It can seem in life that we’re always looking for someone to turn to, to defer to as the more informed expert in whatever it is we’re grappling with. In many ways it’s as if we’ve unhooked society from all that once defined, constrained or regulated it and now we’re just doing as we see fit. Which I guess is the freedom of the Western world? Freedom to do as we please.
And it’s interesting in the sense that then we arguably need to be extremely well-informed about the complex nature of all the systems we’ve set in place (see Notes One). If we, as individuals, are to be able to correctly judge the right course of action in any given field then we really need to know how it all fits together and where potential problems might arise. Ploughing ahead blindly doesn’t seem the wisest option.
But then we end up in a situation where we need to maintain a great deal of knowledge, including monitoring the constant debates and re-evaluations of that collective body of understanding. All while society itself is proceeding at this astonishing pace, facilitated and driven by technology. This never-ending flow of opinions, trends, novelties, decisions, events, and so forth.
Maybe that’s simply the cost of freedom? That we’re responsible for all our decisions. But as Huxley disconcertingly observed in “Brave New World Revisited”, echoing the words of Dostoevsky, “in the end they will lay their freedom at our feet” – effectively wishing to relinquish that burden.
In many ways, Western society is built on this notion of individual freedom and responsibility. Within the marketplaces of society, culture, technology, lifestyle, or economy it’s generally down to us to understand enough to make the best decisions. Decisions for ourselves, of course, but also ones that reshape the global realities surrounding us.
Within that, the incredible significance of education, information, media, journalism and general awareness stands out in fairly stark contrast to the novelty, carelessness, and calculation that’s going on in those fields (Notes Two). While industries stretch the definition of what’s worthwhile and essential to human existence, we seem to be pulling at some fairly indispensable threads in terms of social cohesion.
Of course, many of these institutions are struggling to redefine their position within society and adapt to new realities. Beneath the many attempts to capitalise on opportunities and capture markets, I do believe there are many genuine people concerned about the place these essential functions need to maintain for a healthy society.
While that’s playing itself out, where do we stand? Clearly society as much as its individuals face considerable risks as our infrastructures respond to the challenges of technology. Clearly many parties, for whatever reason, are intent on distracting or influencing us for other ends. Clearly finding reliable information and being sure of what we’re doing isn’t as easy as we might’ve thought.
Who to trust within it all, where to place our hope for the future, is something we each answer for ourselves.
Notes and References:
“Brave New World Revisited” by Aldous Huxley, (Random House, London), 2004 (originally 1958).
Note 1: Power in what we believe
Note 1: Need to stand alone & think for ourselves
Note 1: Concerns over how we’re living
Note 2: Desensitised to all we’re told?
Note 2: Why listen to media that exists to profit?
Note 2: Technology & the lack of constraint
Note 2: Able to see what matters?
For a more beautiful take on a similar theme, Emerson’s views were explored within The idea of self reliance.