Where are we headed? It’s a question I’ve asked a few times here lately (see Notes One), and it seems to apply across many different settings and scenarios within modern life. Can we grasp the bigger picture of the past into the present, and – if we can – does if offer a clear sense of what to do for the best?
To me, it’s an intriguing question: if we could fully understand reality, would the path become clear? Because when we talk about change, more often than not there’s this sense of social or financial coercion or punishment being needed in order to motivate us; the carrot and the stick. But is that true, or does it underestimate our capacity to grasp what’s required and freely act accordingly?
Human motivation is interesting, as clearly we do often tend to act for our own advantage then justify the social or environmental impacts somehow. That certainly seems an element of our psychology. But then do we do that because we don’t care enough about those other things, or because we live in a system of scarcity? It seems we feel that our worth and our survival are threatened, so we must take what we can.
The ideas we hold around society and the sense of meaning that sustains it are surely very influential in terms of how we act (Notes Two), which in turn gives form to the lives we lead together. We might receive those ideas in strange ways – woven through technologies we use, hidden within the assumptions and characterisations of stories we absorb, lying unchallenged within conversations and relationships – but they are there.
Which makes me wonder if there is a fundamental human philosophy out there, resting tantalisingly close behind the fragmented and often contorted nature of reality. Whether there are common values and a completely fair way of working through things and structuring how we live in order to exist more harmoniously. That’s clearly idealistic though, as well as elusive.
So, in writing this under the theme of Web, I’m looking instead at how values serve us there: the ways technology highlights qualities such as empathy, tolerance, privacy, restraint, and responsibility; the picture that’s painting of humanity (Notes Three). This seems both a reasonable and pragmatic starting point for considering the importance and universality of how we are.
Modern life seems to be taking place as much through the veil of the internet as through its hidden impacts on the ‘real world’, and that’s an undeniable challenge: how to bring values to bear within the echo chamber of technology. It surely requires even greater strength to be clear on what we’re doing and resist the easier paths and justifications being offered; to fully understand and picture the implications we may never see.
Which comes back to motivation: are we led by what’s offered, by knowledge of the consequences, or by our understanding? The basic human question of ‘how to act’ surely hasn’t yet been solved, it’s only found new forms.
Notes and References:
Note 1: How do we find a collective vision?
Note 1: Communicating divergent experiences
Note 1: Where’s the right place to talk?
Note 2: Culture, art & human activity
Note 2: Education with the future in mind
Note 2: People, rules & social cohesion
Note 3: Individual responsibility, collective standards
Note 3: The human spirit
In many ways, Intrinsic worth over social identity runs alongside this with thoughts on the value of human life.