I hope you remember why you wrote this, many years from now. And, hopefully it helped you make sense of the moment and continue a trajectory of hope.
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“For a long time, I’ve felt that something was changing. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was or exactly how it played out, but it was something. It was something deeply human, that every human being fundamentally understands. A key part of our nature.
At the same time, it felt like this thing I couldn’t yet name, was something we took for granted. Not consciously in most cases, but still on some profound level, it seemed like modesty, respect and gratitude towards some of our basic human instincts and values got lost.
This summer it hit hard. A global pandemic affecting every human being on this planet, in some difficult way. Lockdown, unemployment, economic drought, fear and uncertainty. On top of that, by the end of May the world was faced with the horrible death of Georg Floyd in Minneapolis. This sparked huge protests and riots world wide (still ongoing in some places in the US), resembling the civil rights movements of the late 60’s.
All of these things combined have raised so many questions. So many questions that we thought we had the answer too, but as it turns out, we don’t. And what do we do when what we thought we knew about the world, the people we share this planet with, ourselves – turns out to be not what we expected? We are confronted with a question which we thought was straightforward; what kind of world do we want to live in?
This summer I figured out what this unsettling feeling of change actually was. And it really scares me. Because I can’t see a functioning world without it.
Many things have contributed to the loss of a real conversation. Mainstream media and social media being a huge part of it, cause technology shapes the way we interact with each other.
Heather Shane Blakeslee in Root Quarterly Magazine said it bluntly;
“All of us are addicted to the glowing rectangles of various sizes crawling with spiders and bots, algorithms sucking us derived information. The feedback loop of ads and curated content is meant to move us in this direction or that, a little bit more to the right, a little to the left, a little more lonely and deeper in debt. Its social media’s job is to numb us and addict us, exploit our worst instincts in most base biology, rather than give us anything that might heal us, unite us with facts and strengthen our ability to reason and live peacefully with one another.”
What I think is fascinating, I don’t know if that is the right word but still, the fact that it seems like most people know this. We know that mainstream media is polarizing, that social media is addicting, we know we’ve been trained, we know that algorithms give us partisan information that rubs us the right way and gives us the option to dismiss anything that we don’t care for. We’ve been deluded by our worst instincts in base biology.
In my mind, it’s something that doesn’t add up though. The above are well-known facts about the technological innovations today, but we also know that we interact with far more people today than we did just 30 years ago. In 1960 researchers found that each person in the world is connected to every other person in the world by no more than six social connections. A recent study from 2016, shows that by connecting everyone through the internet, we actually have made the world “smaller”. The study analyzed 721 million people and their connections, and found that on average two people in the world are separated by 3,57 people.
So, this alone suggests that we face far more interactions today than we did just a few decades ago. And by facing so much more interactions, the risk of interacting with someone that holds a different opinion/belief/value system than ours, are way higher. By the same token, our tolerance for different belief systems and lifestyles should increases the more interactions we have, even though the interactions are not personal. Example; when you’ve seen 100 different people embracing the fact that the earth is flat, your disbelief around them as valuable human beings, start to decline even if you’re consciously aware of it or not. It’s like yesterday’s news.
But, if you’ve taken a look at civilization at the moment, this is not the case. It gets clearer by the second that our human trap has reached a peak. Our minds fail at interpreting what is objectively true about the world around us. This is due to many things like cognitive biases, heuristics, false memories, and the ways that our neurological machinery is terribly limited. Exactly why the technological exploitation is so easy.
As Mark Manson said it;
“The paradox of the internet has always been that the thing that’s connecting all of us also seems to be driving us apart. This cognitive blip in our evolutionary machinery could explain why hundreds of millions of people can be given the same information and instead of uniting us under exposure to universal knowledge, it only gives us more opportunities to perceive divisions.”
My analysis is not perfect, it’s many factors I don’t recognize in this letter, like the fact that behind computers and smartphones we interact differently than we do face to face. But I think the point still stands, shouldn’t we be more open to conversations with different people today? We must have learned something from the technological innovation, otherwise it would not be possible to experience this kind of progression world wide, just in the last 50 years. Things that never saw daylight in the 90’s are now being broadcasted viral before you manage to Google what mental health really entails.
So, why the loss of real conversations? Why do we seem unable to encounter and embrace a real conversation, which is not about a win or lose? Why does it seem like agreeing with each other, just for the sake of agreement, are mandatory for the manifestation of progress? Why do we need to hold the exact same beliefs about the world, may that be economical, political or religious, to move forward and aspire for a better world for everyone? What happened to a simple fact like;
Thank God we’re not all similar – how boring would that be!
I’ve read and heard some honorable and sensible people discuss the fact that the whole point is to keep us divided. That there is a huge benefit in exploiting our worst instincts in base biology. And I think it’s something to that. But it’s not as simple as the kind of mainstream phrase; “it’s the government or the classic; capitalism”. The many marxists philosophies throughout the 20th century have failed, so following the Rousseauians in tearing down every system that’s not perfect, just makes it plenty worse . Utopia is a horrible idea, maybe the most horrible idea.
A wise man I deeply respect for his opinions said it like this;
“We don’t want to be utopians, because every time you engage in utopianism and set it in motion, you’re virtually guaranteed to create dystopia. The way to avoid this is not to imagine that you know the answer; it’s to define what objective you want to reach and navigate towards it. It’s also crucial to understand game theory, so you can harness the power of evolution to build a functional system, rather than build a system and then suffer the consequences of evolution that you didn’t anticipate.”
As the powerful tools of the modern, technological world continues to create a perfect breeding ground for further division, more divided media and entrenched ideology, it’s our job to resist and withstand it from taking our better angels.
We have to try to shift the focus away from division and pursue unity where it’s possible. Unity does not mean equal group identity aka race, gender or sexual orientation. Unity entails recognizing that our universal values trumps the basics of tribalism. With the latter we’ll all end up an army of walking dead shuffling around us with no spiritual tether, stripped from hope and humanity.
After all, we are all humans. What unites us is our basic needs and wants; love, compassion, meaning and truth. It’s not just platitude to say that we’re in this together, it’s actually evolution.”
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