Monday, September 11, 2017

Humanity's Level Two: Unlocked?

When some people speak, they simply say what they have to say in whatever manner they happen to say it. They blurt. Others consider the listener and adjust themselves accordingly. There's a significant difference between the two, both in intention and in effect.

The second is difficult. It requires several concurrent mental processes. First, you need to hear yourself as you speak, which is mentally taxing. Second, you need to be able to shift to the other person's perspective - a very specialized (and likely unexplainable) feat of reframing. And, third, you need to factor the input (from your self-monitoring) into your output (your speech). And you must do all of this simultaneously as you speak. Speech and language alone are difficult - we're the only species that can do it with any complexity. But these additional processes require a whole greater level of sophistication.

Extra processes require greater horsepower. But I believe it's like supplemental battery range on a Tesla - the capability is built into the hardware, but must be unlocked. The price, in this case, is simply wanting to. Empathy is the trigger.

There are countless instances where humans may choose to apply an extra level of thoughtfulness...or else to take the easy way out by doing what comes naturally, without the reflective add-on. Viral forces affect this choice. In other words: it's contagious.

People under 50 may not realize that, during the Vietnam War, our armed forces were disrespected by civilians. Why? Because many of us didn't approve of the Vietnam war. It made fuzzy sense:

I don't approve of war.
Soldiers are part of war.
I don't approve of soldiers.

As a ten year old, I remember jeering at people passing by in uniform. I wasn't thinking deeply. It just seemed like the thing to do, man. Peace 'n love and all.

Similarly fuzzy reasoning makes some Americans hate Muslims:

Muslims drove planes into buildings and killed Americans.
Fuck Muslims.

It's the sort of lazy conclusion a human mind whips up when it's not trying hard. If you imagine you don't harbor a multitude of similarly lazy conclusions strewn around your brain like sugary sprinkles, you're fooling yourself.

But something's happening. To be sure, gargantuan stupidity is still on display every nanosecond. However, an additional layer of mental sophistication has arisen and spread. Even the most ardent anti-war protesters nowadays are (properly) grateful and appreciative of servicemen. And a large number of people decline to hate a billion Muslims just because a few thousand of them are terrorists. In fact, many of us must work hard to even relate to the other perspective. Maybe a corner has been turned.

I think Stephen Pinker's right. The marvel isn't how many yahoos are caught up in nonsense like anti-Muslim bigotry. It's how few. Very many people are opting out of lazy knee jerk reactions, and that's new. It's unprecedented, really, in human history. I frequently despair at our failure to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism. But maybe my dismay stems from heightened sensitivity to a shrinking problem.

Are we becoming more intelligent? Nah. Human faculties don't improve in fast gulps.

Are we becoming more high-minded? I hope not. That would be nothing more than a social trend, and those are cyclical (some believe Trumpism reflects a cycle's downturn, but the smart money suggests it represents the un-self-aware assholes' last hurrah).

I believe it's something more fundamental than a passing social trend or anything lofty. Mind frame and perspective have dilated a notch. A critical mass has opted to unlock an extra iota of innate cognitive horsepower, allowing them to think in a slightly more nuanced way....because they want to. The driver is a mere speck of empathy, but the end result is an abundance of it.

And I'd argue that Trumpism is the inevitable counteraction, fated to be seen, in hindsight, as laughably feeble.

It's a first step; humanity weening off diapers rather than achieving real maturity. And the public will continue, as always, to be morally ahead of its leaders and trendsetters.

So if it's getting better, why does it all feel so awful?

We don't thrill to the emerging light as readily as we sensitize to the remaining darkness, so it paradoxically hurts more as things improve. Again: heightened sensitivity to a shrinking problem. A Trump would have pained us far less in 1920, and I remember a time when a mere few dozen Nazi morons in Charlottsville would have seemed pathetic rather than shocking. By 2040, Marx Brothers films and Road Runner cartoons will be seen as brutal, unfunny relics of a barbaric world. Really, I'm not entirely sure I like where this is going.

No comments:

Blog Archive