you want to pick a single cliché that is nearly universally held, across all our surface boundaries of ideology and belief — e.g. left-versus-right, or even religious-vs-secular — the most common of all would probably be:
“Isn’t it a shame that our wisdom has not kept pace with technology?”
While this cliché is clearly true at the level of solitary human beings, and even mass-entities like corporations, agencies or political parties, I could argue that things aren’t anywhere near as clear at the higher level of human civilization. Elsewhere I have suggested that “wisdom” needs to be defined according to outcomes and processes, not the perception or sagacity of any particular individual guru or sage.
Western Civilization famously changed everything with innovations such as market economics, democracy, mass education, and science, empowering millions to compete, cooperate, and invent as never before. But there's been a price. Each generation must deal with sudden expansions of vision, memory, and attention . . . now accelerating faster than ever.
Today, some forecast that vast information flows will empower tomorrow's citizens to converge and tackle problems with greater agility than governments or corporations—an era of creative "smart mobs." Is this plausible? Can new innovative visualization and collaboration tools boost millions of new problem solvers? Underlying all of this is a deeper question: Can our civilization maintain its 200-year commitment to openness, transparency, accountability, and confident belief in progress, or will a growing "relinquishment movement" fight back against the onrush of change?
I deeply believe that true hope is engendered not by absolute faith in narrow dogmas, but by curiosity, hard work and devotion to self-improvement – and love, of course -- traits that are built-in to human nature.Whether you think they became part of us via evolution or a grand design, doesn’t really matter, at one level. The sermon taught by our long and fitful upward slog, from either Eden or the Caves, consists of generation after generation gradually coming to perceive and appreciate the dauntingly awesome complexity of this titanically vast Universe.
Is the world improvable by means of human intervention? The question can be debated endlessly on a philosophical level. But there is little argument over this basic premise within the community of those engaged in philanthropic activity. We share a common belief that vigorous investment and intervention in humanity can help humanity as a whole -- and countless individual human beings -- to achieve goals starting with basic necessities but extending to the limits of ambition.
The four marvels of our age: science, democracy, the justice system, and fair markets. Success in each of these arenas depends upon participants competing on level playing fields. I think the internet has potential for creating a fifth great arena, equal to the others. Many of the traits it would need are already there, online. Vast troves of information. The freedom to make, break and reform associations.
One of the most powerful novels of all time, George Orwell's 1984 foresaw a dark future that never came to pass. That we escaped this may be owed in part to the chilling tale -- which served as a 'self-prevening prophecy'. Our civilization's success depends at least as much on the mistakes we avoid as successes we plan, but sadly no one compiles lists of these narrow escapes. They somehow seem less interesting than each week's crisis.
Throughout the 20th Century, the trend in our culture was monotonic, toward ever-increasing reliance on protection and coddling by institutions, formally deliberated procedures and official hired guns... none of which availed us at all on September 11, 2001. Rather, events that day seem to suggest a reversal, toward the older notion of a confident, self-reliant citizenry.
Most efforts at prophecy seem to shrivel under close and skeptical scrutiny. It happens so consistently that one has to wonder humans keep on trying. Yet we do keep attempting to look ahead. But now the internet offers us the means to track predictive 'hits' and misses via a Predictions Registry. This could be used to debunk psychics and those who prey upon the gullible...but it would also reveal anomalous positive scores: Transparency in action.
Each of us hopes to prepare for what's coming, to improve our fate in the years ahead. This may be humanity's most distinctive trait, explaining our mastery over the world. But the task is muddied by life's essential competitiveness. We need knowledge to hold others accountable, yet each of us worries that others know too much about us...Is it so hard to envisage that tomorrow's citizens -- our children -- may rise to fresh challenges, as we have done?
What does the figure 2001 mean to you? Why of course, it's a movie! One that, remarkably despite its age, still shines some amazing sparkles of perspective on our time....It is our attitudes that have undergone a transformation unlike any in history. All kinds of unjust assumptions that used to be considered inherent -- from racial, sexual and class stereotypes to ideological oversimplifications -- have been tossed onto the trash heap where they long deserved to go, in favor of a generalized notion of tolerance, pragmatism and eccentricity that seems to grow more vibrant with each passing year.
Tired of the insipid "left-right" political metaphor? Interested in exploring which dogmas or reflexes you might have adopted out of reflex? Take a simple questionnaire in which I poke at the deeper assumptions that under-lie many ideologies we take for granted. Like: do you believe there ever was - or will-be - a human "golden age"? Do you see progress being made through incremental problem solving or dedication to an ideal? The aim is to help folks step back and ponder why they cling to certain types of ideology. Try it. Only be warned. You may gain flexibility... at cost of some comfy certainties!
Author David Brin on new ideas and ways to fund them. He discusses the gedankenexperiment: how the human brain creates and tests a 'thought experiment' to explore the future consequences of our actions. How can crowds make smart decisions for our society?
No amount of evidence can alter the way fervent believers want the world to be. Misinformation persists, and this delusion-conviction effect has done grievous harm to our once-scientific and rational nation. For example, the tense alliance between liberals and leftists crumbles over issues like the careful restart of nuclear energy, something the liberals are now willing to cautiously resume.
Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?” My talk at TEDxUCSD For a generation, we’ve been taught that the best way to deal with our problems is to get mad as hell! Recent science exposes this as a scam that has produced the largest and most disastrous addiction in civilization. Sometimes problems merit indignation! But are we abandoning our greatest gift – the ability to actually solve problems.
When the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war-riven Lebanon, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against our cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent.
The general trend seems to be this:the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger.
Here is Brin’s Exercise...Go to a street corner, preferably one with a very busy four-way -- or eight or twelve (via multiple lanes) -- stop signage not controlled by electronic lights, but simple stop-signs -- where people and cars and bicycles must negotiate traffic rules every second, negotiating right-of-way and movement with quick eye contact, lazy little hand-flicks and brief nods. Watch for a while until it all sinks in. Allow yourself to be amazed at how easy it seems. How relaxed and bored everyone is, with this libertarian miracle or self-regulation.
Then do a slow 360. Notice all the other things that are working! The quiet and efficient courtesies, the technologies, the tiny acts of honesty and cooperation.That person over there could have stolen from that shop, but didn't. Those telephone lines and power cables have been working, nonstop, for at least a decade... and so on. Parse it smaller and smaller. Notice all the hidden competence of a myriad professionals who make things work...
For we already live in the openness experiment, and have for two hundred years. It is called the Enlightenment -- with "light" both a core word and a key concept in our turn away from 4,000 years of feudalism. All of the great enlightenment arenas -- markets, science and democracy -- flourish in direct proportion to how much their players (consumers, scientists and voters) know, in order to make good decisions. To whatever extent these arenas get clogged by secrecy, they fail.
Oligarchy -- reflects the same old pyramid that failed the test of governance in nearly 100% of previous civilizations, always and invariably stifling creativity while guiding societies to delusion and ruin. It also means a return to zero-sum logic, zero-sum economics, zero-sum leadership thinking, a quashing of nonlinear synergies... the death of the Enlightenment.
It's not about "left-vs-right" or "morality" or any other 20th Century cliché. The issue is Modernity and how to deal with a new century of change. Decent people of every generation struggle for human improvement -- more knowledge, better kids. The best of our ancestors strove hard to help make us a bit more strong and knowing. But romantic mystics -- whether "right-wing" or "left wing" -- see history as a long slide from some past golden age. Human effort is futile against this slide. Underneath all that hyper-tolerance posturing, there lies hatred of the very notion of progress.
We start with simmering worry about new technologies. Disruptive media barge into homes, where moral teaching used to be the province of parents. These factors can make the future seem alienating to many, who feel change is rushing awfully fast. As a result, many turn their backs on the future, looking backward toward what they perceive as a golden age. Here are a few suggestions for those who want to fight for the Enlightenment.
Moreover, this approach to deterrence may give us — civilization’s rambunctious, argumentative, yet cooperative citizens — the last laugh. We can catch, punish and outlast them, of course. But above all we’ll deny villains any chance to win through violence a bigger place in history than the hard-working, creative people they hurt and despise.
Who knows? Some of those angry ones out there, who are teetering with indecision each desperate day, may even decide that it’s better to help lay a few bricks, alongside the rest of us, than to claw after infamy by tearing the walls down.
Might believers in modernity -- whether 'liberal' or 'conservative' -- find ways to break free of the doctrinal rigidity that has been imposed on us by fanatics of both the so-called Left and the so-called Right? One approach may be to form coalitions that agree to promote -- boldly and openly -- a dozen consensus agenda items, and refuse to be drawn into other fights. Is it possible to negotiate a list of desiderata that all modernist defenders of the Enlightenment might stand behind?
Go read one of the most important books in the past twenty years, Robert Wright’s Nonzero. Our entire Enlightenment Experiment has been about positive sum games. Open-competitive Economic Markets, Science, Democracy… these are all examples of systems set up to harness competition and produce positive sum results for all. Alas, there are forces in human nature that always trend toward ruination of such systems. Winners tend not to want to compete as hard, next time, so they use their wealth and power to cheat! It is called oligarchy; the very thing that wrecked markets and democracy and science in all past cultures. Every single last one of them.
History would seem to favor pessimists. In COLLAPSE: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond shows how past cultures toppled, sometimes with little warning. Supplementing historical records with discoveries in archaeology and climatology, he offers a guided tour of crashes and narrow escapes, ranging from Viking Greenland and the Yucatan Mayans to the Anasazi peoples of America's southwest. Then, globe-hopping from Australia and China to Montana and Southern California, Diamond surveys how modern societies are adapting to even greater perils.
The lesson in a nutshell: learn from history, or risk repeating it.
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