These past couple of days I again spent quite a bit of time thinking about what I see as an upcoming bifurcation point in human history. Put very simply, I believe that there are two broad paths leading from our current moment into the future.
The first of these, to me, feels more like a regression to what evolution has left us with: the approach by which individuals who — in their own experience — sense that they know some important truth are willing to exert force on (or power over) others to shape reality the way they believe is best, often but not always for everyone; so at least best for them.
Examples include but are not limited to the use of physical force or threats of using physical force, employing (peer or mob) pressure on social media platforms to get others to submit to some cultural norms, all the way up to international diplomatic and war-like means of communicating, “you better do as you are told, or else!”
The second path would be a novelty phenomenon between people on a scale that hasn’t been explored yet. It would create a true bottom-up organization among human beings, where a common pathway can be determined without anyone feeling either under duress or being manipulated. And I am not talking about democracy here…
Since this hasn’t emerged yet, it is much more difficult to describe how precisely it would work — if it can work at all. What I can say is that two major processes seem to create a pincer-like forcing function, which will make it inevitable soon enough that humanity either achieves the (currently) unthinkable, or it will more or less fall back on the cultural mechanisms of inter-personal forcing that humans have been living with for thousands of years.
One process is the way in which our global energy consumption is being shaped. Humanity’s use of external energy to drive our technological (and social!) development has increased by a factor of 10 in the past 100 years. However, more recently the discovery of new fossil fuel resources — which still make up most of our energy use — has slowed down, or is being restricted due to very real concerns that our use of energy is changing the environment beyond what we can handle. This natural limitation on how much energy we can use is creating one side of the pincer.
The other process is our overall “awakening” to ever more subtle forms of “being forced” to act against our own free will, that is our individually sovereign, internal decision making processes. And in my mind, there are many signs which — understood through this lens — all point in the same direction:
The election of Donald Trump, to me, was a sign that people on the conservative side of the experiential spectrum not only disagreed with the Democratic Party line, but with the establishment arm of their own party, with pretty much all mainstream politics and media. These people wanted to “go back” — make America great again — by re-establishing their own competence to make decisions rather than being pushed around by far-away bureaucrats and elites, who do not really care about their experience at all.
The ever more fervent push against “naturally occurring sex differences” by people who claim that gender is entirely socially constructed — for the purpose of controlling women and minorities no less — and needs to be discarded altogether, is yet another sign of not wanting to experience any kind of externally determined reality.
And also the ways in which proponents and objectors of any political measure express that they want to have the freedom of acting “the way they see fit” without interference from those who disagree with them is one such sign. All of these are forms of saying, “I want to have a say in how I decide, and not feel this choice be taken from me.”
This all is embedded in a social media landscape in which people can find “their tribe” who will maximally support their views, giving them enough of a feeling that it is worth fighting — unfortunately with the old means of trying to apply force on other people…
It is too difficult for me to predict how this will all go down. What I can say is that I see and meet more and more individual people who are no longer interested in propping up the old ways. They are willing to show what I can only describe as faith: if I can listen to the people I disagree with deeply, carefully, and long enough, then I will be able to integrate the truth that they express into my own thinking in such a way that will allow me to share my views with those people. We can then come to a resolution that serves us all, without requiring me (or them) to use force.
Again, this may seem an impossible ask for many. We have grown up with a sense that there will always be situations in which this approach could not possibly work. Maybe the other person is simply evil and wants our destruction. What then?
I do not have all answers. All I do know is that, from the way I look out into the world, there doesn’t seem to be all that much of a “middle way”, in which we can have the cake and eat it, too. For each of us, individually, we rightfully and righteously claim a desire not to be forced by other people to choose against our convictions. At the same time, we seem happy to force other people to act against their convictions if it serves us — often feeling morally justified, since we believe that our approach is the correct one.
Both of these cannot work for too long at the same time. We either will have to live with force applied in both direction, that is, including experiencing and submitting to force wielded against us, or we can live without that force, if we can agree that this is the better way forward.