In 1958, Clennon King applied to be a mature student at the University of Mississippi. A judge committed him to a mental asylum. The reason? He was black and had to be insane to think he could enter the university.
The frameworks which inform us this is the way it is for people because of their race, gender, sexuality, colour are, in the words of Yuval Noah Harari “figments of imagination.”*
‘Unjust discrimination often gets worse, not better, with time. Money comes to money, and poverty to poverty. Education comes to education, and ignorance to ignorance. Those who are victimised by history are likely to be victimised yet again. And those whom history has privileged are more likely to be privileged again.’*
I’d only just come across the statistics showing how a man living in east Glasgow has a life expectancy shorter than a man in Haiti.** The stories of both these “men” are shaped by something we have made up.
Daniel Kahneman writes of a condition he names frame-bound:
Reframing is effortful and System 2 is normally lazy. Unless there’s an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound.’^
As highly developed cognitive beings, we need stories to live out our (sixty-two or sixty three years of existence in east Glasgow and Haiti) eighty years of existence (soon to be one hundred years?), and we know we can create better ones.
Indeed, this might be the defining characteristic of our age.
(*From Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.)
(**Here is Katherine Trebeck’s TEDx Glasgow talk.)
(^From Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. System 2 is our ability to think about what we are thinking about, but this takes energy.)