A narrative tells a story about what is really what is going on in the society, in terms of the lives of its members and its political and social movements and government responses to them.  Humans evolved to listen to stories to learn about their world from others in their group who had experiences and other knowledge to share, and so those with power in any society often create narratives to not only inform the population but to shape it to make it work more consistently with, in harmony, with the plans of the powerful, whether those plans are merely self-interested or are intended to improve the general welfare.

Underlying a narrative is a model of the world that the story-teller is trying to convey, so that the audience can share that model and come to be on the same page, so they can work in harmony and avoid conflict.  But note that there are innumerable different possible models, and that the complexity of the models is only limited by the finite nature of human understanding.  Of course there are innumerable models if people use different sets of facts, particularly when they don’t agree on what the facts are, but even when there is agreement on the facts of history, so many facts to choose from and so many permutations of ordering of importance of facts can produce a great number of models, but more than that, there are innumerable different levels of analysis, different levels of depth and detail, possible with regard to the impact the facts have had on the evolution of society, that there will be innumerable different possible models.

So, out of all the possible models, there is no reason to believe that the population on its own will just come to accept the same underlying model of the world.  For there to be universal agreement on a model, there must be some coordinated action by small groups that have come to develop that model.  So those with power work together to develop a shared model, and then create narratives that will help to convince the general population to accept that model.

Note that no scientific experiment can be used to determine the value or accuracy of different models of the political world, as any political system has far too many variables to allow for sufficient control to produce reliable and valid scientific findings.

Now on to the related issue of who is controlling the narratives that become predominant.  One way to think of those with the power in the society, those who control the government and the narratives that the government promotes and the population adopts, is as a gang.  Though it must be understood that this is a special kind of gang.  It is a gang that is behind the government and behind the moral code that most adhere to, so that the population recognizes it as having rightful authority.  That means that most people who want to improve the public welfare, including to minimize violence and unnecessary harm to innocent victims, will side with this apparently legitimate authority and further empower it and legitimize it. That makes it even more difficult for competing gangs to challenge it, but not impossible, though such competing gangs will have to undermine the confidence in the authority of the majority of those individuals with power or influence in the population.

One serious worry about the gangs in control determining the narratives is that they will tend to become more and more self-serving over time as they use their control of the narrative to consolidate their power, limiting pushback from others while they increase their control and likely increase their abuse of others, as power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  That’s why many believe, and I believe, that free speech is so critical, in that it does allow that pushback from others outside the controlling gang.

Some believe, such as the anarcho-communists, that there need be no hierarchal structure and no controlling gang, as “free” humans could agree to respect each other and live together in equality and harmony.  But that seems to contradict everything we know about human history and human evolution.  The humans that survived and procreated successfully were always driven to dominate other humans in order to acquire more resources and more mating opportunities, so it seems it is programmed within humans to try to outcompete other humans, or at least there are powerful tendencies toward that through behavioral propensities selected for through our evolution.  And we see throughout history that human societies do not allow for power vacuums to last for long, as warlords or others inevitably emerge to create hierarchies with themselves at the top.

And even if children could be taught to abhor the hierarchy created by a dominant gang and to strongly value abolishing or preventing such hierarchies, so that they may grow up to become adults who would hold and enforce such beliefs, that would still lead to inevitable conflict between individuals, as everyone would still have their own interests and their own perspectives, and that would produce disagreement and tension when those conflict.  And the longer there was no dominant gang creating and enforcing standards and norms for the group to adhere to, the group’s values, understandings, and behavior would continue to diverge and that would create escalating conflicts.

On a related issue, note that as narratives are a representation or function of models of the world, they have different dimensions just as models have different dimensions.  The two most fundamental dimensions are their complexity and their reliability (as judged by their ability to reliably predict future events, enabling proper adaptations and adjustments to increase benefits and reduce costs).  Given that the world the models are to represent is of unbounded complexity, to improve reliability one must increase complexity of the underlying model and the narrative that flows from it, though of course increasing complexity does not necessarily improve reliability.  But even when increasing complexity does improve reliability, it can cause instability in the maintenance of the narrative if a significant percentage of the population adopting the narrative cannot properly process the complexity, so generally an increase in complexity requires an increase in the success of the educational programs in shaping the population in question so that enough persons can handle the complexity.

Societies often do operate with separate narratives designed for different segments of the population, sometimes in a healthy manner in different technical subject areas, but often in a less healthy manner involving different groups or gangs who hold different narratives regarding the legal and political systems, and who usually believe that their narratives are more reliable than those of other groups or gangs.  This latter situation may be problematic in maintaining social harmony and especially problematic when a more complex narrative is designed for the more sophisticated members of the society, those who are thought to be of the dominant gang, and not the others.  The inconsistencies between the different legal and political narratives provide destabilizing pressure, particularly if the more sophisticated narratives are associated with the dominant gang, as this will increase misunderstanding and mistrust and make the traditional democratic political systems much less trustworthy and stable.  The implication will be that different castes operate with different narratives, and the founding principles of modern Western societies are inconsistent with recognizing separate castes.

One suggestion with regard to providing a dominant narrative that all could adopt and trust in to increase human harmony and avoid conflict, conflict that at the current level of technology could be species-ending, would be to empower some Artificial Intelligence entity to assume the role of dominant gang, or at least to serve to create and enforce norms to prevent divergence, but that would be turning over control of human society to a non-human actor, and no matter how well-programmed, it would be difficult to trust a non-human actor to act in humanity’s interests over time, which would be particularly dangerous when this non-human actor would likely accumulate so much power over time that it could crush the human race without much effort.



About John

Retired Attorney
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