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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 1/4/13

Through a Narrative, Brightly

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I made this comment earlier today on Rob Kall's submission, 'Crazy For Change-- Debillionairizing America, Eliminating Dynasties' and was asked to expand on it:

Narratives as scaffolding

The narrative that Doc McCoy presents is a powerful one because so many people have bought into the story that being rich releases you from your troubles. Change happens in any field because someone offers a different story of how and why things are or could be. We've achieved change by stepping into the world of a different narrative and making it real through our words and deeds. So I invite OEN readers to take some time and think about what a de-billionairred world would be like to live in. How would your place of employment look and act? What would government be like at all levels? There's a world out there to be explored, but we will never get there unless we first accept that possibility that it can exist, and then dream it into existence through our every word and deed.


Everything we know begins as raw sensory data, a pattern of light and color, perhaps. We make sense of that data by fitting it into a story -- that the pattern depicts an object, in this case a vase. What happens next is important: we remember the vase, and discard the pattern. Keep that thought in mind; we'll be returning to it in a paragraph.

There are all sorts of stories: static ones such as what that vase looks like from different directions, dynamic ones such as imagining pouring water from the vase, and complex ones such as having our medical bills paid for by insurance provided by the company that paid us to make a thousand of those vases. Some of these stories are our own creation, but most of them come from other people in the form of memes, or contagious ideas. The world as we know it is a dynamic ecosystem of interlocking stories, some of which are built on top of other stories. And like the animals and plants in biological ecosystems, some kinds of stories can only survive by dominating others, while other kinds of stories are able to coexist and even support one another.

But there's a problem here. That pattern of light and color we saw could also depict a pair of profiles. The first story we fit an experience into is not necessarily the only one, or even the best one. This problem haunts us every second of our lives, yet we strive mightily to ignore the possibility that what we've experienced might be something other than what we've taken it to be, or what we were given to understand it to be.

Rob Kall recently offered to the readers of OpEdNews an interesting new story to consider: debillionairizing America by eliminating dynasties. But because this story ran counter to another one that is held dear by many people -- that dynastic wealth is the natural order of things -- some readers scoffed at the possibility and stated that it could never happen. In terms of the stories we're surrounded by, the one that sees the world as rightly run by dynasties is the kind that can only survive by dominating and destroying competing stories such as Rob's.

Thinking of stories as living things -- which is a meta-story you may not have encountered before -- gives us a way to evaluate the relative merits of competing stories such as these. Set them down in front of you and see how they behave, how they interact with other stories in the narrative ecosystem. Stories such as those with arcs about gaining dynastic power at the expense of others thrive by destroying competing stories that are not of benefit to them. Their objective is to be the last story standing, as it were. They do not make good neighbors. In contrast, stories such as those in which people benefit through collaboration are strengthened by building larger stories in which our personal stories have a stake.

Politics in the US has become a contest between competing stories describing what our nation is about, what the role of its government ought to be, and what is important in life. These stories, however, do not exist in a vacuum, because the narratives have been manipulated, and the raw data that we attempt to fit into these stories has been intentionally filtered and curated to appeal to our desire to associate it with a particular story so we can forget the data itself and go about our business.

That would be the easy thing to do, but it does not serve our own interest to accept the narrative that we can each be so easily manipulated. We've been shown a pattern of light and color, and told that it's a vase. If we accept that, then it becomes a vase for us. However, it could just as easily be a pair of profiles, and unless we retain our ability to see the data itself, we relinquish the ability to make that choice for ourselves.

Becoming aware of our senses in this way is not an easy thing, but it essential that we learn to do it, for only by 'coming to our senses' in this way can we establish our personal sovereignty to choose for ourselves. Try it sometime: learn to observe the world without simply identifying the things that you see, hear, taste, touch or smell. It's a slippery state of mind, but well worth achieving.

In every field, there are accepted truths. In some, they are a set of beliefs; in others, they are useful but falsifiable models of the world. These are the stories used to transform the raw data in that field into the structures with which we understand and act upon the world. But these stories are not equal; some cause us to treat the world as a zero-sum game in which one can only benefit through someone else's loss, while other stories cause us to collaborate with one another, to everyone's benefit.

It was once accepted truth that the continents as we know them were always exactly as they are now. Raw data that supported this narrative was enthusiastically added to the wealth of knowledge about the world; raw data that did not support it was thought to be faulty and discarded. The same thing happens everywhere, and not just in the sciences. But one day, someone imagined another way to make a story from the data, even the data which had been discarded, and called it Plate Tectonics. Because this new story not only explained more of the raw data, but also helped to explain other mysteries, it eventually became a new and better accepted truth.

It's no different when you're trying to change the world in any other way. But before you can change it, you must first imagine that changed world, and what it would be like to live in it. That's what we're here at OEN to do, what Rob created it to do. So let's get to it: what would a debillionairrized world be like? (Feel free to add to my guesses; after all we're trying to create a story here.)

Let's just step into that world, and not worry about how we got there; there will be time later to deal with that.

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Ever since I learned to speak binary on a DIGIAC 3080 training computer, I've been involved with tech in one way or another, but there was always another part of me off exploring ideas and writing about them. Halfway to a BS in Space Technology at (more...)
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