Note — May 01, 2022

The Power of Narrative

It was partially serendipitous that I read this article by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret right after Morozov’s but it’s actually a perfect follow up. The authors show the power of narrative, with examples through history, and how “narratives shape our perceptions, which form our realities and influence our choices.”

I’d like to draw your attention to two items. One, when faced with the magnitude of a task or when too many new things are thrown at us at once, we go into “cognitive lockdown,” resulting in a failure to imagine what can be. I’d attach that with a few discussions I’ve had recently on the companies’ and governments’ failure to build on proposed futures, to adopt the lessons of futures work. I propose that this is a second phase of cognitive lockdown. First is the failure to imagine, then the failure to structure and act.

Two, that ‘we’ can get stuck using ideas that were mere hypotheses and scientific canon, without necessarily having been proven, and thus hiding other possibilities. The authors give Rousseau and Hobbes as examples of this canon, and David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything and an example of reviving those old possibilities.

[Narratives] equate to much more than the stories we tell, write, or illustrate figuratively; they end up being the truths, or the ideas we accept as truths, that underpin the perceptions that shape our “realities” and in the process form our cultures and societies. […]

It is incumbent upon us to imagine the contours of a more equitable and sustainable world. Imagination being boundless, the variety of social, economic, and political solutions is infinite. […]

Of course, nature is not “free”; it is priceless, and a degree of imagination is needed to grasp what this means in terms of policy.