Now we’re told so much, all the time, it seems likely we exist somewhere between being overwhelmed by or desensitised to it all. The idea of being able to correctly interpret, weigh up, and respond to everything we’re seeing and hearing seems almost impossible in a way.
Human attention – where it’s focussed, how much we have, and whether there’s any to spare – is presumably a finite resource; a limited and valuable commodity within personal life, business, and social or cultural conversations. And, if we don’t have unlimited capacity, then filling that up with pointless, unsettling things could be seen as a little troubling.
The risks of that may become most apparent when we look to the needs of citizenship: those areas of life where we’re called upon to understand things, see what’s happening, and contribute to our common direction. The ability to read and respond to reality must largely depend on holding a balanced perspective of all that’s going on and what matters most within it (see Notes One).
Which, stepping away from the weighty responsibilities of democracy, highlights the need for a thorough understanding of all life throws at us through its various channels. So much in life is truly important, and we often only get one chance to do the right thing; yet all those choices add up into patterns of behaviour that become a thing in themselves: social or economic forces with their own momentum and expectations (Note Two).
Within all that, the question of how we’re using our minds seems an obvious yet possibly overlooked one (Notes Three). Do we just ‘switch on’ the channel that is the human mind – the transmitter, receiver, flashlight, or some other metaphor – and attempt to process all that crosses its path? Is everything to be given the same weight, the same consideration, or can there be some filtering process of active discernment?
I would’ve thought there’s a risk we’d burn out, either in the processing or filtering stages: that we’d stop listening, resign ourselves to the meaninglessness or indecipherability of many messages and our seeming incapacity to even make a difference once we’d managed to reach some degree of certainty (Note Four).
In that light, what are we doing? Why is the ‘modern environment’ so full of relatively unimportant messages that seek to distract, coerce and redirect the human mind? And does it matter if we’re simply letting our thoughts be absorbed and caught up in some quite frivolous, unproductive and unintelligent ways of relating to reality? Given we ‘know’ that stakes are high, it’s a bit mysterious to me.
If, picking up the words of Huxley, “only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures”, then where does this leave us? Socially speaking, can we afford to buy into ways of communicating about life that risk undermining our capacity to form a reasoned, comprehensive sense of where we might be headed?
Notes and References:
“Brave New World Revisited” by Aldous Huxley, (Random House, London), 2004 (originally 1958).
Note 1: “Brave New World Revisited”
Note 1: Media within democratic society
Note 2: What if it all means something?
Note 3: What are we thinking?
Note 3: David Bohm, thoughts on life
Note 4: Right to question and decide
Building on the idea of how we might respond to life, there’s Responsibility in shaping this reality.