This is a page that attempts to establish beliefs which are necessary for an adult view of the world in the 21st century.
I do not mean “adult” in the sense that we normally think of adult behaviour, i.e. someone who mostly behaves within our social or communal norms of adult behaviour, including working consistently, owning your own home and parenthood. Rather, I mean “adult” in the sense that childhood myths, no matter how pleasing, are abandoned for the acknowledgement of reality. Much like realizing you need to work permanently to pay your way is a sign of adult behaviour, realizing the world is as it is, and not how you want it to be, is a sign of adult belief.
Personally, I don’t think I could claim to be an adult if I behave as an adult but still hold on to the beliefs of my childhood. Let’s say for the sake of argument that anyone who is an adult but who is not only clinging to their childhood myths but forces them upon other people is being childish.
So, what beliefs constitute adult beliefs in the 21st century?
Note: I intend this as a work in progress so if you think I’ve missed something or haven’t elaborated enough, please comment below and I will try to update accordingly.
Beliefs About the Universe
As a human being living in the 21st century, what do I know about the universe?
The Universe is older and larger than we can comprehend
The universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old, or thereabouts. Because it has existed for this long, it is unfathomably large; so large that we have yet to get a really accurate guess as to its size – 156 billion light years wide at minimum but maybe three times bigger. Both of these numbers – the age and size of the universe – are far too big for us to grasp properly. They exist as abstract numbers on a page, and not as anything tangible
To illustrate, let’s do the penny experiment:
- Picture a penny. Have you pictured it? What does it look like?
- Okay, now picture ten pennies. Got it? What do they look like?
- Okay, now what do 100 pennies look like? Can you picture them?
- Okay, now picture 10,000 pennies. Can you picture them? Really?
We understand the concept of 10,000 pennies as we know how many pennies that is and how many dollars it would be, but we cannot see them in our mind. There are too many.
The universe is at least 156,000,000,000 light years wide. There are at least 100,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. Look at all those zeroes. We can’t even picture 10,000 pennies, how can we picture a distance of 10,000 light years, let alone billions of light years? And the same applies for the age of the universe. How can we picture an age of 13,800,000,000? How can we truly grasp this outside of arithmetic?
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is only 180,000 light years wide, approximately. It’s still unfathomably larger, given that we cannot even conceive of the distance of a light year. (A light year is 9,460,730,472,580,800 metres. Do you want to do the arithmetic to figure out how many metres wide our galaxy is? Or our universe? I don’t.)
Comparatively our Solar System is both young and small; it’s only 4.568 billion years old and small enough that we’ve been able to send probes outside of it, though it takes a while. The Solar System is approximately 26,000 light years from the centre of the Milky Way.
The Earth is almost as old as the Solar System itself; 4.5 billion years old. It is small enough that we’ve explored the vast majority of it and we inhabit much of its land, but we didn’t do so for most of its existence.
What does all this mean? Well, if you draw any other conclusion from the size of the universe than ‘the earth and its inhabitants do not matter in the scheme of things’ I’d like to know how. But we can draw a few conclusions:
- In the universal scheme of things earth, and the inhabitants of earth, are extremely unimportant
- What we don’t know very likely out-numbers what we know
The Probability is That We are Not Alone
The universe is so vast that the likelihood that the known conditions for life on earth have been satisfied more than once within the universe is extraordinarily high. However, the universe is so vast that it is entirely reasonable that we have not had any contact with life on other planets.
If human beings are not alone in the universe, how can human beings continue to maintain we are the centre of the universe?
The Arrow of Time only Points Forward
Time only goes forward. Everything we do and everything we know is bounded and determined by time.
We cannot see or accurately predict the future. We can make increasingly educated guesses about what will happen at the macro level based upon what has happened in the past, but these guesses will continue to be guesses because of the nature of time. No mater how good our science, we will always be using the past to predict the future, which will make us wrong at least much of the time (if not most).
And we cannot see outside of time itself; we cannot see what the universe was like prior to the big bang, and our view of the universe is bounded by time. Until we figure out how to see outside of time – if that is indeed possible – questions like “what created the universe?” and “what is outside the universe” are unanswerable, no matter how much we want to answer them.
Due to the nature of time, everything that has already happened appears to us to have been necessary or predetermined, rather than chance. But nothing is predetermined, it just looks that way.
- Until we can see outside of time, we cannot know what, if anything, caused the universe, meaning that every guess we’ve had is just a guess, and nothing better than that. (This means that the guess that an anthropomorphic deity caused the universe is equally good – or equally bad – as the guess that giant dinosaurs created our universe, which is a giant marble they are currently kicking around.)
- Until we can see outside of time, we cannot know what, if anything, is outside of the universe.
- We cannot predict the future. We can try to predict the future but, unless we are evaluating all of our previous predictions for how accurate they are, we should assume that most predictions will be primarily or entirely wrong. (And we should hold those accountable who claim to predict the future and are completely or partially wrong time after time after time.)
- We should never assume that the past was inevitable. It was not.
The Earth is Older Than We Can Possibly Comprehend
The Earth is certainly much younger than the Universe but it is still incomprehensibly old. Human history makes up a tiny, tiny part of the history of the planet. It seems like a safe assumption that the planet could outlast humans as it outlasted other extinct species.
A conclusion: the planet has survived much longer than we have and it is reasonable to suspect it will out-live us.
Life Has Existed for Millions of Years Before Us
We are not the first life to exist in the universe, not even the first life to exist on earth. Life existed on earth for millions of years before humans did.
Our history seems long and impressive but it is nothing in terms of length compared to the history of life on earth.
The Earth, The Sun, The Universe Will End
To the best our knowledge, the universe will one day expand to the point where it cannot expand any more, where every atom will be so far from the next atom that they no longer combine to form anything. This is called heat death and it is so far away that it is meaningless to you and I, or our kids or grand kids or great grand kids…you get the idea.
However, well before heath death occurs in the universe, the sun will burn out. This too will happen so far in the future that it is meaningless to us.
When the earth will “end” is a different story because the earth as a planet can continue to exist well past the point at which it is habitable for human beings, and when it stops being habitable human beings is a matter of conjecture.
Put the point is that eternal life is not a possibility. Relatively long life for humans – say hundreds of years instead of 100 years – may indeed be a possibility, but eternal life is not a possibility, even if you were crazy enough to want it. Things end. We do not have evidence to contradict this.
All three of these deaths are caused by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, i.e. entropy, the tendency for energy to move from a concentrated state (i.e. the singularity at the beginning of the universe) to a completely non-concentrated state (i.e. heat death).
Entropy is Unavoidable; Scarcity is Reality
The Second Law of Thermal Dynamics is, according to Wikipedia, “In all spontaneous processes, the total entropy always increases and the process is irreversible. The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.” The dumbed down version of this is that everything ends eventually but the real world consequence of this is that it takes energy to concentrate energy and to keep energy concentrated. Heat death is the point when, eventually, all the atoms will be too far apart to combine to form to be anything at all. That is very far away, but entropy affects us all the time, it’s just sometimes very hard to see.
Everything we do involves the consumption of energy. Humans used to believe we could overcome the limitations of this fact by trying to create perpetual motion machines. Nobody ever succeeded because the Second Law of Thermal Dynamics is a law of the universe. But, aside from preventing inventors from creating perpetual motion machines, the real consequence is the reality of scarcity.
Scarcity is the defining feature of human life: stuff exists in limited amounts, if we want to create more stuff, we need to expend more energy, sometimes ridiculous amounts of energy for very little stuff (as with bitcoin). If we use up all of a particular stuff on the planet, we will either not be able to create any more of that stuff, or have to use lots of energy to create more once we know how to do it. Even if we ever invent the nano fabricator , which will supposedly end scarcity, scarcity of some kind will still affect us, due to the fact of entropy.
Human inventiveness will not overcome scarcity, though it can delay it and it may delay it long enough so that scarcity appears to have been overcome. (Certainly some of the richest humans behave as if scarcity has been conquered.)
The Universe is Irreducibly Complex
Though we can figure out how individual parts of the universe work, and we can have a grand theory, the universe is too complicated to understand to the point where we can understand every cause of every thing caused.
These beliefs about the universe are factual. The implications of these facts are interpretations but I believe they are adult interpretations. It gets more complicated, though, when we deal with human beings.
Views About Human Beings
More important for most of us than our beliefs about the universe are our beliefs about ourselves; they help condition the way we think, behave and decide how to improve. So what are adult beliefs about humanity?
Human Beings Are Animals
Humans are animals. Specifically we are primates, a kind of mammal. As a species we are about 200,000 years old, which seems like a very long time but is actually not very long when you think about how the planet is 4 billion years old. Like all primates, we have evolved out of what you might call “lesser” animals over the existence of life on earth. Though we have uniquely human characteristics, we also have many characteristics that we share with other primates and even other non-primates.
Like any animal that has evolved over time, we have evolved certain characteristics that are no longer evoluntionarily necessary or were ever necessary for survival. Human behaviour is influenced by these characteristics as much as other more evolutionarily necessary ones.
Humans Are Unique Animals
Though people regularly make claims to the contrary, there are no other animals on earth – or anywhere else, as far as we’re aware – who are like human beings.
- Humans are smarter (we have extremely large brains for our bodies) than all other known animals
- and we have the most advanced communication (we can speak in language)
- and tool-making skills and the hands to use them.
- We can control fire.
- We are sentient.
- We are able to transmit culture through time and space.
- (Also, we stand upright! That’s the most important thing, right?)
There are other animal species that may have one or more of these traits, but we are the only species that has all of them. Hence civilization.
Humans are Social Animals
We human beings are social animals. We need other humans to behave normally. Without human contact, a human will lose her ability to behave within the spectrum we would describe as “normal.” Everything humans do is social: how we communicate, how we learn, how we build; even eating and drinking with other people is better than doing it alone.
Humanity is Plurality
Though all human beings are the same species, and all human beings have many shared characteristics, there are literally billions of us, and we have lived on all but one of the continents of the world over hundreds of thousands of years. This is has led to differences. But there is no moral dimension to these differences, they just are. It’s the reality of our species: there are different people with different experiences and different ways of thinking, throughout the world.
Human Life is Irreducibly Complex
Even more so than the universe, animal life, and especially human life, is irreducibly complex. Where we can at least create laboratory experiments which allow us to see how each process in the universe works, and come to a coherent explanation of how each and every inanimate thing was caused, it’s less simple with animals.
Because individual animals do not always behave the same way in the same circumstances, we cannot reduce animal behaviour to its causes. This is even more true with human beings – though we might find a compelling cause of someone’s behaviour, we cannot conclude that this is the sole cause of that behaviour.
Every Action has Unforeseen Consequences
We cannot predict the future because we cannot see into the future. Every time we try to predict the future, we are using what happened in the past to guess. Doing that makes our guesses better.
But, according to the uncertainty principle, we cannot even truly know exactly the nature of everything at a given point in time, anyway. So no matter how much past (and present) we study, we can still never completely accurately predict the future.
Human History is Contingency
The history of humanity is contingent; that is, human history is accidental. When we look back through history it looks predetermined but that is only because of a logical fallacy. Instead, what has happened is only one of an infinite number of possible histories, where individual divisions of billions of people have combined to cause this particular possible history that we have. It could have turned out very differently and only a few things – or one thing – need have happened differently for me to have never existed, and never written this post.
Cruelty is the Worst Thing We Do
Cruelty, the intentional infliction of (physical or emotional) pain, is the worst thing human beings are capable of. It’s far from the only thing bad we do – we are capable of inflicting pain without intending to and arguably do that much more frequently – but it is objectively the worst thing we do.
One of the fundamental goals of any human society must be to limit/reduce cruelty.
Human Imagination is Part of Human Existence: Humans are Prior to Human Thoughts
Your thoughts did not exist before you did, no matter what you might think. Ideas that come to you do not come from the ether, they come from your brain, which has received sensory inputs from reality. You need a brain to have ideas.
Existence precedes essence.
Ideas are not as original as they seem.
Human Communication is Complicated
We don’t just communicate verbally. Humans communicate using body language and the vast majority of human beings are not fully conscious of others’ and our own body language most of the time.
Humans are Hypocrites: Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
Or: Don’t throw stones, because you live in a glass house.
This piece is about beliefs, not actions, but if I can add one piece of advice about behaviour to this list of beliefs: judge yourself before you judge others and don’t spend your life telling others what to do with their lives. Everything single one of us is not only imperfect, but a hypocrite. (Many if not most of us are massive hypocrites.) Judging others because they don’t live up to some hypothetical standard you refuse to apply to yourself is not adult behaviour; it is as childish as it gets.
To the Subject, Emotional Anguish is as Real as Physical Pain
Physical pain is a sign that your body is in trouble. It is an indication, some of the time, that if you do nothing about your problem you will eventually die.
Emotional anguish is not as obviously significant in that regard. But, to the person experiencing it, emotional pain is as real as physical pain. Worse, it can have more of an effect on one’s choices and beliefs than physical pain, especially chronic physical pain, which we often get used to.
To everyone else, any given person appearing to behave normally is normal. However, within the mind of the person suffering emotional anguish, nothing is normal; rather what they think is normal is not normal. [This is not good]
We need to recognize that we cannot see emotional anguish like we can see physical pain. Emotional anguish is legitimate suffering even if we cannot see it.
Time Heals All Wounds
No matter what the tragedy, most of us eventually get used to it. Conversely, no matter how awful the circumstances, most of us eventually get used to it.
This is both a positive thing and a negative. On the positive side, we can hope because enough humans can overcome horrible events and circumstances and endure. On the negative side, human beings can find horrible circumstances agreeable enough not to try to change them.
The “Will” Does Not Exist
The “will” as conceived by Western Philosophy does not exist. This is is not to say that human beings don’t make choices, but rather the idea that human beings make their choices from their being and exert those choices on the world is false, to put it mildly.
Humans are not as Rational as we believe
Over the past couple of hundred years, the assumption that human beings are fully rational creatures making rational choices to “maximize their utility” has come to define economic analysis and much “political science.” Ideas based upon rational choice theory have become part of the popular culture and most of us analyze and assess the behaviour of our politicians and other public figures through the lens of rational choice. “Why would that criminal rob a bank in broad daylight without a mask? That doesn’t make sense.”
But the thing is, rational choice theory is wrong. It is not based in observation; rather it is the story of theoretical models misapplied to the real world. These models theoretically “elegant” but do not capture human behaviour (except, occasionally at the most macro level). That’s because they’re not based on human behaviour but rather humans as we’d like them to be. Because, though human beings are able to reason, we are also highly irrational.
As animals who have evolved, human beings regularly use heuristics to solve problems, rather than objective, logical analysis. Which heuristics we use and how we and when we use them are partially determined by our genes (through our evolution) and partially determined by our environment. Our brains evolved to solve problems in different contexts than the society of the 21st century, so these heuristics often do not match our circumstances, leading to behaviour that is irrational. We call these cognitive biases.
And there are lot of them. Wikipedia lists well over 100 distinct cognitive biases, which humans often have when making choices, choices long assumed to be entirely or almost entirely rational. The more you go down the rabbit hole of these biases, the more you see them in your own behaviour and the behaviour of everyone you know. A discussion of cognitive bias is a separate piece in itself, but the long and the short of it is that much human choice is irrational, not rational, meaning that human beings are not primarily rational beings.
Our Beliefs Condition Our Thoughts and Actions
Our often-unexamined beliefs about reality shape the way we think about everything and how and why we act. That’s why beliefs are important.
Human Behaviour at the Macro Level Cannot Be Used to Explain/Judge Individual Behaviour
Human behaviour is relatively predictable at the macro level; many of the social sciences are based on this very idea. And human behaviour at the social and individual level is somewhat predictable in laboratory-type conditions. But human life does not resemble a laboratory and no one individual is a proxy or bell-weather for a larger group. Using knowledge about the general behaviour of human beings at the macro level to predict individual behaviour in society is impossible. (If it was possible, there would be no crime, for example, because we’d know who will commit crimes and we’d stop them.)
And just as we cannot what a person is going to do based upon general macro trends, we shouldn’t judge human beings based on knowledge of the group or perceived knowledge of the group. Membership in a given group – however defined – is not necessarily predictive of individual behaviour.
Macro theories of collective behaviour cannot predict individual behaviour, nor should they be used to judge people.
Humans Have “Hidden” (Informal) Power Relationships
Human relationships are power relationships. These power relationships are not static. You have power relationships with your parents, which change drastically over time, from them having complete power of you to you possibly have full control over your parents at the end of their lives. You have power relationships with your siblings. You have power relationships with your friends. You have power relationships in school, with teachers, the administration, and your classmates. You have power relationships with your employer and your fellow employees.
None of these power relationships are visible in any physical sense. We cannot look at a picture of an office and fully determine power relationships by what is visible in the photograph. We cannot listen to an audio recording of two people and completely determine the power relationship. Even if we are watching a video, we cannot know everything about the power relationship on display in the given video without more knowledge.
Human communication is complicated; embedded in our body language, tone of voice and other means of communication are expressions of or acceptances of one individual’s social power over another individual.
Humans Don’t Like Change, We Prefer the Status Quo
“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Human beings prefer what they’re used to, almost all the time, even if what they are used to is not desirable. When faced with a decision to keep things the same or to change, most human beings need some kind of external stimulus to change, and usually that external stimulus has to be significant (i.e. starvation, fear, poverty, etc.). Most of us do not change our lives for the better just for the sake of it.
Beliefs About How Humans Understand the World
Theories Must Be Based Upon Observation
How do we know what we know? Most of what we know (as definitively as we can know it) comes through our use of the Scientific Method, namely observing phenomena and replicating that phenomena over and over again until we know what caused the phenomena. Theories about our universe need to be replicable “in a laboratory setting” or they’re bunk. We need to do this because of our human biases, which do not allow us to figure out the world without double blind studies.
This throws a whole lot of human beings out the window and most of us are not willing to accept all of that (which is only human). But this should not be considered a limitation. Rather, quite the opposite look at the things human beings have accomplished. [ugh]
It’s worth noting that this empirical requirement suggests that the social sciences be taken less seriously than they currently are (economics being the worst example).
Now, you’re saying: “not all scientific theories are actually based solely upon observation!” And you’re right. There’s another criterion that is just as important.
Theories Must Be Falsifiable
We can’t actually know anything with 100% certainty. I cannot prove that an anthropomorphic god does not exist even though all the evidence strongly suggests that such a god does not exist. To the extent that we want to know things we cannot directly observe, the other criterion must be that our theory must be falsifiable. This means that each and every premise of our theory must be testable in some way so that individual parts can be shown to be true or false; if each part of the theory is shown to be not false, then the theory is as true as we can know. If a theory cannot be falsified at each individual step, it is worthless because we cannot know if the component parts are actually true.
But many human beliefs about the world and the universe cannot be falsified.
Essentialism is Wrong So Metaphysics is Wrong
There is no fundamental essence to life. Every time we investigate stuff we find that it is made up of smaller stuff. Contrary to what new agers will tell you, the scientific revolution has not in fact confirmed the old essentialists beliefs about the universe, it has completely refuted them. There is no essential table; there is no essential person. There are atoms and in particular combinations these atoms make up different things.
Western philosophy is defined in great part by its essentialism – the view that understanding the world involves knowing the essence of something. But that essence is unknowable because, well, it doesn’t exist. So the metaphysical concepts that we human beings are always trying to achieve – Equality! Freedom! Justice! – do not precede our own existence. They are constructs that we humans have created. Metaphysical ideals may be useful in a strictly aspirational sense, but they are never achievable because, well, they aren’t real.
(This is not to deny conscience at all, but only to say that the idea that the essence of a thing is key to understanding it is bunk.)
Inductive Logic is Worse than Deductive Logic
When you use a general pattern to explain a specific event, you will be more right than if you use a specific event, or a couple of specific events, to try to create a general explanation.
Beliefs About Human Institutions and Culture
Human Morality is a Construction: It’s Relative; It’s Evolved
Human morality is not universal. If it was, we would have figured out the moral way to act in all situations. Not only that, but different societies would have come up with the same answers to the same problems. Though the Golden Rule is relatively universal among human cultures, other moral commands are not.
Instead, human morality evolved as we did. We currently believe it evolved in three different stages, which is why human beings can have competing moral demands about the same moral question. There is a cultural component that was added later, as well, making morality even more complex.
So, we can say definitively:
- all moral codes humans have knowledge of have been created by humans
- all human attempts to create a moral framework that completely encapsulates all aspects of humanity and human experience have generally failed
- all human attempts to create a moral code that punishes and rewards human beings for their actions and inactions have failed in at least some regards
- there exists no one moral code that has ever or can ever adequately govern human behaviour.
The Iron Law of Oligarchy: Who Says Organization Says Oligarchy
Or: there will always be those with more power than others.
Though the title of this idea, coined by Robert Michels, is terrible, it’s still true: human organizations tend to oligarchy. Here’s why:
- In order for organizations to function and last, some people need to specialize within the organization
- By its very nature, specialization creates power dynamics (in addition to any power dynamics which existed between the individuals before they joined the organization)
- Attempts to prevent undue specialization weaken the organization and either cause the organization to stagnate or fail
- At some point certain specialists have more power than others.
Completely democratic organizations are impossible as far as we know.
Human Behaviour is Shaped in part by Our Institutions
The degree to which human bevahiour is shaped by systems and situations has been at times overstated, such as with the Stanford Prison Experiment. But the truth remains that our behaviour is shaped by the situations we find ourselves in, more so than most of us realize and more so than traditional philosophy and early psychology maintained. This is even more true of our institutions. To oversimplify things, you might say that the institution influences and affects your behaviour the more you are part of that institution. So your neighbourhood association influences your behaviour but not as much as your job does.
Norms and Informal Relationships are as Important as Laws and Regulations
Some of the unseen things influencing human behaviour are informal rules and relationships. These are everywhere in human relations even though we cannot physically see and rarely document. These informal rules and relationships, though not written down on paper, are just as important and sometimes more important than the formal, written rules of the society or its institutions. This is because human beings’ behaviour is often in line with norms, rather than with the actual rules. For example, we all jaywalk. In my country, jaywalking is formally illegal, but it is rarely enforced. It’s so rarely enforced that I will see multiple people jaywalk later today. It’s so rarely enforced that I know of only one person in my own personal circle who has ever received a ticket for jaywalking in Canada. (That’s a really specific circumstance and an interesting story. The short of it is that he was likely ticketed for looking like a skater rather than jaywalking.)
New Human Institutions are Created to Solve the Problems of the Past or the Imagined Future, Not the Present
When human beings create new institutions to solve problems we do so to solve the problems of the past or, if we’re lucky, the problems of the present. Institutions are rarely if ever created to deal with the problems of the future for the very simple reason that we cannot predict the future. Though we can attempt to anticipate our future problems, most of the time we’re going to be at least somewhat wrong about what they will look like. (To pick one really obvious example: Who predicted the “Atomic Age”? What international agreements existed prior to the Manhattan Project that intentionally helped solve the problem of nuclear arms proliferation?)
So we must understand that human institutions need to be reformed as a matter of course. Just because an institution made sense two hundred years ago does not for a second mean that it is suited to the present in its current form.
Human Institutions are Not Monolithic
One of the most frustrating things, to me personally, about human beings, is how many of us refer to our institutions as monoliths or, worse, “they.” But the world is made up of individual people. Those people can be group by different criteria – gender, physical characteristics, cultural background, employer, etc. – but we know that membership in one particular group is not an adequate predictor of behaviour. That’s for a couple of reasons, the most important of which is because that group membership is usually arbitrary on the part of the observer, and the individual may identify with numerous other groups over that group that the observer believes is the determinant one. In the US, everyone still uses the term “race” and assigns everyone into five (?) races: “white,” “black,” “Latino,” “Asian” (formerly “yellow”) and “native” (formerly “red”). But these are ridiculously reductive categories that obscure virtually everything about the people in these large groups, for example the actual ethnicity of the members of these groups.
Claiming that “the government” is one uniform group full of people who all share the same characteristics and beliefs, or claiming that a particular department or division of the government (or an industry, or individual business) is one uniform group, is as reductive as the stupid idea of “races.” It’s not as offensive but it’s still reductive to the point of absurdity. Governments are made up of tens of thousands of individuals, of different pay grades, responsibilities, backgrounds and so forth. Individual government agencies are the same. In fact, all organizations are like this: they are made up of actual people.
It is a fallacy to personify an organization or institution as a monolithic whole. Not a single one of our institutions is a monolithic whole. The only type of organization that might be considered a monolith is the sole proprietorship, a type of small business that does’t really exert a lot of influence on society (in the individual sense, not in the sense of the total number of sole proprietors in a society).
So to attribute a singular human motive to any institution, or to virtually any organization, is just incorrect, not to mention reductive.
Institutional Creep is Real
Human beings want to stay alive. It should not be a surprise then, that institutions formed by human beings, and including them, should also attempt to stay alive. As the man once said, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
Humans have some kind of need for “growth” or what you might call “personal progress.” And it seems to have been internalized within capitalism that businesses need to grow to live.
So we should not be surprised that institutions created by, administered and run by, and serving human beings would also want to grow, and whose membership would believe that stasis equals death.
Every human institution tries to increase in size as a matter of course. If we create an institution, that institution will attempt to expand its role and powers in order to “survive.” This is not a terrible thing to be condemned but rather a natural trait to be managed.
Human Institutions Become Less Responsive Over Time
In addition to constantly getting larger, human institutions get less responsive as they age. You can usually say “the older the institution, the larger.” But you can just as easily say “the older the institution, the less effective.” This is particular true of larger institutions, or sets of institutions, which we might call “systems.” “Unresponsiveness” evolves naturally in systems.
Why Does This Matter?
It matters because what we believe shapes how we think and act.
Throughout history, in every society, there have been people who know less than other people. But today, with near-universal education and the internet, there is less of a reason to be ignorant of reality than ever before in the history of our species.
And yet there are people who wear their willful ignorance on the sleeve, like a badge of honour; who attack people online for having more nuanced views of the world, and who vote for idiots because they’re idiots (and proud of it, dammit). Well I can think of nothing more childish than bragging about one’s willful ignorance, and then trying to inflict that ignorance on everyone else.
If you reject any of the above premises you are, to be polite, philosophically immature. You may behave on a day-to-day basis in a way in which other people would describe as “adult.” But, in an age when you have literally the entirety of human knowledge accessible via the phone in your pocket, you have failed to accept reality as it is, and still cling to childish myths about the universe or people, or both, you are a philosophical child. Really, you’re just a child. (Yes, society perpetuates these myths, but still…)
I do not believe that the majority of people who would reject or dispute some or all of the above premises do so because they are thinking rationally. And I think that the sum total of knowledge about human beings supports this belief. The question then is, how to we create more adults who do not cling to childish myths about the nature of the world? Is that even possible?