“This is the threat to our lives that we all face today. Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system to the attainment of human purposes?”

Joseph Campbell


“Technology is a great servant, but a terrible master.”

Sherry Turkle


“It is a matter of understanding that society is both very, very good and simultaneously very, very bad. Reality is rich. It has room for plenty of extremes. It has multitudes of contradictions. We must increasingly learn to live and deal with such paradoxes. You don’t have to choose one side. Both are true.”

Hanzi Freinacht


For a variety of reasons, I seem to be consistently disappointed in humans these days. I say that and I believe in human kindness, believe most people are smarter than we <the system> lets them be and believe most people try and do the right things. But at the heart of my current disappointment resides technology and how we appear to be thinking technology is gonna fix, well, humans and humanity.

We appear to live in a world with a misguided boundless optimism tied to an absurd belief that numbers, or some version of twisted math, can explain anything and there must be a solution for every problem (technology is inextricably tied to numbers). I begin there to suggest that technology has tended to bring out the worst of us as more and more of us adopted it. This is odd because it started as a good thing with flaws and now it has simply become a flawed environment which amplifies our worst flaws. Technology, simultaneously, makes us smarter and dumber.

Which leads me to the fact we often view technology as the future and, yet, paradoxically, want it because we seem to think it has the power to change the past. We keep looking backwards and developing technology to attempt to fix old arguments, conflicts and mistakes. I would add we even use it to attempt to change the present (see beauty filters that reshape our images). It’s a race to fix something unfixable. I would argue it’s a race to fix somethings we shouldn’t even attempt to fix. Sometimes it’s enough to make anyone doubt the human race. We have received a gift, and, yes, technology is a gift, one which we alone of all the species on this world have the ability to use to explore the past, present and future. We could build on our triumphs, learn from mistakes, discover things that were once undiscoverable, and instead of regarding it as a wonderful gift, we time and time again simply use it for nothing more than exploitation in the pursuit of a buck or, maybe even worse, for nothing more productive than some incredibly unhealthy social behavior.

Which leads me to Marx and Engels of all people. They grounded their thinking on a belief the country was an uncivilized place populated by idiots (I don’t agree). I would note that same distinction occurs in today’s thinking – leaders treating employees like idiots as well as city ‘intellectuals’ thinking rural idiots abound and politicians, in general, just being idiotic. This simplistic divide is timeless. But they have a larger point lurking in there. Engels thought cities were “something against which human nature rebels” speaking in terms of intellectual and spiritual/moral aspects. But what he was really suggesting was that capitalist cities were becoming devoid of ‘humanity’, homes to human poverty, where individualism prospered. But it’s not just the cities, its everywhere now. The zero-sum game has crept into every community and for the most part business lacks any sense of solidarity with society encouraging each person to pursue their own self/selfish interests (note: businesses actually believe this is the way to ‘optimize productivity’). I would be remiss if I didn’t point out if you remove collective meaning, or relegate it to a lesser value, than there really is no reason to treat someone WITH humanity <except as window dressing>. Circling back to the topic at hand, I am disappointed people allow this to happen. We have permitted the tragedy of commons to be, well, common.


“However, even if we accept that citizens are not primarily causally responsible for our poor information environments, it could be argued that they nonetheless have a remedial responsibility to mend them.”

Solmu Anttila

Which leads me to staying involved.

Look. I understand that in a complex uncertain world where it feels like you are constantly under attack (senses being bombarded and cognitive overload), and that everyone else is going to do something and if you do not you will be at a disadvantage, so a seemingly reasonable response is to seek to minimize your ‘attack surface.’ This is where you attempt to reduce your exposure to shit. And this is where technology really is a sonuvabitch. It seems like this would be a common sense, if not sane, tactic just to survive mentally. The problem is the technological weapons in today’s world improve exponentially faster, in effectiveness, when focused on a smaller target. It’s the conundrum of the complex world in which technology increases exponentially against you as you decrease your involvement space. So while I understand why most people retreat, I am disappointed they aren’t attempting to fight. Yeah. Technology has created a fundamental restructuring, and connectivity, of the relationship between an individual and society. And, yeah, technology is using tools to manipulate us on almost a minute-by-minute basis. But retreating isn’t really an option. Here is where I will lose some people. I am all for trying to change the system itself, but I think individuals need to embrace the battle – and the future. I believe to combat the emergence of AI people will have to aggressively augment themselves in terms of intelligence, skills, and expertise. This may sound like science fiction, but within this conversation is the exploration between brain-computer interfaces which could connect our brains directly to any computer to enhance our brains, critical thinking and general awareness (I would also toss in bioscience – embedded chips – but that is another topic for another day). This certainly has risks, but also offers rewards. In combination with the individual augmentation, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out smart cities and infrastructure augmentation. This is structural value creation of which all individuals could and should benefit and combined with my first point it offers a deeper individual connectivity to context/environment to augment our thinking and awareness. In order to get onboard with my thinking many of us would need to shed the concept of some ‘ideal of self.’ Look. Through technology we have reshaped the world, for good and bad, which as a consequence has made us in and of this world. “It is no longer possible to adopt the aloof and dissociated role of the literate Westerner,” Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964. We are all direct participants now. In addition, we now better recognize that each human has a multitude of different intrinsic incentives, desires, instincts, and biases. We need to be in and of the environment in order to be involved enough to shape the future let alone even understand the present. The only way I can see to do this is to amplify our senses so that we are capable of sensing what we need to and the only way I can see doing that is augmentation through technology (because technology is the ally and the enemy). None of this is easy, but I am disappointed so many people will not even consider this path.

Which leads me to how rationalizing everything is killing us.

Continuing my last thought, we can rationalize ourselves out of anything – good or bad.

“However society might wish to make scientific progress efficient, the truth about complex systems is that trying to simplify them doesn’t guarantee that they become more effective; it risks making them less effective. They function best when they are robust, throwing off a vast array of insights whose value may be realised over time. That means they can look wasteful, producing more than what is needed. But when you don’t know what’s needed, you’re safer with more.”

Margaret Heffernan

What I just said sounds, well, irrational. We often do not think about irrationality of behavior and its relationship to attitudes and beliefs. Sometimes something seems like the right thing to do, or ‘the thing to do,’ and when asked someone will reconstruct the beliefs and attitudes to “rationalize” it. To the outside world that person will appear irrational (doing something based on emotion), but if you ask them, 99% of the time they will create some fairly rational looking and sounding things to explain it all away. I say that to suggest we should be wary of rational explanation for seemingly irrational behavior (and vice versa). My point here is that we use rationalization as if it is some superpower when in reality it can talk us out of doing a shitload of good things. Mostly I am disappointed that humans always seem to be grasping about for some rational reason to not do something that really have no single answer to do – particularly with technology. In that fumbling around we inevitably grab onto whatever ‘feels’ right if we can convince ourselves it puts our feet on the path to an answer we can live with. That rationalization gives us a faux superpower to uncover what is the ‘right thing to do.’ Needless to say, no one on earth has this superpower.

“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.”

Viktor Frankl

What’s a little more dangerous is that belief in this superpower almost becomes an ideology. Ideology is a highly communicable social contagion that exploits the universal human longing for social validation and fear of being cast out. This ideology is amplified by social and news-media feedback loops that now fill the vacuum left by the loss of shared sustainable values. We are going to have to do some wrong things, and we will as humans do, to finally get it right.

Which leads me to how we can stop being disappointed with humans.

I believe it was Albert Camus who said that he was pessimistic about the human condition and optimistic about humankind. While technology is racing ahead at an exponential speed, I sometimes wonder if we humans have gone as far as we can go. Our general stupidity has curbed our progress to a point where the only things it seems we can do is bludgeon each other in the here and now and pursuing wealth with a self-interest focus. That said. It was John Maynard Keynes who said humans are not economic entities striving for subsistence. They are complex beings who face a new problem: “the permanent problem of the human race — how to use one’s freedom, “how to live wisely, agreeably, and well.”

Maybe if we want to be a little less disappointing, we should stop focusing on economic trends and instead tap into human nature. We are not doomed to the lowest common denominator or what could be called the tragedy of the commons. The truth is humans, left to their own devices and not squeezed by a zero-sum world view, actually work well collectively and for a greater good. There is an abundance of evidence that show humans still cooperate and work well with each other and that the tragedy of commons is not a certain fate.

Maybe if we want to be a little less disappointing we should embrace our inner-Adrian Bejan: “For a finite size system to persist in time, to live, it must evolve with Freedom such that it provides easier and greater access to What flows”. The laws of physics suggests the evolution of any type of flow system is its inclination to liberate its stream and remove any type of obstacle to keep moving and, as a consequence, survive.

Maybe we should see the pathway forward as enabling a flow system to prosper (and survive) and stop continuously building walls and obstacles within this flow system.

“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”

Tom Robbins

Maybe we should stop rationalizing all the reasons to not do something and begin doing some things that make us uncomfortable.

We are living in a highly competitive multi-polar trap world in which we will inevitably face a far greater variety of problems than ever before which will demand collective action – or we will be disappointed. That said. We will also have a greater variety of alternatives than ever before. And maybe if we would like to be a little less disappointed in humans, we will embrace some of the alternatives and shape the future we desire. Ponder.

Written by Bruce