The Imagined Order
A necessary illusionThe Imagined Order
I'm reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It's a very interesting book. The reviews are mixed and I'm about 30% through. At the start he presents a case that hominids in general, when they moved out of Africa they dominated other ecosystems to the point that many species went extinct. His account of why hominids were dominant is fairly conditional, involving the emergence of toolmaking and language.
From language and toolmaking (which he sees as closely related) emerged imagination. That is, with imagination a sapiens could think of things that don't actually exist. Harari notes that most of the structure of society is imaginary in the sense that you won't see it by examining physical reality. The idea is closely related to the world/reality distinction; where perception of things in reality depends on those things being meaningful to the perceiver. So Harari says that a social structure is the result of a large group of people imagining the same thing even though that thing is not found in reality. That is, a social structure is an imagined order.
He uses Hammurabi as an example. In his empire people were divided into (say) superior people, common people, and slaves. Within that system it was just natural for superior people to be wealthier and for slaves to be miserable. That seeming "just natural" is the way we perceive the imagined order.
Harari examines imagined orders throughout the world. He examines the historical roots of racism in the USA in some detail and talks of it as an imagined order. He also knows that imagined orders can clash. And that seems to me to help us understand our present polarized situation. It's a clash of imagined orders.
When I was young, Norman Vincent Peale's ideas about positive thinking were popular. As I got the idea then it was that you need a positive attitude towards life. That you need confidence in yourself and your abilities And that you need to act on and express that confidence in a positive way. That positivity causes other people to react to you and your projects positively. Sounds pretty benign.
It never occurred to me then that anyone would present themselves positively by telling bald lies but it should have been obvious - we weren't that far in time from the Nazis and the Big Lie. And then we encounter a man who rises to become POTUS who is a serial liar and is manifestly ignorant.
What's going on?
Then I discovered that Trump had known and admired Peale since he was a kid. Peale even officiated at his first wedding. Scales sort of fell from my eyes. Trump doesn't see himself as lying. He sees himself as presenting himself and his projects as positively as he can. He thinks that if enough people buy into his lies they won't be lies anymore. If that happens, the lies become a part of the imagined order.
We know that perception is not directly tied to reality. We are prone to illusions, delusions, and hallucinations. But we also know that if our perceptions are not pretty closely influenced by reality we make mistakes like walking off of cliffs. The same applies to imagined orders. It may be possible to get a group to imagine almost any order. But then, will that order work?
What do you think?