When Tyler Cowen says we should be suspicious of stories, he comes across as either an enlightened being or a total hypocrite. I don't buy a lot of his premises--because he adds caveat after caveat in his Tedtalk, and the fact that he's using Tedtalks to share his message, arguably one of the most potent storytelling technologies out there, is tellingly inconsistent in and of itself.
Cowen, an economist by trade, says that storytelling makes life too simple. He uses words such as "self-deceptive," "manipulative," and "predictably irrational" to describe those who harness or are too susceptible to the power of stories.
He may have a point, especially when it comes to societal conflicts and how we add layers of hurt to our lives through certain stories we tell ourselves, which we become attached to over time.
I noted the dangers of clinging to certain stories in a post about September 11th ten years on--but the reality is that human beings have been and always will be fascinated with stories. The man of the millenium is William Shakespeare, not a priest or an economist, or a political leader, but a bard-- a storyteller. Research is showing that the vast majority of people base their view of the world on their values, which may be reflected in stories, and then cherrypick stats, info and evidence when it suits them to support their values-based pre-conclusions.
We are not automaton machines, therefore we can never escape the very things that exist to animate our lives and our souls. Furthermore, many stories can empower us, bring us hope, and teach us about compassion: they reflect our desires, perceptions, and the human condition. In this way, stories are not necessarily the source of self-deception, but rather possible reinforcers and context builders of who we believe we are, and who we can strive to be. In which case, Cowen's ire should not be aimed at stories but rather the content of certain stories.
What might better serve Cowen is a talk that discusses how we sometimes need to trade in the stories we buy into that may decieve, manipulate, and hold us down for ones that are more reflective of simple acceptance and the development of a more mindful lifestyle or higher consciousness.
Here is a nice excerpt from an article by Jungian and Shadow Psychology expert, Jeremiah Abrams, that expands on this point:
We are many-storied creatures. Every morning, we wake up and tell ourselves into our story. When you study a life, as I have many times as a therapist, you realize that how we tell ourselves into our story generally determines how things will go for us. As American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says, “We can tell stories that lead us to greater suffering and desperation, blame and fear, or we can use stories to open the heart of compassion. We can use stories to support the generous impulse that’s there in us. We can use stories to connect us to one another.” The problem is that much of our personal story is unconscious to us, a jumble of scripts generated by the imprints of our experiences, often running and ruling us from underneath.Which kind of story would you want to live by?
The places where we run into trouble and suffer in life are the places where our stories have gone awry, where things have gone badly and where we have chosen inappropriate responses or just avoided the powerful emotions and effects attending such events.