Individualism vs mechanism

Posted: 2017-08-13 , Modified: 2017-08-13

Tags: dichotomy, individualism, mechanism, determinism, story

Parent: Views


There’s two mindsets in writing, and more generally in life.

One is individualistic. It’s thinking that every struggle is important; when it comes it takes up your world. You believe in free will; every decision is one which you have the power to make. Every fork in the path is a place where two futures are possible. It’s thinking what you’re doing is the most important thing to be doing (or not, and feeling the pain of it not being it). It’s an egocentric view. It’s a discerning view, in which you narrate the world with your judgment, dissecting it with your eyes and your emotions like knives. It’s the first-person story, the story with the details like candies, pinpoints of feelings.

The other is mechanistic.1 It’s thinking that every story that unfolds is one of a countless number of repetitions of the same basic plotline - but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. It’s knowing that whatever you deal with - trying to achieve your dreams, romance, friendship, rivalries - are things that have come before and will come after many times, have been repeated billions of times by everyone, none of which are any less than your experience - yet that doesn’t make your experience of it any less real. The book that writes this best is “My Name is Red.” The characters’ actions seem predictable, they don’t seem to have any free will, they fall into the same stories of adventure and love and they are not the narrator - just like scenes in a miniaturist’s book. It’s not thinking of every decision as a fork, but rather, the collection of forks in the road as a big pachinko machine, except that the patterns are much more complicated than Gaussian, like the patterns of people trying to succeed in a hard world. Every decision and every situation fits into a pattern, into a category of decisions and situations like that one; each person is a certain type of person. Decisions are not infinite, and the individual differences don’t cover up the fact that many of the underlying stories are the same. There’s no free will, just actions corresponding to thoughts.

I think English storytelling tends to be individualistic, and Chinese storytelling tends to be more mechanistic. English is more combinatorial, Chinese has so many phrases for so many situations, it’s a matter of knowing them and selecting the right one, instead of making it up on the fly. The English podcasters are trying to give their own unique take on the world, distill some new insight. The Chinese podcasters realize that all the lessons of filial piety, love, family, success, responsibility, happiness, etc., have already been written by people more qualified than them, and they simply have to learn from them like scholars, connect the dots to daily life and transmit them to you, the listeners. When they tell stories, there’s a cognizance that the feelings and thoughts they have are not some gem to be showed off, but a manifestation.

See also: Cyclicity vs the straight line

  1. “Mechanism” is similar to “determinism”, but I think “mechanism” works better here. It’s “determinism” in a weaker sense: things being probabilistically predictable, averaged out over time and instances. There are patterns, and we don’t specify exactly how they have to chain.