Why Burning Our Own Nest Isn’t Smart

No, this isn’t about global climate change

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Image credit: fxguide.com

There’s a Russian saying “У каждого свои кукушки,” which translates as everyone has their own cuckoos.

It’s a charming way of acknowledging the fact that each and every one of us is just a little peculiar in our own way. And sometimes not just a little.

Aside from Media and checking my Facebook account once a week or so, I don’t really get involved with social media. I prefer to talk to people through my phone than to text them, and I’m not tremendously interested in having a ton of apps on my phone that could interrupt me regularly with alerts. Most of my communication is face-to-face or at worst via a Skype video call.

But from what I learn about these apps (InstaSnapApp or something) they seem to be driving people further and further from any semblance of reality. There are people who earn a living rushing from one photo op to another in order to create an online illusion of an Absolutely Fabulous life while in reality being so jet-lagged and deprived of real human contact that they are nothing more than human-shaped hamsters frantically running on a virtual wheel that takes them nowhere.

Teenagers, meanwhile, derive utterly fallacious impressions of reality peddled by people whose primary source of income comes from being shills for the products of large corporations. To Consume Is To Live.

I’d like to think that these are passing trends and that most people will gradually begin to filter out spurious inputs and find ways to re-establish real human connections with one another.

Unfortunately I can’t see my way to such optimism as the pace of technological innovation seems guaranteed to carry us further and further down the road to increasing isolation. Virtual Reality and Sensory Augmentation seem certain to entice many into imaginary worlds in which desires can be satisfied instantly, tailored to the cuckoos of each individual in a way that no real interaction could compete with.

What will that mean for us as a social species? We’re increasingly funneled into buckets within which we interact mostly with people just like ourselves. While that’s often not a bad thing (it’s impossible, for example, to imagine social progress being achieved if one had to bring along every single member of the group) it does have risks and we seem to have little conception of how to arrange our affairs more adequately. Indeed, we’re descending rapidly into another Age of Morons in which lowest-common-denominator desires are satisfied at the cost of social stability and viability.

Because pandering to ignorant fears and bogus solutions is not “democracy” but merely stupidity writ large.

What does the average US citizen understand about anything at all? Ask 10,000 US voters to explain where Donetsk is and why it matters and you’ll likely get 10,000 blank stares. After all, only one-third of 22,000 US citizens polled recently by IPSOS/MORI could name either of the two oceans that flank the USA on either side. Only half could name the current Vice President.

This is ignorance beyond belief. I’ve spoken to babushki in remote Ukrainian villages whose global knowledge and current-affairs awareness is thousands of times greater than even urban middle-class American citizens. And I’m not exaggerating in the slightest.

Today most intellectual isolation is seen on the right, which is not surprising as the Republican Party has since the Nixon campaign of 1968 explicitly targeted the intellectually less adequate; under Reagan this targeting was increased and improved and it has generated a highly reliable bloc of voters who, lacking intellectual capacity to rethink their allegiance, will always and forever vote for whomsoever has an R next to their name on the ballot.

But while the GoP is officially the Party of Stupid, the left is never far behind. In an age of increasing populism, intelligence and knowledge are powerless in the face of atavistic chanting and the perpetual threat of violence. As informed and thoughtful people are always in a minority they are easily swept aside as huge numbers embrace the thrill of belonging to a powerful and assertive group. Chanting is so much easier than thinking.

We know where this always leads, without exception. But we seem doomed always to go there blindly and then be surprised by the results. We humans really do learn absolutely nothing whatsoever from the lessons of history, so we keep repeating variations on a theme and hundreds of millions of lives are blighted.

Even when people imagine they’re safely insulated inside their perfectly-tailored virtual worlds.

Yes, we all have our own cuckoos. But being human means reaching out to each other and finding common purpose. It means working to ensure our personal cuckoos don’t preclude positive interactions and constructive behavior.

It means trying to build rather than taking delight in tearing down.

It means heading in a very different direction from the one we’re pursuing blindly today.

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