(The lack of) person to person storytelling

The world is a mess, and we want to work together to make it better. We can probably all agree on that much. But we need to come up with a plan we can agree on, and that plan will depend on what kind of a world we think we live in.

We live in a globally connected world, and are accustomed to getting both products and information from all over the globe. However the exchanges of products and information are not peer-to-peer exchanges from one normal person to another normal person, they are controlled by the powerful elites who run corporations and government.

We still get most of our information from media outlets run by corporations, and this information is necessarily coming from a very narrow viewpoint. We get the picture of the world that corporations want us to see.

Furthermore, while direct peer-to-peer communication, such as tweets, Facebook statuses, blog posts, etc, are becoming more important in our lives, these usually happen in a bubble: we see posts and tweets from friends and friends-of-friends and people whose opinions we find interesting, but we don’t communicate with people who are very different from ourselves. That means that everything we know about people who we haven’t met in our own lives comes from the corporate-controlled traditional media.

What all this amounts to is that we know a lot less about the world than we think we do, and our world-views are a lot less universal than we think they are.

People’s day-to-day lives often include experiences that people outside their community know nothing about. This is particularly true for oppressed groups.

A few examples:

– Women and men often have very different perceptions of street harassment, with men much more likely to think that catcalls and unwanted advances are a “compliment”. Men sometimes react with surprise or disbelief when they hear that women routinely experience low-level sexual harassment, and routinely take precautions against sexual harassment and rape.

– In the UK right now the general perception is that it’s easy to fraudulently get disability benefits, and that many people on these benefits are “scroungers”. The view within the disabled community is very different. It’s common knowledge within this community that people are routinely denied benefits they are entitled to, and tragic stories of people very ill and sometimes close to death being refused benefits, and/or forced to go through a series of stressful, humiliating, and physically painful assessments and appeals, are commonplace.

– In some communities the police are seen as being generally trustworthy, while in others they are feared because they routinely carry out racist and humiliating stop-and-searches, and sometimes use violence unnecessarily and without any accountability. In a middle-class area if you call the police and say there’s a robbery in progress, they’ll probably come straight-away. In poor communities, they will likely come hours later, or not at all.

So here we are: we agree that the world is a mess, and we want to work together to make it better, but we have wildly different views about what kind of world we live in and what is wrong with it. Even worse, we have wildly different world-views without realising it.

Knowledge is power. The ability to spread a particular view of the world is power; if it wasn’t governments and corporations wouldn’t pour so much money and effort into propaganda and advertising.

If we seriously want to work together to make things better, we need to start by learning to communicate with each-other, peer-to-peer, normal person to normal person. We need to tell our stories and genuinely listen to each-others’ stories.

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