Weaponized narrative: the stories we tell change our theories about the world


Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/05/04/contested-futures.html


It’s a good analysis of a very dangerous tendency. Glad to see you’re doing something about it!


Reminds me of the comment about how Robin Hood stories used to be about stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but are now mainly about unfair taxes.


As someone who has been pushing the idea of Solar IS Civil Defense for close to a couple of decades, positive disaster response is something I’ve thought about for awhile. We have the ability now to provide emergency electricity - flashlight, radio, cell phone, extra batteries - affordably ($1 @ production costs for solar lights now, $5 @ retail cost now in Africa and around the world) and practically but we fail to recognize that fact.

This is only one example of our failure to see the obvious that is right before our eyes.

Recently, I attended a lecture on MIT’s “Utility of the Future” report by one of the main authors. He showed a graph in which rooftop solar was seen as costing 156% more than utility-scale solar. I asked him if those figures had taken into consideration the resilience and emergency response that rooftop solar with home or electric vehicle energy storage could provide. He said that was not considered explicitly but covered, somewhat, in the reliability costs of the grid. I told him he might want to ask Goldman Sachs how much it was worth to them that their building was the only one with electricity in Lower Manhattan during and just after Hurricane Sandy.

We build systems that we think are reliable but then fail to recognize that emergencies and disasters can make those systems fail spectacularly and thus do not provide for back-ups or alternatives.

If you want to read a political novel about a “paradise made in hell,” you might want to take a look at Jorge Amado’s Showdown. Elite panic is very, very real and must be planned for too.


Probably less than one might think. Or maybe not but the thing is that when we do Disaster Recover/Business Continuity Planning, we have to have a baseline scenario that explains the contingency. “Once in a century” (much less "once in a thousand years) events often arent it.

As a result of events during the March 2011 disasters here in Tokyo I learned that only one major office complex here in Tokyo had something beyond building battery backup for failure of the TEPCO power loop. Turns out that Roppongi Hills (where Goldman happens to have offices) has a gas fired generator that can take over in the event of a regional power failure.

The thing is, during such a rare a disaster event, both battery power or alternatives such as you describe or the one I described are not about keeping the business going, they are about keeping the building lights on long enough to evacuate the building. Turns out that batteries and diesel generators already present in most large buildings do that very well already.

Another story from the 3/11 disaster: otherwise very smart European expats were absolutely losing their minds over radiation fears despite absolutely zero evidence and despite many attempts to educate them that it dont work that way.

The company I did for did have scenario planning for this but fear works at such a low level in the brain that our best plans came to nothing.


I am reminded of a passage from John Brunner’s excellent and prescient novel The Shockwave Rider (1975). (Context: post-“Great Bay Quake”. Disasterville was an academic study of post-quake society.) Supporting character Kate Lilleberg says:

I recall a point made in one of the Disasterville monographs. I think it was number 6. Stripped of the material belongings which had located them in society, a lot of refugees who formerly held responsible, status-high positions broke down into whining useless parasites. Leadership passed to those with more flexible minds—not only kids who hadn’t ossified yet, but adults who previously had been called unpractical, dreamers, even failures. The one thing they had in common seemed to be a free-ranging imagination, regardless of whether it was due to their youth or whether it had lasted into maturity and fettered them with too great a range of possibilities for them to settle to any single course of action.


“Weaponized Narrative” reminds me of this:

It’s well worth the read, and basically tells how the pop culture of the 80s made it easy for us to buy in to the politics of the 2000s.

Looking at some of the shitty narratives of today, I shudder to think what the politics of the 2030s will be like. Fortunately there are people like Cory challenging these narratives.


Great reading last night in RVA! Interesting contrast too, between some elements in the reading (Chapter Two, “You All Meet in a Tavern”) and the subject of “Weaponized Narratives.” It seems entirely possible that many/most of the narratives that we might want to escape/rewrite in the future will operate less like the laws/norms/reified insecurity dreams mentioned the Locus article, and more like Walkaway’s time-tested AI codebase that decides when some individual’s actions are “three degrees off true.” In the future, if not already now. The persistence of large scale self-degrading systems despite mounting evidence of their progressive dysfunction suggests the existence of some self-maintaining mechanism that operates very much like an institutional design/build AI is already at play, quietly reinforcing the established “true” narrative, and (usually) gently but firmly “correcting” any errors or inconsistencies that others might accidentially or intentionally try to introduce.


Except that it isn’t true. Four meals from barbarism. Or less: New York blackout 1977.


The most lethal narrative of them all, IMO, is the one where humans - unlike any other creature - have a special relationship with the creator of all things, and besides never really dying, weve also been given ownership of all the plants and animals to do with whatever the hell we want.

So even if we can observe what happens when deer (for example) overrun their environment and starve themselves off, we are exempt from the rules of ecology, for having it in with the big guy upstairs. All we gotta do is say the right words, and suddenly none of our mistakes count any more!


I need to pick up a copy of this!

But does he go into how the 80s connect to the malaise of the 1970s? I assume he does…


I don’t remember that he really does. It’s been several years since I’ve read this. If he describes how the 70s influenced 80s pop culture, it’s not in any depth. This book is more about how the 80s affected the 2000s.


Hm. I’ll still read it, but I do think that the 70s help explain the 80s, and you can’t have one without the other.


They do, especially if you consider the ramp up in the War On Drugs, and how everyone still had Vietnam on their minds.

The 70s influenced the 80s like the 00s influenced the 10s. You really can’t have one without the other. However, the 80s effect on the 00s was more like a conditioning from childhood to accept premises that are clearly ludicrous. And that’s what Cory is talking about here.


You done being rude to me?


Certainly wasn’t the intent! Just trying a narrative form that was new to me


It’s weird how some folks don’t seem to know this.


Good manners cost nothing, but taking a shit in the punchbowl also costs nothing.


And that’s why some people never get invited to any parties.

Talk about having “no home training.”


Bail aint cheap!