A Knowledge Revolution
In early November 2014, I came across a Financial Times article featuring an interview with Larry Page, one of the two founders of Google and its CEO, about his new focus on reformulating Google's mission. Page shared some of his ruminations about using Google's resources to transcend its present mission of "organiz[ing] the world's information and mak[ing] it universally accessible and useful" to "have a much more positive impact on the world."
Reading this made me recall ideas that had struck my mind a few months earlier about the preservation, advancement, and teaching of knowledge destined to cause a leap in human development. I had known then that I was on to something extraordinarily important, but had not seen a clear next step for its implementation. The interview with Page changed that. I learned that my concept, and the work on my book that had led to it, had addressed a surprising number of issues motivating Page's considerations. Realizing that somebody in a key position to implement my concept was making some of the same inquiries to which I had found answers, I jotted down the outline of my thoughts that is reproduced below.
Revolutionary as my concept may be, it is beautifully aligned as an organic advancement of Google's current business model and its current mission while also holding the promise of having a much more positive impact on the world.
On November 17, 2014, I e-mailed my outline to Page and the other founder of Google, Sergey Brin. My discussion was bifurcated in correspondence with their apparent twofold inquiry. Its first part addressed the larger context of how technological progress would interact with humanity. The second part described how Google might position itself with regard to technological progress. The following excerpt lays out both propositions:
"1. The Larger Context of Technological Development.
Eight years ago, I started to intensely think and write about many of the questions percolating in your minds how we can make this a better world. The result is a detailed and comprehensive book by the name of Philosophy of Happiness (see http://www.philosophyofhappiness.com).
My philosophy is HARMONIC DEVELOPMENT of and among personal existence, humanity, and the more extended environment. I believe it is a necessary philosophy if humanity is to survive and thrive. As you already perceive, technological development poses tremendous challenges for individuals and for organizations like Google that are driving and guiding such development. Maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of technological change for a better world requires an overarching concept of where the world is heading and what we must and can do to help.
I am not claiming to have all answers or even questions. Your expertise is essential in that respect. However, I have thought deeply about the overarching concept and many of its features, and would like to share the results with you. You will shortly receive a free of charge download link from Palioxis Publishing for the pdf e-book version of my book. Other versions are available.
As you know, there are important issues regarding the interaction and possibly merger of technology and nature, including human nature, that increasingly require your attention. My book describes these issues and points to their treatment in the spirit of harmonized development.
Among other aspects you are considering, I have studied the problems arising from technological replacement of human involvement as well as an improved supply of means (see Chapters 39 and 40). As you are already aware, satisfaction declines in the course of such developments. The resulting unhappiness can rise to disruptive and even destructive levels if it is not addressed. Technological development therefore calls for conscientious preparation and management. On the other hand, there is a fantastic upside to raising effectivities and efficiencies and setting human potential free for more valuable work and new horizons. Education will be the key to this transition, which is where Paragraph 2 of my writing comes in.
2. Google’s Positioning.
There is a lot of unrealized potential for humanity and Google left in its original mission. The logical perfection of this mission can substantially add value and organically yield insights for the strategic placement of technology investments. Here is how I arrive at this conclusion:
Despite Google’s information-related undertakings to date, problems remain in that much information is not or not readily accessible, not of adequate quality, duplicative, not integrated, not of the desired brevity or detail, or not disclosing its sourcing. There is also a risk that knowledge might be lost with the loss of external sites and their sources.
Google has the unique position to remedy these deficiencies. It can create an authoritative repository of human knowledge for safekeeping as well as for facilitating ongoing education. You might want to call this project “Google Arc” (“Arc” being short for “Archive,” reminiscent of Noah’s Ark as a repository, but also signifying a connecting spark of knowledge).
The utility of Arc could be optimized by organizing information into levels that allow successively deeper acquisition. On the surface would be traditional tools like a table of contents, index, list of definitions, and database search. However, there would also be a guide on how to approach and proceed in learning about a subject of interest or field of study. The next level would be an encyclopedic summary, organized into aspects that give way to levels of subsidiary information, including source materials. The objective would be to present information in ways that enable readers to study subject matters as summarily or thoroughly as they wish. Written information would be combined with other instructive media. An advanced version of Google Translate might eventually make these materials available in other languages.
This model can be applied to any kind of information. To assure high quality, contributors would have to prove their expertise and contributions would be subject to a peer review system. Participants would be named and their activities would be made transparent in an adjunct section. Access to participants’ source work would be obligatory for their participation. There would also be a section for comments by anybody that can be filtered into experts. A substantially incomplete but rudimentally instructive example of what I have in mind is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://plato.stanford.edu/about.html).
Besides granting topical access to competent information at any desired depth, Google Arc could enable education of the highest quality free of charge regardless of location or financial means. Educational institutions worldwide could take advantage of its offerings, lowering tuition.
Eventually, Arc could be made interactive for individual students’ learning and testing as well as the advancement of knowledge by experts. Arc’s evolution would incrementally reduce the role of traditional educational institutions to applied skills that cannot be imparted in cyberspace. Instructors in aspects covered by Arc - and the institutions they serve - would be liberated from repetitive teaching obligations into the advancement of knowledge or practical applications.
This redirection can largely provide economic security for participants in Google Arc so that their involvement in educational aspects assumed by Arc may go largely uncompensated in monetary terms. Participation in Arc would be secured because it creates a central forum for leading authorities in which they can continually join, exchange, and discuss ideas to their mutual benefit, and because it affirms and promotes participants as authorities in their field and keeps their funding institutions relevant. Not participating would place experts and their backers at risk of becoming disconnected. To the extent advancements or contributions to Arc require support that is not provided otherwise, Google might issue stipends. Superior safekeeping features of Arc would also attract those who are interested in preserving knowledge for posterity.
Google+ is a necessary element for the success of Arc. It can be the central tool for communication among experts and their institutions. It can also connect other interested parties or students to experts and institutions - and with one another.
The benefits of Arc for Google’s business are obvious. It would give Google unprecedented insight and access regarding technological developments to plan and adapt its technology investments. Moreover, the sophistication and resulting value of advertising would rise dramatically. Tracking the substantive choices a visitor makes within Arc singularly and cumulatively allows Google much better targeting of ads to the specific interests of a customer. Visitors could be presented with ads for products and services that can assist them in gaining, retaining, and applying knowledge they seek - or that can avail them of products or services that relieve them from or supplement such tasks."
I concluded my e-mails by pointing out that my introduction could only touch upon some salient points, that much more remains to be considered on the topic of overarching insights and the more closely defined mission of Google, and that I would be available to discuss any aspect of my proposal. Concerned that my e-mails would not find sufficient attention among the flood of messages Larry's and Sergey's public accounts must be receiving, I asked for receipt confirmation. I also snail-mailed substantially conforming letters to them and followed up with repeated e-mails. More recently, I e-mailed copies of my original message under explanatory cover to Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google Board members John Doerr, Ram Shriram, and John Hennessy. I selected the latter two because of their close affiliation with Stanford University. Mr. Shriram is a substantial benefactor and Board of Trustees member. John Hennessy is Stanford's President. I expressed to them, and in supplementary e-mails to the other addressees, that since my original e-mails to Larry and Sergey, the concept had advanced to include Stanford as a logical partner in developing and administrating knowledge-related aspects of Google Arc. I am now thinking that eventually other universities can and should become partners as well, maybe by each organizing the accumulation and structuring of knowledge worldwide in a particular discipline.
All e-mails were sent to verified addresses, but none of the addressees confirmed their receipt of my e-mails despite repeated requests. The only response I got was a not personally identified or addressed puzzling message from Stanford's "Office of the President" that Google had instructed Stanford not to forward mail to Google. My attempts by e-mail and phone to correct apparent misconceptions and to finally have my message submitted to Prof. Hennessy went into a void.
In short, it seems impossible for me to directly reach any of the decision makers to whom I wrote. However, I believe that my ideas are too important to simply let them die. Hence, I am publishing them here in the hope that someone in a pertinent capacity may find them and take them up.
I believe Google and Stanford University have a historic opportunity to initiate and be a major part of the revolution in human knowledge I described. But maybe I am wrong about their ambitions. Uniquely positioned as they are, there may be other enterprises or educational institutions that may be able to pursue my concept in parts or its entirety and that possess the vision of the great good its implementation can achieve for themselves and humanity. Microsoft certainly comes to mind. Bill Gates, can you hear me?
Resistance To Happiness
My experiences since the publication of my Philosophy of Happiness book have added perspectives on the difficulties of opening people’s minds to improving their happiness. I was surprised by how few of those I informed about the book wanted to consider happiness in general and their happiness in particular. This seemed to be a different phenomenon than disapproval of my particular work. People flat out refused to engage with the subject, as if they were afraid of something or did not care about happiness at all.
This did not make sense to me. Everything humans do is motivated by their hope of acquiring or preserving happiness. So everybody should have some interest in the subject. Even more perplexing was that people with a professed interest in happiness did not give my book consideration. How could this be, considering that there was a thriving industry of publications and performances about happiness? At a loss for other explanations, I began to doubt the competence of my work, if not in substance at least in presentation. However, the accumulating overwhelmingly positive ratings and informal reactions by those who actually read my book made me think there must be other reasons.
As I explored the marketplace of happiness advice in more detail, I gained clarity why so many purportedly interested in improving their happiness avoided my comprehensive approach. Books and presentations on the subject regularly pandered to their targets and made improving their happiness appear simple. Many peddled “spiritual” mumbo jumbo that was to somehow provide the answers people were craving. Some featured ideas that were not all wrong. However, they focused on one or a few pieces of the puzzle, overstated them, and ignored the plethora of remaining issues. Most of all, they tried to entertain, elaborately illustrating their messages with relatable stories. This made their propositions seemingly plausible. It also puffed up what could have been covered in a few minutes or pages into a show or a book. Happiness was being marketed like a fad diet. Maybe people would try some of the offered instructions and get a little happier. But chances were that, in the end, false or incomplete guidance would have them fall back and become more frustrated than before.
The continual popularity and pervasiveness of inadequate offerings suggested that many people are gullible. This did not come unexpectedly because gullibility is not only visible with regard to personal development gimmicks. Throughout history, political, economic, and religious propositions have been able to bait people who are stressed by the challenges of an unconsidered, unpredictable, and acrimonious existence with unfounded promises of happiness. Countless humans do not deem themselves capable of sufficiently comprehending and managing their existence. They trust others more than themselves to find and implement answers to many questions of happiness. They want to be saved or at least instructed in how to go about it. Yet they still require a basis for their trust to which they can sufficiently relate without the complexity they loathe. Thus, many people want simple answers that they can confirm within their largely unreflected horizon. Chronic failure to deliver on promises may not keep them from placing their trust into a failing or as of yet unproven advertised cure for their pain.
However, I also detected that not everybody is ready to place trust into others to divine and provide conditions of happiness, at least not to an extent that would upend their ways. Such persons may use ideas and schemes of happiness because they sanction otherwise questionable conduct. Maybe following these allows the transfer of personal responsibility for happiness. Maybe it grants people a semblance that they are working on their happiness without having to address more involved and possibly painful issues. Maybe all they want is to be able to say that they tried happiness plans but that these did not work and to then allow themselves to let go and continue in their rut.
As I thought about such possibilities, the parallels with how people use physical improvement plans seemed uncanny, probably because such plans claim to support aspects of happiness. As with happiness, it is not like we don’t have an idea how to achieve positive results. Just as we know that reducing food intake, making healthy choices, and exercising can benefit our physical well-being, there are widely known concepts to boost our happiness more expansively. Becoming aware of ourselves and our world, a positive attitude, and creating harmony within us and in our relationship with our environment are lead principles. Taking care of ourselves, treating others as we would want to be treated in their situation, and giving our best effort are their derivatives. Even though details may be thorny, we know in principle how we should behave.
The point is many humans do not have the will to explore and pursue what their conscience indicates. This may be less of a problem with physical improvement plans because the deficiencies they are to cure are often obvious and their objectives can in large parts be achieved by physical means and objectively measured. This makes physical improvement initiatives manageable through a monitored program. Further, extensive pressures regarding physical appearance and healthy behavior may keep us committed. Other aspects of happiness frequently lack these opportunities for recognition and reinforcement. Still, individuals undergoing physical improvement plans, even those that are helpful, have a huge relapse rate. It can be safely assumed that instructions regarding other aspects of happiness suffer even worse lapses because of their nonmaterial and unregimented nature and because of their ubiquitous errors and omissions. Even if advice regarding aspects of our happiness is proper and even if it leads to some positive results, a failure to comprehensively balance all our needs and related concerns threatens them. Any partial remedy, including one that concentrates only on physical improvement, is therefore at high risk to subside.
Societally imposed conventions may provide some external guidance. However, they tend to constitute a required minimum of directions and boundaries through laws so individuals and groups can coexist. Defining and enforcing basic tenets of happiness beyond that minimum has proved to be difficult and therefore been left to informal ethics. Further, societal conventions could not possibly regulate the vast range in which individual articulations of opportunities and challenges for happiness occur. Nor could any other program that is not individualized.
These considerations cast doubts on the efficacy of following commonly offered happiness recipes. Possibly, many individuals engage in such considerations and therefore reject such recipes. Maybe they have sincerely tried them and become disenchanted. Others may not act out of consideration or failed experiences. They may simply not be interested in anybody telling them about happiness and wish to be left to their own devices as much as possible. That would be in order if people would develop an approach that makes them happy. However, many struggle with that subject. They do not live up to the basic tenets of happiness that their conscience should suggest and do not develop the required intricacies of their implementation.
Regardless of whether we follow external propositions of happiness or not, some of us may suffer from shortcomings or disorders that make it difficult to understand or implement ways conducive to happiness. These may require intervention by physicians or mental health practitioners. Some may not be curable. However, the people about which I am writing are supposedly “normal” people with the capacity to register indications of lacking happiness and to seek out and apply remedies. Why do they reject or stop short of comprehensively exploring or taking opportunities to manage their happiness?
One rather large cause seems to be a failure to educate individuals, including with regard to critical thinking, so that they could come into their own and exercise reflected sovereignty. Another is the indoctrination of individuals to dispose their views, often paired with an express or implied threat of negative consequences if deviating views are espoused or any part of the doctrine is questioned. Even where such pressures do not come to bear or do not control individuals, they may be afraid to rock the boat. They may prefer to remain within established and therefore apparently safe margins of conduct. Even within such margins, they may be apprehensive about the consequences of changing their lifestyle. They may be concerned how others would react or how they themselves might react once they acknowledge what is wanting and make changes. Regardless of margins, they may do well in some respects by breaching the commands of their conscience in others. Even where there is no such connection, they may do well enough in some respects to not wish to jeopardize such advantageous positions by addressing other aspects. They may be afraid of disturbing the state they have been able to secure without reaching something better. Even if they are confident they could succeed, they may be adverse to the cost. Another prohibitive obstacle might be the pain of facing reality. People may not want to admit that they lack happiness because it may make them more conscious of the involved pain. They may also not want to admit fault in past digressions so they can avoid the pain of guilt and remorse. In many cases, self-generated constrictions combine with external impediments to dissuade individuals from deeper consideration of their happiness.
Letting such concerns get the better of them, people lead a life of cowardly self-denial, of unused chances, of pretending to be fine while quietly suffering, of not living up to their expectations, of anger against circumstances or persons they blame for their own faults or that reveal these faults, and of self-contempt for not taking a stand to lead an authentic and fulfilled life.
To battle all these disappointments and the resulting pain, such people create and support cultures of disingenuity and distraction. They try to convince themselves and others that they are happy. They seek substitution in false objectives for real happiness they do not pursue. They persecute collateral or imagined causes for their misery or disturbances of their pretenses to vent their accumulating frustration and rage. They engage in self-destructive behavior to punish themselves and distract from the pain they do not address. They try to drown realizations of the charades they play or in which they participate by occupying or dulling their senses. Such persons can be highly functioning in some respects and be mere husks of human beings in others. Even if the causes and negative reactions remain at low levels, they can constitute significant, recurring, and possibly accumulating sources of pain.
One could take the position that people who do not seek to explore and manage their happiness are ultimately responsible for the pain they experience because they do not live true to themselves. One could also argue that this pain is necessary to motivate them to change. While this may be so, I want to assist people in such situations. My book endeavors to help them come to their senses, free themselves of their strangleholds, and find a path toward happiness by empowering them to form and practice their own philosophy of happiness. I have learned that the resistance to accepting this assistance is greater than I thought. The more my work can benefit individuals, the less likely it seems they are willing to read or even take notice of it. Such individuals may not change their stance, maybe not even with elaborate efforts by others, and may react adversely when put on the spot. This may be frustrating because our happiness depends in essential aspects on interaction with others and, even in aspects not necessarily dependent on others, their behavior can greatly affect our happiness. Thus, the distortions resulting from individuals’ failures to pursue a happy life are likely to spread misery. The combination and interaction of such defects across multiple individuals may greatly aggravate that misery and make it more pervasive. Societies may impose strictures trying to restrain perceived excesses. But they may also make allowances and accept unhappiness and its consequences as unavoidable circumstances. Quite frequently, their structures and processes may give official sanction and expression to aborted or misguided undertakings to achieve happiness. The resulting conditioning may be a societal enshrinement of defects and superficial countermeasures.
Those of us who are open to considerations of happiness and want to make the best of our existence cannot be expected to put our life on hold and suffer trying to open closed individuals or waiting for them to open. Investing ourselves in the opening of others may be a part of our path to happiness. However, it may infringe on the harmony of our needs and our energy so much that we may have to free ourselves from the drag of such people and seek the company of those who share our openness. Where contact with closed individuals is unavoidable by our choice or circumstances, we can still defend and advance our philosophy and resulting way of life. My book describes modes of organization and operation that help us develop our happiness even as large portions of humanity continue in their closed ways. Our example and the setting we create may over long serve as encouragement for many to become free as well and set out to fulfill the promise of their life. Even where their minds remain closed, the world of free consideration and resulting structures and processes we create can drastically reduce their capacity to damage the happiness of those who have freed their minds and of others.
Having an impact will require that many more individuals consider and subscribe to my work. I understand that to date only a tiny fraction of humankind has been introduced to my ideas and that with time and effort this fraction will grow. Not all of us are adverse to improving our happiness. However, in spite of all advantages of modern marketing, the task of reaching such persons is enormous for just one person. I therefore ask for your help in spreading enlightenment to improve humans’ and humanity’s existence. Please inform yourself further at http://www.philosophyofhappiness.com and let me know what you can do.
Electronic Personal Time Capsules
My ancestry can be traced for about 300 years. But the further back one looks, the less is known about it. I miss having more familiarity with distant forebears, wondering what they looked like, how they lived, adversities they faced or endured, thoughts they had, and joys they felt. I also believe it would be instructive to not only learn from them but also from other individuals not related to me within the narrow definition of family. That most of the identities and circumstances of prior generations have irretrievably faded away is one of the saddest features of human history. It unduly curtails our understanding of human development and how we figure into it. We must cope with the realities such development has produced while largely having to take our clues for our conduct from the surface of such development.
Until recently, historical documentation was limited or cumbersome. Records of any kind were rare. Where they once existed, they were all too often intentionally destroyed, misplaced, or fell victim to accidents or deterioration. Mementos often suffered a similar fate or were separated from the stories attached to them. Verbal and experiential traditions usually did not survive more than a few generations. Even remarkable feats were frequently lost, or reduced to rough sketches through hearsay, within a few generations. In time, persons and their environments became increasingly faint ghosts. In a desire to recall despite fading memories, uncertainty, and scarceness of information, historical facts were often replaced and embellished by imagination. Humanity is in many respects like an amnesiac trying to piece together who it is and where it is heading from now unconnected objects and fractured recollections.
That we have been collecting and preserving records for persons who are deemed historically important and the powers they represented is utterly insufficient to give a fair and useful account of the past. For one, the lives of famous personalities and the historical forces they represented were by definition extraordinary and not characteristic for the circumstances and experiences of populations. Moreover, many of their stories are incomplete and biased. This is all the more prevalent because many of them were recorded in the context of strife or domination and commensurate polarizations of attitudes. Records were usually created and preserved by victors and rulers or their supporters. These overwhelmingly enshrined their viewpoints and how they wanted themselves, others, and related circumstances to be remembered. Their desires were complemented by the inherent tendencies of humans to mythologize history into clear attributions of good and bad, of heroic and despicable characteristics and behavior, and to identify themselves with the purportedly positive forces and distance themselves from the negative. Frequently, countervailing accounts were not recorded or were inhibited, confiscated, or purged. Individuals and groups with opposing knowledge did not record, preserve, or publicize such knowledge due to lacking means, fear of repercussions, demoralization, or shame. Deplorable behavior was lauded, condoned, or excused if committed by the designated good forces of history and denounced if it was committed by designated bad forces. Conduct that could damage the image of good forces was kept secret, suppressed, or misrepresented. Damaging activities of bad forces and positive behavior by designated good forces were prominently exposed, exaggerated, or fabricated. Conversely, positive behavior by designated bad forces was omitted or denigrated. Such propaganda practices and tendencies have continued and obtained additional importance in modern times as additional media have become available to reveal but also to mislead. Beyond misinformation campaigns directly undertaken by the powerful and their agents, they frequently could also rely on preexisting indoctrinations and partisan attitudes of those providing, recording, and interpreting historical facts. Hence, official history must be treated with utmost suspicion. Even independent historians have great difficulties stating and interpreting historical facts unaffected by the manipulations and societal biases to which they have been systemically exposed.
The preservation of historical accounts contaminated by contortions or falsifications may serve an informational function if they are placed in proper context. Below a layer of manipulations and biased interpretations may lie strata of administrative records collected by societal or governmental institutions. Such records may be less compromised and offer better factual grounding. But they only cover information that was of interest to such institutions. The best context of official records would be constituted by a wide sampling of factual accounts and interpretations among affected populations. This would facilitate a more rounded impression, not only of official history but also the broader conditions of human existence. The scarcity and disregard of such accounts have largely prevented a proper correction of history to date. Even currently available historical knowledge by individuals that could contradict official records will fade away in the world's consciousness if it is not recorded, secured, and processed.
Fortunately, humanity is in a unique position to address this problem. Electronic collection, recording, organization, storage, search, and reproduction technologies endow us with the capacity to ascertain, preserve, access, and share knowledge of personal experiences and settings in as far as they have survived from prior generations. They also give us the means to pass on rich materials for explorations of our lives. We can enable future generations to learn from their ancestors by example or dissension through an ever building fund of detailed information in a way that was until now only possible within a range of immediate exposure to a prior generation. I am imagining repositories that aggregate and present representative materials about individuals in personal electronic time capsules. Many visual, auditory, or written records already exist in electronic format or are transferable, and more can be generated during continuing lifetimes. Preserving and linking personal accounts could free history from its afflictions of incompleteness, subjective viewpoints, and mendacity. By making the preservation of individual records available to a broad spectrum of people, we can begin a new era in which history becomes a mosaic of a myriad of contributions. Such contributions may be hampered by similar shortcomings as official accounts. However the number of accounts from different positions and their cumulative context and juxtaposition can reveal facts and interpretations in much better completeness and clarity. A system integrating individual accounts could provide analytical assistance regarding such accounts for better specific and overall transparency. Such a democratized accounting of history would also serve to correct history from an description of conflict between or conquest and domination by the powerful to the reality of how their behavior impacted other human beings and how these tried to carve out a life. Ultimately, it would give way to a kind of history that can reveal the shortcomings of government as well as the governed. It would serve to illustrate functional and dysfunctional aspects of the human condition generally, thus providing essential lessons for its improvement.
These immense benefits for humanity of preserving information over generations are palpable. Yet improving historical records generally for our or future generations' sake or even providing useful specific information to future generations for their benefit may be concepts that are too abstract to motivate many individuals to participate. Then again, such motivations are not required. The desire of virtually every human to leave a trace of individual existence would serve as a sufficiently strong motivation. We each carry a deeply seated yearning for survival of ourselves and the line from which we descend. We find some consolation considering the horror of our death if we have the assurance that we and where we come from will be remembered. We would welcome if this could occur in a more lasting fashion than in the fleeting memories of people who knew us and with uncurated records of an uncertain future. This desire and its requirements for a personal account fully coincide with the desire and fulfillment requirements regarding improved historical tradition.
In addition to addressing the above-described wishes, the documentation of individual lives may even have a positive effect on individuals preparing contemporary records. Knowing that a documentation of their existence, their experiences, their thoughts, emotions, and conduct will be preserved and may be reviewed by others, they may live their lives in a more deliberately forward-looking and virtuous manner. An ongoing accounting for their lives may make them more self-conscious and endow them with comprehension as well as motivation to improve their lives. There are also logistical advantages to the ongoing central collection and safeguarding of personal information during the lifetime of a person. Among them are mobility of access and protection from loss. Other instructive, social, and health related purposes are imaginable.
The benefits of the recording, collection, repository, and search of individual information are thus immense. The question who would create and administrate a system of enabling technology will not be asked for long. There is a market of billions of people who will likely avail themselves of such a system. The size and inherent renewal of this market, its growth with population increase, and the potential for revenue it poses dwarf most and maybe any other economic opportunity heretofore. A company could offer its services at a one-time charge or as a subscription with the commitment to maintain such records in perpetuity without cost after a customer's death. Possibly, costs could be defrayed or the service could be offered free if it were to be combined with advertising. Targeted advertising in correlation with massive personal information would bring a previously unheard of level of effectiveness and efficiency to it, thus increasing its value. The engine for such targeting would be a natural outflow of the search functionality of personal records to make them useful for noncommercial purposes - or vice versa. Targeted customers might not mind focused advertising if they could be certain that their information from which such focus is derived remains private if they so wish. The potentially sensitive nature of the records would entail that the commercial use of such records by the administrator or an affiliate would be regulated and that certain ranges or specifics of data would not be shared without the express consent of customers. Beyond that, such persons would have to retain the authority to decide which circles can access what records at which point in time during or after their life, possibly with an end to all secrecy after a certain period.
As more advanced technologies to preserve our biological and experiential identity become available, conventional memorialization could be supplemented by including biological and even reproductive material and a complete informational scan of a person's body and mind as a logical extensions of a previously established service model. The motivation to include such data would be cogent for existing and new customers as well as societies because it would further suspend the finality of individual destruction by death and allow even more authentic access to information. Eventually, a reconstitution of a person may be possible, opening additional economic possibilities.
The development and implementation of such ultimate advancements in personal survival will likely require enormous resources, reserving them to already successful companies or their investment extensions. However, already the initial phase of creating and administrating the suggested system of personal documentation requires considerable expertise and dedication of considerable capacities in a relatively short amount of time. Additionally, a company must be able to guarantee solidity in administrating and preserving the records to be entrusted. The field of companies that could successfully market and implement my concept includes, but is wider than Google and Microsoft. Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter might be particularly well positioned to implement my idea through existing and future acquisitions and organic expansions of expertise. Other candidates might be companies that already provide data management, storage, and security services, such as, beyond Google and Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, or Salesforce and even Oracle or SAP. If none of these companies jump on this epic opportunity, other enterprises, not least similar providers that are gaining momentum in other parts of the world may be interested. This idea is too big and too lucrative to remain without implementation.
Preserving Humanity's Knowledge
The memorialization of human knowledge has deteriorated even as human knowledge has advanced. The oldest records beyond simple symbolism of which we are aware are imprinted on ceramic tablets. To this date, these remain representations of the most resilient means to comprehensively secure information. Subsequent technologies such as ink on a variety of media, and even more so recent optical, electric, or magnetic storage technologies, cannot match their longevity. These later technologies are frighteningly ephemeral by themselves or in their regular environments and susceptible to destruction by temperature, chemical, electro-magnetic, radiation, mechanical, and even biological interferences. All of them require regular maintenance. But even such maintenance cannot keep them from long-term deterioration. They will eventually require restoration, replication, or transfer to another medium. Further, even well-secured records in such media cannot be completely saved from cataclysms, accidents, or willful destruction.
There does not seem to be an absolutely secure technology to guarantee the survival of records. Even ceramic materials can be destroyed by a variety of creeping and sudden influences. Moreover, the idea of reverting to ceramic data recording may strike many as strange. However, we should not be repelled by the shortcomings of ancient ceramic record keeping technology. Ceramic science has come a long way since its beginnings in the firing of natural clay. Its applications in a great variety of industries are of growing, monumental importance. The prevalent ingredient of clay tablets, the metalloid element silicon, has remained in many ceramics. But modern ceramic composites can be drawn much thinner and can be made vastly more resistant to damage. That silicon is also the most widely used basic integrated circuit material is a coincidence whose great potential must be explored. Ceramic composites, many of which we might describe as glass, have already found application in a wide variety of information technologies, including optical fibers, integrated circuits, LEDs, screens, and insulators. One of them, Silicon Carbide, exhibits extraordinarily useful optical and electrical properties as well as remarkable resistance to external degradation. Another ceramic, Boron Carbide, does not lend itself to comparable optical or electrical applications. But it is an even harder material that provides stellar impact and radiation shielding, making it ideal for casings. Applications of these and other ceramic composites remain to be investigated.
We may consider metals as alternative media. However, the resilience of metal-based materials and particularly data recording technologies available or foreseeable today lags behind the possibilities of ceramics. Moreover, approaching the resilience of ceramics would require precious metals of which we do not possess sufficient amounts or the cost of which would be prohibitive. Conversely, there is a virtually endless supply of silicon and carbon on earth. Even boron could be sourced in sufficient quantities, although it is not nearly as ubiquitous. Partner elements to create viable long-term electronic storage devices are not needed in vast quantities. This makes ceramic material relatively inexpensive once technological impediments to its application are solved. It is also an apt medium for information storage technology. Vast amounts of information can be stored in minuscule etchings or moldings, in embedded hardened integrated circuits, or in other molecular implants or manipulations of an amorphous or crystalline substrate. For better durability, data storage technology may go beyond traditional layouts to cube or spherical designs. Much of this technology remains to be developed. However, it is already visible that such technologies can match or exceed the storage potential of metal or traditional metalloid media. But most importantly, their extraordinary resilience potential makes them the technology of choice for the long-term preservation of information.
Nevertheless, not much research and development has been spent on ceramic information storage, or any long-term record keeping for that matter. Nor does there seem to be sufficient demand to warrant much effort in that area. We seem to trust that keeping information in backup repositories not substantially different form the original storage media is adequate. Nor do we spend much time to defend against the deterioration and destruction of other components of information systems that can retrieve and distribute stored information. Their complex nature makes them even more prone to failure than storage media. The same or related ceramic technologies applicable to data storage might be applied to data retrieval and distribution. Yet, currently, the hardening of information systems against natural or human interferences mostly consists of incremental reinforcements or duplications of existing, fundamentally susceptible technologies. Few seem to notice how precarious humanity's dependence on insufficiently secured information systems has become, placing us all in existential danger.
Specters of mischief, terrorism, war, natural disasters, human error, or more comprehensive doomsday scenarios should motivate us to safeguard our information - as well as the systems on which we rely to apply that information - against all reasonably possible threats. Even relatively limited disturbances may lead to substantial disruptions or a collapse of information-based existences. Limited disturbances may be overcome rather easily by multiplication and spread of data sites and by mobile data processing infrastructure. However, we may be foolish to gamble the development level, wellbeing, and possibly the survival of many humans and humanity as a whole on the hope that there will not be more comprehensive challenges to our information systems.
Even if things continue to progress in an unspectacular manner, our systemic failure to sufficiently secure information increasingly exposes humanity to disastrous setbacks. A more lasting information system is not only required to halt the deterioration and other destruction of information generated before the electronic age. The particular susceptibility of electronic storage media and application appliances makes a more lasting data system obligatory if we want to keep adequate access to information generated during that age. An additional reason is the rapid obsolescence of storage media and application systems. Unless we transfer information from older to new systems, the information stored on older systems becomes difficult and eventually impossible to retrieve. Such transfers constitute rising challenges with increasing amounts of information and may not be undertaken fastidiously enough when new systems are introduced. We may rely on the continued functioning of old information systems. However, their repair or replacement according to superseded technologies may become increasingly difficult. Thus, much of our electronically generated information may fade away even before more historical records.
As a consequence, humanity would lose an understanding of its recent history, adding to the challenges of incomplete records dating farther back. This poses problems that exceed a mere inability to satisfy general curiosity by future generations regarding the past or the disappointment of prior generations that little or no evidence of their existence will remain. They also go beyond the inability of historians and other scientists to analyze and draw conclusions from human development. Much more critical problems may arise from a lack of historical information if humans should lose the ability to continue technology on the level of then currently documented and implemented technology or if they would want to revert to former technologies or consult specific historical information for other practical reasons.
Considering these potential and impending issues, the development and broad application of a lasting data storage, retrieval, and distribution system are thus desperately needed. Every day such a system is not in place unnecessarily imperils human well-being and possibly survival. If we failed to act, future generations would look at us in disbelief and scorn for not having anticipated the great danger of information oblivion for ourselves and them.
The question is then who will take on this undertaking. The first step would have to be the development of a common normative setting based on existing and anticipated technologies. Companies already active in research, development, and manufacture of ceramics and their applications in combination with enterprises that focus on storage, retrieval, and distribution technologies would be an obvious choice. The implementation of the resulting system might be left to current generators, holders, accumulators, organizers, and access providers of information. However, the number of those may be so great that locating appropriate records when they are needed in the described scenarios may be difficult or impossible. This suggests an additional congregation of essential information in central repositories that are hardened against interference. Parallel administration of a number of such information vaults may be indicated as yet another security measure. To serve their purposes, these would not only have to contain information, but also hardware to access and distribute such information. Ideally, all parts of an information system might be integrated into one unit, including its power supply. This would at once simplify and further harden information preservation devices. To continue data preservation without unnecessary interruptions, information vaults might include facilities to produce storage, access, and distribution hardware or at least a sufficient supply of free storage capacity. They would also have to contain cataloging and search facilities for the extensive information they store. Further, they would have to provide information in a manner that can be accessed by humans in various states of development. In this context, one would have to consider that future generations might suffer a deterioration of technological skills, advance to alternate technologies, and not understand recorded languages or terms in such languages. Special provisions to ease access for them such as training and universal symbolism at least in the initial directions would have to be arranged if a long-term assistance to humanity were taken seriously.
Finally, directories regarding the whereabouts of these repositories would have to be distributed in a way that survives deteriorative and destructive eventualities. Among these eventualities would have to stand that humans accessing such repositories would cause intentional or unintentional damage. A combination of information repositories with more imminently needed practical provisions for human survival may seem indicated. However, such a combination bears dangers because humans desperate for immediate supplies may neglect or even destroy the indirect assistance facilities of information systems and use them or their housings for other purposes. It is also conceivable that forces would emerge that wish to withhold historical knowledge from certain groups or all humans. It seems impossible to foreclose all possibilities of intelligent interference. Such measures may also make access difficult at times when access to information vaults is needed most. But at least some repositories may be safeguarded in ways that only afford higher-developed levels of humanity with access. Clues might be hidden in locations or in codes that only higher levels of civilization would be able to find or decode. Additional safeguards may be built in by cooperation requirements. Some repositories might be placed beyond Earth, which would also add to their safety generally. Codes might be hidden in monumental arrangements that require technological sophistication to understand but upon its attainment become undeniable. One might also consider implanting mapping code into smaller objects that higher-evolved levels of humanity are bound to study. The DNAs of humans or particularly resistant organisms with broad distribution might be appropriate carriers. Natural and artificial organisms could be programmed to build silicon or other lasting structures that carry mapping and even substantive information. If prior iterations of human civilization of which we are unaware or to which legends point existed, those would also be the logical places for us to search for information forgotten civilizations would have left us.
The lengths to which we go to secure information and humanity may be debatable, and we may not have the will or means to implement all that is possible. However, we must do dramatically more than we have so far if we want to avoid tragedy.
The Scourge of Mendacity
I keep hearing how committed people are to finding and understanding reality, how they want the truth, want falsehoods corrected, and are dedicated to changing troublesome aspects revealed. However, the reality as it is commonly viewed, and even more as it continues to be commonly materialized, seems to squarely contradict these ambitions or at least their successful implementation.
The world seems to be caught in a dense web of persistently spun and intermeshing misrepresentations of present, past, and future. These misrepresentations encompass not only express misstatements of fact but also heavily rely on omissions of fact. They further include the guiding of attention to make people ignore or discount certain facts or sources of facts and concentrate on others. Such tactics are not only geared to influence perceptive and rational processes, but heavily rely on influencing emotional dispositions to ultimately subject victims to controlled conduct. Perpetrators of misrepresentation are numerous, and they mostly do not seem explicitly coordinated. Many may deviate from others in their views and conduct. Still, together and overall, they convey manipulative influences that generally keep societies functioning in prescribed ways, in scripted evolutions and revolutions, that fall significantly short of the potential for human happiness we can imagine.
Many may blame conspiracies by dark forces for such conditions. They may point to more or less clandestine powers trying to impose a world view in their favor. Such powers are often described as religious or ancient leadership casts or more recently arrived financiers of industry and governments whose persons, or at least activities, are removed from public notoriety and even public notice. Some theories go so far as to blame superhuman or alien forces. A more common strain of attributing responsibility focuses on the interchange between corporate and political powers to shape and subvert the supremacy of public will in the arrangement of a commonwealth’s affairs for corrupt purposes. Individuals conclude that such elite powers must exist and wield enormous influence because the cumulative power of individuals seems to have little effect on larger situations and developments in societies. Whoever the ultimate powers running the world are believed to be, their concealed exercise of power invites fear, revulsion, suspicion, and a feeling of helplessness. It is widely assumed that they are trying to exploit humanity for selfish purposes - whatever they may define these to be.
Recollections of unchecked rule by despots throughout history arise from these impressions. The hard fought victories over such barbaric conditions appear to be in great peril, although the methods of subjection and abuse seem to have changed. Surreptitious elites are accused of applying stealthy manipulations rather than blunt instruments of physical force or its threat that were prevalent in the past. Even where physical enforcement of their power is pursued, they are said to manipulate individuals and groups into undertaking such work for them. Hence, the primary tool of elite power is deemed to be non-violent manipulation. Much of this manipulation may seem to be open in the form of lopsided exchanges or along the lines of extortion. The powerful may create or appropriate facts that place victims in circumstances forcing them to preserve or obtain desired benefits by behaving as directed. The decision points, choices, and consequences of agreeing or not agreeing in such situations may be rather clear to the victims. Victims may back down and align in circumstantial confrontations because they face disadvantages upon their opposition and possibly lapses into direct domination.
Although circumstantial tactics may appear indirect, their material context can approximate direct physical coercion or threat of coercion. In the past, these tactics were frequently combined. But direct as well as indirect mistreatment of victims to manipulate their behavior has been getting rarer because it carries the mark of obvious exploitation and thus is never far from the risk of resistance and destructive clashes. Dominating elites are naturally interested in lowering that risk to secure their position and resulting activities. Mental manipulation of which victims are unaware can grant such a risk reduction. It can influence individuals’ minds in ways that neutralize their independent considerations to keep them at bay or take advantage of them by inducing compliant activities. It may take the shape of implanting mindsets but also in fostering a lack of orientation that makes victims susceptible to offers of guidance. These tactics are in principle not new. They have been regularly applied together with direct and indirect coercion and have often enabled or strengthened these. The governance of physical conditions may constitute the basis for elites’ physical wealth, position, and capabilities. However, societal developments and the development of sophisticated techniques have brought mendacious mental influence to the foreground to where it has become the most important manner in which elites control a populace. Direct physical enforcement may still be kept alive as an option of last resort, and indirect physical enforcement by factual circumstances of victims’ existence may still constitute an important factor in motivating victims, but such enforcement potentials or pressure points may be effectively concealed and replaced by a layer of voluntariness induced by manipulated mental disposition.
Arguably, exposing such concealed manipulations by laying out their sources, objectives, methods, and results should do some good. Victims should react with outrage to discovering that they have been systematically deceived and used for corrupt purposes of others. They should try to put a stop to such schemes or at least not fall for them anymore. However, this is not what one can observe, except for a few marginalized attempts.
Upon disclosures of spectacular manipulative practices, there may be declarations of distress and of intent to change the game on the part of both victims and individuals and groups held responsible. An yet, looking back at such occurrences, very little is ever done to remedy the exposed problems besides window dressing. Their damaging causes and consequences are swiftly forgotten to a point where they no longer impart sufficient motivation for change. Beyond that, less spectacular manipulative practices that do not give rise to extraordinary blowups are regularly endured even after they are recognized and become widely known. They may keep receiving lip service about their insidious nature, and they may be weakened within the narrow scope in which they gained notoriety. But awareness of manipulatory practices usually does little to reduce their general application or efficacy. Victims generally keep taking manipulatory abuse even though there is no shortage of well evidenced information about schemes and they are repeatedly alerted to instances of such schemes. This apathy begs for an explanation.
Much is being made of insidious mental effects of manipulative techniques. They are held responsible for shaping or preempting the minds of victims to where they cannot tell truth from a lie, reality from a mirage, their own from an imposed mentality, and are incapable of formulating sufficiently independent considerations or motivations. Indeed, evidence abounds that powerful influences can be applied to mentally manipulate individuals so they will not recognize or will not oppose these or other manipulations.
A sizable portion of the populace may be swayed because individuals’ minds are functioning at low levels that render them uncritical and suggestable by nature. The cumulative and correlated effects of mendacious manipulative influences may be sufficient to overwhelm and program their mental faculties. Such individuals may also be misled by the purported authority and vast spread of a related artificial reality to presume its validity. They may lack sufficient mental powers or insight to notice slip-ups or contradictions or to pursue critical questioning. Still, brainwashing techniques on the susceptible alone do not suffice to explain the overwhelming scope in which individuals succumb to deleterious influences and why they would not effectively react even after these are exposed. There are plenty of individuals with mental acuities and thereby enabled levels of education and that make them substantially resistant to outright mind control. Personal experiences and experiences by others conveyed through the broad facilities of modern information sharing put most individuals on notice that not all they are asked to believe is in fact so. With the flood of available information pointing out sources, objectives, mechanics, and consequences of manipulative practices, one cannot claim a lack of deeper indication. Upon further inquiry, victims can discover major discrepancies between popularized and actual situations and events. Nor does there appear to be a lack of incentive to acquire such information. Individuals can’t be happy with being manipulated like pawns. Regular abuses in favor of controlling forces as well as recurring occasions in which manipulatory practices lead to exceptionally disastrous results should wake them up and lead to a groundswell of opposition. Considering the pervasive character of disadvantagement and general awareness of being manipulated, it is hard to believe that manipulations are so strong that questions of doubt could not rise to an actionable or at least more inquisitive level in victims’ minds. To gain an almost complete general compliance with manipulatory objectives, aligning motivations by individuals must be at play.
One might suspect that such motivations spring from the insecurities of subjects about strategies that best serve their happiness and about what happiness means for them. These insecurities may render individuals susceptible to all kinds of influences. However, why would intelligent individuals choose to align themselves with forces that are proven or suspected to seek such alignment for exploitatory purposes. Even a cursory review of manipulative schemes should make anybody who is alert enough recoil from subscribing to them as a personal philosophy. Hence, it is not credible to assert that mentally capable victims would subscribe to corrupt practices as an ideal manner of pursuing their happiness.
This leaves the possibility that such victims align themselves even though they regard an alignment as less than ideal. Such a mindset may be easy to understand in instances where the might of entrenched manipulative systems seems too impenetrable and the risk too great for individuals who dare to oppose such a regime. However, modern manipulative systems regularly operate under a cover of substantial liberties, including the ability to elect representatives. Such systems evidence that even without manifest coaxing or pressure, a broad range of individuals can be held in compliance as long as their existence remains bearable. What that means and what would constitute a degradation at which individuals would cease to cooperate may be represented by a range of opinions and may vary in different societies. In any event, such a standard serves as an incentive for corrupt regimes to maintain the existential circumstances of victims within a range that induces compliance.
Still, victims’ decisions to participate remain autonomous responses to offered circumstances. Those autonomous concurrences are bound to rise as individuals make a better living and life in a manipulative system. They may decide to play along and even become active supporters of such a system as long as they see more value in doing so than in opposing the system. They may behave as if brainwashing had worked on them or even become functionaries of brainwashing applied to weaker-minded portions of the populace. Knowing the corrupt nature of the system and at least suspecting that the freedoms it grants and ideals it advertises form a mere veneer over its true nature, such victims may not ask for anything that would fundamentally oppose the intent of the system. They may not harbor idealistic dreams of optimized freedom, of actualizing implements of perfunctory popular power, or of revising the system in any other major way. Their interests may be predominantly materialistic and focus on being left alone by the system as long as they leave the system to its devices. The fact that powerful forces need help in controlling subjects and putting them to work for them also raises in subjects the thought of profiting and advancing through the ranks as agents.
With such attitudes by manipulative victims, it becomes difficult to see them much as victims rather than accomplices. Not all of the fault for unnecessarily unhappy circumstances lies with dominant manipulative schemes and those imposing them. A sizable, and in a liberal system arguably overwhelming, portion of responsibility lies with victims who in spite of awareness of a system’s shortcomings comply. Their informed participation makes them supporters of manipulatory systems without whom these might not be able to exist. In fact, it may be hard to discern whether collaborating individuals fit into a system imposed on them or whether they or their predecessors enabled or even fostered an exploitative system into which they more or less willingly fit.
Opportunism alone cannot fully explain why individuals would condone being lied to and taken advantage of and not attempt to change such conditions even when they have a good opportunity at succeeding. Beyond a mere calculation of collaborative benefit, motivators for autonomous collaborative behavior are very basic, ancient tribal and hierarchic instincts. Because these almost invariably occur together, interact, and partly overlap, we will look at them in conjunction. Among their expressions are the desires to be accepted, cared for, care in turn for others, and to do well by becoming a valuable member of a group. In the initial individual stage of such instincts, we seek the security of being included in treatment afforded among tribal members with particular indulgence of our defenseless and growing status. Soon thereafter, we seek to assume a position as full member of a tribe and to satisfy our drive to benefit our tribe. We undertake both by constructive contributions through functional integration. We seek at a minimum respect for an equal standing. However, we instinctively seek more once we have secured such standing and only regard equality as a starting and fallback position. We want to experience various benefits that flow from an elevated standing. This makes us work on distancing ourselves from others in constructive, but also destructive and divisive ways. This hierarchic instinct easily incentivizes physical domination and manipulation that leads to contention with other members of a tribe and harms tribal unity. Such behavior calls for excuses, legitimizations, and obfuscation. Perpetrators and victims also look to repair damage by common undertakings and particularly by uniting against external foes. Profiling against forces outside the tribe may not only create a valve for internal ambitions but may serve them by distinctions of individual valor. In addition, individuals want to be part of a powerful tribe for a number of legitimate reasons. Yet, this also tempts them to serve their tribe by damaging those outside its confines. This exclusive tribal attitude can become particularly powerful because it may combine with an equidirectional hierarchic attitude that seeks to obtain advantages as part of a tribe over humans outside the tribe. Here again, contention with other tribes seems to be programmed. In conformance with their tribal identification and wishes, members tend to be similarly uncritical as they are toward their individual overreaching. This tendency corresponds to a general selfish trait in the human mind that seeks fulfillment of needs at the cost of others and seeks to avoid the pain of remorse or restraint by denying and concealing fault in oneself. Such inclinations receive opposition from other rational and emotional considerations and impulses.
Unfolding the panoply of competing motivations and their sources would lead us astray at this point. I address them in more detail in my book Philosophy of Happiness. For purposes of our discussion here, it suffices to acknowledge that at the core of individual and tribal domination stands the desire of individuals to feel good about themselves and their tribe. This desire finds expression in various needs. Some of these needs focus on solidarity and cooperation while others seek superior distinction and competition. But none of these needs are purely ethereal. They involve the shared or preferential allocation of material resources. Positive, yet also grave negative, implications for humanity are palpable. We may easily recognize that giving in to our primitive inclinations toward competition is bound to create continual contest, upheaval, strife, and warfare among individuals and groups, interfere with many of our needs, and cause damage up to raising existential threats. Nevertheless, regardless of what our mind might tell us upon contemplation and regardless of how much we may be subjected to contemplations by others in denouncement of such inclinations, powerful parts of us keep searching for superiority and related advantages. We do that not only because we cannot help ourselves, but also because we know that contests are followed by periods in which we may be rewarded for winning without having to continuously fight for and defend our advantages. Tribal and hierarchic instincts not only entail aggression to gain and keep superiority. They also include complementary drives by those proven inferior to submit and fit into arrangements that reward superiority and with it motivations and undertakings to obtain it. From the standpoint of inferior individuals and groups, this may be justified by trying to stop the aggression by superior forces and partake in their superiority by catering to it. This in turn incentivizes superior forces to relent at some point and enjoy the fruits of their aggression. Arguably, there is some justification for such instincts and their results in archaic human existence by identifying and advancing the strongest and smartest specimens or providing the most capable leadership and organization in a hostile environment. Such potential advantages have long been passed by the damage inflicted by competition and the benefits of cooperation. And yet old competitive instincts are hard to overcome in the human psyche and conduct.
Manipulative forces shamelessly take advantage of these outdated human weaknesses and their instinctive motivators. These forces and their motivations arise, grow, and persist from these primitive origins. By organizing systems they rule according to resulting principles and having victims act by them as well, they legitimize their rule. Particularly as a society moves away from openly coercive organization, its attachment to archaic principles of societal interaction can only persist because victims are still willing to give in to them. Hence, some of the most primitive sentiments keep members of a society out of contention to change their subjection to the interests of others. Added advantages that arise from the application of such principles for some victims upon their application to other victims, as agents of elites or as independent actors, may additionally legitimize such surrender. Either way, a sizeable grouping of subjects may become collaborators by rational and emotional conviction. Together with the group of weak-minded individuals who are intimidated or duped into support or at least compliance despite their disadvantagement, this may create a relatively stable basis for exploitatory regimes.
The potential for the stability of such regimes has also increased due to their growing sophistication. For eons, the founding and maintaining of power by openly physical means continued to be interrupted by successive contests among the powerful and between the powerful and their victims that brought violence, fear, and destruction among and within systems. More recently, societies have advanced to more restricted contests and less risk laden and costly existences in which physical clashes have been reduced or avoided. We may call this stage of cultural consensus more civilized compared to the prior stage. Still, while the methods have changed, the motivations of gaining and cementing superiority and connected objectives remain similar. Open physical domination is only slightly removed and at times considered a reasonable fallback strategy if mendacious manipulation does not yield the expected results. Horrific as physical domination might be or become, its largely open and plain aggression has been replaced by devious and cowardly practices centered around misrepresentations that may appear to many as even more contemptable. Both types of contests have been with us for some time. But physical contest appears to be truer to the types of tribal and hierarchic competitions we still witness more purely in other species. Deception requires cunning qualities that were only possible with higher mental development. Direct physical coercion is becoming increasingly difficult to cover by mendacity within a society. Even the application or threat of violence toward other societies has undergone rising societal opposition despite attempted mendacious manipulations. Misrepresentations may be far more adept in veiling or justifying indirect circumstances that coerce victims into compliance.
While some detrimental consequences of tribal and hierarchic systems have been curbed in consequence of the less physical nature of practices, and have been mellowed to secure the continued collaboration of victims, negative consequences for victims still abound and have been solidified. Living in a world permeated by deceit must fill even those perpetrating it with fundamental disgust about its counterfeit mockery parading as reality. They are caught in its web as well and must play insincere roles to prevail. Complying with the rules and parameters of a system governed by lies must fill masters and aware subjects with dread of inauthenticity. It denies oneself and others the joy of a self-determined life in reality. All the advantages members may be able to garner in devising or collaborating with a corrupt system and all arguments in its favor cannot extinguish the fact that they are not living free, that they are living lies. Powerful forces may save their lack of self-respect and contempt for a fake system by ideas that they serve real and deserving ulterior purposes. This becomes more difficult for subjects of mendacious strategies who do not partake in such purported insights. Even if they would share such insights, and would apply the same or similar tactics and impose the same or similar limitations to which they are subjected if they had sufficient power, they must admit that being on the receiving end of domination damages them overproportionally. Most subjects of a corrupt system must realize that they will never be compensated for their suffering by advancing to where they can take sufficient advantage of exploitatory circumstances. Even agency for powerful interests may not offer such conditions for most. Identifying and agreeing with possible underlying ideals of manipulators may not help much either because subjection to strategies of deceit to serve these ideals must evoke offense and suspicion. The weakening of rationalizations seems to be led by the flagging of attachments to tribal and hierarchic instincts. A distancing from violence is only the most notable sign regarding the decline of these instincts. Any form of abuse, even misrepresentation, may be increasingly difficult to cover or justify by reliance on these instincts. Resulting allegiances seem to wane even as manipulatory forces exert extensive efforts to keep them alive and strengthen them. A number of reasons to be found in the advancement of technology and human consciousness have contributed to that development.
And yet, the system may be so ubiquitous and victims may have adapted their life so much to it that they may find it difficult to imagine a truthful setting free from domination by manipulatory interests and how they could arrive there. Victims may believe they have no chance of escape and little chance of establishing a better replacement. They may therefore set themselves to make the best of their situation. This sentiment may mix with appreciation of systemic benefits and fear of repercussions upon deviation from systematic norms. In weak-minded individuals, such attitudes may easily supplement their lack of consideration and stronger than average instinctive influences to keep them committed. More advanced individuals may find this more challenging. To keep up their collaboration with the necessary energy and enthusiasm to succeed, and to not despair from their inability to live the life they want, aware subjects of corrupt systems have to lie to themselves. They must talk themselves into, if not believing, at least accepting the systemic lies as a continuing part of their world. To justify choices that go against their true sentiments or wishes, they invent a persona and a view of themselves and their surroundings in compliance with a role they decide to play. They try to convince themselves and others that they are not being manipulated and that they are choosing a collaborative life by their free will. They claim that they would have chosen the system and their participation in it even if they had free hand to devise a system and define their function in it. This may be necessary to advance into higher positions of agency for the ruling forces. It may also be necessary to function in such positions. To overcome external and internal scruples, some may overcompensate for the doubts and objections they carry and become staunch supporters, deniers, and apologists for a corrupt system, buying into its lies. They may brainwash themselves into compliance.
But active identification may be an extreme attitude not shared by many collaborators. Most seem to be determined to remain generally supportive but willfully ignorant or at least oblivious to the manipulatory system they inhabit and serve. They dismiss information putting them on notice about efforts to manipulate them and reject even minimal efforts to find out more. They do not want to investigate or even listen to anything that would lead them to seriously question their mendacious settings and collaboration. Such individuals will usually claim they would oppose manipulation if it existed but reject the notion they are coopted by it. They will assert being perfectly independent and able to evaluate their life and circumstances. Still, members of this group may try to dismiss their misgivings, forget their pain by diverse distractions and suppressions to bring themselves to a level of uncomplicated acceptance proffered by the weak of mind.
A relatively small group of collaborators may require more to live with themselves than denial and diffusion. They may discuss or listen to descriptions of manipulations with various degrees of interest and outrage. Some may favor or support individuals or organizations that are critical of and attempt to uncover and oppose victimizations by the powerful. Some collaborators may even participate to some extent in such efforts until they feel they have done enough not to feel hypocritical. And yet they may remain generally in league with a manipulatory system because they believe that the benefits from such a system outweigh its downsides or the downsides of possible alternatives, at least for them.
Thus, rather than seeking a system in which happiness can be optimized, most humans arrange themselves with an exploitatory system and strive to optimize their happiness within its permitted confines. Even if they do not fall prey to the express propaganda of the powerful trying to define happiness for them, the suspicion that they would not succeed in trying to define their true self and true ideals or incur unproductive pain in their realization may have them commit to an unreconciled pragmatism. They may cope to the best of their abilities within given precepts as they encounter challenges. Such reactions favor behavior guided by immediate objectives and means and unreconciled instincts, among them unconsidered tribal and hierarchic instincts. Subjects in various states of disposition may regard their reactions as true personal expressions. However, at this unconsidered level, external manipulation can influence minds rather easily and with particular efficacy because they do not sufficiently consider what forces steer their perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and conduct and whether these serve their interest.
It would seem then that powerful elements can wield impressive amounts of manipulation over members of a modern society. However, the mendacity permeating such societies is not solely due to the interaction between dominating elements at the top and reactive subjects upon which they apply their deceit. Individual members and groups are capable of manipulation and generally not any less inclined to use it on one another. The only elements missing in their applications may be opportunity and at times sophistication and means of setup or dispersion of evidence. Individuals may struggle to obtain equality with others and not be currently of a mind to consider domination an option. Further, the monopoly on direct physical domination and even some indirect means of domination by elites forecloses violence or its threat and some measures of circumstantial coercion as effective means or even potentials to get one’s way. This leaves influence through misrepresentations as the prevalent means of manipulation among individuals. With less power to exert domination, it is much easier to appear more virtuous. Most of us, maybe none of us are any better than the dark forces we blame. This is the world in which most of us live, a world for which most of us are responsible and which is fully deserved by a great majority of subjects who do nothing to improve it.
In fact, most individuals do not wish to ban the principle of dominating others to reach one’s objectives because they embrace or want to have the freedom to apply it. They may regard this principle as essential to move their interests ahead of others. Societies permeated with this principle make the ultimate dominating forces only the most successful among many, envied rather than loathed. Even if their practices surface, those who would apply them if they had the power or who apply them currently on a more limited level hardly possess the authority to criticize them. Dominating regimes understand this immunizing effect. The fact that a corrupt system demands and endorses the practice of tribal and hierarchic instincts shared by all humans in their negative aspects leaves or places these instincts in the foreground of subjects’ understanding of their surroundings and themselves and moves other instincts into the background. Even if tribal and hierarchic instincts decline, they may remain formidable for quite some time because of their deep anchoring in human nature and once irresistible strength. Drives that interfere with readiness for contest according to tribal and hierarchic instincts may be rejected as weaknesses. Having to live in a world functioning by such rules may make them acceptable as a framework for individual pursuits of happiness. Those who cannot or do not win in such an environment might oppose such an ideology. The less they are privileged in a manipulative system, the more they may be willing to denounce it. As long as individuals have not reached average privileges, this may be their objective. However, most of such individuals may lust for more than reaching the equitable states once they have reached them. Even underprivileged individuals may not wish to foreclose this dimension to their potential. Who would not want to be more highly regarded than others or possess more means, who would not want to be king or queen? If we are honest, we all have this wish in us. None of us is free from our archaic instincts, even if they are becoming weaker. In a way, one can say that we are lying to ourselves when we claim to be solely interested in equality of rights and when we denounce efforts to gain power over others. If we wish to ever advance beyond such a primitive mindset and fulfill the promise of civilized human existence that we can already grasp, we must acknowledge that we are not yet all we would like to be as human beings. We must understand the continuing primitive failings of us and others, their consequences, how a manipulative system uses them and how we might use them. We must expose such failings when we detect them influencing perceptions, thoughts, emotions, or conduct and overcome them by considering them in the context of a developed, reconciled concept of happiness. Because our tribal and hierarchic instincts continue to induce motivations for superiority over and resulting exploitation of others, our struggle to contain these motivations is ongoing.
But dealing with tribal and hierarchic motivations in us alone will not liberate us from mendacity. Such motivations may survive in those aspiring to power long after other individuals have overcome them. Moreover, individual inclinations to use manipulations have a broader motivational basis. Manipulative tactics may be used to reach any kind of objective more effectively or efficiently, and elites are liable to use them in this breadth as well. If they wish to safely wield mental influence in a full range of situations, they are unlikely to foster a culture or legal system in which mendacious manipulations are seriously curbed. They may maintain a front that attacks unsophisticated variants, but leaves the more refined and less detectable tactics they use intact. They may even allow their tactics to become public knowledge and undertake controlled releases to immunize them against opposition by rendering them normal. This gives the powerful a substantial edge. However, the general permissive environment they create for mendacious manipulations may also increase such manipulative activities among their victims. These activities may only be partly inspired by the strategies of the powerful. Much more likely is that they give room to natural inclinations to use lies and subterfuges as shortcuts to fulfill individual needs. Without effective ethical systems that hold perpetrators accountable, the permeation of societies with manipulations has the opposite of their intended effect. It is a corrosive force that counteracts bonds between individuals and renders them suspicious, cynical, and competitive toward one another.
Viewed overall, the pall of mendacious manipulations weighs heavily on human happiness. My Philosophy of Happiness book lays out a path to a higher level of existence that addresses the scourge of misrepresentations and other ill-conceived practices. Still, taking steps along this way can be difficult because it requires a commitment to truth. Realizing or even suspecting that one has been and continues to be systematically deceived about virtually everything that was to serve as a foundation of one’s existence, particularly by institutions and persons one held above all reproach is a traumatic experience. Similarly traumatic may be the dropping of defense mechanisms that kept collaborating individuals in self-imposed suspension. Losing such foundations is bound to cause confusion and strong reactions. Some may mentally withdraw even more to maintain the lies imposed on or fabricated by them. To curb the pain arising from insights, they may fight disclosure and those who expose mendacious strategies and their perpetrators. Many more may wish such insights were not true and that they could continue in the world of make-believe in which they were immersed. They may prefer to ignore disclosures of manipulations even after taking full cognizance of them and continue to go along, perhaps thinking that the good they were led to believe could materialize as promised if they continue working for it within the system.
Although such a sentiment is based on a dangerous premise of disregarding underlying mendacious forces, it also contains the core procedural strategy to overcome a mendacious system. That strategy can use a wide array of declared ethical principles, rights, structures, and procedures already in place that are to camouflage and support the underlying mode of operations in a manipulatory system. These incompletely functioning tenets of a better system can be more completely asserted and used for their advertised purposes. Manipulative forces would expose their nature by opposing such uses. Hence, there is justified hope that manipulatory systems and with them the underlying exercise of domination can be gradually reformed. Another aspect supporting this hope is that the pervasive and engrained nature of manipulations and underlying schemes and the clandestine nature of authoring and implementing such schemes make divulging and remediating them gradual undertakings as well. This may be beneficial for several reasons. For one, the task of overcoming a mendacious setting is divided into more manageable parts. Moreover, the populace is not being flustered by one sudden comprehensive disclosure and challenged to replace a mendacious order in one instant. Seeing fundamental parts of one’s reality and identity dissolve may call for monumental upheaval that might stand in the way of a smooth transition into a well organized existence based on actualities and their handling. But if individuals are eased in small increments of disclosure into the reality of manipulation, the exploitatory truths it is meant to conceal, and into devising operations without deceit, change becomes more manageable. Lastly, a gradual rolling back of manipulative schemes gives their authors opportunities to adjust to a world in which their subversive machinations will no longer succeed and to reform themselves accordingly. Such opportunities may significantly reduce their opposition to reformation and assure an orderly handing over of power.
In many countries, reformatory processes to eliminate mendacious manipulation are well under way and have booked impressive results. However, such manipulatory schemes have also evolved to adjust to technological possibilities and counteractions. Succeeding in the struggle against them requires comprehensive understanding and neutralization of manipulatory schemes that stand in the way of free consideration and organization. It also requires understanding and exposing the forces behind a manipulatory system and what tactics they might apply to preserve their power. Finally, it requires an understanding of how the general populace reacts to mendacious manipulations and how individual motivations and operations in application of such practices work. The essential element of succeeding in ousting manipulation and manipulating forces is to not underestimate their resiliency and determination and to not let up to shine the light of disclosure into all the dark places in which they might traditionally hide, newly take refuge, or reassemble. However, like all momentous improvements in humanity, such outward developments must begin by shining the light of insight first individually within us.
Some time ago, I was talking to an old acquaintance on the phone to catch up on each other’s lives. When I told him I had published a book on the Philosophy of Happiness, he asked: “What does it say?” When I described what it was about he interjected: “No, I mean what is in it.” I told him about a summary on the first page of my website that he could read in a few minutes. He did not like that proposition because he asked me instead what the summary says. I did not and still do not have any problems describing my book or its ideas. But this conversation brought a phenomenon home that I had substantially underestimated when I published my book: People generally don’t want to read.
One might think that such an assessment is extreme, and certainly there are groups of dedicated readers of any genre and form of published writing. But, as dwindling book sales document, they are a retreating minority among the general populace. And even those sales numbers are not true reflections of reading activities. In some circles, it would be embarrassing to admit that one is not reading, or advantageous to pretend that one is reading. Many buy books as status symbols or interior design accessories without reading them. Others skim through them or glean aspects of content from other sources to fake their way through superficial discussions. Many more may be honest and confess little interest in reading books, especially if they do not view themselves under an expectation to do so. But a large contingent of the populace has excuses. Being too busy is one of them. Only, this can be a poor justification for not reading if other diversions and hobbies are pursued instead. Many will say that they read all day in their profession and want to rest their eyes and do something else in their free time. Understandable as that may be, reading in one’s profession does not usually involve reading materials that interest or benefit us on a truly personal level. The professional reading most of us undertake pursues someone else’s interests so we can make a living. Our ubiquitous private exchanges of e-mails and text messages, social media, as well as private internet surfing fall into a different category. Arguably, the reading involved in those activities does correspond with our interests. However, these are usually short bits of information that only touch us and our concerns on the surface. Many of them are similarly utilitarian as professional writings with the only difference that they are for our personal purposes. The rest are mostly mundane social notifications and arrangements, or entertainment without deeper personal correlation.
None of these categories involving reading count toward the type of reading about which I am concerned. That type goes beyond professional and social management. It also transcends acquiring the technical aspects of knowledge that are so prevalent in basic and advanced education for professional purposes. It further excludes mere diversionary communications for entertainment purposes. My concern is reading of a quality that makes us reflect on our life, our existence, our perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and actions, our relationship with other humans and humanity as well as our non-human environment. Such reading addresses the defining and pursuing of purposes to which we put technical knowledge, social contacts, and other experiences. This type of acquiring and digesting information can give us direction, can serve to advance us individually and as a species.
I am referring to reading as a stand-in for verbal communication of a similar depth. After all, written language is an outgrowth of spoken language. Still, deeper considerations are much more frequently communicated in writing than in audio recordings or live recitations. The formulation of deeper personal concepts greatly benefits from a person sitting down to put them into written words because they often are not easily defined or explained to the satisfaction of the person formulating them or recipients.
Only a part of such work might be assimilated or incentivized by reading or verbal communication. Many other influences are important for the formation of concepts about our existence. But profound verbal communication gives us an opportunity to intensify our mental presence and broaden our horizon, to take in suggestions and arguments, and to develop critical thinking as we reflect on what we read or hear about our essential existential concerns. While personal contact can accomplish that, and may be crucial for it, written language opens a world of other, often great minds to ours. Great literature uniquely enables us to partake in shared wisdom, compare experiences and emotions to ours, identify premises, trace logic, and consider conclusions and actions at our selection and speed. Reflective reading opens the possibility of consultations between our mind and a myriad of other minds, writers and other readers, to which we otherwise would not have access. Having these experiences requires effort, time, and focus. Such conditions seem to be increasingly lacking.
An argument can be made that meaningful reading of this kind has never been particularly popular and that it has mostly been reserved to classes that could afford the leisure, means, and education necessary to engage in reflections of purpose. However, that would only be partly correct. Particularly throughout the past several hundreds of years, one can find significant and growing undertakings to acquire knowledge about purpose by nonprivileged classes and individuals. Social movements may primarily come to mind in this regard. But even religious studies by wide ranges of nonclergy contributed. Whatever one may think of the substance offered in such undertakings, their participants were engaging in them to find or confirm purpose and learn about its practice. The weakening of such movements has dramatically reduced deeper reading.
Even more instantly utilitarian reading is on the decline. The trend for business as well as private use of media is to shorten written content and have it supplemented or replaced by audiovisual content. This may be judged positively because the rich potential of aural and visual signals can speed up and augment information transfers, thus allowing an increase in productivity. Moreover, streamlining of data processes and our replacement by machines in their processing can free us from tedious verbal tasks. But we sacrifice our freed time largely to the enabling technology. We either work more or use its implements for private interaction with it. In addition, we use it to play interactive audiovisual games and passively listen to or watch huge amounts of audiovisual media across a variety of devices.
We do all that because it can be easier for us to absorb information when it is in this more direct sensory format. Unlike words, audiovisual presentations do not require translation into visual or aural equivalents in our mind. They are received as signals and impressions for whose direct mental processing humans and their predecessors have long been equipped. In many contexts, audiovisual media can also offer a superior way to transport information that cannot, cannot adequately, or cannot as succinctly be expressed in words. So audiovisual presentations can significantly enhance our experiences, even in areas needed for deeper existential considerations. But there are also enormously detrimental aspects to their misuse or overuse. The most fundamental observation in this respect is their limited efficacy. Much that can be communicated verbally cannot be satisfactorily communicated by transforming it into audiovisual experiences beyond the audiovisual aspects of verbal communication. Many verbal constructs cannot be depicted at all or well enough by direct sensory representations. This is because they may be memories of persons, things, and events that are better transmitted by referring to preexisting similar experiences in recipients. Beyond that, words are often partial abstractions of experiences that would be confused by audiovisual commingling. The understanding of such abstractions by recipients requires that they can refer to their own experiences and abstractions. Audiovisual representations may help us augment our experiences and draw abstractions from them on both sides of a communication. But in the end, verbal communication between individuals as well as the arrangement of complex thoughts within a person’s mind does not move in audiovisual ways but in abstractions from them and other sensory experiences. That these abstractions are referenced to experiences in our mind and may ultimately be conglomerated into mental and actual scenarios does not render the requirement of abstraction less important. Abstraction is necessary to allow an understanding between individuals who do not have the same experiences and are not able to demonstrate their thoughts by acting them out or having them play out in another form. Even where common experiences are missing, they may be able to imagine new experiential elements or allocations of experiential elements through abstracted descriptive language. Abstraction also enables higher levels of consideration. Some concepts may be abstracted so as not to have experiences as immediate references. They may constitute abstractions from abstractions as well as interactions between abstractions on several levels or between abstractions and factual references. Speech and its representation as writing were invented because visual representations of persons, things, and events were too cumbersome in communicating many concepts commensurate with higher development of humans. Much of this may have been remedied through communications technology. Demonstrative guidance may be possible and very helpful to communicate how conditions can be kept or changed. However, a vast advantage of verbal abstraction remains beyond the realm of technical descriptions. By shunning or diminishing verbal expression, we risk limiting our minds to the limited content that can be represented by other audiovisual means.
If we receive our information about the world in audiovisual formats that do not take advantage of abstracted concepts, our minds are occupied by immediate levels of information presentation and processing. Immediate audiovisual signals are particularly impressive because they emulate how we have naturally absorbed information from our environment since long before language and writing were invented. Even when these impressions are canned or artificial, their apparent immediacy impresses and forms us on a visceral level. They can bypass our reflective intellect and subsequently influence it by instinctive attitudes they activate or form. Even if we involve higher levels of our mind, the immediacy of impressions gives audiovisual deliveries an air of truth. This continues when we are subjected to transmitted audiovisual representations. They simulate to us situations we attend and to which we are eyewitnesses. We instinctively tend to believe more what we seem to hear with our own ears and to see with our own eyes. This subconscious verification reaction may include experiences that are clearly marked as fiction in our conscious mind. It may also extend to explanatory, interpretative, or supplementary commentary that is paired with factual information, telling us what we are to take away from an audiovisual encounter. Our credulity tends to include such commentary because its weaving into more immediate experiences makes it difficult to distinguish from the rest of our sensory experience. Moreover, the bombardment with signals whose timing we do not control forces information into our minds without the opportunity of pacing our mental digestion. This may disable our analytical and reflective processes, occupying our minds with registering the items in the information torrent and having no other choice than to take them at face value. This may sound as if we were involuntarily subjected to audiovisual media. However, they are generally invited. Many of us may welcome audiovisual immersion because the passivity and breadth of exposure from which we can select suggest an easy way to receive information for various purposes. We tend to appreciate being fed packaged information that requires a minimal effort on our part and replaces it with the efforts of others to prepare and present desired content.
These suggestive and welcome aspects of audiovisual information make it a perfect tool for content producers to direct and program our minds. They can build on the susceptibility, trust, and appreciation of convenience we already extend to audiovisual signals by making them more gratifying. Media content may be geared to speak to our emotional and instinctive exposures. It may also be produced to make us believe that information we receive carries objectively reflective or rational gravity. By investing issuers or conveyors of information with an air of trustworthiness and authority, audiences can be made to believe that others have already done the necessary exploratory, and even selective and reflective work. They can be made to rely on and identify with presented conclusions, reactions, and recommendations that are purportedly derived on their behalf. Troublesome as such influences may be, they are not the main topic of this article and are being discussed in my work on other occasions. Our focus here is on what immersion into a transmitted audiovisual feed does to our capacity to form complex concepts in our mind, particularly regarding our existence. Manipulative influences finding their way into our mind through audiovisual feeds may have significant consequences on our willingness and ability to form or consider such concepts. But they only take advantage of and deepen impairments caused by the replacement of verbal information with audiovisual information that would also exist without them.
Leaving manipulative influences aside, our subjection to audiovisual transmissions reinforces our receptiveness for their delivery method. Without much coaxing except for the offering of more, and more involving, audiovisual products, this information funneling often gives rise to an addiction. By our selections, we can build impressions of a world to our liking. Such a virtual reality can become more dominating in our perceptions, thinking, feeling, and actions than any reality we secure ourselves by direct impressions. This is not only due to the inherent power of audiovisual media but also because their content can be geared to be of more interest to us than personal, unfiltered audiovisual experiences. They can entice us to live in a better virtual world and neglect our comparatively inferior personal affairs and the circumstances that reflect on them. The rise of audiovisual processes in our utilitarian concerns may impart an attitude of normalcy and even necessity to the continuation of such processes in areas beyond. Great upheavals in our actual personal affairs might bring us back to a comparatively somber level of reality. So we and forces interested to guide us for their purposes may share an interest to keep our personal life regulated in a framework of uneventful routine. Here again, external influences may easily take advantage of our attitudes and conduct.
But even if we discount the threats of dependency and loss of a sense of reality, there remains a more fundamental danger in the way audiovisual immersion degenerates the structures and processes of our mind. This development and its consequences on our quality of existence are often not appreciated. The purportedly fuller representation of information in an audiovisual feed may appear superior to mere verbal expressions. We may not realize that the abstraction of concepts that is embodied in words frees our thinking to propel itself to unprecedented heights. It represents an inventory of analyzed reality that we can assemble in our mind to constructs we wish to build. Impressions of an audiovisual entirety have to be analyzed by this verbal tool set to fully open them to our understanding and fully empower us in our interactions with them and their underlying reality. Unanalyzed streams of audiovisual experiences circumvent this capability. Being continually fed bits of immediate pictures and sounds, our mind is becoming less trained in references and abstractions that would allow deeper reflection and integrated consideration. For one, this is a function of receiving less verbal input that already represents analyzed reality. This input would force us to refer to parts of our mind in which abstractions relate back to experiences and related abstracted concepts. It would also force us to derive abstractions. Secondly, our lack in mental training is a function of audiovisual flooding that prevents our mind from constructing abstractions and concepts through proper analysis of audiovisual information. As our minds become inundated with audiovisual transmissions that emulate personal, nonabstracted experiences, the issue soon becomes not only that we prefer them to verbal acquisition of information. Their replacement of verbal communication also causes changes in our mind that decrease our ability to process verbal information. Over long, we may lose the procedural and substantive mental skillset to absorb and apply words in an effective or efficient manner. We become degeneratively illiterate, which threatens to dramatically reflect on how we cope and succeed in our existence. This type of illiteracy is not always obvious. It does not mean that we could not read to a required functional level. Nor would we have the impression we are not processing verbal communications. The torrent of words accompanying broader audiovisual representations in gainful and private aspects of our life may suggest to us quite the contrary. We may function within the demands of such verbiage. Being degeneratively illiterate means that we are losing the ability to apprehend and properly address issues of deeper consequence that require our attention and deliberation. In my experience, this phenomenon is already rampant and affects individuals from all walks of life.
Not all degenerative illiteracy can be attributed to the advance of audiovisual media at the cost of verbal communication. As one reviews individuals with increasingly higher levels of education, another cause becomes progressively prevalent. It can be described as an attitude of complacency after having arrived and mastered the verbal communication tools of the trade and position and having reached fluency in applying them. Individuals with academic or other advanced education are often startlingly affected by and ignorant of this syndrome, which can encompass several parts. They may identify so much with their profession that they become unable to identify areas in their life in which they do not possess the high learning and skill levels of their profession. They may be convinced the proof of their mental capacity and their expertise acquired and exercised by professional achievements reflect on their intelligence and astuteness in other, including personal areas of their life. They may also believe that they do not require much further advancement in their professional knowledge and skills after they are established. Even university professors, particularly in the humanities, whose business it is to conceive of deeper questions of human existence seem frequently to have all but abandoned the idea of broadening their horizon after having done enough to attain and defend their academic status. Instead, they seem to prefer to stay within or close to familiar grooves of thought and content with only minor variations penned by themselves or colleagues. In their world, such self-restriction even draws compliments and distinguishes them as specialists in their field. Obviously, not every profession and underlying science is afflicted by such a lull, and verbal communication is still widely used in the management and technological advancement of humanity. Yet even this area of literacy is decreasing and becoming more and more insular and distanced from a vast sea of population that is much less versed in using advanced constructs of language for technical purposes. The decline in considerations of purpose is even more pervasive because it can and is likely to include those proficient in technical applications of words. Acuity in technical abstractions may not translate or translate well into the realm of different concepts they would have to address in other aspects of their life. The increasingly specialized knowledge and application of words and thought processes by such individuals may not prepare them for the derivation and consideration of personal concepts relating to purpose, which require comprehensive integration to be effective. Moreover, their purportedly high mental function in their profession may be much less capable than perceived. After a sufficient learning curve, they may be mostly applying the same mental functions again and again with little variety or limited new adaptation.
The question then becomes what fills the voids of personal considerations after applications of inapplicable professional skill sets fail. Individuals with high functional literacy may deem themselves less vulnerable to externally sourced audiovisual influences. However, their failure to recognize their lack of skill or their voids of consideration in personal affairs, and their inability to leverage specialized skill sets, make them not only prone to errors but also receptive to such influences. Possibly, these influences may have to increase in sophistication to be deemed compatible with higher-educated minds. Still, such minds are likely to be similarly uneducated in personal affairs as those with lesser professional education and therefore substantively similarly open to audiovisual influence. Ultimately, it would seem that a large majority of individuals from all walks of life are susceptible to targeted and invited media influence. Individuals may feature different characteristics that lead to different and differently strong effects of transmitted media. Still, after audiovisual media take hold and expand, the mental acuity of any individual subjected to them is bound to decline.
One reason the problem of degenerative illiteracy might be denied is that the first symptom is not inability but unwillingness. Individuals who could technically and intellectually read a complex book or shorter piece prefer the ease of audiovisual feeds. They may also prefer a life that does not press the acquisition of verbal information beyond certain regulated requirements. This is likely to have consequences in acquired substance and processing capabilities. The result of long-term exposure to such conditions in the usage of one’s brain is bound to change it. Even if such degeneration would be limited due to past exposure to a different mind-shaping environment or would be reversible due to that fact, new generations may not have a remedial past to fall back on. They may grow up in an environment dominated by external audiovisual influences that trounce or completely eviscerate complex verbal communications. Once this tradition is lost, it may be impossible to regain. We already can witness the beginnings of such generational changes and imagine in their extrapolation what this means for individuals and humanity. Maybe small elite circles may keep their mental acuity and ensuing superiority alive, left to care for and possibly lead masses with lower ability. Maybe technically proficient elites will take over who have no understanding of larger human context. Maybe humanity will descend into a new chapter of the Dark Ages where written knowledge is preserved by a few institutions dedicated to this task. Maybe humanity resigns its mental dominance to machines with possibly even more devastating consequences for its survival or thriving than cold elite human rule. One might argue that we are at the very beginning of developments that might lead to such unpleasant outcomes. However, the technical, individual, and societal changes driving such developments proceed remarkably fast and may soon be out of our control. In this context, we do not only have to confront the consolidation of technology now available. We have to anticipate that audiovisual experiences will expand to become increasingly richer and complete in their coverage of our senses to where they may become indistinguishable from nonvirtual experiences. Our immersion into external media may assume a depth we currently can only faintly imagine. Further, the advancement of media exposure is set to be part of a far more extensive technological revolution gripping human existence. In this context, considerations of purpose may gain in importance far in excess of past urgencies. They may become of existential significance. However, we seem to be losing our will and mental presence to engage in such considerations precisely around the time when we appear to need them most.
Better Living and Happiness
Modern media overflow with ideas on better living. Most of these ideas focus on health, wealth, careers, relationships, family, living arrangements, environment, vacations, food, beauty, fashion, cars, or entertainment. They may offer assistance in a range of thoroughness and insinuation, from mere news items and reports over brief tips or so-called hacks to more involved strategies. This information is commonly equated with an improvement in happiness. Absorbing it may already make us happier because we are infused with confidence that our lives can be improved. Claims to that effect may also be deserved in substance, depending on the usefulness of what is being demonstrated. Discounting information that does not appear to have any or much value for our lives and may distract us, there is a wealth of constructive information that can benefit us.
But in the utility of actionable information lies a deeper question few sources or conveyors of it are trying, and none are fit, to answer: What is it ultimately good for? Improvement ideas and underlying data usually concentrate on practical issues many, most, or all humans encounter. Momentous as such information may be, it and its authors are not intent on solving ultimate existential questions of humankind. Nor is it geared toward personalized assistance. Broadly strewn offerings from which we can pick what interests us may only raise that impression. They are regularly focusing on making human existence in its common aspects more bearable and enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with such a focus. However, this means that we must still ask and answer deeper questions about purpose.
These questions pertain not only to external suggestions for a better life but also include what we determine to undertake on our own accord. They loom behind everything we do. Questions of utility must be asked not only for operational purposes. Consequently asked, they can lead us to notions of deeper meaning in our existence. There may be a number of levels of reasons to advance through until we arrive at questions of deeper and ultimate purpose. Logically, all initial and sequential inquiries into reasons would be dealing with issues of utility serving our ultimate concerns. We may not arrive at one single ultimate purpose. There may be a number of them, and in that case it would behoove us to consider how we can arrange them and their pursuits for optimal effect.
Some might doubt the importance of progressive questioning until we arrive at one or more ultimate purposes. Our immersion in external and our own ideas for a better life may imply to us that one, some, or a sum of them, if judiciously selected, can give us adequate fulfillment. Why should we not simply try to lead a life in which we fare well in practical terms of living and be content with that?
The answer to this question begins to materialize as soon as we ask it: Because without purpose nothing matters. Commonly traded notions of a better life combined or in selections do not reveal purpose, at least not by themselves. At best, they address tools by which we can pursue purpose and give us indications of fields in which we may find purpose. But more frequently, they focus on diversions and luxuries that do not serve ultimate purposes.
Arguably, the nature of frivolities should be rather easily identifiable. Even if we give them importance in our lives, we should be aware that they do not profoundly matter. The value of practical tools may be more difficult to distinguish from purpose. Our appreciation for the utility of implements may instill us with false notions of their rank in our lives. Even if we would generate and have all implements for a good life at our disposal, we would be flailing or going nowhere without the direction and motivation of purpose. The potential of purpose does not equate its actualization. The perfection of implements and their application to obtain or preserve other implements would have us live in circles, even if these were qualitatively and quantitatively elevating. Their engagement in wasteful or diversionary endeavors cannot replace their utilization for purposes that are of deeper importance to us. We may occupy ourselves with many activities that may remain on or close to the immediate surface of our existence. But none of them can give us the interest and satisfaction conveyed by the pursuit and accomplishment of deeper and ultimate purposes. Any effort or success that does not feed into such purposes and of which we are not aware of serving them is without meaning. Not seeking to identify our purposes or not understanding them renders us systemically unhappy. These states also leave us frustrated because acquisitions, perfections, and expenditures of tools cannot fill our confusion and emptiness despite substantial investments.
This may not be obvious to us. We may not even believe that we possess deeper or ultimate purposes or what they might be and spend our life in shallow states of consciousness. If we are missing essential implements for survival and even if we miss luxuries to enhance our life, their attainment and maintenance as well as our reveling in them may appear as worthwhile life goals to us. We may imagine and may be led to believe that utilitarian or frivolous implements or applications are ultimate purposes in themselves, or that they serve objectives we erroneously accept as ultimate purposes. It may take our reaching and being secure in the achievement of such objectives to realize that they do not give us the fulfillment we imagined and that we hunger for something different. Many of us may fill our lifetime with utilitarian or frivolous pursuits without ever reaching a level of saturation that would make us discover the resulting wisdom of their nature. Even if we should reach saturation of means and diversions, we may erroneously conclude from our lack of fulfillment that we have congregated insufficient quantities or qualities of them. The necessary realization about our failures and ultimate purposes may never arrive or may come at a regrettably late point in our life.
Many individuals may then fail to explore their existence on deeper levels due to a genuine lack of insight. Others may understand to an extent that it is essential to identify and follow ultimate purposes. But the onslaught of practical concerns in which they are immersed may distract them from asking questions about ultimate purpose in a resolving manner. They may become preoccupied with an abundance of practical problems and inquiries on how to address them and address them best. They may also fear deeper inquiries for not having answers or summoning painful concepts of change. They may stop short of considering their existence in its deeper aspects despite their suspicion or conviction that there is or should be more to life. This may be a disquieting state of existence. Still, without an effort of resolving such discomfort, they are similarly clueless as individuals who naively believe in the ultimate importance of subordinated or frivolous pursuits. They may therefore similarly participate in chasing purpose in such pursuits.
There may be interests for whom such lack of clarity would be beneficial because they might use it to pursue their purposes. They might try to insert their ultimate or subordinated purposes in subjects’ minds to have converted subjects advancing such purposes. Or they may be content with a confusion of purpose in subjects and having them concentrate on more superficial or unhelpful conditions. The exploitation of others proves that such interests have not found or reconciled their own purposes and that they pursue misguided objectives. But they may succeed in hiding these from or selling them to subjects.
With or without external influence, many individuals may never prompt themselves seriously about their purpose. They may live and end their life inconsequentially and possibly subject themselves to tribulations based on their failure to set and pursue a rewarding course. Unease with such conditions may not prompt them to pursue their own investigations. Instead, they may seek a shortcut by adopting external propositions of purpose that they may not wish to question further. This provides nefarious interests with another opportunity to consign unconsidered individuals in the pursuit of their purposes, even if approaches to abuse them were initially ineffective. Either way, it is easy to see how vulnerable the lack of devising their own purposes makes individuals to being misled and to sacrifice their life to purposes that are not theirs, are imaginary, or make them waste their life.
Not investigating our purpose is then obviously a grave omission we need to remedy if we want to improve our happiness. My work is targeted to support individuals in this regard. Finding and pursuing our individual purpose constitutes our personal philosophy. The mere thought of a self-initiated, self-considered philosophy may strike us as a difficult goal. This may appear so because we have not been trained and have not trained ourselves in critical constructive thinking. I am trying to remedy that with my work, which guides readers step by step through necessary levels of consideration. As we proceed though this consideration, we gain confidence because we realize that we carry all we need to be successful in it in ourselves. Nobody can know us like we ourselves. We only have to take the time, energy, and focus to unlock our nature. Once we understand it, we possess all the pieces to establish and carry ourselves as a purposeful being whose activities are reconciled to meet our purpose. As demanding as it may seem to establish and act according to our own philosophy, endlessly searching and grasping at superficial remedies is much more exhausting and cannot satisfy us. There is no alternative to the authenticity of self-discovery and self-realization if we want a truly happy life.
The Wellness Inadequacy
Across the entire range of media, purveyors of wellness ideas have been enjoying enormous success. Frequently, they collect and popularize scientific insights into physical and mental health, at times topping them off with semi-religious notions they generally call spirituality. By covering these areas with advice, they claim to have a holistic approach to wellbeing. Well-intentioned and instrumental as such activities might be, they are overwhelmingly missing the point.
That point might be illustrated by asking: What if I had perfect physical and mental health, and even spiritual health if it existed separate from mental health? Would I be satisfied with such a state alone, or would I put it to use? Such questions seem artificial because the utilization of our mind and the rest of our body are of course responsible for their health. There is a constructive circularity between conditioning and pursuit of purpose that I think warrants further attention.
Another way of looking at what I have in mind can be found by considering resistance to wellness. Solid information about wellness is easily available. Millions are heeding such advice. However, other millions are not seriously following wellness suggestions despite access and even immersion. There may be a variety of reasons for that. But one of the most glaring reasons is lack of commitment. Many cannot muster enough motivation to aspire to wellness. They are bogged down in existential constrictions that make them neglect their health or may even instill them with self-destructive motivations. Reaching this large group of people requires giving them the tools to overcome these obstacles. To want wellness, they must conceive of purpose that gives them sufficient reason to be well. They must learn how happiness is obtainable for them and that it is worth pursuing.
This is what my work is about. It fundamentally addresses the derivation of purpose without which holistic wellness is not possible. It describes happiness as the supreme organizational principle of humans, humanity, and, in a wider sense, of nature. Insight into how this principle manifests itself can help individuals develop their own practical philosophy toward harmonic advancement within themselves and with their human and nonhuman environment.
Even individuals who are already receptive to wellness suggestions may have to develop their perspectives of purpose to fully subscribe to and continue to apply such suggestions. I am greatly interested in individuals at this stage because they are displaying considerations that make them prime candidates for expanding their mind toward finding happiness and becoming ambassadors for a better world.
Exciting new terrain is waiting to be explored to connect wellness and other aspects of human existence that I address in my work. Together, these spheres describe inseparable parts of a life in active balance.
© 2013-2018 BY MARTIN JANELLO