Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The triumph of fiction

Logical thought as a handicap

Why Fiction Trumps Truth
Many people believe that truth conveys power. If some leaders, religions or ideologies misrepresent reality, they will eventually lose to more clearsighted rivals. Hence sticking with the truth is the best strategy for gaining power. Unfortunately, this is just a comforting myth. In fact, truth and power have a far more complicated relationship, because in human society, power means two very different things…

The dual nature of power and truth results in the curious fact that we humans know many more truths than any other animal, but we also believe in much more nonsense…

When it comes to uniting people around a common story, fiction actually enjoys three inherent advantages over the truth. First, whereas the truth is universal, fictions tend to be local…

The second huge advantage of fiction over truth has to do with the handicap principle, which says that reliable signals must be costly to the signaler. Otherwise, they can easily be faked by cheaters…

Third, and most important, the truth is often painful and disturbing. Hence if you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you…

Some might argue that the long-term costs of believing fictional stories outweigh any short-term advantages in social cohesion. Once people get in the habit of believing absurd fictions and convenient falsehoods, this habit would spill into more and more areas, and they would consequently make bad economic decisions, adopt counterproductive military strategies and fail to develop effective technologies. While this occasionally happens, it is far from being a universal rule…

If you had traveled to Cairo or Istanbul around 400 years ago, you would have found a multicultural and tolerant metropolis where Sunnis, Shiites, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Armenians, Copts, Jews and even the occasional Hindu lived side by side in relative harmony. Though they had their share of disagreements and riots — and though the Ottoman Empire routinely discriminated against people on religious grounds — it was a liberal paradise compared with Western Europe… And yet the Scientific Revolution began in London and Paris rather than in Cairo or Istanbul…

Even if we need to pay some price for deactivating our rational faculties, the advantages of increased social cohesion are often so big that fictional stories routinely triumph over the truth in human history. Scholars have known this for thousands of years, which is why scholars often had to decide whether they served the truth or social harmony. Should they aim to unite people by making sure everyone believes in the same fiction, or should they let people know the truth even at the price of disunity? Socrates chose the truth and was executed. The most powerful scholarly establishments in history — whether of Christian priests, Confucian mandarins or Communist ideologues — placed unity above truth. That’s why they were so powerful.

Harari
Yuval Noah Harari (@harari_yuval) is an Israeli historian and the author of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”








Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Labels: ,

1 Comments:

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Tutors in USA said...

I’ve desired to post about something similar to this on one of my blogs and this has given me an idea. Tampa Tutoring Cool Mat.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home