Sunday, April 06, 2014

Story Is the Logic of This Era

If you have ever wondered why the postmodernists are always talking about narrative, as in, "According to the company's narrative, the defect was unknown until three months ago," that's because narrative--telling a story--is the mechanism of persuasion today. Arguments based on evidence or logical connections are not used very much now simply because first, fewer people understand them; second, many people are suspicious of them, and third, stories are a lot more compelling.

Fewer people understand them. Ask a friend to explain syllogisms to you, or to give you an example of the fallacy of accident or affirming the consequent. Unless your friend is an attorney, you might get a blank look. So what? People aren't likely to respond to arguments they can't parse. The cartoon character Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) once made a comment to the effect that if he couldn't understand something in two seconds, he didn't care about it.

Thanks to the pomos, who have "problematized reason," logical appeals are viewed with contempt and hostility by lots of people, especially college students. Another comic strip character, whom I have now forgotten, once remarked that reason was "thought control." Once again, those who cannot see the logical fallacies in arguments that draw conclusions they don't like--or who feel oppressed by properly valid logical arguments they don't like--attack the messenger and reject that sort of reasoning altogether. I recall once again a scene from a comedy movie (very roughly paraphrased from long-term memory):
"How can we deal with these people? They will stop at nothing."
"If they will stop at nothing, then if we do nothing, they will stop."
"What? That's preposterous."
"Please show the fallacy."

But the important point is that stories are much more compelling than reasons. Stories mount an argument or frame a moral proposition with all the power of vicarious engagement. We feel along with the characters, experience their issues and discover their successes or failures and the actions took or decisions they made that brought them success or failure. Samuel Johnson (Rambler No. 4, March 31, 1750) has an interesting take on the power of fiction. He says that the verisimilitude of novels (just then being invented) makes them potentially dangerous because readers who have little life experience will be likely "to regulate their own practices" when confronted with similar situations. Stories, especially in the form of video, but also even in the form of a narrated anecdote, can be intensely compelling.

So, since narratives are  more effective than evidence or reasons, and since Big Data is too complex for the ordinary person to figure out, the tale has replaced the head. As a result, business books are increasingly written in novel-like fashion, and those who can tell stories about events are heeded more than those who have only facts.

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