Like many people, I’m scratching my head about the state of the world, trying to make sense of the backlash against globalization, liberalism, science and secularism. The emphasis is on “trying”. It is not working. Too many dots to connect, too many contexts to consider, too many systems that are interdependent, too many ideologies and narratives that interfere with accurately assessing reality. Whenever I think I have arrived at some potentially all-comprising explanation, 10 other ideas pop up in my mind, some of them contradicting my previous hypotheses, while others adding additional layers to it, complicating everything.
And so, a lot of only loosely connected, unfinished thoughts are swirling through my head, which I’ll now pen down.
- Hopefully the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel was right with his concept of “Dialectics”. In that case, none of the general progress of the 20th century will be lost even if the world would move backwards a few steps. However, it also means that things can get much more ugly, and that is a very unpleasant outlook.
- I frequently catch myself thinking that the human species can’t be trusted. Under the disguise of intelligence and sophistication, there lies so much simplicity and raw animality. When I witness how easily every human being can be tricked into any kind of ideology or dogma as soon as a skilled persuader emerges who successfully triggers the primal urges and sells a catchy story, I lose my hope. Then I look out of the window, see all the amazing things that humans have built and created, and immediately get more optimistic. I want to keep this optimism, but it is a bit harder than usual.
- It might be naive to see technology as the savior. Especially considering that it is new technology that contributes to, if not causes the disruption and undermining of institutions, values and processes required for maintaining some sort of stability. But if primal instincts are getting so much room (again) to damage the civilized order (which, of course, has itself been built flanked by unbelievable bloodshed), then what else can save us? Brains won’t evolve fast enough, and they obviously have a hard time adjusting to a never-seen before state of billions of people’s minds connected to each other through the Internet. Technology that prevents our brain from uncontrollably going into animal mode except when we really want it to, such as for sex, could be a better solution than just letting history repeat itself over and over again with only slight modifications.
- The previous point sounds like science fiction? Not really. Elon Musk and some others are on it. I recommend this article describing why artificial intelligence is not likely to “replace” humans (even if it now beats us in Poker), but instead will allow for a symbiosis in which machine and human intelligence will combine forces, each bringing their own strengths to the table.
- There is another hope I have: counter-intuitive outcomes. Sometimes, the consequence of an event, development or idea turns out to be the opposite of what has been anticipated. The chain of events does not necessarily follow linear patterns (the law of exponentiality is a main guiding principle of the digital age), and failure to employ systems thinking makes it hard to understand in advance how parts of a bigger systems are connected and how they’ll respond.
- In overall terms, history keeps repeating itself – but not down to every detail, and only until the point when it won’t repeat itself anymore, because the rules of the game have changed too much; because a system has evolved to be extremely resilient and – to say it with Nassim Nicholas Taleb – “antifragile“. That being said, it is unclear to me whether this is more than a theoretical concept; whether such as state can really be achieved. But seeing the incredible progress of the past few centuries, which despite all the misery and suffering that came with it brought a better life for almost every person, still makes me think that there is a chance. It might be tiny, though.
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