Most Humans Live by Stories, Not Reality

  • Books by Gottschall and Rosenberg, and how history is just a bunch of stories;
  • A couple notes from the fringe;
  • Beck’s “We Live Again”.

I’ve mentioned more than once the truism that “history is written by the winners.” I just finished reading Jonathan Gottschall’s The Story Paradox: How Our Love of Storytelling Builds Societies and Tears them Down from 2021 (which got a killer review by Timothy Snyder in the NYTBR, that I discussed here). One thing that occurred to me as I read the book is: the losers also tell history, from their own perspective. Both the winners’ narrative and the losers’ narrative are stories, told to justify and flatter themselves. (I’ve occasionally wondered what the history books in England say about the American Revolution, for example, but I don’t know any easy way of finding that out. Order a history textbook from Amazon UK? What do Russian history books say about the United States? Is there a book somewhere that has compiled these issues?) Yet again, I suspect this is something obvious to everyone that I have only just realized for myself… or realized it in the sense that I’m trying to integrate it into my theory of science fiction.

Again, Gottschall reminded me of the 2018 book by Alex Rosenberg, How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories, which I’ve put off reading (though it’s right up my alley) since I had some issues with Rosenberg’s earlier book, yet whose point apparently is that all historical narratives are just stories, and therefore wrong, in a fundamental sense.

I’ll write up my reactions to the Gottschall book later this week. Meanwhile, here’s a new item that fit this into narrative about narratives.

The Atlantic, Annie Lawrey, 20 May 2024: The Worst Best Economy Ever, subtitled “Why Biden is getting no credit for the boom”

Note this first paragraph: “the strongest economy the United States has ever experienced.” And yet many people don’t believe it. Is this a prime example of the power of stories over reality?

Joe Biden is, at the moment, losing his reelection campaign. And he is doing so while presiding over the strongest economy the United States has ever experienced.

The jobless rate is below 4 percent, as it has been for nearly two and a half years. Wage growth is moderating, but it is higher than it was at any point during the Obama administration; overall, Biden has overseen stronger pay increases than any president since Richard Nixon. Inflation has cooled off considerably, meaning that consumers’ purchasing power is strong.

The majority of Americans are better off because their incomes have grown faster than prices. But most people, understandably, think of their swelling bank account as a product of their own labor and price increases as a result of someone else’s greed. People want prices to come down. That’s not happening.

Americans also tend to say that even though they are personally doing well, the overall economy is doing poorly. Political scientists think this has to do with the news they are consuming, which tends to focus on the negative or to caveat good trends: Wage growth poses challenge for the Federal Reserve! Holding economic conditions constant, financial reporting has gotten more negative over the past four decades. This negativity gap was big during the end of the Trump administration, and it’s even bigger during the Biden administration. Social media puts a gloomy filter on the news too. Folks click on and share dire stories more than they do upbeat ones.

This last point is, of course, the famous Negativity bias, built by evolution into human nature to account for potential dangers, even at the risk of over-reacting. Better safe than sorry.

The primary issue here is, again, the primacy of stories, of narratives that maintain social cohesion among communities, despite evidence about the real world.

The New Yorker, Maya Jasanoff, 6 May 2024: What the Origins of Humanity Can and Can’t Tell Us, subtitled “There’s still much to be learned about our prehistory. But we can’t help using it to explain the societies we have or to justify the ones we want.”

— Can’t complete this right now, the NYr website is not allowing me to log in.

More tomorrow.


Notes from the fringe.

Joe.My.God, 20 May 2024: Kirk: Biden Will Fake A New Pandemic To Hurt Trump

First reactions: projection. Second reaction: The Jack Smith Rule. No, this won’t happen.


And Republican hypocrisy about the denial of climate change…

Joe.My.God, 20 May 2024: GOP Senators From “Don’t Say Climate Change” FL To Biden Admin: Don’t Let FEMA Run Out Of Relief Money


Beck, We Live Again, from the 1998 album Mutations

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