The Howling

Modern life is full of miracles. Problems that bedeviled humanity for 5000 generations have solutions so commonplace that we have forgotten what true struggle looks like. The last two centuries have seen a boom in human progress and flourishing. Even with two world wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation marring our recent history, we have somehow managed to endure and improve the lives of billions. In less than a human lifetime more than half the world has been lifted out of extreme poverty. We can be instantly connected to each other, know what is happening in the world and access the vast accumulation of human knowledge with effortless simplicity. By most objective measures, the world has never been better.

Yet there is so much damn noise.

Spend any time on social media, or God help you the comment section of any major medium, and you’d think the world was in flames. Somehow we’ve managed to take our remarkable accomplishments and squander them by lying, complaining, hurling insults, screaming across echo chambers, and collectively retreating into vacuous tribalism. I shouldn’t be surprised - technology is first and foremost an amplifier. Which is why we hear the howling.

The howling is everywhere. Social media and partisan viewpoints combine to form perpetual outrage machines. Anger, hatred and fear can be monetized. Groups polarize against each other. Because there is always an enemy and if there isn’t one then one must be fabricated. One of the unfortunate tendencies of group dynamics is that the more extreme members will tend to pull the conversation and the attention in their direction. Agitation and trolling earns them points. This normalizes that extreme within the group and makes listening much less likely. Which is how you end up with well-intentioned, semi-rational people that actively hate each other.

News has to be terrible to grab attention. Incomplete facts must be weaponized to serve an ideology. Disinformation and anger do not fuel debate, they destroy it. So we talk past each other, invent divergent realities and allow today’s outrage to grow. To infiltrate the cracks in our already fractured world and expand them by a hair’s width. To what end? Do you think that by vilifying the other side and them vilifying you that we’ll be able to keep this remarkable inheritance? This is not how systems work. That which you do not work to maintain, entropy will destroy. The howling only furthers that end.

The world is not perfect. I am not saying that there aren’t real issues in need of addressing. Those things will need conversation, work, sacrifice and compromise, not angry hashtags, reposted nonsense or online trolling. There is a kernel of validity and truth on all sides that should be heard and deeply considered 1.

My hope is that all this noise comes from a small, vocal minority (that just happens to include a few powerful people). That there is a reasonable, conscientious, quiet majority operating on the side of wisdom. They carry on with the work of holding things together and making the world better. I endeavor to be one of them. Those that can disregard the noise and carry on with building, supporting and improving the common good. They are the center that must hold. We just can’t hear them over the howling.

  1. Note that being heard and considered does not mean supported and agreed with. Humans have intrinisic worth but their beliefs do not. Which is why you should understand what Flat Earthers are about without giving them research grants. ↩︎

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