Friday, February 6, 2015

Where's the humanity?

The modern world has 'advanced' in many ways since we lived in villages, surviving by dividing up the tasks of finding food, making shelter and protecting our families and friends.

Technology has changed the nature of most of our activities and economics have created opportunities, diversification and choice; but as a side-effect funnelling almost everything we do into dollar terms and the inevitable race to get more - both at a community and individual level.

The effects of all this are many and varied, but in aggregate it's pretty clear that we are losing certain long-established norms in how we behave in society - specifically, how we relate to each other.

People have many levels of connection, from completely informal encounters (literally perhaps walking past someone on the street), to our most intimate and most significant interpersonal relationships.  Clearly the individual impact of each connection varies, but they are also cumulative.  The impact of many similar limited interactions on Facebook may be more that a single chat in a queue at a coffee shop.  Moreover, some of the choices we make in communication are more likely to be impactful in the way they persist, or echo, in communities (our places or work, or our online presence).

In many ways, we have never been so connected to other humanity, but commensurately we seem to never have lived in such a dissatisfied society.  People get irritated and angry with others whether driving or waiting in line.  People post inflammatory, derogatory and obscene remarks online.  People are driven ever harder to work for their living, dealing with pressure, stress, long commutes and round-the-clock responsibilities.  In all of this, it seems, we are increasingly losing our ability to have empathy and treat those around us with humanity.

Perhaps we'd all like a "kinder, gentler" society, but are we prepared to pay for it in terms of time, and a different model of values that isn't focused on productivity?  In any case, is it even possible to feel exponential growth (of population, of consumption, of production, of GDP) much longer before the whole edifice collapses when such growth expectations are suddenly arrested by physical limitations?  Shouldn't we be rebalancing our societies now, to adjust for the practical limits of the ecology (at least) to continue supporting such growth?

Are we doomed to live ever closer physically but ever further apart in the way we interact?  Is this solely a problem of scale and our limited ability to process connections?  Is this a problem with the way in which society motivates and drives us through our lives?  Are we actively trained to behave this way?  Should a measure of one's control over dollars be the sole value in society?  Are we losing culture and richness in our lives by not pursuing grander ideas and continued education in human affairs, but rather being desensitized to all but our individual quests for health, wealth and happiness?

This blog will attempt to survey this problem a little and ask "Is there an alternative?".  

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