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Solved by verified expert:Read chapter one, three and ten.1:What Is a Monoculture?3:Your Work10:Finding Another WayIn Monoculture, F.S. Michaels argues for the central role of economics in our daily lives. What does she have to say about modern work culture? Do you hear echoes of her analysis in your experience or those of your friends and family? If so, in what ways? If not, why not? What solution does she offer for the problem she poses? Discuss your thoughts and include relevant textual evidence to support your analyses

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How One Story is Changing Everything
F.S. Michaels
1. What Is a Monoculture?
2. The One Story
3. Your Work
4. Your Relationships With Others and the Natural World
5. Your Community
6. Your Physical and Spiritual Health
7. Your Education
8. Your Creativity
9. The Monoculture Effect
10. Finding Another Way
About the Author
It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories
are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work
with all the internal materials of the mind and self.
They become part of you while changing you. Beware
the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath
the waters of consciousness, they are altering your
There is no such thing as just a story. A story is
always charged with meaning…And we can be sure
that if we know a story well enough to tell it, it carries
meaning for us.
THE HISTORY OF HOW we think and act, said twentiethcentury philosopher Isaiah Berlin, is, for the most part, a
history of dominant ideas. Some subject rises to the top of
our awareness, grabs hold of our imagination for a
generation or two, and shapes our entire lives. If you look at
any civilization, Berlin said, you will find a particular pattern
of life that shows up again and again, that rules the age.
Because of that pattern, certain ideas become popular and
others fall out of favor. If you can isolate the governing
pattern that a culture obeys, he believed, you can explain
and understand the world that shapes how people think,
feel and act at a distinct time in history.1
The governing pattern that a culture obeys is a master
story — one narrative in society that takes over the others,
shrinking diversity and forming a monoculture. When you’re
inside a master story at a particular time in history, you tend
to accept its definition of reality. You unconsciously believe
and act on certain things, and disbelieve and fail to act on
other things. That’s the power of the monoculture; it’s able
to direct us without us knowing too much about it.
Over time, the monoculture evolves into a nearly invisible
foundation that structures and shapes our lives, giving us
our sense of how the world works. It shapes our ideas
about what’s normal and what we can expect from life. It
channels our lives in a certain direction, setting out strict
boundaries that we unconsciously learn to live inside. It
teaches us to fear and distrust other stories; other stories
challenge the monoculture simply by existing, by
representing alternate possibilities.
As a result, learning to see the monoculture can leave us
feeling threatened and anxious because the process
exposes our foundations, outlines the “why” of why we live
the way we do. Still, if we fail to understand how the
monoculture shapes our lives and our world, we’re at risk of
making decisions day after day without ever really
understanding how our choices are being predetermined,
without understanding how the monoculture even shapes
what we think our options are. Without a clear
understanding of the monoculture, it’s hard to understand
the trajectory of your own life. But once you know what
shared beliefs and assumptions make up the governing
pattern at this point in history, you can discover the
consequences of the monoculture and decide if that’s how
you really want to live.
Monocultures and their master stories rise and fall with
the times. By the seventeenth century, for example, the
master story revolved around science, machines and
mathematics. Developments in fields like biology, anatomy,
physics, chemistry and astronomy were early harbingers of
modern science. People began to believe that the nature of
the world could be discovered through mathematics, that
physical laws directed the behavior of all bodies, and that
living creatures could be systematically catalogued in
relation to one another. Life was understood as a series of
questions with knowable answers, and the world became
methodical and precise. A scientific monoculture was
That scientific monoculture was radically different from
the religious monoculture that preceded it. If you had lived
in sixteenth century Europe, a hundred years earlier, you
would almost certainly have understood your life through the
master story of religion and superstition. People lived
surrounded by angels and demons. When Galileo
contradicted the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church
by claiming that the sun and not the Earth was at the center
of the solar system, he was accused of heresy and
sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.
Excommunication from the church and the damning of your
eternal soul was a real threat, and you could literally pay for
your sins to guarantee yourself a short stay in purgatory.
Religion was the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age.
A monoculture doesn’t mean that everyone believes
exactly the same thing or acts in exactly the same way, but
that we end up sharing key beliefs and assumptions that
direct our lives. Because a monoculture is mostly left
unarticulated until it has been displaced years later, we
learn its boundaries by trial and error. We somehow come
to know how the master story goes, though no one tells us
exactly what the story is or what its rules are. We develop a
strong sense of what’s expected of us at work, and in our
families and communities — even if we sometimes choose
not to meet those expectations. We usually don’t ask
ourselves where those expectations came from in the first
place. They just exist — or they do until we find ourselves
wishing things were different somehow, though we can’t
say exactly what we would change, or how.
Monocultures, though overwhelmingly persuasive and
pervasive, aren’t inescapable. In the end, the human
experience always diverges from the monoculture and its
master story, because our humanity is never as onedimensional as the master story says it is. The human
experience is always wider and deeper than a single
narrative, and over time, we become hungry for something
the monoculture isn’t speaking to and isn’t giving us —
can’t give us. Once you know what the monoculture looks
like, you can decide whether it serves a useful purpose in
your life, or whether you want to transcend it and live in a
wider spectrum of human values instead — to know it so
you can leave it behind.
In our time, in the early decades of the twenty-first
century, the monoculture isn’t about science, machines and
mathematics, or about religion and superstition. In our time,
the monoculture is economic. Because of the rise of the
economic story, six areas of your world are changing — or
have already changed — in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
How you think about your work, your relationships with
others and the natural world, your community, your physical
and spiritual health, your education, and your creativity are
being shaped by economic values and assumptions.
And because how you think shapes how you act, the
monoculture that arises as a result isn’t just changing your
mind — it’s changing your life.
Generally, the familiar, precisely because it is
familiar, is not known.
“THE UNIVERSE,” SAID POET Muriel Rukeyser, “is made
of stories, not of atoms.” Stories are what we are made of
too. We use them to capture our yesterdays and secure our
tomorrows. Stories tell us what we can expect from other
people, and from life. There are as many ways to tell them
as there are people in the world, and as many stories
waiting to be told. Those that resonate deeply stay with us
all our lives. A good story, well told, makes you realize you
were yearning for something you had no name for,
something you didn’t even know you wanted.
In one sense, we are constantly telling stories. We live
them every day, playing everything from minor to major
roles in other people’s lives. Somehow we take all of these
different narratives we’re part of and weave them into
something that helps us understand why things are the way
they are. As storytellers, we make sense of our lives
through our own point of view, giving meaning to one thing
or another according to how we each make sense of the
world. How do we do it? How do we make sense of where
we come from and where we are going? What do all of
these stories mean? What importance do they have to the
story of us together, here and now, that is slowly being
Answers to questions like these help us build our
personal mythology, the hidden structure that supports our
storytelling. Psychoanalyst June Singer says, “Personal
myths are not what you think they are. They are not false
beliefs. They are not the stories you tell yourself to explain
your circumstances and behavior. Your personal mythology
is, rather, the vibrant infrastructure that informs your life,
whether or not you are aware of it. Consciously and
unconsciously, you live by your mythology.”1
Your personal mythology — that infrastructure that
informs your life — doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s
surrounded by the overarching stories of our culture. Those
larger cultural stories are rooted in areas of activity in
society that are interconnected but distinct, areas
represented by political, religious, economic, aesthetic,
intellectual and relational pursuits. We take these cultural
stories so for granted that we’re hardly conscious of them.
We simply accept them as reality — the way it is and the
way it always has been. The stories stay unarticulated for
the most part, something we generally subscribe to but
probably couldn’t explain, and something to not bother
thinking too much about in a world where there is plenty to
hold our attention.
When one of these cultural stories becomes dominant, a
master story emerges. That master story begins to change
the other cultural stories, and as that larger context begins
to shift, your personal mythology — that vibrant
infrastructure that informs your life — shifts along with it. A
new governing pattern evolves. A monoculture begins to
So how do we learn to see that monoculture? How do we
learn to see something as pervasive, invisible, and lifeforming as air? We can see what effect the monoculture
has when we look at what we tell each other about how we
and the world ought to be. What is life about? What stories
are we told and what stories do we live by?
In these early decades of the twenty-first century, the
master story is economic; economic beliefs, values and
assumptions are shaping how we think, feel, and act. The
beliefs, values and assumptions that make up the
economic story aren’t inherently right or wrong; they’re just
a single perspective on the nature of reality. In a
monoculture though, that single perspective becomes so
engrained as the only reasonable reality that we begin to
forget our other stories, and fail to see the monoculture in
its totality, never mind question it. We accept it as true
simply because we’ve heard its story so often and live
immersed in it day after day. The extent to which we accept
that monoculture unquestioningly and live by its tenets is the
extent to which our lives are unconsciously being shaped by
The first assumption most people make when they learn
the monoculture is economic is that the master story is all
about money — how to get it, make more of it, spend it,
grow it, or keep it, whether that looks like consumerism,
commercialism, or materialism. But that’s only true of the
economic monoculture at a surface level. Though the
monoculture naturally embodies issues surrounding money,
the economic story represents a much more nuanced and
insidious tapestry of beliefs and assumptions that fall into
three categories: who you are as a human being, what the
world is like, and how you and that world interact.
In the economic story, human nature takes on a particular
quality. The story has much to say about what you’re like as
a human being — what motivates you, what your goals are,
and how you think. It then tries to understand and predict
your behavior based on that version of your intrinsic nature.
To begin with, in the economic story, you are an
individual. John Donne may have said, “No man is an
island,” but in the economic story you fundamentally exist
apart from others. Though you belong to at least one group
in practice, since you were born into a family, the economic
story doesn’t think of you as a group member with group
obligations and responsibilities. Instead, it thinks of you as
an individual, as someone who is independent of others.
As you’ll see in the following chapters, that ends up having
certain ramifications.
The economic story also says that as a human being,
you’re rational. In economic thought, being rational doesn’t
mean that you’re sensible or that you’re a clear thinker.
Being rational means that when you’re faced with a
decision, you move through a three-stage process to
decide what to do. Assuming you know what your goals
are, you first lay out all the ways you could reach each goal
and identify the costs and benefits of each possibility. Next,
you analyze which option is most efficient — the one that
most directly lets you get the most of what you want while
costing you the least of your resources. Finally, you choose
that most efficient option, because in the economic story,
your best choice is always the most efficient choice. That
means your best choice is never going to be the scenic
route or an option that’s more extravagant than it needs to
In the economic story, you’re someone who is selfinterested, in the most positive sense possible. Being selfinterested is not the same as being selfish. Selfishness
involves focusing on yourself to the exclusion of, or at the
expense of others. Self-interest, on the other hand, is about
doing what you want and working to improve your condition
or your situation. The economic story says that as someone
who is self-interested, every time you make a decision, you
constantly calculate what is and is not to your best
advantage in a particular situation.3
Being cast as someone who is rational and selfinterested might sound relatively harmless, but that way of
thinking has implications because it’s based on the
assumptions that you know what condition you’re in, you
know what your options are, and you know what you want,
but those assumptions don’t necessarily hold. For one, it’s
easy to go wrong in identifying all of your available choices.
The economist Tibor Scitovsky compared being able to
analyze your options in a given situation to being handed a
long menu in a Chinese restaurant. Given all those dishes
to choose from, the economic story says you know what
pleases you most and so you’re going to order what you
really want; from the outside looking in, we then assume
that your behavior is an expression of your preferences. But
Scitovsky says most of us don’t understand ninety percent
of what’s on that menu and so we end up ordering the
same thing we always do, or order something new and
maybe don’t prefer it at all.4 It’s also easy to miss taking
important information into account when you’re making a
decision, and we’re not necessarily all that rational to begin
with — so much so that some economists now argue that
we act irrationally and make wrong decisions
systematically.5 Even so, the economic story says that as a
human being, you’re rational and self-interested.
The story says that you act as you do because you’re
trying to get what you want, and the rest of us can tell what
you want by watching how you act. If you buy a blue shirt, we
assume you must have wanted a blue shirt. If you buy ice
cream, we assume you wanted ice cream. What you want
doesn’t really matter in the economic story; the story
doesn’t have anything to say about the content of your
preferences. If you want to lose weight by starving yourself
or by eating broccoli and walking more, that’s up to you.
You are the sole and final authority on your preferences,
and your behavior is an expression of those preferences.6
Though what you want and prefer can be shaped by
advertising, tradition, a changing context, or your own
experience, the economic story maintains that you know
yourself, you know what you prefer, and you know whether
or not you were satisfied with what you chose the last time.7
That may not always be true, but that’s how the story goes.
In the economic story, you’re to think and act like an
entrepreneur. Jean-Baptiste Say, a French economist
credited with coming up with the term entrepreneur, said
entrepreneurs are people who shift resources from one
place to another to create higher productivity and greater
yield. If you’re an entrepreneur or are acting
entrepreneurially, you are increasing productivity and profits
and adding value wherever you go.8
You’re also someone who can never get enough. Your
wants are unlimited, and you’re motivated to try to satisfy
those unlimited wants even though you’ll never be able to.
Because you can’t get enough of what you really want,
you’re driven by only one thing: the desire for satisfaction.9
(Psychologists tend to believe that your motivations are a
lot more complicated and subtle than that, but that’s another
story.) Since everyone has unlimited wants just like you,
there isn’t enough of anything to go around. Resources, in
other words, are scarce.
And that leads us to what the world is like.
In the economic story, the world is made of markets. 10
Those markets are full of people like you and me who are
buying and selling goods and services. Sometimes you’re
a buyer and sometimes you’re a seller. What happens in
the market depends on whether you’re buying or selling.
If you’re a seller in the world of markets, the economic
story says you’re a small enterprise trying to make a profit.
You might be a merchant at a local farmers market. Along
with all the other merchants, you sell your wares: fresh
vegetables and flowers, sausages and cookies, canned
goods, or handmade crafts. If there’s a run on what you sell,
you can raise your asking price. If no one’s buying, you’ll
have to lower it. The price, in other words, is set by the
forces of supply and demand — not you. As the story goes,
as a seller you’re not powerful enough to influence prices.
The same story holds true for wages: the price for your
work is also set by the forces of supply and demand. If you
don’t think you get paid enough, your boss isn’t to blame —
it’s the market that’s at fault. Your boss doesn’t set your
wages — the market does. If help is hard to find, you’ll be
paid more. If everyone’s looking for a job, you’ll be paid
less. That’s because all things being equal, your boss is
also considered to be rational. That means your boss will
also make the most efficient choice and hire someone
appropriate who costs the least of his or her limited
If you end up suffering in the world of markets because
prices are too high for you to buy, or too low for you to
make a living off of what you sell, there’s nobody to blame
but the market, which after all, isn’t trying to punish you
personally.11 That’s just the way things are. So even though
giant retailers and multinational energy companies and
global technology firms are all big enough and powerful
enough to influence prices and wages, the economic story
says otherwise.
If you’re a buyer in the world of markets, whether you
know it or not, you help to keep the market in check. As you
browse tables as a buyer at the farmers market, merchants
are busy competing with each other for your business.
Because you are rational as a buyer, all things being equal,
you will buy the most efficient alternative — what meets
your needs and uses the least of your resources t …
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