minus-1 ramblings for progress

More rambling time.

Let’s contemplate the evolution of social ideas for a bit- how cultural shifts happen. They’re really complex things of course, and I don’t want to get into all the specific details- there are many people far more intelligent than me who have spent their entire lives studying these phenomena. But here’s my ignorant layman’s perspective: things like women’s suffrage, the abolishing of slavery and the end of the Cold War all have something in common, in that they are emergent phenomena. They happen because millions of people were having conversations about them- people were talking about them in private, in schools, at their barbers. There are certain events that we consider to be turning points (watersheds, the history professors like to call them!), and we study those events- but I think we don’t consider the importance of regular conversation nearly as much as we should. Conversations (which perhaps might be considered a subset of art- things like movies and theater that’s crafted with the intent of communicating something and provoking thought) play a huge role in changing things.

Big problems are not always caused by big causes, and are not always resolved by big solutions. I’m looking at things like economic crises, poverty, human trafficking, poverty, AIDS. It’s usually the sum of a lot of little things that clog up the larger system. Grand solutions rarely exist. The hardest and biggest problems we face usually can only be resolved by better fundamentals. If you want to be fit and healthy, you need to eat right, exercise well, have a healthy emotional and psychological state- to be happy with your work and your relationships with others. If we put our individual lives in parallel with the life of our species at large, similar things arise- we tend to want to solve problems with band-aid solutions. Throwing money at the poor will not solve their problems.

What changes these things? It’s not immediately clear- in fact we probably won’t know until after it happens. After that, we’ll look back and think “oh, that’s why”. Nobody really predicted the end of the Cold War. (Well, maybe some people did.) But for the most part, people were preparing themselves from nuclear war. It never happened. Conversations happened instead. People were talking, they were watching movies and plays about how ludicrous it all was, the thoughts and ideas bounced all around the world- and soon people collectively started to feel that the whole conflict was a bit pointless, redundant, unnecessary- and that’s what it became. The nuclear weapons are still in existence, but it no longer feels like they’re going to destroy us.

Similarly, politics in Singapore has been changing- we no longer feel like our relationship with Malaysia is the most important thing that we have to worry about, and we’re able to co-operate with them on things that our forefathers were unable to. We’ve made tremendous progress in LGBT acceptance and rights- I did not expect DADT to be repealed for at least another 10 years or so, or for gay marriage to be legalized. Why did it happen so much sooner? I think it’s because people are having a lot more conversations, there’s a lot more sharing of ideas, we’re exposed to a lot more than our predecessors might have been. We’re exposed to a lot more frivolous rubbish too, and perhaps we should tone that down- but the good stuff still happens, and it still counts. I find that places like Tumblr, Youtube and Twitter are developing minds and immune systems of their own- intolerance and bigotry is slowly and systemically being weeded out by… everyone! I find that beautiful to be a part of. I don’t believe that I’m going to make the world a better place by myself- I believe we’re all going to do it together. So we gotta talk about it.

I think we have to transcend egos and self-centeredness- we have to come to terms that self-interest means looking out for each other, because we are all connected, we are all a part of something greater than ourselves- and one of the best ways to empower yourself is to empower those around you. [7 Habits: win-wins.] Ideas like these I feel need to be proliferated around the world, and become a part of common sense. Perhaps I’m wrong, in which case I’ll do a little more trial and error. The point is, we got to try. And fail. And try again. And fail better. We’ll fail our way to success, and keep trying. C’mon. We are the ones, this is the time. We live in the most exciting period in all of human history, perhaps the most exciting period throughout the history of the universe (at least in the context of our galaxy!). We have GOT to make some incredible progress here. We have to stop looking out for ourselves in a selfish manner- I find it limiting to think locally, even- I want our generation- the people born in the 90s- to be considered the most epic motherfuckers in the history of the human race, more so than the philosophers and artists of the past. I think we can do it. (Of course, the truth is that we are all a part of a larger organism- we all owe everything to everyone that came before us, and credit is always due to those who came before, because they lit the way for the rest of us to follow.)

As Da Vinci put it- there will be wings- if not for me, then for some other. He was right. Well, there will be intelligence, thoughtfulness, compassion- if not for me, then for some other. C’mon. C’mon!!!

I imagine that the end of poverty, xenophobia and other terrible things about the world today will happen the same way. Perhaps grand things might happen- but I’m guessing it’ll be a lot more slow and steady than we imagine. [Way slower and way less steady.] People will gradually and collectively figure things out, through trial and error. So we need to work on increasing the number of proper and documented trials, reduce unnecessary and stupid errors, and ensure that those errors are survivable. And we need to talk, we need to talk a whole lot about what we think, about what we want. Who’s going to change the world? Everybody, and nobody. It’s a process that’s greater than ourselves and it will be our duty and honour to be a part of it.

Personally I’m interested in understanding this process a little better, in the “I can do it” sense. I want to see the end of militant nationalism and xenophobia- I want to play a role in challenging people to think about it. To think globally, to see the bigger picture.

Too often we use the status quo as justification for what cannot be done in the future. You’d think we’d have learnt by now. We look at our ancestors with embarrassment, thinking- how on Earth were they able to convince themselves that racism, slavery, alchemy and other such primitive ideas were okay? Our descendants will think the same of us, wondering why we struggle with silly things like nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, climate change. We’ll look like a bunch of idiots!

I want to play a role in strengthening and perpetuating ideas that will stimulate and encourage human thought and initiative- to influence popular imagination, to encourage people to think for themselves, to challenge themselves and one another to be constructive, to create and transcend. We need to learn to manage systems- our health, our emotions, our finances- and each other. Obama’s more perfect union, Socrate’s Gadfly- to synthesize disparate ideas, to reveal harmony, to ignite interest in the wisdom of the ancients, to constantly contrast unexpected ideas from different schools of thought.

I know I’m not being very clear here, that’s the problem with rambles like these. I’m sacrificing some degree of clarity and accuracy in an attempt to get my thoughts out. Feel free to criticize and engage me on this so that I can improve the expression of my position- please do, the honour is mine.