On creating necessary fictions

What should logical person aim for? Should his goal be to always state the clinical truth and objective facts by stripping them of all rhetoric, opinions and hyperbole or should his goal be to create desired outcomes in society?

It’strange that these two paths have to be mutually exclusive, but that’s how it is. Facts and logic don’t kindle revolutionary fire, rhetoric and emotions do. It’s how the human mind is wired. To create meaningful change, you need humans to cooperate with each other and they cooperate best when they have a common story going on in their head.

Take a look at some fictional stories that became movements – communism, monarchy, Hindutva, nationalism, feminism, nationalism, democracy and all religions. All of them began with some foundational axioms that lacked verifiability and full objective grounding. Instead, they were based on subjective experiences and abstract concepts which could or could not be completely true.

  1. Communism is based on the axiom of inevitable class conflict in a capitalist order.
  2. Feminism is similarly based on the axiom of historical subjugation of the female gender given there is no basis for any inferiority biologically, which is also an axiom.
  3. Hindutva is based on the foundational axiom that adherents of Indic religions have stronger ties and loyalty to India than adherents of Abrahamic religions.
  4. Each religion has its own individual foundational axiom from theories of creation to ethical codes of conduct.

Nevertheless, they were really successful in changing the course of society, although not always in the best way. If the creators of the ideologies that powered these movements had replaced vivid, evocative stories and myths with logic and completely verifiable facts, they may not have been as powerful and memetic. A healthy respect for facts and logic could have derailed these movements even before they could gather steam.

Ironically, even movements like Ayn Rand’s Objectivism that ostensibly began in support of rationalism and logic eventually degenerated into dogma. It had some foundational axioms of its own as well, which cannot be called rational. It also did manage to change society’s course though.

How do these stories change the course of society? It allows humans who collectively believe in the story to cooperate to ‘set things right’. A believer in the concept of Human rights will want to prevent abuses across the world. A monotheistic believer in some true god would want to propagate his word everywhere. A believer in oppression of the working class would try to bring about a proletariat revolution and seize power. Thus, fictitious ideologies which may not survive any rational scrutiny can help achieve certain outcomes, which may be positive. For instance, belief in capitalistic axioms of free markets, property rights and contracts have helped atleast some people achieve increased material well-being.

Given this context, an interesting question emerges.

Could we create a new necessary fiction that can help achieve some desired outcomes? 

Answering this would require

  • an understanding of the right outcomes we want to drive (eg: scientific temperament in humans, reduction in poverty e.t.c)
  • an understanding of how far do we want the objective truth to be twisted and acceptance of that.
  • and understanding of the elements of fictional ideologies that enable them to propagate and evoke emotion in adherents.

Once this process is done, the fictional story needs to be marketed. If it is well designed, it will take root and spread, almost like an idea-virus. What was lost by compromising objective truth will be gained by actually creating change on the ground.


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