We Need More Animal Farms

I recently re-read Animal Farm. It's a short, compelling story that serves as a reminder of the pitfalls of perusing utopia. I think it has a lot of parallels to that of the tech world, but that's not the point I want to explore. (One could consider Dave Eggers's "The Circle" an attempt -- ineffectual, in my opinion -- to port Orwell's piercing satirical style to a book about a tech dystopia.)

I think we need more Animal Farms. We live in a world where the domain of facts is too easily manipulated. You have your facts; I have mine. Climate change skeptics are perhaps the most prominent example of this. Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus, climate change deniers are simply not seriously considering the immense importance of the issue of climate change. Even among those who don't deny it, what's at stake isn't fully in view. For example, I think only one Democratic presidential candidate on the stage really got this question right.

The skeptics are suffering from epistemic closure ("closed systems of deduction, unaffected by empirical evidence), a phrase I first came across from reading Andrew Sullivan They exist in their own universe where the agreed upon rules of logic, evidence, and reason simply don't apply.

How then, do we pierce epistemic closure? Stories. Trojan horses with all the logos, pathos, and ethos to break them free. Neil Gaiman, in a truly wonderful seminar at the Long Now, neatly captures this idea:

The reason why story is so important to us is because it’s actually this thing that we have been using since the dawn of humanity to become more than just one person… Stories are ways that we communicate important things, but … stories maybe really are genuinely symbiotic organisms that we live with, that allow human beings to advance.

(some more transcribed highlights here)

We need more Animal Farms. If we don't find a way to pierce the epistemic closure of others, or spread stories to inoculate the unaffected from those who already suffer from a narrowed universe, we might not have a future in which to share more stories. Or, at the very least, we will constantly be wondering about the road not taken. We need more stories.