21 September 2008

Why Barak Obama Admires Ronald Reagan

Barak Obama's expansive populist vision for America has very little to do with Ronald Reagan's dreams for America to return to its traditionalist constitutional beginnings of limited government. But Obama recognises something powerful in Reagan's presentation that he wishes to achieve--and surpass. Reagan was a consummate story-teller, the weaver of narratives meant to inspire and motivate. "The Great Communicator" understood intuitively that humans comprehend the world largely in terms of narrative, and that is how he got his message across.
Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history. Anthropologists find evidence of folktales everywhere in ancient cultures, written in Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian and Sumerian. People in societies of all types weave narratives, from oral storytellers in hunter-gatherer tribes to the millions of writers churning out books, television shows and movies. And when a characteristic behavior shows up in so many different societies, researchers pay attention: its roots may tell us something about our evolutionary past....

...the best stories—those retold through generations and translated into other languages—do more than simply present a believable picture. These tales captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story’s characters. Such immersion is a state psychologists call “narrative transport.”

...Empathy is part of the larger ability humans have to put themselves in another person’s shoes: we can attribute mental states—awareness, intent—to another entity. Theory of mind, as this trait is known, is crucial to social interaction and communal living—and to understanding stories...Children develop theory of mind around age four or five.

...As our ancestors evolved to live in groups, the hypothesis goes, they had to make sense of increasingly complex social relationships. Living in a community requires keeping tabs on who the group members are and what they are doing. What better way to spread such information than through storytelling?...Indeed, to this day people spend most of their conversations telling personal stories and gossiping.

...The power of stories does not stop with their ability to reveal the workings of our minds. Narrative is also a potent persuasive tool, according to Hogan and other researchers, and it has the ability to shape beliefs and change minds.

Advertisers have long taken advantage of narrative persuasiveness by sprinkling likable characters or funny stories into their commercials. A 2007 study by marketing researcher Jennifer Edson Escalas of Vanderbilt University found that a test audience responded more positively to advertisements in narrative form as compared with straightforward ads that encouraged viewers to think about the arguments for a product. Similarly, Green co-authored a 2006 study that showed that labeling information as “fact” increased critical analysis, whereas labeling information as “fiction” had the opposite effect. Studies such as these suggest people accept ideas more readily when their minds are in story mode as opposed to when they are in an analytical mind-set. _ScientificAmerican
It is easy to lead someone along a certain path of thought, when you transport them in an attractive narrative vehicle. Most master storytellers are mature and disciplined enough to limit their unfair advantage over their listeners. But if a master storyteller is also a quintessential narcissist, he tries to maximise his power over his admirers.

We live in a society where most people never grow up. Lacking any meaningful rites of passage, being raised and "socialised" in age-isolated cohorts far away from the adult world of responsibility, we have a society made up of large numbers of "Peter Pans" and "Cinderellas." These psychological neotenates increasingly live on fantasy and wish fulfillment, rather than on self-reliant ambition and drive. They are plump fruit, ripe for the plucking. If one only has the right narrative that will appeal to their particular type, one might do just about anything.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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