Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Sad Truth about Our Species

It’s very hard to find any examples of people who have changed their minds.

--Paul Krugman (He's writing about deficit/inflation scolds, who have been forecasting higher interest rates for 5 years now, but the statement has universal applicability.)


G. Verloren said...

I used to have this exact general mentality. No longer.

John said...

Lol. It is certainly true that sometimes, for obscure reasons, masses of people change their minds -- consider gay marriage. On the other hand the ability of people to hold onto manifestly false beliefs in the face of massive contradictory evidence always astonishes me.

Col. Edward Karuthers said...

Wouldn't that be an example of the old "You can lead a horse" adage? Personally I look for an inkling of doubt in everything I think, because I understand that the longer a theory is out there, the more people dig into it. But, that would be another of singular change, wouldn't it?

G. Verloren said...

Change is slow. Glacially slow, even. But it occurs.

Human lifespans are too short to witness change on a historical scale, but clearly humanity has changed. The most obvious changes are of course technological, but there are others, less immediately prominent - cultural and even biological.

As animals, we are certainly more "domesticated" than humanity's earliest ancestors. We are definitely more biologically diverse, with the barriers between ethnicities eroding all the time. Our diets are different, and vastly expanded, et cetera.

But culture is at the heart of who we are, and there are clear trends throughout civilization. We started as tribes and villages, absolutely provincial in our worldviews. Today we are a globalizing community - still fragmented, still with many provincial shortcomings, but moving slowly in the direction of a more or less united species, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the great variety of our kind.

We have started to step away from our biological roots. We have begun to question our assumptions, and our predispositions. We have found fault with ourselves and our ways, and we have searched for better ways to live and to think. What were once seen as absolute facts of reality, we have since come to realize were entirely arbitrary and subjective inventions. We have stepped away from blind faith in the superficially plausible, and embraced a tendency to search for universal, objective truths - even when they are hidden from us, or when they end up being inconvenient or unsettling to us.

We are, as a whole, less arrogant. This is not to say we are the epitome of humility - but it is to say that we have begun to recognize that dissent is the rule of human experience, not the exception. We are not somehow privileged in our positions or vantage points. The world is not split into "Us" and "Them", "Self" and "Other", "Black" and "White". We have learned to recognize gray - and not just one shade of gray, but many subtle variations of it. We have admitted, at least somewhat, that we are the not the center of the universe; nor even the center of our galaxy; nor our solar system; nor even our planet. We have begun awakening to the notion that we are cosmically insignificant, and that our worth is measured not by the strength of our arms, nor the size of our tribes, nor the zealotry with which we champion our own individual interests.

We are, as a species, no longer an infant, concerned only with itself. We have passed through childhood, learning about ourselves and the world around us. We have now entered into the awkwardness of being a teenager - filling in the gaps in our general knowledge, and starting to polish and refine the sections we believed we had "mastered" previously. We're undergoing growing pains, changing in almost fundamental ways both physically and mentally. We are questioning. We are striving for meaning. And if we don't accidentally kill ourselves in some act of youthful recknessless, we may yet grow into maturity.