The Hegelian Doctrine That History is an Inexorable Dialectic of Progress

The Hegelian Doctrine That History is an Inexorable Dialectic of Progress

In his book about how the world has become a more peaceful place for human beings over time, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker has to explain why two massively violent and deadly wars were fought in the 1900’s. If humans are becoming less violent and fighting each other less, then why did we see two incredibly large and deadly conflicts that engulfed the leading nations of the time so recently that the conflict could be recorded on video? Part of the explanation, Pinker explains, is a Hegelian doctrine that history was an inexorable dialectic of progress. This is not a view that Pinker supports, but rather a view that many leaders in the 1900s held, pushing them into conflict.
 
 
Pinker quotes historian Evan Laurds as summarizing the doctrine by writing, “all history represents the working out of some divine plan; war is the way that sovereign states, through which that plan manifested itself, must resolve their differences, leading to the emergence of superior states.”
 
 
This mindset is what put the world on a pathway to war in the 20th century. There were states that exercised their superior to others, justifying the brutal conquest of lesser states. In the mindset of megalomaniac leaders, the conquering and effective genocide of such inferior states was natural and unavoidable, effectively ordained by a deity. It was this kind of thinking that eventually gave way to Nazism. “Eventually the doctrine spawned the messianic, militant, romantic nationalist movements of fascism and Nazism,” Pinker writes.
 
 
In an age of ideas, where states existed to carry out the will of the people, and in an age where states could posit that they were manifestly superior to others, this meant that states were not only justified to conquer others, but that it was imperative they do so. Failing to dominate and destroy other inferior nations would have been viewed as a failure to keep history on its intended track and purpose.
 
 
And this didn’t just happen with the nation state. Pinker continues, “A similar construction of history as an unstoppable dialectic of violent liberation, but with classes substituted for nations, became the foundation of 20th-century communism.”
 
 
What is important to recognize, and what Pinker calls out in the final quote, is that these are constructions of history. They are particular interpretations constructed by human minds. They are narratives about the past that are used to dictate and shape the future. They are not objective readings of history, or even objective attempts at interpreting and understanding history. These constructions are self-serving, reductionist, and revisionist.
 
 
When we look around us, when we look at our past, and when we think about our future, it is important that we recognize such narratives and constructions. This Hegelian doctrine is nothing more than a narrative that we can discard if we find it unhelpful and lacking in how it describes the true nature of reality. There is no one narrative or construction to which we must adhere. We can evaluate and chose those which are beneficial for our purpose, and which hopefully are more objective and less likely to push us down pathways to war and violence.
The Poisson Nature of War

The Poisson Nature of War

When we look back at history and explain why the world is the way it is, we rarely attribute specific causes and results to chance. We don’t say that a group of terrorists happened to choose to fly planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11. We don’t say that a new technology happened to come along to advance the economy. And we don’t say that a war between two countries happened to break out. But in some ways it would make more sense for us to look back at history and view events as chance contingencies. Steven Pinker argues that we should do this when we look back at history’s wars.
 
 
Specifically, when we take a statistical view of the history of war, we see that wars follow a Poisson distribution. When we record all the wars in human history we see lots of short intervals between wars and fewer long gaps between wars. When we look back at history and try to explain wars from a causal standpoint, we don’t look at the pauses and gaps between wars. We look instead at the triggering factors and buildup to war. But what the statistics argue is that we are often seeing causal patterns and narratives where none truly exist. Pinker writes, “the Poisson nature of war undermines historical narratives that see constellations in illusory clusters.”
 
 
We see one war as leading to another war. We see a large war as making people weary of fighting and death, ultimately leading to a large period of peace. We create narratives which explain the patterns we perceive, even if the patterns are not really there. Pinker continues,
 
 
“Statistical thinking, particularly an awareness of the cluster illusion, suggests that we are apt to exaggerate the narrative coherence of this history – to think that what did happen must have happened because of historical forces like cycles, crescendos, and collision courses.”
 
 
We don’t like to attribute history to chance events. We don’t like to attribute historical decisions to randomness. We like cohesive narratives that weave together multiple threads of history, even when examples of random individual choices or chance events shape the historical threads and narratives. Statistics shows us that the patterns we see are not always real, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to pull patterns out of the randomness or the Poisson distribution of history anyway.
Happiness Depends on Narratives

Happiness Depends on Narratives

I try to think rationally about the world around me, and I think most people would say the same. However, I know that what I mostly do is create a narrative of the world, of how people interact, and of what is positive or negative for the world. I sort out things that I observe based on the narratives that help me understand the world. I try to be objective and rational, and I believe those ideas play a role in my overall calculus, but science has demonstrated that it is likely that narratives based on my limited set of experiences and knowledge shape my understanding of the world more than my attempts at objective rationality.
 
 
This can be a disappointing conclusion, but it can also mean that we can tap into our narratives to help us find happiness in our lives. It means we can work to develop narratives for ourselves that are more helpful than harmful. Regarding meaning, happiness, and narratives in his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes, “the scientists who says her life is meaningful because she increases the store of human knowledge, the soldier who declares that his life is meaningful because he fights to defend his homeland, and the entrepreneur who finds meaning in building a new company are no less delusional than their medieval counterparts who found meaning reading scriptures, going on a crusade, or building a new cathedral.” In each case mentioned above, for modern individuals and their medieval counterparts, their sense of meaning is tied to a narrative. Harari claims they are all delusional because they are operating and basing their lives on a narrative that isn’t entirely based on reality. They are giving their lives meaning by working toward shared social goals that are in some ways based on myths and hypothesis about what will make people happy and what will therefore be good. None of them is more or less delusional than the other, at least in Harari’s eyes.
 
 
Harari continues, “as long as my personal narrative is inline with the narratives of the people around me, I can convince myself that my life is meaningful, and find happiness in that conviction.” Science is very objective in ways that religion is not, but the goals and priorities of science are not always objective (a wealthy individual provides a grant to research the rare cancer their mother died from rather than give a grant to research malaria). A soldier fights for a nation, a fictional concept that we bring to life through shared beliefs and narratives. An entrepreneur works for money, within the market, to expand the economy, all concepts that are in some ways based on myth and shared social constructions.
 
 
We tie our narratives together with other people and coordinate our actions accordingly to find meaning in our lives. Without shared narratives and coordinated efforts between them we would be isolated individuals without a purpose. This can be depressing and scary, but it can also give us hope. We can work with others and develop narratives together to create lives and roles that will bring us meaning. We don’t have to be stuck with a single narrative and a single role for our life. We can work within social systems and structures to reshape our narratives to find new meaning and new purposes for how we want to live. Our happiness depends on our narratives which we can all shape both individually and collectively.
Discovering That Humans Don't Know Everything

Discovering That Humans Don’t Know Everything

Humans have a great ability to explain the world through narratives that seem to make sense. One problem, however, is that our narratives may feel coherent, but fail to accurately reflect the true nature of reality. We are great at explaining why things happen a certain way, at identifying causal relationships between phenomenon, and creating reasons for why things are the way they are. We are not great at recognizing when we don’t know something and when our explanations couldn’t possibly be correct.
 
 
Yuval Noah Harari sees humans overcoming our tendency to create incorrect explanations of the world as a major development toward the Scientific Revolution. In his book Sapiens, he writes, “The great discovery that launched the scientific revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions.” From our modern vantage point, this is obvious. We just launched the JWST into space to help us understand questions to which we do not have answers. And even with the incredible power that the telescope has, it won’t tell us why there is a universe at all rather than nothing. There are questions we realize that we do not have actual scientific answers for.
 
 
In the past, we used narratives to explain the unexplainable. Religious explanations are not scientifically based, but create compelling and relatable narratives to why the world is the way it is. Magic and other supernatural phenomena explained everything from earthquakes to human economic behavior. They felt correct on an intuitive level, but couldn’t possibly explain reality in an accurate way.
 
 
The Scientific Revolution required that humans acknowledged gaps in knowledge. It required acknowledging that narratives and myth were insufficient to explain the true nature of the world. From this starting point humans could begin to make objective measures of the world around them, could test their causal explanations, and could begin to understand the world in a way that assumed there were lessons to learn and that myth and stories didn’t contain all the answers we need.
Syncretism - Yuval Noah Harari - Sapiens

Syncretism

Modern Christianity, along with other dominant religions (though I know very little about any world religion besides Christianity – and even then I don’t know that much), is a monotheistic religion. If you attend a church service in the United States then you are likely to hear about a single tripartite deity who controls the world. The deity is omnipotent and omniscient, yet allows humans a level of autonomy and free will, for reasons human mortals cannot understand. At the same time, however, modern Christianity, as you may hear it described on a typical Sunday in the United States, also has many dualist characteristics. The religion claims to be purely monotheistic, with frequent denouncements of false idols such as money, the Dallas Cowboys, or other spirit gods (like the gods of traffic lights who shine their green lights upon us – or punish us with red lights at every intersection when we are running five minutes late), yet still manages to violate it’s own monotheistic principals.
 
 
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes about the incredible ability for humans to create religious organizations and institutions that simultaneously hold and violate ideas of monotheism, dualism, polytheism, and other structures. Harari writes,
 
 
“The average Christian believes in the monotheist God, but also in the dualist Devil, in polytheist saints, and animist ghosts. Scholars of religion have a name for this simultaneous avowal of different and even contradictory ideas and the combination of rituals and practices taken from different sources. It’s called syncretism. Syncretism might, in fact, be the single great world religion.”
 
 
Syncretism is an amalgamation of beliefs and belief structures formalized into a religious framework, as described in the passage above. But syncretism really isn’t that different from anything else we may come to believe. I consider myself a pretty rational person, but I have conflicting and contradictory beliefs in terms of personal responsibility. I have even gone so far as to believe in two different forms of personal responsibility based on reference points. I think we should view ourselves as responsible for our life outcomes, while viewing everyone else basically as a victim of circumstances and luck. This ensures that each of us individually works hard and does our best to reach our goals and be successful, while looking at others in a sympathetic light, giving them a pass for bad behavior and seeing them as deserving of a helping hand. These two beliefs contradict each other, but just as Christianity demonstrates, there is no reason opposing and contradictory beliefs cannot be tied together in an influential manner.
 
 
The truth is that humans and our societies are complex and we don’t understand society by thinking in terms of statistical chance and variation. When someone yells at a an employee of a company when being told to pull their mask up over their nose, we assume that there was a personal and individual reason for why the mask-averse individual yelled at the employee. We don’t see it as simple statistical chance that some amount of people are generally disagreeable, won’t have enough coffee on a given day, will have lost something important while running late, and will be short tempered when told to fix their mask. We don’t do a good job holding statistical chance in our minds and instead view causal explanations, even when chance and randomness may be the better perspective. In the end, we pull a lot pieces together in how we understand the world, and those pieces may narratively work together, but may not be the best rational fit together.
 
 
Syncretism is the result of an amalgamation of different narratives with individual perspectives and experiences as they relate to religious beliefs. We have different experiences and interactions with the world which manifests in different ways of explaining and interpreting the world. We fit all these contradictory and complimentary understandings into larger frameworks, fudging the edge when necessary and adopting beliefs that are convenient and consistent with the narratives that support our experiences.  The result is a worldview and belief system that seems jumbled together, like a monotheistic religion where an all powerful deity allows an antagonistic lesser deity to run amuck . This normally isn’t a problem of human existence, but rather a feature that allows us to come together with various shared beliefs for cooperation and trust among a diverse group of individuals and experiences.
A Radical Shift in Ideas of Deservingness

A Radical Shift in Ideas of Deservingness

I think a lot about deservingness. I think most of us think about deservingness all the time, but I’m not sure many of us really think about the concept and idea of deservingness itself. As a student of political science, however, deservingness was something that I was taught as being central to how we understand our relationships between each other, and how we make political decisions with scarce resources. Deservingness plays a central role in how we decide who gets what and when.
 
Deservingness is a tricky and complex idea that includes concepts of seniority, judgments of effort, evaluations of value, and considerations of disability. In the end, however, we generally rely on vague intuitions and general notions of worthiness to determine who is and is not deserving. In the United States we have decided that senior citizens who have worked for 40 years and paid taxes are deserving of social security checks. We have decided that men and women who have served in the armed forces are deserving of government sponsored insurance and healthcare. And we have decided that people addicted to opioids don’t deserve much of anything (though this sentiment is slowly changing as the demographic of opioid addicts slowly changes to include senior citizens, war veterans, and other deserving people).
 
I highlight ideas of deservingness to serve as a background context for a quote in Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens. Harari writes, “A significant proportion of humanity’s cultural achievements owe their existence to the exploitation of conquered populations.” We are in a movement today where the contributions of exploited peoples are gaining more recognition. We are seeing people who have historically been marginalized and exploited celebrated for their perseverance, grit, and achievements despite their oppression. Rather than viewing exploited people as inferior and justifying their exploitation on the grounds of higher crime among impoverished neighborhoods and low education among such people, the narrative is being flipped. Oppressed people are being seen as more deserving for the dirty jobs they do and the ways in which they have supported the upper classes which have produced incredible cultural achievements. (I will note, in the United States this particularly applies to minority communities. In my sense, white communities of oppressed people are not being recognized to the same extent, likely contributing to the racial anxiety of our times.)
 
Harari’s quote can be seen in the infrastructure of America. The Capitol Building and some monuments around Washington DC were built by slaves. An oppressed people enabled our founding fathers to pursue philosophy, art, and a political revolution. In this way, America rests on an exploited and oppressed population.
 
Much of the animosity and hostility we see between different political parties today is a result in the radical shift in ideas of deservingness that we see with relation to oppressed peoples in our country. The backlash against Critical Race Theory, against Black Lives Matter, and against changing cultural values is in many ways a backlash against the way we view deservingness. Younger generations today are seeing exploited people as being more deserving than those who perpetuated their exploitation. The oppressors were the ones who were educated, lived hygienically, pushed scientific and technological breakthroughs, and created artistic and culturally valuable masterpieces. Yet they did all this while standing on the shoulders of an exploited population. For generations, the oppressors were the ones seen as deserving, but increasingly, the oppressed are now seen as deserving, while the oppressors are not. In this radical shift, groups that have historically been higher in terms of socials status and wealth are threatened, and I believe that is a substantial contributor to the anger and animosity we see in our political system today.
 
Deservingness is not static. It shifts and changes based on the narratives our cultures believe. We always fight over ideas of deservingness because they can be the difference between government financial support and bankruptcy or the difference between prison and rehabilitation programs. The narratives of deservingness are important and our current radical shift in how we understand deservingness is a big part of the political turbulence we are all experiencing. 
hierarchies and unjust discrimination

Hierarchies & Unjust Discrimination

In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes, “unfortunately, complex human societies seem to require imagined hierarchies and unjust discrimination.” This idea seems grim, and my first response is to begin thinking about a just utopia that I hope the United States is working toward. The idea that even my idealized utopia would still be based on imagined hierarchies and tacitly accept unjust discrimination is an idea I would want to reject.
 
 
However, political science theories such as Social Construction and Narrative Policy Frameworks seem to suggest that Harari is correct. Our understandings of how we relate to others within society is often based more on narrative than something objective. Movie stars may entertain us a lot, but few would argue that their work is truly more important and valuable for the future of humanity than the work of a teacher, but we clearly reward movie starts with much more money and status than teachers. Additionally, our world has limited resources, meaning that we cannot provide everyone with everything they want. We have different concepts for dividing things in an equitable manner, and we often argue over what values are used when making such decisions.
 
 
In the United States, children have no political power, because they don’t vote. Veterans are celebrated, but are relatively few in number and similarly lack political power, though they are a powerful rhetorical tool and audience. Business owners are also celebrated while drug users are denigrated. While we say that all men are created equal and strive toward equality among all people, our imagined hierarchies make true equality impossible. We may have good reasons for valuing retirees and small business owners more than drug users and community college students, but at the end of the day, the hierarchies in place are based on a host of social and cultural factors, not entirely on objective differences in merit and value between people. Within complex societies with limited resources, hierarchies seem inevitable, with some people being advantaged and others being discriminated against.
Hierarchies that Disavow Fictional Origins - Joseph Henrich - The WEIRDest People in The World - Yuval Noah Harari - Sapiens - Joe Abittan

Hierarchies that Disavow Fictional Origins

In Joseph Henrich’s recent book The WEIRDest People in the World he discusses a study he performed where he offered rural tribal people in South America a choice between getting a spice block today, or two spice blocks at a later time. This type of delayed gratitude study is common, but what was uncommon was Henrich’s subject. Most delayed gratification studies are conducted in WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) societies and provide insights about who is going to be successful as an investor, in going to college, or generally in being less impulsive throughout life.
 
 
In Henrich’s study, tribal people living with little contact with people from more WEIRD regions of South America were less likely to take more spice blocks tomorrow compared to one spice block today. However, Henrich argues this was not due to an inability to delay gratification, an inability to think about the future, or some sort of personal shortcoming that has left people in rural areas stuck behind people in WEIRD areas. The reason, Henrich argues, that people in rural areas were not willing to delay gratification was that the institutions of their tribes didn’t provide any real incentive for them to do so. The individuals Henrich studied lived in communities where it was expected that surplus resources would be shared back with the larger tribe. The individuals themselves were not delaying their own gratification, they were simply choosing to accept one spice block they could use today, rather than accept a surplus tomorrow that they would be expected to share with the rest of their tribe later.
 
 
I like this anecdote because it shows that sometimes we reach wrong conclusions. Sometimes we assume we know what it means for someone to behave a certain way, but we fail to recognize all of the complex incentives and motivations that may be driving the person’s behavior. We often fall back on relatively simple and reductive explanations. The people in rural villages are “backward” because they cannot delay gratification and that is necessary to catch up with WEIRD societies. People in poverty are poor because they are lazy and don’t work. Rich people got to where they are by making smart choices and working hard. Each of these examples is overly simplistic, and possibly wrong. They are also all examples that can be, and have been, used to justify hierarchies that are ultimately based on little more than imagination.
 
 
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes, “it is an iron rule of history that every imagined hierarchy disavows its fictional origins and claims to be natural and inevitable.” Kings in Medieval Europe argued that they were naturally and divinely chosen to lead their peoples. Slave owners in the American Antebellum South argued that they were naturally superior to their slaves. Hitler argued that the Aryan race was naturally superior to all others. The rich today, in basically any country, argue that they are naturally superior (or more deserving of their wealth and fortune) than poor people. But in each case, the hierarchy is imagined. No one wants to admit that they are unfairly at an advantage, that they have more resources, leisure, power, or wealth than others simply by chance or at least partly due to some amount of random luck in success.
 
 
As Henrich’s study shows, wealth disparities don’t have to be considered “natural.” In the tribal villages he studied, village elders were the leaders who made decisions regarding resources. There were no individuals or households that had dramatically more resources than anyone else. Households and individuals responded to the incentives of the system accordingly. In the United States, we respect our elders, but don’t place them in leadership positions just because they are old and wise. We have institutions and systems in place that encourage individual accumulation of resources, and we stash our old people in storage in retirement homes – basically the opposite system of the tribe that Henrich studied. The institutions, cultures, and incentives around us matter a lot, and they determine what we find natural. We often ignore those factors, however, when we think about the hierarchies in place within our society, and chose to disavow the fictional origins of our hierarchies and believe that they reflect a natural and unavoidable aspect of humanity. 
Inter-Subjective Linking - Tying Star Wars, Marvel, Sports Rankings, Democracy, and Marriage Norms Together - Yuval Noah Harari - Joe Abittan - Sapiens

Inter-Subjective Linking

In my own mind I like to play out lots of fictional scenarios before I go to bed. If I have recently watched a Marvel movie, then I might be teaming up with Iron Man or Captain America in my own superhero story while I brush my teeth. If I was listening to a Star Wars audio book, then I might be engaged in a space battle while my day winds down. Since I was a kid I have had my own running fantasies with me as a main character in some of the science fiction stories I like the most. In my own mind, these stories are as real as the stories that appear on the big screen.
 
 
My individual stories, something the nerd community might call my own “head canon,” are subjective. They exist only within my own consciousness, and as a result I can change them or abandon them and they will no longer exist. They are subjective to my own individual consciousness, not dependent on the subjective consciousness of others and if I want I can completely ignore the rest of the world or certain aspects of the larger story.
 
 
Contrasting my individual fictions are the larger narratives that I engage with in my mind. The stories that make it on the big screen, onto a streaming platform, or into official books are inter-subjective. In the book Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari describes the existence of the inter-subjective by writing, “the inter-subjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals.” Iron Man has died in the current Marvel story line, and his death is now part of the inter-subjective communication network linking all the fans of the Marvel movies. In my own mind Iron Man might come back to life, but my individual consciousness doesn’t change the larger story which is inter-subjectively linked.
 
 
Outside the world of science fiction, inter-subjective linking is an important part of human societies. We see it in sports rankings, political organization, and marriage and family norms. We debate which sports team is better and have our individual opinions about who is a great player and what teams are the best. We can individually believe that our team will win the championship, should be ranked #1 in the country, or got screwed out of the playoffs without our subjective beliefs influencing how the sports season actually plays out. We can also have inter-subjective beliefs about sports that drive the narratives around the season and can lead to coaches being fired, players being traded, and coordinated booing at bad officiating calls.
 
 
Within politics and marriage and family norms we can have our individual beliefs, such as beliefs that one political system would be better than another, beliefs that polygamy is better than monogamy, or that kids need to leave the house at 18. There is nothing that makes representative democracies inherently better than divine monarchies, nothing that makes monogamous relationships inherently better than polygamous relationships, and no reason kids should be afforded the option to live at home after they turn 18. In each of these areas our inter-subjective beliefs have come to shape the way we understand the world, our relationships to others within the world, and our subsequent beliefs about how the world should ultimately be ordered. Representative democracies fit with other inter-subjective beliefs which have come to discredit divine monarchies. Monogamous relationships have certain advantages in helping ensure more men find romantic and life partners which blends with other inter-subjective beliefs that form the backbone of modern stable societies. The idea that one becomes and adult and full citizen at 18 and not 17, 19, or 21 is also an inter-subjective belief that we support together. It makes no difference if I decide that a young man is an adult at age 17 rather than 18. Inter-subjectively, our culture has agreed that full citizenship begins at 18.
 
 
Thinking about the relationship between the subjective and inter-subjective is helpful for understanding the world. It is helpful to see that our individual beliefs are often little more than our own twist on a fictional story. It is helpful to see that larger institutions and structures in our worlds are based on little more than shared fictions. Recognizing this dynamic can change the way we interpret and approach debates and arguments about topics for how we all should live and coordinate our lives together.
A Few Dominant Myths

A Few Dominant Myths

“Friends giving advice often tell each other, follow your heart. But the heart is a double agent that usually takes its instructions from the dominant myths of the day,” writes Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens. What we want, what we believe is possible for us, and how we experience the world is often dominated by the larger culture that we are a part of. This means that how we relate to and understand the world is constantly changing both through our own lifetimes and across the lifetimes of individuals of our entire species. What we believe, what we think is good and worthy of our time and energy, and how we go about pursuing our goals and desires changes based on the dominant myths of our time and the resources available to us.
 
 
To demonstrate this point, Harari shows how two myths, Romanticism and Consumerism can be found in the idea of follow your heart. Regarding Romanticism, Harari writes, “Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different human experiences as we can.” The value of being human, within this framework, is the experience of being alive. Doing the same thing each day, becoming really good at one particular thing, living in the same spot, and having a few consistent experiences each day is not valuable. Uniqueness, openness, and diversity are praised within the individual.
 
 
Regarding Consumerism, Harari writes, “Consumerism tells us that in order to be happy we must consume as many products and services as possible. If we feel that something is missing or not quite right, then we probably need to buy a product.” Within this view, things, possessions, and services are of inherent value, as is owning things and consuming services. A lack of possessions is seen as failure, and the goal is to continually obtain more, bigger, and better possessions.
 
 
It is easy to see why Harari is able to lump these two myths together. Being unique compliments buying lots of different things. Having many varied possessions, purchasing many varied services, and utilizing possessions to engage in new and diverse activities tie Romantic ideas of the individual pursuing a diverse and exciting lifestyle with the consumerism urge to possess and own things and experiences. “Romanticism, which encourages variety, meshes perfectly with consumerism,” Harari writes.
 
 
But there is no reason that our culture needs to favor these two myths over others. It is nice to have a diversity of experiences. It can be helpful to see and view the world from different perspectives and to understand how others live and the full potential of humanity. It is also nice to be able to purchase comforts, and a helpful byproduct of consumerism is an advancing technological landscape that rewards innovations which improve life satisfaction. But Humans can be satisfied in life with a few possessions. We can be satisfied with a stable and predictable routine. We can find joy in becoming very good at doing the same things each day and mastering those tasks. There is no reason that Romanticism or Consumerism has to be understood as better than Stoicism or Minimalism, or any other myth that we might adopt. Within the United States, few of us truly challenge the ideas of Romanticism or Consumerism. They are the dominant myths of the day, and eschewing them is strange. Even when we do try to give up one myth, it is hard to give up both. Deciding not to purchase many products and services is seen as a way of being unique and self-sufficient, a Romantic framing of non-Consumerist behavior. Minimalism often still rewards carefully curated purchases and possessions. If you are not going to have a lot of things, then you better have the absolute best of the few things you do have, many Minimalists might argue.
 
 
How we understand ourselves, the values we pursue, and how we exist in culture is often determined by myths that work well when we all embrace them in a collective manner. That doesn’t mean that one myth is inherently better than another. Additionally, myths can be complimentary to each other, and even contradictory myths can be understood as complimentary and not conflicting. We do not exist in isolation or in a vacuum, and it shows in the ways in which cultural myths influence us. Follow your heart is a message to tap into the dominant myths of the day, and it is a saying that is influenced by those same myths.