I read Wayne Falda’s June 21 moorandmore.net commentary about “The End of the World as We Know It” (A hat tip to the rock group R.E.M.! If you don’t know the song, look it up and listen.) Then I read his column again. Not because its doomsday predictions were so uplifting, but more because I didn’t know the meaning of about every tenth word. Two months later, on August 29, Dick Sullivan wrote a column titled “Enough Hatred. Please!” I sensed a theme, one that I think about daily.
I don’t want to turn mooranmore.net into a doomsday forum, but I’d like to counter Mr. Falda’s essay with a response that doesn’t require dummies like me to grab a dictionary. Mr. Sullivan’s plea was more on my level, but I thought I’d distill the two posts into six categories.
I agree that humans as a species on Earth appear to be in a downward spiral, mostly because of problems of their own making. Global overpopulation is problem numero uno. But I think the coming decline and possible end of humanity is less due to the impending climate disaster and the rapid immigration it will undoubtedly unleash, and more due to our hubris, lack of empathy, a penchant for lifting up autocrats as leaders, greed, the rise of social media, and self-centeredness. As it says in the Bible, we’re a stiff-necked species.
I’ll take those causes in order.
Have you been reading a lot about the rise of Artificial Intelligence (A. I.) recently? I think the New York Times has at least three articles about it every day. Maybe the stories are being written by A. I. Of course the hubris is that technology will solve all of the world’s problems for us. We were told that computers hooked to the Internet would shrink our world and make us into one well-informed, happy, peaceful planet. Instead, folks like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, and our 45th president, among many others, used technological advances to acquire massive profits, to amplify lies, sow discord, and in at least one recent instance, organize an insurrection.
And now comes the ultimate threat: A. I., the very technology that was to be our savior, has taken on a life of its own and is coming for our jobs and to control every aspect of our lives. “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the writings of Ted Kaczynski aka “The Unabomber” (who died recently and, to be clear, was a murderer and maimer) were onto something.
LACK OF EMPATHY
Across our globe, people are suffering from wars, drought, floods, forest fires, economic hardship, human trafficking, unemployment, racism, dictatorship, addiction, homelessness, mental illness, and a lack of access to adequate health care. If you are a news junkie like I am, these problems can seem overwhelming and intractable. No matter how much money we as individuals donate or how we volunteer our time, we will not solve any of these big problems through individual action.
That doesn’t stop many people of good will from trying. But there are a lot of people who through inheritances, where they were born, who they were born to, and/or lucky breaks in life, who have little or no empathy for people who didn’t have those advantages and who struggle daily. It’s not a good look for the rich, and worse yet, not a recipe for a thriving world.
Many of the world’s great faiths emphasize mercy. Unfortunately, mainstream religious denominations in the United States are losing members and some are bogged down in divisions over homosexuality (the Methodists) and women’s place in the church leadership (Southern Baptist Convention). Again, not a good look for those who are supposed to love their enemies and be merciful to them.
Our world has always had dictators and autocrats. Currently the people of Russia, Poland, Venezuela, Turkey, India, China, and Afghanistan are among those who are ruled by authoritarians. To be fair, people in many countries do not have the ability to vote in free and fair elections. But even people who do live in democracies like in the United States (at least for the time being) who are “fearful about the future – socially, economically, and environmentally – regress into a dependency position looking for someone to guide them.
Thus, not surprisingly, they are drawn to “miracle workers” who offer quick fixes.” (https://knowledge.insead.edu/leadership-organisations/why-world-attracted-neo-authoritarian-leaders). So many people in the United States are still in thrall with our previous president who has most of the characteristics of an autocrat. According to Number 45, only he can protect “his people” and fix their problems. Oh, and he “will be their retribution.” I find the possibility that he might again ascend to the presidency scarier than A. I.
The concentration of obscene wealth in our world is unsustainable. We have billionaires taking expeditions to space and to the Titanic wreckage for giggles. In 2022, CEOs in the United States made 399 times more than a typical worker (https://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-in-2021/). Ordinary people struggle to make ends meet because their jobs have been moved to other places, by the dismantling of worker unions, because they can’t find work for a living wage, they live in places without Internet access, they have family members who need care, or a myriad of other very real complications. Yet millions of people look up to the ultra-wealthy as people to admire.
Most wealthy people didn’t get where they are without stepping on a lot of “little people.” We should save our adoration for “the helpers” as Mr. Rogers called them. They are the people who may save us from ourselves. Jeff Bezos will likely be out of here on his rocket ship when Earth’s troubles get overwhelming.
People are addicted to their phones and, by extension, their social media accounts. Even though it is against the law in many places, people continue to scroll and type on their devices while driving a car or waiting at red lights. And most of what they are reading and posting is drivel. It could wait. Who hasn’t been in a restaurant and seen people sitting at the same table staring at their phones instead of talking with each other? Almost every time I go grocery shopping, I see people sitting in their cars with the engines running, staring at their phones. All this navel gazing is a distraction from tackling real-world problems, and from experiencing real life and human connections.
Social media platforms are designed to “addict by conflict” for the purpose of selling advertising. While it’s great to keep track of family and friends on the Internet, I suggest humans have become more antisocial as a result of social media. For a cohort that came up with FOMO, they sure do miss out on a lot of what is happening all around them. We’ll all be staring at our phones while the autocrats take over.
All that time spent in our social media bubbles has made us self-centered instead of more aware of the plight of millions around the globe. I see the flags and license plates with “Don’t tread on me” emblazoned on them. The translation is “You can’t make me.” That attitude reveals itself in daily behavior of rudeness and actions that never would have been common in a civilized society. Outbursts in public go viral, and the beat goes on.
I understand people are frustrated. There are many good reasons to be angry. Lashing out at each other is not the answer. But the hard work of making our world better involves empathy. Our self-centeredness makes us default to rude and judgmental behavior. It’s like a drug. Short-term, we feel better about lashing out. And then it becomes a habit. Then it becomes our go-to.
Well, there you have it: Your daily pick-me-up. Are we doomed yet?