Once Upon A Time Of A Magical World Where People’s Religious And Political Views Were Fashioned By Evil Orwellian Thought Police
Defense Dept. Research Arm DARPA Tackles Storytime
BY Kit Eaton
Once upon a time, DARPA wanted to work out how stories played a role in sharing information between people who are engaged in political activity, and possibly how to change the direction of the course of events.
More accurately: On Feb. 28, DARPA is hosting a think-tank-style workshop to tackle “Analysis and Decomposition of Narratives in Security Contexts” as part of its Stories, Neuroscience, and Experimental Technologies (STORyNET) program. Jargon aside, it’s really like the bedtime version of 1984’s Thought Police.
As DARPA notes, “stories exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They consolidate memory, shape emotions, cue heuristics and biases in judgment, influence in-group/out-group distinctions, and may affect the fundamental contents of personal identity.” Sure the research group leapfrogs the argument that narratives played a vital role in early human survival (allowing transfer of best-practise knowledge) and modern social evolution (as in the Bible, Koran). (There are even myths about this concept.) But let’s go with it. DARPA’s not talking about campfire chats, anyway, it’s talking about narrative discussions between people–often from an authority figure to a group. It highlights there’s “no surprise that these influences make stories highly relevant to vexing security challenges such as radicalization, violent social mobilization, insurgency, and terrorism.”
Hence the workshop to try to learn how stories connect to people’s minds, how they influence or prejudice individual thinking, and whether the flow of narrative information sharing in a group can be influenced by an outside agent–all in a “scientifically respectable manner.”
Yes, that does sound creepy.