How to Evaluate Narratives

Publish Date
Principles Series
Last Edit
Apr 3, 2022 01:47 PM
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As covered over the past two days, narratives are the stories we create to wrap up ideas so that they resonate. And they resonate so well we ignore counter evidence. Any culture or group ends up having a set of dominant narratives that most people believe, and then maligned alternative narratives that are fighting for space. These alternative narratives may be better or worse than the dominant narrative that it’s trying to replace.
So how should you evaluate the narratives around a topic, if, like most people, you bias toward the dominant narrative currently?
The first step is to be curious and seek out counterfactual evidence. This may make you feel uncomfortable. If so – the first step may be to meditate and realize that your thoughts and beliefs don’t define who you are. Or, I can spoil it for you right now: the world is so complex and nuanced that every single narrative you hold dear has holes in it. You’ll be better off if you at least know where those holes are!
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Second, see what the alternative narratives are and find a representative for each of them. The reality is that there are really smart people on almost every side of every issue (thanks for making me caveat, flat earthers!). One benefit of the internet is that these smart people are quite accessible via publications, podcasts, and Twitter.
Lastly, apply a principle of charity toward alternative narratives: assume that they aren’t coming from a malign position. One term being used for this is that you should steelman an opposing argument by providing it the strongest and most charitable interpretation when trying to counter it (this is the opposite of strawmanning – a logical fallacy where youmake your portray your opponents claim as weaker than it is so that you can knock it down).
This may all seem like a lot of work. Or a playbook clearly provided by a contrarian. But with culture becoming more important, we all owe it to do our best to search for better narratives.