Peace in Pieces

I sit here and look at the television screen,
What is she wearing?  Who are they going to vote off?
Twittering rage, Facebook lols, texting friends,
I’m experiencing life, I hope it never ends,
Not really paying attention,
There’s nothing else to do,
It feels like peace for me, is it peace for you?

I’ve got a lot and I’m going to need more,
I really don’t know what it’s all for, but I got it,
In only 10 years my wealth will double,
Too bad about that housing bubble,
You’ve got to work harder,
You’ve got more to do,
Can’t take a piece from me, I’ll take that piece from you.

I had a job, but well they didn’t need me anymore,
I’m sure I’m important though, but how to show it,
Turning on the news, the worlds gone to hell,
No way I’m going to get out of this well,
I’ve got to fight just to survive,
Only one thing left to do,
Won’t take a piece of me, I’ll take a piece of you.

You want me to trust, but I’m so afraid,
That article told me who’s to blame, the real problem,
Just keep me safe, I’ll do what it takes,
Close the borders for goodness sake,
I’ve got my gun next to me,
What are you going to do?
You took peace from me, I’ll take a piece of you.

I must raze the world to build it anew,
I’ve got a vision, and this is where you come in,
This is divine providence, no need to fear
You’ll change the world, for God is near
Your cause is righteous,
You know what to do,
Take some pieces of them, for pieces of you.

I’ve so much to be thankful for,
My basic needs are met and even a little sugar,
I won’t sit here and be passive,
Let the weight get too massive,
I’ll show you my heart,
Do what you will do,
But you can take a piece of me, and put that piece into you

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I’m Expecting

Well if you thought the last post was about abortion or birth control, then you’ll think this one is about me being pregnant.  Life is strange. 🙂

In my last post about how we make plans and goals I mentioned that one of the things we have to decide about our goals may have to be how realistic they actually are and this relates to expectations.  Lowering our expectations may make it easier to achieve our goals, but we may not then know how far we could have gone, while having expectations too high may leave one with feelings of disappointment.  Of course, as I also mentioned before, there may be other variables that we cannot predict that might lead one to not meet our goals, but very often we internalize our failures and can chastise ourselves for setting our sights too high.

My thinking about expectations was once again inspired by a podcast I listen to called Invisibilia on NPR.  In one episode titled “How to Become Batman” we hear the story of Daniel Kish who had both of his eyes remove due to a disease at 13 months, but can “see”.  He uses echolocation by making clicking noises.  As a result, he is able to ride his back in traffic, hike, cook, walk around and has an amazing ability to know the distances objects are from him through

his echolocation technique.  In his story he tells us about a kid from elementary school who joined his school from a school for the blind, and unlike Daniel this kid was helpless and had to be led around everywhere.  Daniel had developed his echolocation technique early and was already quite independent at a young age.  Daniel believes that one of the reasons that blind people can’t see is because nobody expects the too.  That if we raised our expectations that many blind children could develop this echolocation technique.  Daniel teaches children whose parents are interested but he says it’s a challenge because as Daniel says it takes a lot of trial and error and can get, well, bloody.  The point is that higher expectations are the best path to reaching higher heights.  Students who have high expectations for their students generally get students who do perform at a higher level, even if they don’t meet those expectations.  If you try to get an A in a class, you will generally do better in that class than any student who comes into the class just hoping they pass.  People often talk about self-fulfilling prophecies and this is a large part is how astrology works and how people come to validate the predictions of psychics is because once an idea is planted we often want it to become true and it does.  Students who say to me “they can’t do science” generally perform poorly.

Having high expectations has its downside however.  Having high expectations as a professor I think are good, but good pedagogy is also guiding the students towards a path that will reach those higher heights.  Without it, students can disengage quickly and not progress at all.  And of course feelings of disappointment, feelings that you did or will not meet the expectations of another can be a source of depression and anxiety.  How many times have we had high expectations in a movie only to be disappointed that it wasn’t all that good, whereas a movie we had low expectations for we are often pleased or pleasantly surprised when the movie is as good or better than we expected?  A good portion of our country feel that there is nothing we can do about criminals and so the best thing we can do is get a gun, in contrast to those who know that the murder rate can be smaller and that there is nothing wrong with having expectations that we as a society can reduce the rate of violent crime.  Given perhaps our propensity to focus on the negative, it is no small wonder that we often learn in life to lower our expectations or even develop apathy or pessimism as a way of avoiding grief, heartache, or anxiety.  Apathy in this case, to me, is an attempt to have no expectations, whereas pessimism is to always expect the negative outcome.  Personally I feel that apathy eventually leaves us to become emotionless, taking all the joy out of life at the expense just so we can avoid grief.  Pessimism, in my opinion, is almost worse because when the expectation is for things to be negative they generally are, and you are unlikely to ever be pleasantly surprise.  In fact many pessimistic people eventually turn into people that can find the bad in every good situation.  So while some can take it to extremes, there is at least a reason why we often lower our expectations in one situation or another.

So even though we know that higher expectations out of ourselves or others, lead to better results than lower expectations, why do we not always set our sights higher?  I have discussed before the conflict we all face between security and risk, and I believe this is part of that same conflict.  Lowering expectations can give us a better sense of security and in the end might would lead to on average more happiness.  High expectations on the other hand are a risk, but more often yield better results, even when we don’t meet those expectations.  Just recently I saw a very interesting short video shown below that asks the question, “Should we be pursuing happiness?”  Maybe happiness is overrated, maybe it’s not what really drives us.  In the video he talks about great scientists and artists who are ready to suffer for their work.  I have seen

myself some of the finest minds in my field spend little time with their spouse or children for the sake of discovering something new.  In the video Zizek talks about scientists who, even knowing they could die from radiation poisoning, still worked with radioactive materials because they set their sights on discovering something important.  Sometimes greatness comes at the expense of even their very lives.  I’m not saying we are all destined to be great, and I am not trying to imply that there isn’t value to happiness.  I think that some balance is part of good emotional health, and a clear mind, and we would likely be even more productive if we strove for a little more balance in life, but once again we see the value of risk and how it constantly pushes ourselves and society to become more.

So what is the answer to dealing with the disappointment of not meeting those expectations?  It seems that most advice, and indeed I had even trouble finding any positive quotations about expectations are to not have expectations or to lower them. My feeling is that if we are to maintain high expectations and avoid the pitfalls associated with them then it is a focus on the process.  To focus on where you’ve started and where you are now, as opposed to where you aren’t.  Try to remember that few people with lofty goals ever meet them, and very often getting close is still pretty amazing, because what you’ve learned along the way, not only a specific sense, but likely other important values like perseverance and courage will serve you well as you change directions or perhaps continue down the path you are on.  Likely there are plenty of things to be happy about and proud of even when you fall short.  In the end I feel there is more shame in stagnation over progress, unless you already in a utopia, but I haven’t met anybody like that before.  Happy New Year all!  Don’t be afraid of being bold with your resolutions.

A Change Will Do You Good

From http://ohiomarketingstudents.com

A friend of mine asked me a few months ago “What are your weaknesses?”  After mulling it over for a couple of minutes, to be honest, I couldn’t think of any.  Now don’t start thinking I’m a smug bastard, I know for a fact that I am far from perfect.  Then I thought, well I am not quite sure what my strengths are either.  I guess the way I have to come to view myself is a work in progress.  It seems to me that trying to determine what strengths and weaknesses are is tricky business.  I might say that I worry too much, but at some level worry brings about a level of awareness that might help you act or reach a solution.  Worrying too much is obviously a problem though as it can be draining and waste time.  Not worrying at all, might also be dangerous as it may make you apathetic to important things.  I used to be a huge worrier, but I always looked at it as a quality that was part of a spectrum from too much worry, to not worrying at all, and that there was a healthy balance in there.  So it wasn’t so much that worrying was a weakness but that I had to find an appropriate way of using that “worry” towards being constructive and not destructive.  And I always felt that worrying was better than apathy.   To me, all strengths and weakness are not an either, or, but rather qualities that lie on a continuum between two extremes and thus any weakness may have some important qualities that we simply need to foster more.

If I say that my strength is kindness, does it mean I don’t have room to grow?  Does it mean that I couldn’t be more kind?  I have never been one to simply rest on laurels as I think it is important to strive each day to be more than we are (provided we are lucky enough to live in an environment where we have such an opportunity and are not fighting for basic subsistence needs like so many in this world).  Our strengths might manifest themselves in different ways.  While I may be kind, how I show that kindness may not be the right way for that particular situation.  Sometimes “tough love” is the best way to deal with a particular situation.  Some people respond to a stricter approach, drawing definite boundaries.  Some people respond better to you when you are sensitive, soft-spoken and supportive.  Some people might respond to both depending on the situation.  It takes time and experience to gain the wisdom to know how best to be kind to those around you.  Should I say it is a fault or a weakness when I show kindness in a way that makes sense to me, but is not received as such to the other person?  Or should I simply reflect and say, “I am glad my heart was in the right place, but I need to do better.”  And what if the person you are showing kindness to, feels grateful, but isn’t good at showing it?  As I’ve mentioned before, one of the amazing parts about life is that we never know how we may impact others.  Someone might be angry or frustrated with you in the moment, but only realize the kindness you showed years later.

In the end I would say that my greatest strength is that I feel I value good things like happiness, learning, compassion, self-reflection, equality, a strong work ethic, and humility, and that my weakness is that I am incomplete in demonstrating those qualities to a capacity I am completely comfortable with.  And that I may not be aware of the importance of other character traits that might make me and this world a better place.  And I accept that not only will this “weakness” never go away, but it might also be the very thing that allows me to become stronger, wiser, and appreciative of life in new ways all the time.  And so, in what might be a somewhat ironic way, the parts of me that I will not change, are the various things that allow me to change.  After all, why would I want to be the exact same person all my life, as if that were even possible? 🙂

Do I have to vote?

Let me start by saying that I think voting in a democracy is important.  I never realized its importance when I was younger but as I’ve grown to learn and care more about the importance of governance (notice I didn’t say politics) the more driven I am to vote.  I am finally eligible for citizenship in the U.S. and will become a citizen before the next Presidential election.

Part of learning more about politics and governance has also left me pretty dissatisfied with the choices I have in our political system.  At the national and for most major positions at the state level you have two

A study by two political scientists at Northwestern University. (From http://media.chicagomag.com)

parties to choose from.  As if two philosophies had a chance of representing over 300 million people.  Washington right now is broken as there is no working together to pass laws that will help people.  A frightening statistic I just recently read said that public opinion has no correlation to the passing of laws right now in this country.  This would seem to be an odd thing to find in a democracy where our vote is supposed to represent the will of the people.  It would seem that the people do not control the government.

The media has also highlighted races between candidates where one seems completely incompetent and idiotic, while the other is a happy combination of bigot and religious that you can’t imagine either candidate being someone you’d want in office.  Is it then okay to not vote in that situation?  Is it always more ethical to vote for the lesser of two evils than to not vote at all?

So let’s say you believe government is broken and/or the two party system is broken, and you have terrible candidates to choose from and you wish to let the powers at be know that this is unacceptable, does not voting said that message?  Now a scholar may look at the level of apathy and say, wow nobody really has faith in our government or political system and so that’s why nobody is voting.  But of course that may be right, but it also may be wrong. There are other possible reasons for apathy.  One is that you are person who thinks everything is just rosy and so you really don’t care who is in power.  Or like many, you can’t afford to miss a day’s work to go an vote with everybody else.  Ultimately those in power though won’t really care as long as they are re-elected they just need at least somebody to vote in order for a candidate to be chosen.  Perhaps if everyone refused to vote that might make a difference, but that’s unlikely to happen.

So “not voting” isn’t really effective.  So what might be effective?  One possibility is that you could run for office yourself.  Of course you are likely to get “out-moneyed” by any of the two established parties, but you could still run.  The Tea Party movement, as misguided as they all are, was grass roots, and grass roots movements can grow into something big.  When they got big enough to try and make an impact in government, they got absorbed by one of the established parties and as a result it’s actually weakened the identity of the Tea Party and the Republican Party.  It should have remained its own party.  Anyway, that’s besides the point. The point is that a difference can be made even if you start from the ground up.  But maybe you’d like some encouragement that your movement might be successful.  This brings us to the second possibility of how you can protest and that’s simply to vote.  You don’t have to vote for Democrat or Republican.  You can vote for another party, you can even write in a candidate.  If the amount of people who seem dissatisfied with congress actually didn’t vote for the established two parties many would realize that there is actual need for some other party to establish themselves and that there are a bunch of people who are not apathetic about the process but actually really care, but think that the current two party system or current set of people we have to choose from are unacceptable.  So the answer is still to vote, but don’t feel like you have to vote D or R.  The right to vote means you have the right to vote for who you want and who represents your views.  You don’t have to always vote for one party, you don’t have to feel like you have to just vote for the other guy, because the current guy wasn’t great.  So your research, get informed, and vote for somebody you think will do the job well and represents your views.

The only true way to waste your vote is by not voting. Because if the current system of government is truly broken, then doing nothing changes nothing.  And remember that voting is only one way in which your voice can be heard, so don’t forget that caring doesn’t need to only happen at election time.

Do you really want to hurt me?

I have always been interested in how the emotions we feel translate into behaviors actions.  One of the things I have always wondered about is why feelings of hurt make us want to hurt others.  Now I don’t want to over-generalize, but I think all of us, at some point in our lives, have felt hurt to the point that if we didn’t lash out at another person, we have really thought long and hard about it.  I am not talking as much about physical pain here, although there certainly is an instinct to obviously fight back at times physically.  I am talking more about feelings of hurt at the emotional level.  Sometimes we have inflicted pain upon those closest to us and people we love.  Such things never lessen the pain, and tend to only make it worse since we are, in general, compassionate beings who know that we’ve inflicted pain upon others.  This usually just adds guilt in with the emotional pain we are already experiencing.  The question becomes why do we think it, and why do we do it?  As usual I don’t really have any answers, but will just explore some possibilities.

While it’s true that perhaps we do end up being strengthened by the hurt we feel, there is a period of time where it doesn’t feel that way.

The first thing that comes to mind is that it is sort of a primitive survival mechanism.  If you’ve ever felt really hurt by someone’s actions towards you, you know that it takes a toll on you physically.  Our emotions are a product of the release of various hormones and other chemicals in our body, and so a certain emotional state can have a strong effect on our physical systems.  Thus we can actually feel like we are in a fight for our life and the only way to win is by defeating the threat that has impacted us so strongly at the emotional level.  This can also be done on a larger scale.  Governments can (and have) play up threats to one’s existence and way of life, and dehumanize the enemy to rile up many people into an emotional state where they want to lash out at the threat.  It seems clear that feeling threatened on an emotional level, by making it feel personal, making you feel fear, can incite one to fight back.  The simplest answer is very often the right one, so perhaps feeling hurt simply makes us feel threatened so fighting back feels necessary to our survival.

 

Of course what it doesn’t explain is why we might inflict pain on those that we care about.  When unknown

enemy or someone you don’t really care for who has hurt you or who you believe is hurting you, it almost makes sense to want to hurt them back.  But if you’ve ever lashed out at your spouse or partner in anger, at your child (either physically or verbally), it almost seems counter-intuitive that this would ever be a solution to alleviating your own feelings of hurt.  Sometimes those that we lash out at, aren’t even the ones that have hurt us, and so it seems even more strange that we should have such behavior.  On a more personal level, it seems to me that in my life when I experience a lot of hurt I often feel like I’m in the dark.  Perhaps that is not necessarily the best analogy, but what I’m getting at is that the solution for making oneself feel better is not clear.  So perhaps that’s why I equate it to being in the dark, because when you are in the dark it is difficult to find a way out.  Depending on the depth of the pain we may start to panic and fear sets in, so we get desperate.   We want the pain to end, and get out of that darkness so bad that we claw, and scramble, and we try to move quickly.  But like any fast movement in the dark we don’t know what we are grabbing at, we don’t know what we are reaching for and we hit all sorts of things along the way, hurting others and ourselves.  Flailing in the dark is never going to be best solution over keeping calm and thinking our way out of that dark palce.

 

Delving deeper I wonder if there isn’t something uniquely human about this quality that goes beyond some

From http://www.verybestquotes.com

sort of animalistic behavior and is perhaps darker, even if it isn’t necessarily malicious.  When I’ve felt really hurt by someone, it’s easy feel like you don’t matter to them.   Just like I said it is counter-intuitive to hurt people we care about, so when you feel hurt by someone who cares about you, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that they don’t care about you anymore; that they are indifferent.  I think apathy is one of the toughest emotions to have to deal with.  When you feel like nobody is paying attention to you, it’s easy to get depressed, and more often than not we react in a way that tries to get us noticed. Usually in not the most healthy way either.  The feelings of hurt may have us thinking that the world is so indifferent to us that our existence does not matter.  Many suicide attempts are simply cries for help from people that do not feel “noticed”.  In some way I think we’d rather somebody hated us than were indifferent to us.  And so it seems sometimes lashing out at someone may simply be a mechanism for being noticed.  If someone is angry at you, it means you matter.  It means that they can at least feel some emotion for you even if it is a negative one.  To reach that point though it is truly sad, because what we usually want is love and compassion, and when we become so desperate that the opposite becomes the next best thing, perhaps then we truly are in the dark.

 

The real problem is that I don’t know a good way out of this behavior.  There are all sorts of clichés and memes, and self-help books that tell us that harming others is never a bona fide way of alleviating our feelings of hurt, but nevertheless we seem to drift towards hurting others who hurt us.  Most of the time we just hurt people in a moment and then we quickly realize what we’ve done and apologize.  Sometimes we feel justified in hurting others for the short-term satisfaction it brings, even though it doesn’t end our suffering over the long-term.  When I look at war torn countries, where so many people have lost loved ones, and you wonder how can they alleviate the hurt that they feel without continuing a cycle of violence and feelings of hatred?  I wonder if this just isn’t a darker part of who we are, and the only thing we can really do for ourselves is to be aware of it, and hope that in the moment we can focus on what will eventually lead to true happiness in the long-term instead of just hurting others, especially those we care about, even if they’ve inflicted pain on us.  Maybe they are just as in the dark as we are.

Teacher Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

As an educator, naturally I think a lot about education (now if you liked that riveting beginning please read on).  Over my years as a professor we hear a lot of about better methods to educate.  A lot of fancy phrases get thrown around like problem based learning, inquiry learning, student centered pedagogy, etc.  Rather than discuss the merits of these techniques and whether or not they are better than the “chalk and talk” style of teaching (another exciting catch phrase) I want to take a look at things from a more fundamental and philosophical level as is often my nature.

Let’s first forget about the fact that there are multiple learning styles amongst people and that the way we learn also changes as we grow in age.  What I mainly want to talk about has to do with knowledge, learning, and critical thinking and we may return to some more specific stuff later, I really can’t be sure, because I haven’t decided what the point is to this blog. 🙂

So how much knowledge is there in the world?  Before we quibble about what knowledge is, or whether we can truly “know” anything, let’s just sort of look at it from a somewhat quantitative point of view.  It seems clear to me that if you take any field of study we simply know more today than we did yesterday.  Every day we are discovering new things.  So we have a lot more to learn or that we can learn today than in the past.  Yes there are always things that we are going to be a little unsure about or that we are on the leading edge of discovery and so haven’t solidified our views yet, but each day we move a lot of things into “okay we know this” category and out of the “unsure” category.  Truthfully speaking every day we probably do the reverse as well, but I would say there is a net movement towards “knowing” something new all the time.

It is also clear, as we look at education (and I am speaking mostly about North America) that critical thinking skills are low.  I am a huge proponent of encouraging better critical thinking skills in children.  In fact children already have great critical thinking skills, it’s just that the education system eventually drives it out of them.  Perhaps due to the fact that kids are often wrong in the conclusions they make (which by the way is amazingly okay because we should be encouraging the process and I think instead we tend to shut the process down in favor of the “right” answer, and perhaps because education as an institution promotes rote memorization over critical thinking.  Not to give rote memorization a completely bad rap, because I think there always has to be a place for being able to memorize things).

So to go back to my point

From http://www.northwestprimetime.com

about knowledge, there is a lot of things to know and even under the banner of better critical thinking skills it is, in my opinion, extremely wasteful to have young children rediscover everything we know in this world.  I also think this is okay because kids are extremely good at memorizing things so why not let those sponges soak up some basic knowledge?  Some very thought provoking researchers on education like Sugata Mitra would argue that in the age of information memorization of information is not necessary, that anybody can simply look up the information they need.  Given the amount of misinformation out there in cyberspace I think at the very least a basic set of knowledge is required to at least help students from sorting out bad information from good.  And as the picture indicates, memory is an important part of the processor that is our brain.  We need to have some stuff in there.

But young children are good at a lot of things and there are certain ages where they are exceptionally good at certain things such as learning languages, learning mathematics, and rote memorization.   I gave a talk one time to a bunch of 2nd graders on tornado safety and there was not a single student who didn’t have a question and who was curious.  At that point I began to wonder, how do we go from this child thirsty for knowledge to the typical apathetic college student I see in my class? The next question then becomes why don’t we take advantage of what we know about how kids learn and when they learn best?  In answer to that question I have only opinions so please forgive me if I’m grossly mistaken, but I think it comes down to several things:

  • A pace of learning that is too slow. Children become bored and their active minds turn to other things.   The rate in which knowledge is expected to be absorbed by a student actually increases with time which is exactly the opposite order it should be. I’ve heard the argument that young children shouldn’t have to work so hard at school at younger ages that they should play more. My experience in watching young children learn is that play and learning aren’t really that different. And I think there are ways to even make the learning more interactive socially for those who might worry about a loss of social skills as they spend more time learning.
  • A lack of funding for schools and low pay in general for educators. I know, another educator complaining about funding, but the emphasis a society places on good education is important. Giving all schools equity in retaining good teachers, smaller class sizes, and having effective tools for the trade is important. By making teaching a higher paying and attractive career by ensuring they will have the tools they need when they start their career, we can bring in brighter and better teachers. In my experience I have seen far too many students choose teaching (especially in science) because specializing in their chosen interest was too hard. This seems wrong to me. Currently most of the brightest and best go elsewhere because they can make more money, and those that are extremely bright and choose nobility over money (I praise them all!) are often frustrated by a system in which they do not feel supported and actually feel constrained and trapped.  I think the lack of finances is in large part why curriculums become less varied and standardized because they are more easily measurable in making decisions on how to dole out the limited funding that all schools fight for.
  • Homogenizing teaching. The feeling that many teachers have is that they have little freedom in their curriculum or how they teach. Exposing students to a diversity of teaching styles and material increases the value of collaborative efforts among students and helps students understand the teaching style that works best for them. If all students are exactly the same and exposed to exactly the same style of learning it doesn’t surprise me that many students are bored, or don’t see the value of education. It doesn’t surprise me that many students simply see education as a game in which once they figure out the system they can cheat themselves out of actual learning and simply get the grade they need to move forward. Let student’s express their individuality through learning is important, and I think part of that comes from letting teachers express their individuality more through teaching.

I apologize for the length of this post as I find I can never be brief when it comes to talking about education.   I think instead of coming up with ways to make learning fun, let’s remember that for every little kid, learning IS fun.  Let’s figure out instead how to foster that feeling as they grow older.

From http://students.ou.edu

Isolation in a crowded world

I have been reading a lot of Isaac Asimov lately.  I am not sure if all lovers of science fiction would love Isaac Asimov, but if you are interested in the human condition I think Asimov would be your thing.  His understanding of human nature is phenomenal and his writing of the future seems to me more of a commentary on who we are as a people and what we are capable of then attempt to be some sort of prognosticator of the future.  To me that

From http://www.media.tumblr.com

is the best part of good science fiction and I am sure it is to many as well.

One of his books that really got me thinking was The Naked Sun which is part of his Robot Series.  In it he paints a picture of a planet called Solaria that has been colonized by Earth and is similar in size to Earth but has only 20,000 people.  The people are very spread out having vast estates that are similar in size to something like Delaware.  In this future people have robots and especially on Solaria where the ratio is around 10,000 to 1 for every human.  Robots do everything.  Build all the houses, maintain the grounds, cook the food, and basically tend to every human need.  It is a world without human contact, where even sex becomes mechanical and only for the purposes of breeding.  And that breeding is only selective because they always maintain the population at exactly 20,000.

Earth on the other hand is crowded with everybody living in cities and all cities at populations of 10 million or more.  While human touch is still a part of everyday life, there are many social conventions that act to keep people’s privacy intact.  Not overly different from today’s city life really.

Both societies seemed very plausible in the way they developed and I started to think of how we might be trending in a direction of isolation whether it is an isolation in which we are surrounded by others or a physical isolation in which human contact in unnecessary or unwanted.  We know from studies of anthropology that we started off in hunter-gatherer groups; a society in which we were dependent on each other for survival.  Survival was a result of the coordination of each member’s skill set applied with extreme vigilance.   As we have developed civilization, larger populations, and new technologies, life has essentially become easier for some of us, and quite a bit harder for a lot of other people.  The disparity in standard of living makes the culture of the “haves” admirable to the “have nots”. It seems, at least in this country, that many spend a lot of time reducing the value of the poor, on whose backs our comfort is maintained.  It seems to me though that the culture of the “haves” is not necessarily one to admire, and is perhaps not beneficial for our health.

In the house I grew up in, my parents knew most of the people on our street.  Perhaps not well, but knew their names, and a few of our neighbors they did know well.  I know there are some neighborhoods where people remain very close, but think there is a lot more distrust towards neighbors today than there was in the past.  I know the names of two people on my block and that’s it.  As I write this article to post it on my blog I am reminded that while it may touch the lives of others, perhaps many of them I will not meet.  I will not shake their hands, not see their smile, not hear their laughter, not embrace in warmth and friendship.  Like the people of Solaria a large percentage of my interactions are not face to face.  Is it simply because these types of interactions are not part of the mental grammar in which I was raised or are we moving towards a world in which physical interaction is less and less necessary?

And the truth is that if I wanted I really don’t need to rely on anyone if I so chose to except for in very impersonal and indirect ways.  I can still conduct

my business, get groceries, get a car fixed etc, but don’t really need to get to “know” any of them and certainly no need to touch them or for them to touch me.  You can do most of your shopping on-line and have things brought to your door.  Banking and paying bills can be done on-line.  As a professor I could even be a solely on-line teacher.  And while I would still be reliant on society, my need to actively engage in it is not necessary.  Of course, that is not to say I couldn’t be a good person and give money to charities, I’d still be paying taxes, I may even be a fantastic teacher who can write well enough and give interesting exercises that will expand the minds of others.  The question is, is that the kind of future we want to be.  Clearly what I’ve outlined is a lot of personal choice, but it seems that this is a trend amongst those who are as privileged as me and worse yet it seems that this type of lifestyle is almost admired.

For those who do know me, you know I’m not a technophobe and I don’t think technology is evil, but I do think it is worth stopping and thinking about the lives we lead and whether we are going in a direction we want to be going, not only as an individual but as a species.  Is it simply not part of our

From http://www.stupidman.com

mental grammar to be surrounded by millions, making cities a place of almost fighting against the idea of community due to sensory overload in comparison to smaller and more rural communities?  Do we have specific social traits that come from millions of years of evolution such that we do ourselves harm as we become less and less reliant on the close proximity of our fellow man?  Or do we simply adjust easily to the times and simply find happiness where we find it?  What seems clear is that many of our prejudices and distrust comes from a lack of familiarity and empathy with struggles and hardships of others.  In some ways the power of the internet and new technologies bring us so much closer in an informational way, but less so in a physical way.  Does learning about someone’s struggle from a distance build the level of compassion necessary to help them in any meaningful way?  Or is it something that I can just say I care about, disseminate the information to others and then move on to the next interesting tidbit of information.

If I had something important to say, I should be glad that it could so easily reach a million people or even more.  But is it better to reach a million people without my smile, a friendly tone of voice and warm embrace?  Or do I change the world more through the interaction with a few hundred people that I meet while volunteering at a soup kitchen?  I guess Isaac Asimov’s writing made me worry that despite global warming the world might be getting colder.  It made me pause and wonder whether we may be trending towards more separation and isolation and thus towards less empathy and more apathy.

For me I will keep working on it, try to find the right balance.  I have now spent too much time in the digital world and I will now go spend time with the family. 🙂