The subtitle is borrowed from a tweet I really enjoyed by Jack Murphy: “Tell your own story. We live in a story economy.” Jack is right. We are living in a story economy.
I wrote about stories before, mainly in The Red Pill of Memetic Warfare. The power of stories is twofold:
we remember and relate to stories,
and stories act as Trojan Horses for ideas.
Before the human species could even write, we passed down knowledge from generation to generation in the form of stories: myths, fables, metaphors, parables, etc.
Heck, Yuval Harari’s main idea in Sapiens is that of the belief in common myths as a form of human organization. Simply put, our capacity to organize ourselves according to a common story lead to us overcoming our physical and biological shortcomings.
We could now organize as packs to hunt larger animals. We could now focus on agriculture and farming to grow food. We could use currency as trust and further develop our economy. We could adhere ourselves to laws… and a large etcetera.
Stories are also a superior way of remembering facts, ideas and occurrences. Many mnemonic techniques to remember arrays of numbers consist in relating each number to a letter and creating a phrase or story to remember them, taking advantage of our natural impulse to create stories and connect.
This urge to create stories and connect dots in a story-like fashion is the main reason behind the Narrative Fallacy. Think about it for a second, we are so prone to seek a coherent storyline and structure that we will change reality to fit our story-driven model.
And this is where Jack’s tweet gains a lot of value. We do live in a story economy. One where stories compete against each other in a war for attention, hence the term narrative or memetic warfare.
Back in 2019 I wrote that I used both terms, narrative warfare and memetic warfare, interchangeably. As I continue to learn more, I now make a distinction between them. Narrative warfare is a subset of memetic warfare.
The term narrative warfare is now in vogue (it has been for a while now to be fair) due to how, in the present, there are issues with disinformation, fake news, misinformation, ideological polarization, etc.
Like I wrote before in Beyond Influence: Too Dumb to Read the News, current technology has lead to a change in how memes compete against each other. Back when we were not as connected and the flow of transmission was slower, the favoured strategy for memes to spread was that of seeking benefit for the host.
If the host gained benefit and lived, the idea would be spread onto others. On the contrary, if a meme lead to the death or harm of the host (i.e. “eat this poisonous berry”), the idea would die out with the host.
This, of course, is not a rule set in stone. Plenty of harmful memes have survived for millennia, but the general rule is that when subject to time, usually the memes with the most benefits for the host would be passed onto others.
However, today we do not live in the same world. We live in an ever-connected world, where information and memes transmit at incredibly high speeds. These leads to a change of strategy, where memes do not have to provide for benefits to the host to win.
Memes now follow a more horizontal strategy of spreading wide and thin, contrary to the more vertical strategy of before. And this leads to clickbait and fake news.
There is a sort of Wild West of ideas, where they now compete very aggressively for our attention. Speed of transmission is sought, without even providing as much of as a benefit as they used to.
While this white space where grand narratives and ideas are competing at ideological, political and philosophical levels has had all the attention for some years now, individual stories have gained importance. And will continue to do so.
It is paramount that we, as individuals, have our own voice and story. Both for personal benefit and for defensive purposes.
How many people lose their livelihoods due to getting “cancelled”? How many people will have had their lives ruined due to the media back in the day painting a picture of them which was not true, and they never had a chance to stand up for themselves?
Well, how many times have they tried to cancel people like Pewdiepie, Kanye West or Joe Rogan? Innumerable times. You know why it never worked? Because they had their own platform. Their own audience. Their own story and voice.
These are only some examples which illustrate the need of having an own voice and story for defensive purposes. But there are also proactive and offensive purposes.
Quoting the famous phrase from Game of Thrones, “chaos is a ladder”. And when the focus is on grand narratives fighting against each other, there is opportunity for the individual.
Even in 2020 we are early in the personal brand game, in the citizen-journalist game, in the individual-historian-of-our-times game. The world will only continue to go in a direction where everyone has a voice online.
Soon enough, there will not even be a distinction between the online and the offline. Which is why there is still a lot of white space and arbitrage to take advantage of. The rise of influencer culture is just the first iteration of this future landscape.
One of my favourite memes from Nassim Taleb is antifragility. Essentially, there are three kinds of systems: fragile, robust and antifragile. The first one falls under stress, the second one remains constant under stress, and the third one thrives under stress and changing conditions.
Often used as a way of seeking options when making decisions, creating your own story creates for a more antifragile position than just waiting for someone else to write your story. You hold the power of change, and you can both use to your own advantage and to prepare for any potential changes down the road.
The best defense is offence.
Stories are leading political, economic, social and philosophical change. These grand narratives emerge from individual stories, but they are also edited, written and influenced by individuals with a lot of leverage.
These stories affect all individuals in an asymmetric relationship. Our individual contribution to culture, the collective mind and stories is small. 99.999999% of us will have close to zero influence in them.
But, as all power laws, there is a small number of people with a lot of leverage and access to scale who can make a large influence in culture, the collective mind and these grand narratives. And they leverage said influence with stories.
These grand narratives affect us individually into taking action. Into feeling in a certain way. Into behaving in certain manners. And even into pre-conditioning us for future actions, such as warfare, political change, public perception, etc.
Yet some have been amplified, edited or written by larger-than-life individuals who have been the sole responsible for a change of tide.
Whether each individual wants to, or can, reach these levels is up to each one. But one thing I believe in is that having more influence than less will be better overall for the individual. Antifragility leads to options and leverage.
We currently live in an age where we can mythologize ourselves. Online, we have the white space to paint any picture we want. To tell any story of ourselves that we want.
And creating or telling your story is an essential part of it.
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