Monday, December 26, 2011

On Manicheanism

Saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a couple of days ago. I gotta admit, it was surprisingly well made. What stood out in the film is the overly moralistic tone of the story. I guess there is something about good/evil dichotomy that makes us feel comfortable.

What matters instead is the division of the world into good and evil, a division that begins with splitting sex into positive and negative experiences, then ripples out from that in fascinating ways [...] It is the ingenuousness and sincerity of [Stieg] Larsson’s engagement with good and evil that give the trilogy its power to attract so many millions of people.
The Moralist by Tim Parks

I think of a few major problems when we think too much in terms of narrative. First, narratives tend to be too simple. The point of a narrative is to strip it away, not just into 18 minutes, but most narratives you could present in a sentence or two. So when you strip away detail, you tend to tell stories in terms of good vs. evil, whether it's a story about your own life or a story about politics. Now, some things actually are good vs. evil. We all know this, right? But I think, as a general rule, we're too inclined to tell the good vs. evil story. As a simple rule of thumb, just imagine every time you're telling a good vs. evil story, you're basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more. If you just adopt that as a kind of inner mental habit, it's, in my view, one way to get a lot smarter pretty quickly. You don't have to read any books. Just imagine yourself pressing a button every time you tell the good vs. evil story, and by pressing that button you're lowering your IQ by ten points or more....
from Ben Casnocha's post on Tyler Cowen's Talk