‘Could I understand the people who rushed into the Capitol?’: George Saunders on how stories teach empathy

George Saunders in The Guardian:

In the US, we are feeling the sickening after-effects of an attempted insurrection committed by people, many of whom, before that day, had never acted against their country or shown the least sign of being violent. What’s happening over here? Good question. And the truth is, nobody knows.

But here’s one way of looking at it: these people were told a false story and acted on it, with a level of passion and violence that would suggest true belief.

That false story – a set of false stories, really, bundled together – came to them via their newsfeeds and radio talk shows and partisan televisions shows with an alluring hi-tech gleam. In the face of this onslaught, their story receptors proved inadequate to the moment, and they exhibited a failure of what Hemingway called one’s “built-in, shockproof, shit detector”.

The stories these people fell for were laced with agenda, told for profit, designed to agitate, titillate, divide and antagonise; thrown together quickly; misshapen by the demands of the delivery vehicle, which limited the number of characters used or prioritised likes and shares. These stories entered the minds of their audience the way any story does, and their audience processed them earnestly, as if there was something vital to learn in them, because that’s what our minds do.

More here.