and value: wealth and power trump all other human achievements justifying much that would be called sin or crime without the actual attainment of wealth.

(7) The belief that humans are individual self-reliant units of action: each person is seen as a fully independent actor making from the world’s opportunities what they can (moved properly by acquisitiveness).  Success and failure are equally earned only by the amount and quality of effort.  Circular reasoning is generally applied: success (by the standards of #4 and 6) equals effort; failure equals sloth.
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The next essay will look at these big themes in more detail and begin to offer suggestions as to what another Story might be.  The third essay in this series will attempt to see the present Story and alternative Stories in both real political and biophysical terms.

[1] Dawkins’ and Blackmore’s concept of ‘meme’ is closely related to these ideas, but is too tied to the analogy with biological genes.  Genes interact complexly, as do Story elements, but new genes are not created out of nothing to fill in gaps that didn’t even exist previously before they were juxtaposed. My concept is that an information handling system, new to the universe that I call the Consciousness System of Order (CSO), has formed with the human nervous system as its primary substrate (for now).  Information is handled in completely new ways that result in new and previously “impossible” probability structures for what might exist.  And even though the CSO resides primarily in the human nervous system, we are not even remotely ‘in charge’ of it.

New Oxford American Dictionary (Apple computer): Meme:an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.”  Webster’s New World College Dictionary: “Meme: A unit of cultural information as a concept, belief or practice, that spreads from person to person in a way analogous to the transmission of genes.”

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