Reality 2.0 Newsletter - November 18, 2020: Myths, Humans, and Technology

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A Quick Plug

Doc Searls and Katherine Druckman spoke with Dr. Barbara Cherry, lawyer and professor of communications at Indiana University, about political division, legislation and regulation, technical evolution, and even horses. Please remember to subscribe via the podcast player of your choice.

Episode 48: The Politics of Communication

Digging a Little Deeper

This week we diverged somewhat from our usual tech-focused subject matter to discuss some topics that are still inextricably linked to internet technologies and the way humans use them to interact. If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Barbara Cherry on our latest episode, I hope you’ll take the time. Among the themes we discussed was the idea of myths as a social glue, as described by Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

From the episode:

40m 50s Barbara Cherry [T]he Sapiens book, we've talked about an important thing that the author emphasizes is that when we stumbled on agriculture as a species that enabled us to live in groups in a much larger scale. So he emphasizes that we did not have enough time to allow an instinct for mass co-operation to evolve. So instead sapiens invented myths to provide the needed social links, to build networks of mass cooperation.

41m 30s Barbara Cherry And so basically our networks are all based on imagined orders or myths, shared myths. And one example of that, for example, he cites it like a declaration of independence, you know?

41m 45s Doc Searls Right. And that there is such a thing as rights. We made that one up too.

41m 49s Barbara Cherry And so basically he’s saying is that he believes that, functionally, imagined orders are the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively. And what's happening is we have a war of myths going on now. We have certain myths. We have a certain order. The constitution itself reflects certain myths or orders, right? That we bought into as a country. But how have we tried to live within it? It required continual amendment like dealing with slavery, things like that. It keeps amending over time. We're through another period now where we've got a challenge of alternate myths now, and technology can make it more possible for certain myths to get distributed with greater ease than they might otherwise.

42m 43s Barbara Cherry And so one could argue when you look at it from the perspective, the big macro long-term horizon, like the sapiens book does, that we’re going through another iteration of trying to figure out what are the myths that are going to prevail? What's the imagined order that's going to prevail for mass co-operation? Now, we have a structure of governance based on certain myths in the US Constitution. Now, will that hold or can it continue to be modified or is there ultimately going to be such a serious rupture to that, that we have to start something else?

If you’d like to dive further into the ideas that inspired Dr. Harari’s book, I recommend the following video.

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