Accepting Imaginary Orders

“Most people do not wish to accept that the order governing their lives is imaginary, but in fact every person is born into a preexisting imagined order, and his or her desires are shaped from birth by its dominant myths,” writes Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens. There is an incredibly wide range of possibilities for how we could live our lives. Throughout history, humans have lived in many different ways – in small tribal bands on tropical islands, in kingdoms ruled by divinely anointed tyrants, and in large cities across representative democracies. Truly thinking about why people have lived in such different ways and how it would be best for people to live today is difficult. It is much easier to accept the imagined order that directs modern society than to constantly question every decision and every possible way of life.

However, none of us want to appear as though we simply accept the way things are and only marginally change the world around us for a better fit. We want to believe that we have agency, that we chose to live in the world the way it is, and that the society that our families exist within are not organized in a random way, but are organized by rational and reasonable principals. We want to believe that we are constantly striving for a better way of living and that we have carefully thought through what needs to be done to reach the best social and economic order possible for humans.

There is substantial evidence to suggest that Harari is correct, and that we accept the myths we are born into rather than reach conclusions about the nature of reality and society after careful consideration and investigation. Most people adopt the religious or political beliefs of their family. This isn’t to discount people as unthinking or uncritical, but instead it demonstrates that there are many pressures and advantages to maintaining beliefs that are consistent with ones family. Additionally, terms such as conservative or liberal really don’t have any meaning. People do not have a consistent answer for what those terms mean, and it is easy to take those terms and demonstrate that many items within the platforms of Republicans, Democrats, and random people from the street seem to contradict the ideas of conservatism or liberalism.

It is much more plausible that people are signaling to the dominant group of their time and trying to fit in than to assume people are carefully thinking about the order that guides their societies and lives. The evidence does not suggest people are actively choosing how to live or what order to support based on careful judgment. It does happen, however most of us accept the myths we are born into and are ultimately shaped by those myths. Our lives are organized and our actions our mobilized by myths such as religious ideas, political systems, human rights, and other institutions that we may not even be aware of.

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