Pro Humanitate

“For Humanity”


“Pro Humanitate calls us to consider what we are as human beings and what constitutes genuine human flourishing.”

James Powell, Wake Forest University


This is about the interconnectedness between intentionality and existential issues. By existential issues I mean the nuanced relationship between the individual, the community (public and in business) and society. I don’t believe it is hyperbole to suggest we, humanity, is facing an existential moment <not a crisis> on a number of issues at exactly the same time. Now, this may feel like a crisis, but I’d suggest its more that it’s a number of issues, many of which feel unsolvable or unstoppable, all occurring at once. This leads me to intentionality. In order to meet the moment, we need to shed the thinking that (a) we need to deal with one at a time, (b) they are unsolvable, (c) I can do nothing that will have any real impact, and, well, implement some intentionality at an individual level, a community (collective) level and societal level. Yeah. I’m suggesting intentionality can bend the arc of existential issues away from stagnancy (or regressive behavior) and actually toward progress.

Now. That said. Let me begin by suggesting intentions begin with perception. Neither the individual, the community (a public one or a business one) nor society can begin to shape intentions without perceiving something of interest. This interest can be shaped or it can be reactive or it can be the natural arc of events. But all demand some attentiveness to be able to not only shape intentions, but also to invest the energy to bring intentions to bear. These are the forces that affect the future of the individual, the community and the society. It is within this battle of, well, intentional wills in which the present and future is shaped and any existential issues are addressed.

Which leads me to progress and people.

Progress always occurs faster than we imagined and slower than we want. What I mean by that is progress is not one single solid mass moving in one direction. It is more a bunch of different pieces of confetti getting blown around with some falling, some rising and some seemingly lost in circular motion floating aimlessly in the air. All this movement is crafted by the clashing of intentions and intentional actions. I imagine the point I am going to try and make today is it is within that clash progress is found – within the battles of skepticism, criticism, pessimism and, yes, optimism, intentional resilience forges ahead. But maybe I should begin with people because that clash is more often people pitted against people. And while I believe that has always been so I also believe it has sharpened in recent history and the present.

The easiest place for me to begin is hypocrisy – possibly the most misused word and idea slowing down progress. A fundamental cause of any disaffection with regard to intentions is the contradictions between what one says and what one does. These confusions can be real <which reflect disingenuous intentions> or parsed reality <less than helpful criticism of real progress>. This split reality is actually real contextually. We say we believe in integrity – except in business. We preach morality – except if you have money. We encourage hard work as the path to happiness – except we see empty of meaning success and dubious economically rewards. All of these things have elevated skepticism so that even when one genuinely has good intentions there will always be another person to point out where the intentions fall short. Yeah. Person versus person. It’s as if someone is always lurking to point out isolated events as failures of intent. This is a false or certainly poor use of ‘hypocrisy.’ I can claim intent, make progress, and still never be able to meet everyone’s judgement against those intentions. This is even worse if you are in the public eye. What I would suggest is that the ones with the best of intentions, and the most resilience, ignore the false hypocrisy claims. But. The larger damage is done to societal and community progress. The constant attack on good well intended intentionality blurs not only the good versus bad, but progress in general. What I mean by that is the objective-making gets so diffused that any progress attempts seem hypocritical and progress itself becomes a joke <skepticism reigns>.

Yeah. From all sides intentionality is barraged by skepticism, desire for real progress and actual disdain for what is perceived as unhealthy/unneeded progress. There has always been a rebellion against progress, but in today’s world that rebellion is fought in an asymmetrical fashion. What this means is that mindset and attitudes can be completely unraveled by one instance of behavior amplified by one person against another.

Which leads me to the existential unraveling.

A central belief, expectation, of every middle class is that no matter where, and how, you grew up you could become president <not that it is such a desirable objective these days but you get the point>- ‘poverty to president’ is kind of the ultimate vivid metaphor. Simultaneously, there was another belief that if a wealthy family made the same mistakes that one in poverty makes they, similarly, would not not prosper. There was a belief in some equity mostly grounded in fairness, hard work and education. Even aspirations were grounded in fairness.

These beliefs are challenged not only by the realities of the existing system, but by skepticism and skeptical people. Yet. Some protect the ideas by highlighting the few who exhibit the beliefs. And then some attack the ideas by highlighting the many the system has failed. Within the wretched hollow in-between are people with good intentions and ill-guided intentions. The ill-intended are intent on protecting that ‘expectation belief mindset’ for fear that if the mindset is challenged people will inherently stop doing the things that nudge luck out of the way on occasion and actually help someone intentionally craft their own fate <this wretched hollow is embodied McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y>. The well-intended seek to fix the system or improve it. This dissonance makes society dissonant. I would argue this is an existential issue.

And within this dissonance individual intentionality crashes into community intentionalities and chafes against some societal intentions. Intentionality falls apart. Doubt seeps in and skepticism overwhelms optimism. The smelly underbelly of this is ‘lack of responsibility.’ If intentionality has no or little reward than responsibility shifts only to ‘zero-sum’ individuality, no collective greater good <or smallish head nods to collective good>. This, in turn, feeds a sense of accumulation as an objective. Let me be clear. Intentionality of accumulation as a sense of success is hollow, soulless, meaning. Anyway. The complaints against someone’s intentionality can seem endless, because they are. They are because mindsets don’t appear to have a sense of commonality which means sensemaking has no shared ground.

And while we talk about how the internet and social media creates an existential issue, let’s take a moment and reflect upon how television has affected intentional mindsets. I would argue that if television reflects our values, principled behavior and what we stand for, the whole system is rotten. And if that system is rotten, we need to think about how we are bound to a system. That is most likely the greatest existential issue, yet, we never seem to discuss it nor discuss it existential nor discuss the intentionality one must take to ‘unbound’ a system and from a system. Systems are bound by mindsets. Oh. We may talk about fairmindedness or equality (or equitable), or meritocracy or any other cage we have built that is a system within which we do and think, but existential systems are sneaky bastards. They establish a foundational mindset which colors everything else in hues that are always a derivative of that mindset. Suffice it to say, I believe we are in the midst of an existential unraveling with regard to societal expectations and aspirations.

Which makes me circle back to television.

I don’t buy into the belief we are now a ‘video/visual’ world, that said, what we see day-in and day-out is so banal, so cheap, so shallow, all it can really do is drag down perceptions. Oh. Yeah. Remember I said upfront, intentions are tied to perceptions <as well as mindsets, attitudes, expectations and aspirations>. If we seek a world of public intelligence, one of the greatest communications tools ever invented is doing nothing constructive to further intelligence. I say that because anyone with genuine good intentions has to be intentional within that context. In a world of empty platitudes real depth of intentions faces a gauntlet of emptiness. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that gauntlet has different dimensions. The television dimension is one of establishing mindsets and attitudes while the social media dimension is one of verbal harpoons and harpooning.  Intentional behavior ignores any and all at its own risk.

Anyway. One not need be a futurist to have a sense there is, and will continue to be, a continuous destabilizing grinding down of the social structure. It will demand intentionality to slow the grinding down and reverse it to building up to what we believe we could, and should, be.

Which, finally, leads me to technology.

The battle between technology, algorithms in particular, and humans is quickly becoming an existential crisis. This existential crisis will demand some intentionality – from tech people and people in general. Now. Some people will suggest this is an ‘accountability issue’ and focus solely on people. I can’t. I can’t because I think that’s wrong (but still part of the equation). A number of really smart people like Daniel Schmachtenberger, Mike Walsh and Jaron Lanier have all pointed out algorithms are smarter than us. I would add that not only are they smarter (an ability to tweak our dopamine and engagement vulnerabilities), but they are relentless.

I, personally, didn’t fully grasp the existential aspect of this until the 2016 USA presidential election. It was the first time I felt (a) the onslaught of algorithm driven messaging and (b) the dogmatic view of a large group of people that they could never have been influenced from an algorithm driven message. The combination gave me pause. I knew from my experience in the advertising world that people generally believe only other people are susceptible to advertising. But advertising is often fairly subtle in its attempt to veer you toward thinking some stupid shit to buy their stupid shit. But 2015/2016 was such an onslaught of obvious lack-of-discernable-reality I thought people would never be duped by it. They were. In fact. I knew it was existential when I actually had an advertising professional suggest there was no way people would be duped by “7000 Facebook ads.’ Someone who should know better, did not.


This isn’t about the 2016 election; this is about existential issues and the intentionality that is necessary to address them.

Social constructivism, the art of constructing our collective fate, demands intentionality at all levels – individual, community and society. It demands a coherence of resilient intentions because diffusion in environment – all these existential issues – quadruples the challenge for any intentionality. One must assume the mantle of responsibility and responsibility requires intentionality. Inevitably this intentionality is the weapon against disorientation. Intentionality gives is a ‘sense of agency’ in which we no longer simply get buffeted by asynchronous waves of skepticism and obstacles to progress but rather we become ships on a sea of progress. We become responsible and accountable and gain at least some semblance of control. But that is just your part. Communities must work together, the collective needs to accept both individual and society as part of the grander narrative and society needs some common sensemaking. I would argue the trick is to mix and match strategies in response to the nature of the opportunity and the behavior, actual and desired, of the population. We need to stop attacking genuine good intentions and intentionality with false cries of “Hypocrisy!!” toward all moments where someone’s intentions fall short of some dubious judgement of someone else’s behavior.

“Usually, one doesn’t not even know the dynamics of the system that one wants to control well enough to program a computer to simulate them, let alone how to control the system in the presences of perturbations.”

Seth Lloyd

The truth is that all the systemic issues I highlighted earlier are human-made and, therefore, can be unmade. But the larger trouble with parsing intentions and having people versus people with regard to existential attacks is that any semblance of control of our current systems, or even just navigation, requires insightful awareness – of self, community and society. This means the capacity to know what to pay attention to as well as what to selectively ignore becomes of significant value. And maybe that is my larger point, we should not ignore existential issues, but selectively ignore some individual asymmetrical behavior tied to symmetrical objectives – i.e., genuinely good intent toward objectives (symmetrical intent) ignoring ill-intended criticism on any asymmetricity found in effort.

In the end.

If we seek humanity to flourish, on a meta or mesa level, at some point you stop feeling sorry for being powerless among a variety of existential issues and begin to understand you are here for some purpose and that humanity needs to be actively engaged and intentional. You learn the powers/skills you have must, or should, be intentionally used to inspire and activate progress. You learn whatever your skills may be are simply keys and no matter how useless you may feel, or the world attempts to make you feel, or even other individuals in your community make you feel <the pessimistic, skeptical and critical>, sometimes the biggest difference you can make for the world is to figure out the right door to open with your key. I would argue that last line and thought can only be achieved if you are intentional.

All that said. As I began, coherence between individual, community and society is what enables progress and even if you open the right door with your intentional key, that doesn’t guarantee that another door needs to be opened. I remain optimistic with regard to people, humanity and society. I believe if we increase our competence with regard to, well, everything, the demand for competent people will always remain and will always be needed to enable progress. Now. I am not speaking of technical competence. Doctors, engineers, software designers, etc., are fairly easy to train to competent levels. I am speaking of competence in moral leadership, ethical thinking and integrity in actions which are a bit more difficult train for. And maybe that is my point. We need to intentionally train for critical thinking competence, moral competence and ethical competence if we are to ever meet the existential issues at hand.


Amidst this clash of existential issues, it becomes just as easy to tune everything out as it is to obsess over a splinter of a skeptical criticism. It is the diffusion of ‘what matters.’ What this, in turn, elicits is a general rejection of the underpinnings not just of values, but what is valued. A good education gets valued less because it seems to pragmatically mean less. Doing the right thing gets valued less because it seems to pragmatically get less. Being honest, kind and fair gets valued less because it seems to pragmatically mean little. All of this belittles the idea of happiness and assaults our sense of what true meaning is beyond, well, some simplistic pragmatic view centered on “winning” or wealth. All of this suggests societal hierarchy is not something to be climbed, but something inevitable as it currently exists. There are no common values, simply shared false values which are only selectively valued. That means the tug of war between progress and stagnancy tilts toward stagnancy, if not regression.



Authors note:

This piece had a couple of key inspirations. The first is David Amerland and his book, Intentional, for making me think about being intentional and intentionality more than I have ever before. The second is just television itself. I don’t have a lot of free time and do not watch a lot of television. The other day I had a bit of time and scanned the programming available to me, Netflix and HBOMax included, only to find with few exceptions, the most vapid choices. It made me realize that unless you were quite intentional with your TV viewing the mindset TV portrays with regard to our system in totality suggests everything is pretty rotten.

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Written by Bruce