memesThe wide circulation of bad ideas is a serious problem, and the uncritical acceptance of bad ideas makes this problem far worse. In the essay that follows, I describe this problem in greater detail, and propose a solution.
- Bad memes
- Information without wisdom
- Focused on trivia, we have neglected the truly important
- Unproductive contention
- A different and much better way
- Innovation and competition
- Judgments about judgment
- Questions for you
- Where can we gather for discussion that isn't an alienated online environment?
- Recommended personal steps
1. Bad Memes Humanity is now seriously infected by bad memes,* replicating in terrible profusion in our minds. Most of us are also complicit in passing these bad memes on to others. The crappy memes are winning. Are you going to let them win?
2. Information without wisdom The amount of information is growing exponentially, but the human mind is shrinking proportionally. Hierarchy: data > information > knowledge > wisdom We're stuck at level two—information—and have lost relationship with knowledge and wisdom. Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Technology in itself is neither knowledge nor wisdom. But technology is now mistaken for wisdom, or has shunted the very concept of wisdom aside, now rarely even referred to: Google Ngram Viewer on "wisdom"
3. Focused on trivia, we have neglected the truly important Stuck as we are at the level only of information, many of us now rarely distinguish between important information and vapid trivia. We may actually be losing the ability to distinguish between the deeply important and the utterly trivial.
4. Unproductive contention We are stuck in unproductive contention, on an increasing number of subjects. This needless contention saps our attention and energy, making it much more difficult to concentrate on matters of fundamental importance, and much more difficult to make progress.
5. A different and much better way Yet there are questions whose fundamental nature invites exploration rather than contention, sharing rather than partisanship, and rapport rather than alienation. Example of the difference: Type I: Is the tea party racist? [Contentious, narrow, generating no illumination but plenty of alienation.] Type II: What does it mean to be a complete person? [Expansive, invites exploration, sharing, rapport.] I advocate addressing questions of the second type. I advocate concentration on questions of fundamental importance that invite exploration, sharing, rapport, deeper knowledge of each other, and the active development of higher values, both individually and collectively.
6. Innovation & competition Yes, all of this is related to the competitive advantages of innovation. You can't have innovation without challenge, change, disruption. This is commonly understood, and indeed innovation itself has now become an object of unthinking worship. But what about meaning, what about fundamental importance? Is all innovation inherently meaningful? No. Therefore I advocate innovation specifically on the basis of deeper meaning, by encouraging concentration on universal questions of fundamental importance.
7. Judgments about judgment But who are you to make judgments about what other people concentrate on? Each of us is only one person, but all of us make judgments many times per day, and in fact our physical survival every day depends intimately on our making judgments. I am only encouraging people to develop their own judgment further. Yet developing your own judgment relies fundamentally on the process of questioning your own judgment, and questioning the basis and quality of your own judgment. The only way to develop your own judgment is to question it, revise it, improve it, tear it down and build it better.
8. Questions for you Do you truly respect what people are giving their attention to these days? Do you truly see no room for improvement in what we habitually pay attention to? How is humanity doing? What the hell is wrong with us?
9. Where can we gather for discussion that isn't an alienated online environment? At different times in history there were specific places people would gather for discussion, not to hear prominent speakers, but for discussion among themselves: the agora, salons, cafes, parlors of individual homes. In the '60's there were coffee houses and "happenings" that provided places for discussion. These physical environments have mostly disappeared, replaced by online "discussions" that are fundamentally flawed in two ways: 1) Interaction takes place through only one sense—sight, and even then only of text—without any of the natural bodily interactions of facial expression, the gaze, body language, tone, timing, blushing, scent, muscle tension, touch. 2) Nearly all of the people "interacting" in this terribly artificial way don't even know each other. These factors combine to produce a grotesque lack of genuine personal connection. Even as we sink in a quicksand of trivia, we abrade away the little that is left of a natural, healthy social environment. We can create a human environment much, much better than this. Let's do it, and together.
10. Summary 1) The crappy, shallow and destructive memes are winning. 2) We're unconsciously helping the crappy memes win. 3) Fundamental questions are not even being addressed. 4) We let other people choose the topics, and then we sit and watch other people talk. 5) There are few places to gather for personal discussion of important subjects. 6) The online environment is fundamentally flawed, and is contributing to the problems.
11. Recommended personal steps 1) Stop paying attention to crap. 2) Clear the crappy memes out of your mind. 3) Stop passing crappy memes to other people. 4) Get together in person, in small groups, and talk about subjects that actually matter. 5) Encourage exploration instead of contention, and self-improvement rather than complaint.
* A meme is a fundamental unit of culture: an idea, or an attitude, a belief, an outlook, a mental or emotional response. Memes travel from mind to mind, soul to soul, through various pathways in society: individual interactions, organizations and groups, books, film, theater, politics, traditional news media, the internet. Some memes are harmless. Others are powerfully positive, and still others are terribly destructive, and inherently evil. An example of a truly destructive meme is the belief that killing large numbers of people while also killing yourself will get you into heaven. An example of a powerfully positive meme is the understanding that if you can quickly and effectively identify destructive memes, they can be inactivated within your own mind, and this inactivation of destructive memes can then be passed on to others through conscious communication. Some large clusters of memes achieve destructive power through a combination of massive aggregation and utter triviality. It's not that any given one of these trivial memes has much power, but when their numbers are overwhelming and it's hard to get away from them, they become powerful in aggregate; they capture our attention, but contain no useful content, and through massively repeated distraction prevent us from relating to higher values. The major media are actively involved in both the production and massive distribution of such memes.