In the introduction and Part 1 of this series, I made two claims:
The first was that our growing separation from one another is the most significant problem our nation faces. The second was that our disagreements are, in a sense, “wired in,” arising from the unique context of our experience and predispositions.
On the surface, that doesn’t sound encouraging.
However, reality is neither given nor fixed. It’s a co-creation of perspective and events. When perspective changes, our behaviors change along with it.
In “Genes of the Soul,” Amin Maalouf writes:
“A person’s identity is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment. Touch just one part of it, just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound.”
When our perspective changes, our behavioral drum makes a new sound. Whether this change occurs intentionally, through accident, or by force, the unimaginable becomes commonplace when our perspective changes.
The first thing we must do to change our behavior, or in this case, to heal our separation, is to work at changing our perspective.
Let’s take a stab at that by expanding our perspective outwardly beyond “Self” and the petty disagreements we have with one another to the scope of the world.
During the past 80 years, the world’s population doubled twice. As the corresponding consumption of raw materials increased it had a profound impact on the Earth. China poured more concrete from 2009 through 2012, than the United States poured during the entire 20th century!
I like buying stuff, but on a world scale, our consumption trends are unsustainable. Elon Musk, who has a large brain and a large wallet, believes that our species needs to escape Earth to survive. His company, Space X, mission statement is “to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” That’s certainly a different perspective. It sounds a little crazy to me, but so did Tesla.
The “Our World In Data” Organization recently published a chart that puts Homo Sapien’s tenure on Earth in perspective. Today, 8 billion people inhabit the Earth. However, an estimated 109 Billion people have lived and died in humanity’s past. Each year 140 million people are born, and 60 million die. The figure below charts the flow of humanity, with each dot representing 10 million individuals:
Today’s population represents only 7% of lives that have been lived. Where does that place us along the timescale of humanity’s tenure on Earth? Are we at half-time or possibly even in the 4th quarter of our existence?
Dr. William MacAsskill, professor of philosophy at Oxford University, says humanity’s journey has only just begun! If Homo Sapiens last as long as the average mammalian species (1 million years), 99.5% of the lives to be lived are still ahead of us!
Wait, what? 110 Billion souls “baked in,” and still 99.5% of our species is yet to come? That doesn’t seem possible, given how we treat the Earth and one another.
Dr. MacAsskill, disagrees and advocates for something he calls “Longtermism.”
“Longtermism is about taking seriously just how big the future could be and how high the stakes are in shaping it.”
Even if the human species doesn’t survive another few hundred thousand years, we will still face problems that make our current issues seem small. Take, for instance, natural resources. Can the Earth’s natural resources support another 1000 years of growth?
I went down that rabbit hole, and the answer appears to be no!
Let’s be optimistic and say global growth slows to just 1% per annum. Based on the math of compound growth, that translates to a doubling every 72 years or 14 “doublings” over the next 1000 years!
The Earth’s population will not double 14 times by 3022; there would be no place to stand! Our natural resource reserves won’t support 14 doublings of consumption either. Things are going to change! A lot, and when they do, humanity’s perspective will also change.
Expanding one’s perspective from “Self” to the world, and from this moment in time to the billions of lives that will follow us, sheds new light on the issues that polarize us today.
Perspective is burned into one’s psyche, it’s not easy to change, but that is precisely what is needed. We need to reboot the human psyche up into a new operating system. We need a new algorithm through which we process our experience. Viewing ourselves as separate from one another must change. Rather than a utopian dream, this is a pragmatic necessity.
Today we live “outside-in,” meaning events shape our lives. What if we flipped that around 180 degrees, and a new “inside-out” perspective of unity shaped our actions and ambitions? What if, rather than focusing on our differences, we focused on our shared humanity by default? What if our preoccupation with “Me” became a preoccupation with “We?”
Such a change in context would have a dramatic impact on the world!
The “We” scenario may seem like a utopian dream, but “longtermism” suggests we better start moving in that direction!
We can “move the needle” a little today and perhaps tomorrow. Even a modest shift in perspective will materially change the world! Instead of the Red States battling the Blue States, one day, we might begin working on our collective state!
Maybe the next time somebody from the “other side” angers us, we should shift our focus to our shared humanity and joint responsibility for the future.
If not for ourselves, then at least for our children’s children’s children!
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