Why Storytellers are the Most Powerful People on Earth

Our entire lives are governed by stories. From the idea that certain pieces of paper are worth “$20” to the belief that to live a good life one must follow their passions, the stories we believe shape the course of our lives.

Humans have harnessed this power to co-operate in large numbers and create ordered communities governed by a common set of beliefs and inter-subjective reality. The most obvious example of this is global capitalism. We universally are told to believe in a system of ‘credit’ and that by imagining coins and paper as having real value they can be exchanged for tangible goods. We are also told to believe in brands called “Google” and “Starbucks”, countries called “France” and “India” – beliefs that have such an overarching influence on our lives we tend to forget they are the product of human storytelling rather than scientifically discovered objective facts.

As individuals we are bound hand and foot by these inter-subjective realities. If you wish to disagree and not believe in money or government you won’t get very far. The only way to break free from such entrenched beliefs is to convince people on a mass scale to think differently. The most common way of doing this is by telling new stories.

From Jesus to Karl Marx, compelling storytellers have been able to shape and influence the direction of human history. Hundreds of millions of lives have been affected both for the good and bad by the beliefs and ideas of certain individuals.

It can be disorientating to think just how powerful these stories are. Yet it’s crucially important and relevant that we begin to understand the story of planet earth we are all apart of.  In the face of global challenges such as climate change, artificial intelligence and nuclear weaponry in the hands of man-children, most people feel they are at best unimportant extras in this precarious story of the twenty first century’s fragile fight for its collective future.

Powerlessness is also a result of the ruthless individualism and isolation which is at the heart of our fundamentalist beliefs in the modern economic system. The most powerful way we can counter these feelings and pave the way for change is to begin to tell better and more optimistic stories about what the future for humans could look like.

It won’t be the politicians, the engineers nor the scientists who will solve the crises the world faces today but the storytellers who give them the reasons why.

 

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Boris? Trump? Rees-Mogg? How Social Media Gave Us Pantomime Politics

Ridiculous statements go viral. From Boris’s bombastic Libya remarks to Trump’s daily Twitter toddler tantrums, nothing gets our thumb tapping that retweet button faster than outrageous political buffoonery. Be it virtue signalling, endorsing or simply showing our sheer shock and dismay, social media users love reacting to silly soundbites as newsfeeds are coloured with witty one line responses and hastily published news articles looking to cash in on clicks.

Welcome to the age of pantomime politics. The digital marketplace where politics is reduced to its entertainment value while social and monetary capital is earned through the capture and re-sale of human attention.

And few have capitalized more by capturing the human brain by the shareable click than Jonah Peretti the creator of Buzzfeed. Peretti was a pioneer in understanding what makes us click and share.

Buzzfeed discovered that humans are programmed to react impulsively with either alarm or allure to images of Sex, food, death and gossip the fundamental components of the survival instinct. This neurological understanding allowed Buzzfeed to create an incredibly effective albeit cynical digital media strategy premised upon producing content that hacked the basic impulses of human biology.

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As Tim Wu, author of “The Attention Merchants” explains: “These modern day clickbait things are getting at very basic principles of our neurobiology that are there for a reason,”

Developing tricks of the trade to attract attention was by no means a new phenomenon but with the changing medium of human interaction from the physical to digital landscape mastering the art of clickbait became a revolutionary development to trap and capture consumer attention like never before. The smartphone era enabled media companies to become omnipresent in our lives, pressing biological and psychological buttons every second of the day with the aid of addictive technologies, push notifications and personalized algorithms enslaving us to their ‘ping’.

As Ian Leslie writes:

“Be it the emails that induce you to buy right away, the apps and games that rivet your attention, or the online forms that nudge you towards one decision over another: all are designed to hack the human brain and capitalise on its instincts, quirks and flaws. The techniques they use are often crude and blatantly manipulative, but they are getting steadily more refined, and, as they do so, less noticeable.”

If this phenomenon was confined to the online arena of cat videos and “5 things you have to do before you turn 25” it would be worrying enough but it’s the invasion of clickbait into the sphere of political commentary that is such a threat to democracy and social order itself.

As the commercial viability of print journalism has dramatically declined, traditional media outlets have began marketing their content in the style of Buzzfeed while new digital media outlets have simultaneously begun branding themselves as reputable news sources competing in the same space as The New York Times or the BBC.

The 2016 U.S election is a recent example of how this plays out in practice harming democracy on a number of fronts. A current Senate hearing investigating Trump’s ties with Russia has heard that 1,000 people were hired to create anti-Clinton misinformation “news” sites in key US states during election. Most of the supposed “Fake News” outlets were coming from countries in the Balkans allegedly being bankrolled by the Kremlin.

Post truth became a popular reference describing how people were believing things that “feel right” or that “should be true” as opposed to facts. But with the barrage of information and the reality thaat reputable news sources were often exaggerating stories for clicks It was almost impossible to disentangle the “fake news” for the purposes of political subterfuge from the hyper exaggerated junk stories published for the purposes of simply drawing clicks.

The culture of clickbait has led to the demise of journalistic standards and ethics as more and more stories are selected on their potential virality rather than their public interest value. Important investigative journalism is no longer funded by traditional media as it simply isn’t generating website traffic while snapshot stories pitting social subgroups against one another has shown to be far more effective at drawing in the crowds.

Our political discussion and headlines are now dominated by personal spats and horse race politics while significant analysis on policy substance is continuously being downgraded beneath political entertainment.

 A tragic play featuring 140 characters

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the latest pantomime villain to pop up in the British political sphere with his caricature Tory persona and playful media interviews.

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Mogg became a viral internet icon after a video of him casually dropping the word ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ in parliament spread like wildfire. In a similar vein to Farage and Trump, Mogg is admired for his “Tell it like it is” attitude unafraid and unapologetic of his conservative, Christian views.

Admittedly, he is an infectiously entertaining character. Watching a Mogg interview is like watching a 13th Century pampered Prince John transported through time and put in a suit. There is a complete disconnect between the reality of Rees- Mogg as a politician and the playful character who’s every word is an opportunity to create memes, gain social credit and personal brand points by mocking.

Mogg, Boris and Trump oh what will they say next?

Welcome to the world of pantomime politics.

Why Spain’s King Felipe Made The Strongest Case For Catalan Independence

Author: Dean Molyneaux

Can royal intervention solve a constitutional crisis? The Catalan experience suggests the answer remains ‘no’.

 

For many of a certain age in Spain, the appearance of King Felipe VI in a rare live television address to the nation yesterday will surely bring back memories of the turbulent transition from dictatorship to democracy that the country experienced in the aftermath of Franco’s death.

During those uncertain days, Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos I, made an unprecedented and succinct address on the airwaves, in order to delegitimise the military coup led by franquista military commanders who had barricaded themselves in Congress, while reinforcing the then recently ratified Constitution. It worked. The King became a national hero (for a while) and the Spanish nation was cemented as an indivisible constitutional monarchy.

After two short years on the throne, last night’s address was arguably Felipe’s first opportunity to win back hearts and minds not only in tumultuous Catalonia, where a protest and general strike had been ongoing all day in response to police brutality during the illegal independence referendum on Sunday, but also across the other regions, where an increasing disenfranchisement with the Casa Real has been festering since long before Juan Carlos’ abdication.

With thousands in the streets of Catalan towns and cities, national police being driven from their lodgings by angry hordes and the possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence imminent, Spain is facing its greatest constitutional crisis since the coup of 1981. This is the time for leadership from above politics, a chance to demonstrate that monarchs can still play a role in steering the ship when everything below descends into chaos.

Yet Felipe VI decided to demonstrate all the intransigence of Thatcher in the early days. Unlike his father, who reacted to the coup in real time, Su Majestad had 48 long hours to consider how to best address his subjects. He went on to spend some five minutes reiterating that the Constitution should prevail and that the Generalitat (Catalan administration) had acted outside the law.

He’s not exactly wrong in the technical sense but when there are 700,000 souls tramping through Barcelona’s streets, a small dose of tact can go a long way. Instead, he focused on lambasting the Catalan government with the same terms that have been spun out time and time again by prime minister and leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Mariano Rajoy and which have caused such great ire amongst many Catalans, even those nonsupporting of independence.

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An optimist would have predicted that the term ‘diálogo (dialogue) would be uttered, as it has been by many both in the streets of Barcelona and by the opposition Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). If the King wants dialogue, there is a good chance that the monarchist PP will give him dialogue. Instead, we heard the tired rhetoric of unity and perseverance – more like a secondary school politics class on the basics of democracy; lacking in fervour and devoid of any condemnation of the violent clashes which saw hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officers injured on polling day. Casualties? Nothing to see here.

Regardless of where you stand on the legality of the referendum and the need to adhere to the Constitution – which, let us not forget, does not permit regions to secede from mother Spain without an amendment – it is hard not to conclude the best short-term solution some form of dialogue between Madrid and the various players in the rather fractured separatist movement.

The outcome of this is anyone’s guess but if it restores calm across the region and prevents the deployment of troops, it would be a good place to start. The present strategy of inaction, one of Rajoy’s signature moves, while tentatively threatening to invoke Madrid’s constitutional power to suspend the Generalitat, will undoubtedly lead to more civic action, likely in the form of strikes and mass protests. The net result of that? An even more bitter division than exists at present.

What is sad is that from a Spanish perspective, the King has truly scored an own goal. A significant number of those in the silent majority who were either passively or actively against independence, now find themselves disgusted with the treatment of Catalan civilians by state forces; many interviewed in the street described it as a watershed moment. Even though dedicated separatists would naturally disregard any royal message as basura, there was an open net when it came to the millions of other Catalans who wanted to hear compassion, rather than accusation.

They are now rightfully angry at their King as well – the one man who could have commanded some degree of moral authority. Felipe’s intervention may prove to be as irrelevant to the current crisis as it looks to be on the surface but it will surely leave many in Spain and abroad questioning the relevancy of a monarchy already viewed as out-of-touch by many, not to mention thousands fewer monarchists in Catalonia.

 

Dean Molyneaux read Hispanic Studies at Durham University and is a Law Graduate of Trinity College Dublin. 

There’s no such thing as an ‘Unpaid Intern’

The legal loophole for exploitative labour is expanding at an exponential rate.

Remember the days when we used to work for money? Well welcome to the world where you work for experience in the hope that one day you’ll be lucky enough to work for money. That’s the bleak reality for many young people in Ireland today faced with little option beyond unpaid internships, emigration or unemployment.

You’d be justified in thinking such a pernicious phenomenon as not paying people for work must have caused quite a stir. Well guess what? You’re dead wrong. Unpaid internships have nonchalantly become the norm while crowds in the colosseum of public opinion fervently cheer the corporate lion as she devours the young and spoiled, smartphone generation.

Rare does a week go by without the media letting off some steam on the Avo-toast munching, millennial punching bag as the cold hard facts and figures of rent prices, extortionate mortgage rates and looming student loans are quickly dispelled by a story that a twenty-two-year-old spent 3 euro on coffee! Argument Won!

Yet with new CSO figures revealing that 500 graduates a week are leaving the country, those who were bowing to cranes and rejoicing “recovery” have been left puzzled and scratching their head. It’s not difficult to see why people who wear suits and work in Grand Canal Dock are questioning why the whining, spoilt brats are flocking in their droves.

Unpaid work is still a heavily sector-specific problem. If you want to work in a bank or corporate law firm – the moral gatekeepers of society- you can still expect to be paid handsomely. But look to the arts, academia, public health or journalism and you’ll see the vital organs of our society collapsing around us. Is there any long-term plan for their survival? For a country which prides itself on producing some of the worlds most acclaimed artists and musicians’, we seem awfully content with a bland, spreadsheet future of tech and finance.

Creative jobs are rare, generally located in Dublin and nine times out of ten contingent on previous experience. If anyone can explain to me how a young person is expected to work for free in Dublin for six months with its stomach churning rent and transport costs, please let me know.

Ivanka Trump recently gave it a go when she published a piece online entitled “how to make it work as an unpaid intern” with some brilliant advice on how to get by working for free with your measly billion dollar bank account.

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Ivanka epitomizes the classist, exclusivity of unpaid internships. “What’s the big deal just live off money from your parents?” and if the poor people really want to work in film or graphic design they can slog it out as a kitchen porter for two years, save up and get the reward of working for free in Dublin for a few months.

The argument often rolled out to justify the current dynamic is that companies simply cannot afford to pay young people and the wage of “work experience” is the best they can offer. The last time I checked non-payment for work wasn’t an option on the table for businesses and we hadn’t (yet) amended the minimum wage laws to exempt young people. But spend thirty seconds skimming Linkedin’s list of graduate entry jobs and you’ll quickly see unpaid six, even nine month “internships” being offered at an alarming rate.

The minimum wage exists for a reason. It’s not just for show. It’s to protect people from the very exploitation and systemic greed which unpaid internships are capitalizing upon through peoples’ desperation for work.

The youth unemployment rate in the EU may be decreasing but non-standard forms of employment are rising exponentially. Unpaid and unregulated internships are replacing entry-level jobs and the app economy is luring people into insecure, zero-hour contracts.

If businesses genuinely can’t afford to pay their interns the minimum wage then they are either not commercially viable enterprises or illegally and systematically breaking society’s most basic and fundamental bargain.

 

 

 

 

 

Drug Possession: The Criminalization Of Youth

The words we use matter. Be it ‘junkie’ instead of ‘addict’ or ‘she had a few drinks’ versus ‘she took drugs’ the words chosen shape the emotional response.

The callous attitude which wants us to maintain criminal penalty for petty drug possession is not one premised in practicality or reasonableness. It is an ideological belief  that sees drug users as impure and addicts as a subhuman scourge who block the way into Brown Thomas.

 

For these people, a young person having their stomach pumped from excessive alcohol intake is ‘a naïve teen that went too far’ a 24-year-old sitting at a field listening to their favourite band caught smoking cannabis is a ‘criminal’ to be put in handcuffs, humiliatingly escorted out of the venue by police and given a criminal record scarring her life prospects forever.

 

This is the reality of criminalizing possession that many overlook. A bizarre, wholly ineffective and disproportionate response to curbing harmful levels of drug use. I’ve worked at the last two major music festivals in Dublin this summer and I can tell you that the prohibition on underage drinking bares no influence on a 16 year old’s decision to drink damaging quantities of alcohol. Should they all be treated as criminals too? Should we as a society see them as crooks to be punished or as young people vulnerable to peer pressure and making mistakes?

 

A criminal record is for life. Believing in decriminalization is not about being pro-drugs, it’s about looking past ideological constraints and rationally examining what is the best means to manage drug use.

 

Portugal has shown that decriminalisation results in a decrease in drug-induced deaths and an overall decrease in drug use among 15- to 24-year-olds.

What the writer in last week’s Irish Times seemed to be legitimately concerned about was a culture of excess which young people are particularly exposed to. I’m sorry to inform him that the overindulgence in hashtags is not indicative of the overindulgence of hash.

 

And perhaps instead of blaming the culture of excess on a youthful catchphrase ‘#livingmybestlife’ (who actually says that?) the constant assault of advertising from our phones to the plethora of posters plastered across our streets prompting us to ‘treat ourselves’ to  ‘buy 12 for the price of 6’ or to ‘live life to the fullest’ manipulating and exploiting our insecurities and desires plays a greater role in that culture of excess than the government’s official position on weed?

 

We’ve seen this kind of regressive emotional response a thousand times before. The patronizing call to ‘THINK OF THE CHILDREN’ and smear young people as out of control maniacs is typical of a moral panic. In 1972 Stanley Cohen published a seminal work titled ‘folk devils and moral panics’ in which he demonstrated how media in the 1960’s were dramatically amplifying the deviance of the youth subcultures ‘mods and rockers’ to present an enemy to their readers outside the core values of society and as posing a threat to social order itself.

 

Stoking the flames of moral panic and decrying how decriminalization will be seen as a free pass to engage in dangerous drug use may sell newspapers but by attempting to obstruct much-needed reform it will also destroy lives.