Friday, October 12, 2012

The Coming Evolution of Man

The popular belief is that America and the world in general are more deeply divided than we've ever been.  I don't buy it.  The world has ALWAYS been populated by a wide variety of people.  People in the city have always thought differently than people in the country.  People in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East have always been vastly different.  And yet, I consistently hear people say that we've never been more divided than we are today, that even 10 or 15 years ago, things were vastly different.  They were, but not for the reasons you might think.

The real reason is the Internet.  That may not be the only reason, but it's the biggest one.  Think of it this way.  A hundred years ago, if someone on the other side of the country said something you found distasteful, it probably wouldn't have bothered you in the least.  The reason is that you would never have heard about it.  Unless you lived in their geographical area, or worked together, or traveled to meet, the two of you would likely live in your own little bubbles, content that the world was fine and dandy.  All those people that you may currently think are destroying America with their views (most of could slot someone in that role)?  They wouldn't have bothered you in the least, unless something happened to get into your local paper.

Today, people vent out every stupid silly little thought that crosses their minds into cyberspace.  Twitter accounts from across the world are pooled together in massive feeds and consumed by people they don't even know and probably will never meet in person.  What this means is that suddenly we have billions of neighbors, or at least we feel like we do.  Even people who don't bother to use the Internet are affected.  Since news can travel at light speed  across the world, our helpful news anchors on TV and our eager news reporters are happy to vacuum suck everything that's likely to provoke, enrage, entertain, and most importantly ensnare an audience.

Suddenly there are people who you hear everyday (at least virtually) saying things you haven't heard before! And that goes for everyone.  As a young suburban liberal, I was concerned that a conservative wind was rising to destroy my nation and my ideals.  Everywhere I looked on the Internet or on TV people were saying things I found distasteful, and only after a few years studying American history did I realize that these people have always been there.  But I hadn't been privy to their thoughts, and they hadn't heard mine.  They alarmed me just as much as I probably alarmed them.  I had to come to a realization that these scary thoughts weren't new.  I had just been happily ignorant.

I was now aware of things that I was not.  I had a new-found perspective on the world.  I had evolved.

I believe that we are collectively undergoing one of the most stressful times that humanity has ever undergone.  Not physically stressful, like the years of the plague or the ice age.  But mentally we are under a stress that we have never had to handle.  Modern communication (especially the Internet) is almost certainly a good thing.  It allows us too pool resources and talent across the entire world, and draw on a wider range of experience and insight than has ever been possible.  It is also very scary.

Those angry protesters in the Middle East, burning American flags over depictions of Mohammed are a perfect example.  Before modern communication, many Americans would never have even heard of Mohammed.  Those angry protesters would never have even seen that film, or those cartoons.  But here's the important bit:  How many of the Middle Eastern people that you've seen on TV in the last month have been protesting with flaming effigies or looting embassies?  A fair amount I'd wager.  The truth is that only an incredibly small percentage of people in the Middle East are angry enough to do that.  Most go on about their day.  But we never see them.  Tolerant people peacefully going about their day don't make for exciting news stories.

We need to evolve.  And we need to so by working on many skills that are new to us.  To process all of this new and conflicting stimuli we need to learn to think critically.  We must realize the bias of our sources, and the fact that anything someone tells you could be wrong.  More importantly, we need to stop succumbing to the easy fiction that the end times are near and the other side will soon destroy us all.  They've always been there, and the sooner we all learn to ignore them like we always have, the better off we'll be.

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