There is No Historical Point of Perfection for Human Civilization

We can wail about human flaws and foibles all we want – you know, “People are stupid.” Or, “How can people be so horrible to one another?” Or, “OMG, when will humans be extinct, once and for all, and save the planet?” But personally, I am a human and I don’t want us to be extinct. I want us to figure out how to protect our planet together, how to be good to one another, and how to think – not how to be Einstein-brilliant all the time, but how not to be stupid most of it.

Will that happen in my lifetime? This lifetime? I don’t know. I’m not holding my breath.

But chatting with a friend, Willard Campbell, this morning, on Facebook did lead to an interesting conversation and thoughts on what it means to be human. It started out with this:

https://www.facebook.com/PreventDisease/photos/a.10150626535342499.384817.199701427498/10153425383162499/?type=3&theater

My first thoughts were about the concept of forgiveness and redemption, and how pointless it is to apologize or try to be better if others are intent on not accepting an apology, no matter how sincere, or if they are unwilling to believe it’s possible for a person to change and be better. If there’s no hope of redemption, there’s little point in trying.

But it seems that this idea of perception and reintroduction is also part of our day-to-day experience on social media, as well. I wrote, “Think of how this plays out on Facebook. You know someone at a fixed point in time. You remember them a particular way. Maybe you don’t want to friend the 6th grade bully who tormented you on the soccer field; or maybe, in growing and changing, yourself, you realize that the odds of them being that same bully are slim, and you’re curious. You welcome them into your circle of online friends, even if you’re not sure you want to have lunch or a coffee with them. And maybe they have turned out to be wonderful people. The opposite can happen, too. You know someone from the past who was totally awesome. Life’s since turned them bitter, cynical, and all they want to share is racist pro-Nazi memes on Twitter, now, but you didn’t check that out and you happily accepted their Facebook friend request.” I thought for a bit and added, “But today – bottom line – they are who they have become.” We should take people for who they are – or, as the first post says, how they “reintroduce themselves, based on who they are today.” My first thought was a more positive one – about redemption. But my last thought included the people who’ve allowed themselves to turn bitter, cynical, and mean.

Willard latched onto the fact that I’d dragged social media into it. “Facebook does have the capacity to force us into time warps and interpersonal overload.”

It’s a widely-shared sentiment, echoed in the many posts declaring that friends are taking a break from the Internet, or deactivating their Facebook accounts, focusing more on the here and now and their face to face relationships. All laudable goals, assuming they do what they claim they will.

Most will be back, sooner than later. Because here’s the sort of thing that happens when we try to break up with the reality of modern life: “I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet” by Paul Miller. I have a deep-rooted suspicion most of us would find plenty of other ways to “waste time,” if that’s what we feel we’re doing there. Some people, though, like my daughter, have more specific plans in deactivating their social media accounts. Hers are to do well in grad school and focus on that, work, and offline activities until she has accomplished a very definite set of objectives. She’s not missing Facebook all that much, because rather than running from a vague sense of ennui and dissatisfaction and blaming Facebook for all her woes, she’s running towards a concrete goal and Facebook wasn’t serving her well.

So I asked Willard, “Are we really being ‘forced’?” We’re loving every minute of it. Every pointless argument “won” makes us feel we’ve accomplished something, without ever having to leave our chairs. Every little exchange with our friends makes us feel good – we don’t necessarily want to hang out with the next door neighbors over the back fence, and now our back yard and that fence are as long and windy and full of neighbors of our choosing as we let it be.

“Only until you realize it,” said Willard.

Well, okay, Mr. Cryptic, are you implying there’s a shadowy conspiracy at work, forcing us to be the hamsters on Mark Zuckerburg’s wheel, running the servers in…never mind, that might make a great short story. File that away for later. “Only until you remember to think and make conscious, deliberate choices,” I replied. “As with anything.” And if we don’t make conscious, deliberate choices, who are we to bitch and moan about how Facebook “manipulates” us, or how we are all victims of “propaganda”? To be aware and informed consumers, yes – absolutely. But to whine about it endlessly while taking advantage of the things we’ve grown accustomed to? What’s the point? For sure, Facebook wants to manipulate us, to “shape” our online behavior, to encourage us to buy what their advertisers are selling, mostly, and to prove its worth to shareholders. We’ve finally figured out that we are the product – but so long as we’re receiving what we perceive as fair value in exchange, we’re reasonably happy despite the occasional outcry and indignation over some trifling change in the privacy policy. Unless we’re really unhappy or angry enough to close our Facebook accounts once and for all – and mean it, not come slinking back under a variant of an assumed name – will Facebook have reason to care. It simply exists, and its purpose is to make money. That’s not evil, that’s reality – without money, there are no servers, not hardware upgrades, no electricity, no support staff, certainly no innovation in features we do want. 

Facebook-as-scapegoat aside, I think we’re more disillusioned in our fellow humans than anything. Through the Internet, over the past twenty-two years or so, we’ve seen a glimpse of the best and worst humanity has to offer, in ways that would have been difficult, slow, and expensive fifty years ago. Things that would once have involved reading a book or a newspaper, digesting information slowly over a few days, now come at us in videos and podcasts and 24/7 news cycles. We get to know people who live in India, China, Russia, and places we might not even have been allowed to travel to just decades ago. We find out just how much human beings really have in common, and we’re not always thrilled by that. (My mother used to tell me that the only things I did that made her really angry were the ones she knew I came by naturally – that she saw as being her fault, or related to some impulse she knew that she shared and probably passed on to me genetically or by example. In short, she was angry because she blamed herself or because it was like looking at herself in a mirror, and she wasn’t just angry with me, but with herself as well.) We need to be more compassionate, kinder to ourselves, as well as to others.

“There is no cure-all for anything,” I wrote back. “If Facebook makes you more unhappy than happy, close your account. It’s simple. If it makes you more happy than unhappy, learn to ignore most of the BS and focus on the positive aspects, same as with life itself. You are a man; you are not a leaf blowing in the wind. Yes, external manipulations and propaganda and negative people surround us, and this has always been true of human civilization. There was never any idyllic moment in human history when people were all wonderful and life was perfect. Focus on what you can control and what you can influence, and let go of that which frustrates you without giving you some benefit. (But be honest – most of us do love a good, righteous rant from time to time, and I think conflict serves to keep things interesting – as a writer, I cannot imagine a novel without conflict, but I also know most readers wouldn’t enjoy major conflict without a satisfying resolution of it, so beware the “crazymakers” that have no resolution and are stuck in an endless loop of wallowing.)”

Sometimes, I think I do give good advice. Now, if only I can follow it. 🙂 But I’m not leaving.

 

 

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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9 thoughts on “There is No Historical Point of Perfection for Human Civilization”

  1. No conspiracy. Just takes time to realize what is happening any how one wants to use it without wasting the effort due to poor returns in terms of “wins” and just plain good connections.

  2. The attitude is akin to the sin of having double velvet chocolate ice cream in the freezer. Sure, I’ll eat it. That doesn’t mean I need to devour the whole half-gallon right f….g now!
    Availability does not equal Servile Imposition.
    But, then again, with my lack of won’t-power….
    Roy A. Ackerman recently posted…Pinocchio CEO’sMy Profile

    1. VERY much the same!! But most adults can recognize how silly it is to blame the CAKE, whereas they are more inclined to blame “outside forces” for their lack of self-discipline or ability to USE the tool rather than be used BY it.

      IF you choose to devour the whole half-gallon right f…..g NOW, you will suffer consequences (and presumably, you’ve lived long enough and dangerously enough to know what they’ll be!) – it’s a choice. You may whine at yourself, “My tummy’s fat and it hurts,” but you don’t get to whine at your wife about it (without the fair risk of her saying, “Yeah, and you thought that wouldn’t happen WHY?”)

  3. You make excellent points, as always. I’m always hearing people who don’t use Facebook say things like, “Why would I want to post my personal business or pictures of my lunch? ~contemptuous snort~” And I always say, “It isn’t a RULE.” One who is always dissing FB and Twitter just let slip that she’s on Pinterest. hee hee! It is what it is, right? EVERYTHING is not just what it is, but what we make of it.
    Marian Allen recently posted…Cabbage FAIL, Cabbage WIN Part 2 #vegetarianMy Profile

    1. “What we make of it” – yes. It shouldn’t come down to “what it makes of US.”

      I don’t know if you’ve noticed the delicious irony of the fact that I cannot post a link to this post on Facebook (or any other, for that matter). I appear to be in Facebook time-out, or something. I’m not mad – I’m caught between annoyed and highly amused.

      Of course, I spent a good deal of the holidays off my computer altogether (I know, you couldn’t really tell – but I was playing with my phone and not all that IMMERSED, you know?) I could spend time off Facebook at the moment and only miss my friends, not the site. And I’m pretty sure you could send them over here FOR me, so… as long as not everyone leaves at once… ::dodges deftly so the FB door can’t hit her fat fanny:: 😀 It’s all good, but we’re at a stalemate at the moment. I’m not going to download their malware scanner (how do I know IT isn’t malware!?) and they may not let me post until I do.

      Whatevs. 😉
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Artistic ImpulsesMy Profile

  4. I’m doing a little experiment here in the comments – don’t mind me. According to Personality Insights (run on IBM’s Watson), an analysis of this text says, of me:

    “You are unpretentious, social and explosive.

    You are intermittent: you have a hard time sticking with difficult tasks for a long period of time. You are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys. And you are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them.

    Your choices are driven by a desire for connectedness.

    You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you. You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.”

    Some of this, I agree with. Some is just laugh out loud funny.
    HollyJahangiri recently posted…Twitter Quote Retweet Spam: a New TwistMy Profile

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