The Play-as-Being book group is finishing up its reading of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century today. It’s been an interesting ride, but as I write this, I have the feeling that the book is already outdated. Which is scary, because I don’t think enough people are thinking yet about the range of questions he brings to the fore. The only thing I feel sure of (inasmuch as I feel sure of anything), is that he ends the book in the right place, with what individuals can do.
I’m a big big fan of the ‘free will or no free will’ question and discussions that come up around that question within both science and contemplative circles. Free Will belongs to a self that doesn’t exist in the ways our systems tend to program toward, so Harari’s angle is a technological one, drawing attention to the role algorithms have in our lives already, then imagining the directions they are heading in. Importantly noting that they are not heading in these directions on their own, but at the direction of ever more consolidated powers.
He touches on but doesn’t fully address (how could anyone?!) the role of the unexpected in all this. Would any of us have imagined the scenarios we’re in right now, a decade ago? At any second, massive changes can and will occur.
So what CAN individuals do?Harari says, “Get to know yourself as well as ‘they’ do.”
You can tell by my posts perhaps, that this is what I’m working on: meditating more, leaning on and relearning what ‘intuition’ is in light of changes in complexity as a person, but also as a person within a family and friend network, as a member of larger society in my country, and within the world/cosmos.
I don’t have the capacity to mentally encompass all that! Indeed any of those categories when combined with any of the others can shut down my feeling of ‘free will’ about anything and be quite paralyzing! “No wonder that Hindus and Buddhists have focused much of their effort on trying to get out of or off of this wheel (entirely)” says Harari, of fathoming the myriad posited schemes of meaning.
My question is then, how to take it all lightly and keep perspective, while not distracting nor entertaining myself away from the questions or buying into one scheme or another. The PaB group I mentioned above is the closest thing to a community that can embrace so many contradictions that I’ve ever come near, yet Life seems to be kicking me out of that nest too.
This was the most ‘politically active’ year of my life to date.
Like so many others I was thrown and shocked by the November 2016 election, so spent a lot of 2017 catching up, trying to integrate new, and sometimes horrifying revelations about my country and world into my understanding. I had envisioned the US becoming a more progressive country via technology and access to so many cultures and paradigms, so the big questions, to my mind then, were, “How fast is too fast to progress?”, “What is realistic to expect?”
I see myself as in the mainstream, with liberal leanings, which means that I voted for my ideal in the primaries, and when Hillary Clinton received the nomination as the Dem candidate, I then shifted my expectations, and voted for her. I didn’t campaign, didn’t send money, and my conversations with people were not so enthusiastic. In keeping with my questions above, I felt, “We must not be there just yet.”
In other words, I saw Hillary as a solid status-quo candidate, qualified, but not exciting nor immediately responsive to what is happening ‘on the ground’. If anything, I came to admire her more after the election, when even after her loss, she continues to be used to stoke hateful fervors as symbolic of a system that the stokers themselves are fully embedded in as well.
Before my daughter and I settled in to watch the 2016 election results come in (with several craft beers and lots of snacks), she pulled a Tarot card: The Tower, Reversed. It is a card that means change, with an image that indicates turbulence and upheaval.
I felt a disturbing wave come over me, but shook it off, determined to take such things lightly. Still, I’ll let the image speak for itself. Quite shocking. And with the obvious symbolic connection of a figure elected being associated with a great tower of our time.
What I thought then, was that although people, and certainly the media, were enjoying the chaos that swirled around him as a candidate, such a figure as our “face to the world”, just wouldn’t do.
Unlike with Bernie’s so-called ‘radical’ ideas, I didn’t see an upside to electing a wild card who has felt free to block out the sun shining on others, his entire professional life.
Anyway, we all know what happened, and hasn’t stopped happening for two years. There are good things that have come from this ‘unfortunate series of events’, of course, such as people like me awakening further politically, and time will have to tell if those good things will be enough.
There are new, young, strong figures flooding into the US government now, and that may not have happened so fast if not for our new ‘no holds barred’ normal. If we can elect a Trump, we surely can elect an Ocasio-Cortez.
This year I made phone calls, sent texts, small amounts of money, and volunteered (albeit just one day) for Gillum recount efforts in Florida. I spent far too much time on Twitter, but learned a lot. On the day Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judicial Committee, I corresponded with dozens of women who were reliving personal traumas through her experience. I tried to examine and clarify my own lines and visceral responses, and zeroed in on this one small thing as what I could do – support actual women directly. Unfortunately I haven’t found the right balances to both advocate for systemic change and ‘check’ the fervor of the moment that muddles waters.
For the longest time, engaging in culture wars has been the most effective way to deceive people into thinking that a politician is ‘one of us’, and always who suffers are the people who internalize those messages and then feel stressed out and reactive, powerless. Ridicule heaped on “the south” for instance is an underlying wound. No wonder so many ‘lashed out’ through a ‘Joker’ vote.
And I don’t say that without acknowledging the deep-seated prejudice and tribalism Obama talked about people reverting to in times of stress. There is indeed a long-time “new civil war” mindset that has been seeded and watered, bearing really ugly fruit.
I hope I’m not leaning on the most positive interpretations and setting myself up for shock again. Although people can be swayed through sophisticated tech machinery manipulated by people of power (hidden, mostly), we can also learn and factor that manipulation. I do think there has been a significant psychological leap, and feel thankful for the work of figures like Yuval Noah Harari, and Anand Ghiridaharadas helping us to see those factors as we push onward.
Yikes, I went off a little. 🙂
I could keep going through various crisis spurred by and uncovered by the election, and how I’ve tried to be involved from various angles (even the decision to take a specifically legal course has to do with this), but I won’t for now. 🙂 It is just that the specifically-political awareness of 2018 was equivalent, for me, to the lack-of-awareness of 2016.