Everyday life in the modern world involves 65 million things to care about. This is true wherever there is internet really but New York City not the least of places. Buzzfeed and facebook beg for our attention with stories about last weeks terrorist attack, the prospects of curing Hungtington’s disease, joblessness in rural Michigan, and whether or not Hillary Clinton is a good human being. In fact, to dig deeper into the progressive nexus of worries is to have the opportunity to fly from Sri Lanka to Samoa, Belgium to Bangkok, Uganda to Uraguay, and feel the emotional pain of each and every form of disparity throughout.
To millennials who grew up being told 1) that the point of their meager existence was to change the world in a not so meager way, and 2) that all human beings are of inherently equal value, it feels like the natural extension of the story. The struggle of humanity are countless, and they are paramount to our modern culture. Has ambivalence been the norm for 10,000 years of human civilization, just recently too evolve into empathy on a large scale in our modern culture? Seems unlikely. So, what factors have brought us humans to our modern thought loop? To our goal of collective enlightenment which seems like a sisyphus-ian nightmare in the light of the news? Is this our inevitable destiny, to be endlessly frustrated by the fact that we are stuck in the matrix of our own collective nature?
In my mind, three (broad) factors have shaped my personal evolution to these crossroads.
- As an abject counterexample to the 99% of human history and 70% of the modern world (don’t quote these estimates) that have their own problems occupying 100% of their thought space by necessity, I am well off. I have food, water, shelter, significant education, good health, and little debt. This enables me to consider how I’m going to use any given percentage of my ambition to help the world. This is a nice thing which I wouldn’t want to change, though it’s really only a foundation.
- The rise of multiculturalism combined with post WWII, civil rights movement inspired anti-ethnocentrism philosophy which is taught in schools, catalyzed by the teachings of my wonderful parents, helped me conclude that everyone in the world is your brother or sister. And if they’re starving or dying, it’s intolerable. Regardless of the fact that I don’t necessarily agree with all quote unquote “liberal values”, this is a wonderful thing and I’m glad so many people I’m surrounded by think this way.
- Today is the day of smart phones, facebook, Twitter and YouTube. There is a video of basically everything which has happened in the year of 2016 so far online. And you are constantly reminded of all of the things, and it doesn’t hurt that the more we each care the more of this stuff ends up on facebook or buzzfeed. This is the match which (constantly) lights the fire.
So I know what you’re thinking. So? Why are you blogging about how a lack of ambivalence is a problem? This is all great!
That’s why I want to focus on #3. The 65 million things. The other day I was getting blood drawn and the nurse suddenly flipped the chairs in built news TV in my face and turned it to CNN. And suddenly the slight lack of blood I had at the time made me more keenly aware than ever of how this stuff literally makes us dizzy.
Two things happen when we hear everything about everything everyday.
- One is the classic, “which class and specialization do I choose” dilemma. So many things, so little time.
Emotional impulse dictate that we come to have strong opinions about everything, though in reality we can only put enough time and effort to have any impact on a few things in our lives. It’s more efficient to just pick something and stick by it. Hence, yes there are 65 million things, but rather than being 65 million short breaths of an answer arranged haphazardly into the unstable frame of a modern social justice warrior maybe we should start applying the 80/20 rule.
My new life mantra. The 80/20 rule dictates, as per my understanding, that, you put 80% effort into 20% of things, and 20% effort into 80% of things. People do this, variously, but in my mind it’s the only way to truly prevent the kind of sociopolitical ADHD which modern information systems present without becoming truly ambivalent about anything. (*Better yet, I’ll put 80% of that 80% effort, thus 64% of total effort, into 20% of the 20% of things I care about, which is 4%)(**maybe this is overthinking things).
- The second, and perhaps more important, is the rule of selective acceptance.
I use the term selective acceptance to contrast the term ambivalence. One or the other will eventually stem from the fact that, of all the things we hear about, we have a chance to make any sort of direct impact on so few. Yes, we can vote, that is great. Yes, we can argue our point, that has diminishing returns. But in the end there are few things that we can actively step out and do today which will prevent a mass shooting in Texas or organ trafficking in Myanmar. Or, for that matter, even to prevent our friend from getting diabetes if she wants to eat that cake. Point? There are always factors which are out of our control, and one of the great spiritual truths that I have come to accept is that sometimes we need to breathe out and say, “this is out of my control, so I am going to put 0% energy into it”. In fact, I am now trying to consider all of this with each thought that comes into my head.
Because, once you start doing this, you realize that somewhere on the line to being a good person, so much of what you now do is in an eternal effort for control.
So. I would say that the direction of being empathetic in thought, word and action to the world’s problems is so very necessary. But, the effort to selectively focus and divert attention and relinquish control is the real red pill. It is how we wake up to the real world, and smell the eternal field of flowers that lies between every terrible loss.