The world is a scary place. Good things, bad things, things happen all the time and it seems at a rapidly increasing rate. Life seems to want to confront us with big complex problems for which nobody seems to have solutions. No more than ever we feel we’re not in control, losing control, over our own lives and our grip on what’s happening around us, with us, and to us.
In the good old times we could rely on religion. But those statues have been toppled and smashed to pieces. Then we relied on science. But science has proven that it cannot prove everything and look in at the mess we’re in thanks to all that science and technology with all that wonderful progress it has enabled and the economic prosperity we’ve given (some of) us.
As with religion, science proved to be not absolute, objective, and eternal, and not all the answers were correct and helpful to us. Science is not perfect either, never has been, not omniscient and not omnipotent. Scientific studies and data are conducted and generated by people, respectively, which makes the foundations of science a human construct with outputs that sometimes are of such questionable quality and veracity that these data and conclusions, at least, should be ignored and discarded in the nearest bin or shredder. So, science is rapidly losing its foothold on the pedestal of public trust.
So, what’s left? It seems that in this post-modern world the only truth left standing is that nobody knows and that anything goes, which kind of means that nothing goes, because of the inevitable contradiction and uncertainty leading to more conflict and confusion.
The authorities and experts, in lock-step when it suits them, try their hardest to provide some guidance away from the chasm of chaos that’s looming large in our individual and collective minds. But authorities don’t have all the answers either and cannot and should not be trusted – the cycle is almost complete.
We used to think that the grass is always greener at the other side of the hill. Nowadays, we know that the bushfire on the other side of the hill is worse and more ravaging and devastating than where we are. So, we stay on this side and warn, laugh, and yell at the few fools who want to have a peek over the top and to the other side.
It is crystal clear that nobody has the answers to complex issue of our time and of our generation. The economy founded on capitalism and over-inflated by neo-liberalism, inequality & poverty, climate change, pandemics, et cetera. It all blows our minds, literally. So, what can we do to regain some sense of control and normality? We look for answers, we look for support, we look at others.
There’s nothing more comforting than finding others who feel the same. It gives us the much-needed support that we need and crave. Kinship and belonging have always been essential to our survival as a species and the sense of safety and wellbeing is much more than just a feeling, it’s more than a placebo effect, it’s a real effect with an impact on our physical and mental status as individual members of the species collective.
Social isolation and disconnection from the collective, whether real or perceived, it doesn’t really matter, has profound negative effects, as we know from some of the more excessive examples in human history. However, those insidious effects are much more common than we care to admit and may play a more important role in the mental health pandemic that seems to plague the Western world, mostly still. The antidote is social cohesion and individual compassion (which is much more than, but does include, kindness).
In this atomised, fractured and fragmented world we feel like lost souls without purpose, without deeper meaning in and of life, and in many ways we are lost souls. We know that genuine understanding, in the deeper meaning of the word, is out of the question and beyond our reach. Even AI will take forever to figure it out. Thus, we do what has always worked for us, seemingly, we go for what feels good or right. The brain doesn’t know the difference anyway, the stupid little glob of grey matter inside our thick skulls. Hearing things that align with our pre-existing prejudices and that confirm our biases feels good. Likeminded people who agree with us make us feel good, about ourselves and about life in general. We regain a sense of control and feel we might actually have a grip on life after all, or again. This feeling is vital for our wellbeing, it is existential at a personal level. It shapes and re-shapes not just our views of and on life and the world, at the same time it moulds us and our identity.
Now we know again who we are and where we’re going, we embrace this (new) identity like a lover or a baby (whichever you prefer, irrespective of your sex/gender, of course). Thus, we are proud to tell the rest of the world about who we are and about our answers, certainty, and control. We don our mantles, our badges and patches, and make ourselves known to the world as proud members of such and so tribe, kin group, or cult. And nobody is going to take away this from us and threaten our small little world of newfound meaning, understanding, belonging, and love.
But is there still a place for authorities and science? Should we just ignore that imperfect data & science and sub-optimal governance & state are still preferred over anything goes, an entirely subjective world based on feels, emotions, and reckons? Because science is too complex – even Einstein rejected quantum mechanics – and because politicians are humans like us and cannot be trusted? Should we give up on striving for better answers, better solutions, better future arguing that this is as good as it gets (aka TINA)?
Curiosity has been one the main drivers of human evolution and development. Paradoxically, fear of the unknown is one of the main brakes on human progress.
Is it truthiness or ignorance to not even want to peek over the top of the hill to see what might be on the other side? You’ll be the poor judge of that.