Thursday, January 14, 2021

How technology destroys bonding cultural narratives

I am on the mailing list of Mark Manson's weekly newsletter, find myself repeatedly annoyed by its arrogant tone and obscene prose, but then appreciate some episodes of his clear thinking, one of which describing his summary thoughts on culture I pass on here:
- A culture is defined by the shared values among a group of people. These values are represented and supported by shared narratives.
- Cultural narratives survive because they are repeated. The more they are repeated and believed, the more fundamental they become to the identity of the group.
- When cultural narratives cease to be repeated, they cease to be part of the culture, and the values they represent are dropped from the group’s identity and decision-making.
- In this way, culture frames the battles of economics and politics—as culture dictates what is valuable and important to the group and then politics and economics enact those values in the real world.
- Technology fundamentally alters culture because technology can unintentionally shape and determine what narratives are broadcast the furthest, loudest, and most frequently.
The whole problem with social media is that the narratives that spread the furthest and loudest on these platforms tend to be anti-establishment and contrarian. These are the narratives that get repeated the most often, and therefore these become the narratives that come to define our culture.
But these narratives are hollow. They tear down structures but build nothing back up in their place. They point out the flaws of our experts and institutions and disregard the many things they get right.
This is why we’ve seen so many grassroots protest movements around the world the past ten years with no real aim or policy ideas—from Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party all the way up to the shitlords and morons invading the US Capitol last week. The narrative is pure victimhood and destruction. There is no countervailing narrative for responsibility and creation.
This is the sense of growing nihilism that I wrote about in Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. The narratives that expose everything that is wrong in the world are repeated incessantly, while the narratives of everything that is right and going well struggle to find an interested audience. The result is a culture of fragility, where every group somehow simultaneously feels victimized and entitled to impose their narrative onto others.

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