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Philosophy Tuesday

May 28, 2019

I have not watched any of the Game of Thrones*, but it has been pretty darn inescapable for the past few weeks as the final season wound towards its finale. And so it was that across my path came this article at Scientific American that piqued my interest, for it delved into realms both rich on a storytelling level but even more so in the philosophical realm. Besides a treatise on the path of the final episodes there’s a great exploration that ties very nicely into the concept and notions of the Path of Least Resistance as well as Systems.

Give it a read. There’s a lot of good stuff in there and where I begin to mine it for insights is here: If we’re not well versed in writing, or even consuming, stories that flow from a sociological level/view verses the individual/psychological level/view, then we’ll likewise not be well versed in seeing how much we all are swept away by the sociological waters we swim in. It therefore becomes more difficult to see the systems and shared identities that shape our views, reactions, and even (T)ruths:

“In sociological storytelling, the characters have personal stories and agency, of course, but those are also greatly shaped by institutions and events around them. The incentives for characters’ behavior come noticeably from these external forces, too, and even strongly influence their inner life.

People then fit their internal narrative to align with their incentives, justifying and rationalizing their behavior along the way. (Thus the famous Upton Sinclair quip: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”)”

It can be tough to swim against a current. It certainly takes effort, especially when it confronts something we’ve made a part of our identity. And so once again we’re pointing towards the path of least resistance. Society, systems, structures are all there, flowing. It becomes easiest to simply go with the flow, no matter whether the outcome is a good or deleterious one, whether for ourselves, others, or the world as a whole.

Even when it is completely against our own self-interest.**

But the effort is worth it. When the already automatic systems are nudging us already almost certain futures that are not working as we’d like them to, it’s most fruitful when we aim to alter the systems rather than exclusively aiming to alter individual(s). When we can divert the flow towards great outcomes, then great outcomes become easy:

“But if we can better understand how and why characters make their choices, we can also think about how to structure our world that encourages better choices for everyone. The alternative is an often futile appeal to the better angels of our nature. It’s not that they don’t exist, but they exist along with baser and lesser motives. The question isn’t to identify the few angels but to make it easier for everyone to make the choices that, collectively, would lead us all to a better place.”

Through a broadening of storytelling to include sociological viewpoints, we can better gain that understanding. And while such stories may not be “out there” yet in great quantities (as this season of GoT apparently showed), we can always practice that storytelling in our own lives with that most important narrator – the one in our head. With mindfulness we can guide our inner commenter to encompass both the psychological and the sociological, gaining broader perspectives from which we can choose, be, and act in service of creating the society we truly want.

 

* As much of a surprise as that might be to many of you…

** And against that which fills our being with fulfillment and satisfaction and is a true self-expression of our central self and who we want to be.

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