Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.
So we had better call upon our lawyers, politicians, philosophers, and even poets to turn their attention to this conundrum: how do you regulate the ownership of data? This may well be the most important political question of our era. If we cannot answer this question soon, our sociopolitical system might collapse.
At present, people are happy to give away their most valuable asset – their personal data – in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos. It's a bit like African and Native American tribes who unwittingly sold entire countries to European imperialists in exchange for colorful beads and cheap trinkets.
The error which most people make when they think about human values is that they assume the nature of man is fixed and there is a single set of human values by which he should live. Such an assumption does not fit with my research. My data indicate that man's nature is an open, constantly evolving system, a system which proceeds by quantum jumps from one steady state system to the next through a hierarchy of ordered systems.
Brexit and the rise of Trump might therefore demonstrate a trajectory opposite to that of traditional socialist revolutions. The Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions were made by people who were vital to the economy but who lacked political power; in 2016, Trump and Brexit were supported by many people who still enjoyed political power but who feared they were losing their economic worth. Perhaps in the twenty-first century populist revolts will be staged not against an economic elite that exploits people but against an economic elite that does not need them anymore. This may well be a losing battle. It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.
In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power. In theory, anybody can join the debate about the future of humanity, but it is so hard to maintain a clear vision. We might not even notice that a debate is going on, or what the key questions are. Most of us can't afford the luxury of investigating, because we have more pressing things to do: we have to go to work, take care of the kids, or look after elderly parents. Unfortunately, history does not give discounts. If the future of humanity is decided in your absence, because you are too busy feeding and clothing your kids, you and they will not be exempt from the consequences. This is unfair: but who said history was fair?
Liberalism traditionally relied on economic growth to magically solve difficult social and political conflicts. Liberalism reconciled the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, the faithful with atheists, natives with immigrants, and Europeans with Asians by promising everybody a larger slice of the pie. With a constantly growing pie, that was possible. However, economic growth will not save the global ecosystem; just the opposite, in fact, for economic growth is the cause of the ecological crisis. And economic growth will not solve technological disruption, for it is predicated on the invention of more and more disruptive technologies.
For thousands of years the system has been shaping and reshaping our minds according to its needs. Sapiens originally evolved as members of small intimate communities, and their mental faculties were not adapted to living as cogs within a giant machine. However, with the rise of cities, kingdoms and empires, the system cultivated capacities required for large-scale cooperation, while disregarding other skills and aptitudes.
The golden decades of the post-war era bore out the theory of declining inequality. But over the last thirty years that has gone into reverse. During those decades, the share of the US economic pie divided between labour and capital was roughly 70:30. Capital's share – the flows taken up by returns on financial assets rather than wages and salaries – has since risen to a level not seen since the days of The Great Gatsby. The gap between the pay of the average chief executive and their employees has risen tenfold since the lat 1970s to around four hundred. Europe has seen varying rates of rising inequality, with Britain and Spain recording the fastest-rising Gini coefficient – the measure of inequality – and Germany and Scandinavia the least. But all have been moving in the same way. In contrast to the industrial era, however, today's inequality is accompanied by vanishing mobility. It is not just that people are staying physically put. They are also likelier to stay trapped in the same income group. America, in particular, which had traditionally shown the highest class mobility of any Western country, now has the lowest. Today it is rarer for a poor American to become rich than a poor Briton, which means the American dream is less likely to be realized in America. The meritocratic society has given way to a hereditary meritocracy. The children of the rich are overwhelmingly likely to stay rich.
Walter Reuther, the pioneer UAW organizer, told the story of a conversation with a Ford executive who was showing Reuther his new factory robots. "How are you going to collect union dues from all these machines?" he asked. Reuther said he replied, "You know, that is not what's bothering me. I'm troubled by the problem of how to sell automobiles to them."
"But none of us has the right to assess the value of a human existence. All must be held valuable, or none. The death of Christ and the death of Socrates," Fen added dryly, "suggest that our judgments are scarcely infallible... And the evil of Nazism lay precisely in this, that a group of men began to differentiate between the value of their fellow-beings, and to act on their conclusions. It isn't a habit which I, for one, would like to encourage."
I recently published research … that found that members of a social majority are more likely to voice unique perspectives and critically review task-relevant information when there is more social diversity present than when there is not. Moreover, this is true even when the people who are “different” don't express any unique perspectives themselves. Our research suggests that the mere presence of social diversity makes people with independent points of view more willing to voice those points of view, and others more willing to listen.
In one of our studies, we compared homogeneous and diverse groups trying to solve a murder mystery. The diverse groups reported that they didn't work together very effectively, and they were less confident about their decisions than the homogeneous groups, yet they consistently outperformed those homogeneous groups.
Future economic historians may look back wryly at this period when we worshipped the divine right of capital while looking down on our ancestors who believed in the divine right of kings.
Don't worry about what anybody else is going to do…. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Really smart people with reasonable funding can do just about anything that doesn't violate too many of Newton’s Laws.
As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
When our first encounter with some object takes us by surprise, and we judge it to be new, or very different from what we have previously experienced or from what we expected it to be, this causes us to wonder at it and be astonished. And because this can happen before we have any knowledge of whether the thing is beneficial to us or not, it seems to me that wonderment is the first passion of all. And it has no contrary, because, if the object that presents itself has nothing in itself to surprise us, we are not moved by it in any way and we consider it without any passion.
Modern humanity is sick with FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – and though we have more choice than ever before, we have lost the ability to really pay attention to whatever we choose.
As any farmer knows, it's usually the brightest goat in the herd that stirs up the most trouble, which is why the Agricultural Revolution involved downgrading animals' mental abilities. The second cognitive revolution, dreamed up by techno-humanists, might do the same to us, producing human cogs who communicate and process data far more effectively than ever before, but who can barely pay attention, dream or doubt.
The other part of me wanted to get out and stay out. But this was the part I never listened to. Because if I ever had I would have stayed in the town where I was born and worked in the hardware store and married the boss's daughter and had five kids and read them the funny paper on Sunday morning and smacked their heads when they got out of line and squabbled with the wife about how much spending money they were to get and what programs they could have on the radio or TV set. I might even have got rich – small-town rich, an eight-room house, two cars in the garage, chicken every Sunday and the Reader's Digest on the living room table, the wife with a cast iron permanent and me with a brain like a sack of Portland cement. You take it, friend. I'll take the big sordid dirty crooked city.
To the best of our knowledge, only Sapiens can cooperate in very flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. This concrete capability – rather than an eternal soul or some unique kind of consciousness – explains our mastery of planet Earth.