The Sunday Post for January 24, 2016

‘I was terribly wrong’ - writers look back at the Arab spring five years on

Eleven writers (including Laila Lalami) revisit their views of five years ago on the Arab Spring uprising.

In January 2011, days after the first uprising in Tunisia and the protests in Tahrir Square, the Guardian invited leading writers from across the Arab world to reflect on the revolutionary fervour sweeping the region. Then, they expressed great optimism for the future. Here, they revisit their responses and ask, is there still room for hope?
Erik Spiekermann

An interview, conducted by technolgy writer Om Malik, with Erik Spiekermann, a typographer and type designer whose work you, even though you don't know it, have seen many times over your life. If you saw the movie about the typeface Helvetica, called Helvetica, Spiekermann was the one telling you how much he dislikes the titular typeface. This is a great interview with a challenging and creative force of a man.

In 1985 I had the job to design a new typeface for the German post office. I went to Linotype to talk to them about digitizing my sketches, and they had a Macintosh. I had seen photographs but not held one. So I lifted it up and put the little floppy in, and then I borrowed this thing and went over from Frankfurt to Bonn, to the ministry.

I went in and told these guys, “This is typesetting & is the future. And this floppy, which I have in my shirt pocket, has the typeface on there.”

They looked at each other and went, “This guy’s gone mad.” But I knew intuitively, just like with the first smell of printed paper, that this was the future of my business.

From Pickup Artist to Pariah

For anybody fascinated by — or perhaps disgusted, freaked out, and fed up with — men publically struggling with the idea of masculinity while internetting, this is a nuanced and layered story of being caught, having regret, and maybe not really knowing what it was you got in trouble for in the first place. Will anything save us from the logical men of the internet?

Jared Rutledge has been called a sociopath. Strangers have picketed outside his coffee shop, calling for his castration. People he thought were his friends won’t return his texts. There are a few places he still feels safe: weekly lunches with his grandma, his therapist’s office, the meetings of his peer-facilitated men’s support circle. At night, he reads fantasy books and loses himself in a universe with societal rules unlike the ones he broke here in Asheville, North Carolina.
How Stories Deceive

Well, perhaps stories can save us from the logical men. Let's hope so.

In his book “Actual Minds, Possible Worlds,” Jerome Bruner, a central figure in the cognitive revolution in psychology, proposes that we can frame experience in two ways: propositional and narrative. Propositional thought hinges on logic and formality. Narrative thought is the reverse. It’s concrete, imagistic, personally convincing, and emotional. And it’s strong.

In fact, Bruner argues, narrative thinking is responsible for far more than its logical, systematic counterpart. It’s the basis of myth and history, ritual and social relations. The philosopher Karl Popper “proposed that falsifiability is the cornerstone of the scientific method,” Bruner told the American Psychological Association at their annual meeting, in Toronto, in the summer of 1984. “But believability is the hallmark of the well-formed narrative.” Even scientists construct narratives. There is no scientific method without the narrative thread that holds the whole enterprise together. Stories make things more plausible, more convincing, and more fundable. Rightly or wrongly, a research proposal with a compelling narrative arc stands out. As the economist Robert Heilbroner once confided to Bruner, “When an economic theory fails to work easily, we begin telling stories about the Japanese imports.” When a fact is plausible, we still need to test it. When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.