Life is evolving slowly, and if conditions are changing faster than genes can adapt, species die out. Massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or asteroids in the ancient past caused drastic climate changes followed by mass extinction. Out planet experienced eradication of almost all life several times.
The conditions do not have to change so drastically for species to go extinct. A slight change can be enough. Suppose there is not enough energy source the given creature needs (let’s say not enough eucalyptus for koala or fire for Xanthorrhoea). In that case, that species will die out or adapt to some other source of energy (which, to me, is like dying out because most of the time, it’s not the same species anymore).
Humans without genes for cultural life would probably die out too. Cultural life gave humans the advantage not to wait for natural adaptation for hundreds of thousands of years. We began to talk and think and invent many things, like fire, cooking, weapons, clothes, or houses, to easily survive climate changes. Soon after that, we got to the point where we formed big societies which needed to be managed somehow—think of monogamy, mythology, religion, political systems, ideologies, borders, money, time (time itself, calendars, birthdays), system of units, or even colors.
Everything is Fake
If you try to think deeply about it, you will discover it’s only in our minds. Everything is fake. Money is just some paper that we believe has value. Soon it will not even be paper but only a series of ones and zeros. Time is just a system telling us when we should work and when we should have fun. Borders, God, or democracy also has nothing to do with nature. Human society is not natural.
That explains why other animals can survive naturally, but we need many years to learn how to cope within our civilization. There is too much to learn to be a good individual in society. More than anyone can remember. And everything we learn will die with us. We can pass knowledge to the next generation, write notes, posts, papers, or books, but no one will be able to read it all.
We could learn every minute every day for the whole life and still not know everything. We tend to forget that. Kids are tabula rasa; they have encoded natural behavior, but they do not get our ideologies yet. Because of that, we say kids annoy us, but it’s not true. They just don’t understand.
Kids don’t understand why we have to go to work to earn money when they appear in ATM, or why they have to be quiet while we are working from home in front of a computer all day long, or why we need to wait to have fun and we cannot simply enjoy life now, and so on. We need to explain our stories to them. Our values. Our vision of how the world works and how we fit in.
Already foragers formed first myths to explain the behavior of the surrounding environment. Mythology was simple and matured into a complex religion with writing. One unanswered question what does God want from me? caused people to disagree and fight for their answers for a long time.
In the modern age, we don’t care much about religion anymore but about ideologies instead. The truth is, it’s the same thing. The only difference is that religion is based on fairy tales, whereas ideology is based on science. Monarchy, democracy, liberalism, capitalism, anarchy, communism, all of it are just different made-up stories living in our minds only, the same way as God or your favorite fiction book. It’s just a story we tell our children so they can live in our nation with us.
Of course, we fought for these ideologies, too. The last century was about disagreement about which ideology is the best one for running a modern industrial state. We are fortunate that heads of powers didn’t press the red button and didn’t nuke our planet. They understood that once they hit the button for their story, it would mean the end for all stories, including theirs.
Today, we probably have the most peaceful situation. Not the best one, though. We have many issues we need to address and tweak our stories accordingly. The problem is, we don’t see this. Almost everyone strongly believes in their story, their religion. Most people are not open to other ideas and will fight for their fake cause no matter what. The fight is not as bloody as before but pointless either way.
Again, everything is only in our minds. Only our mind is afraid to take a plastic cup of coffee on the street because of climate change. Only our mind is disgusted seeing guy couple. Only our mind cares about blacklist vs. blocklist. Our mind is full of such things complicating our lives and causing we are offended once someone does not believe in our story.
Anyway, humanity needs stories. Without them, we cannot keep society running. That’s why we invented them, we made them more complex over thousands of years, and now we live them. Unfortunately, we forgot all stories are fake, and we should use them to make society working and every individual happy.
Five hundred years ago, we noticed God’s story is flawed and started a wave of emancipation from that story starting with men. Quickly after that, we continued with women and slaves. Sadly, we exchanged religion for ideology and didn’t move on that much.
I like Wittgenstein’s ladder. Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote:
My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
Stories are like this ladder. Stories don’t make sense. You should use a story to climb, but then throw it away because you are there, and you don’t need it anymore.
Too Many Stories
The problem is, most stories don’t lead the way up. There are too many stories and not much time to check all of them out.
Most of the time, we observe behavior from parents and repeat the same pattern. Some people have the luck to have enough time before committing to family life and hard work to think about life and sort out their values. But if there is no time at all, nothing will change; the new generation will copy old behavior from the previous generation with only slight modifications, including all stuff which makes us unhappy without knowing it. We only change what we were able to notice.
For example, I saw how beer destroys our family and never learned to like drinking beer. But this is only a minor change. If I didn’t spend a lot of time, I talk about many years now, learning about history, developing countries, climate change, food, and so on, I would hardly be different than my parents. I can imagine I would also have a broken relationship, annoying kids, I would vote for populists, and so on.
I would say everyone should get the opportunity to pause and think about life before starting a family. But family is not the only limit. Job is the second one. Most people are workers who need to work hard to survive. Only a few people have the luxury of having savings and enough salary to reduce working hours. People living from paycheck to paycheck don’t have time and energy to discuss thoughts, literature, art, science, politics, religion, and so on.
Paradoxically, everyone would live more happily without fake stories. We would still have to fight for survival, but we would be happier. Nature works on a chemical level, and if you follow that, it simply works. Humans are more complex animals, animals are more complex plants, and plants are a complex system of chemical reactions. Once we follow our artificial systems instead of the natural ones, we need to process so much information before becoming happy.
You might think now that it would be good that some group of people could find out what is good for us, then. That’s actually what most systems do, think of God or democracy. But no one can tell what is right or wrong for me or you.
Let’s say I have an appetite for a juicy beefsteak right now. You can say that’s not right for our planet because of CO2. Or that it’s not moral because we should not eat animals. Or that I just finished one meal, and it’s not right to overeat. All that doesn’t matter. Neither story is right or wrong. The only thing which is suitable for me is the one I want.
But we are back with the issue that there are too many things I might want, and not even I can be sure what I truly want. Anyway, we are heading towards a very liberal attitude, which expects that we know. To show a few examples: democracy says that voters know best, capitalism says that customer is always right, and liberal education says that students should think for themselves.
There is too much information for one to process. So how should one choose? It’s like an aisle in the supermarket with many types of bread. Picking one too fast can make you unhappy if it’s not an excellent choice because of the feeling there could be a better option. But if you will be standing there for a long time, you will not have time to enjoy your bread, because your life will pass in the meantime.
Free Will is a Myth
Why would you even be choosing for so long when all those stories are fake, anyway? We don’t control the world around us; for example, storms come and go without our intervention. We don’t control our bodies; for example, a heart attack. We could argue that our doings can affect both the world around us or our bodies, but we don’t control even our minds. Thoughts come and go freely, too. We don’t have free will.
At least free will as I see it. What is free will is a very philosophical question. My view is this: galaxies and planets are not created because someone was thinking about it. Big Bang spread energy to all corners of the universe. Some places were more dense and shaped stars, which made matter. Bigger the star, heavier the matter. When a star collapses, it spreads matter around that is used to form planets. Each planet has different conditions. Our world had the perfect condition to start life.
The first life form didn’t think it’s good to evolve into plants or animals the same way matter in the vast universe didn’t imagine it’s good to form stars or planets. It just happens thanks to laws we still do not fully understand. We don’t know how the brain works, so we have this concept of mind, which is kind of detached from our physical body, but that’s not true. If I physically push you, it will affect you, but I can affect you physically also without physical contact. I can say you are ugly, and you can feel anger or sadness, for example.
Any feeling is also physical. After too much laughing, you cannot laugh anymore because your mouth can feel pain. Sadness can cause a headache. Anger, on the other hand, can convert to muscle tension. The mind is part of our physical body. Thoughts are connected to our bodies more than you think, and our body influences them in loopback.
From this point of view, meditation makes perfect sense. Meditation gives us a space to understand how our feelings affect our bodies and the world around us, and vise versa. We can look for what triggers our thoughts or which thoughts in the background are causing our reactions. I would even say that plants or animals are very mindful because they don’t have a bloated mind with artificial systems. Only humans have to meditate to escape for some time from our complex society and focus on what we really feel (and potentially want).
We should meditate and listen to our bodies to find out what makes us happy. Even if you feel satisfied at this specific moment, I expect you could still find out during meditation that it’s not true in general. For example, bad mood, depressions, or illnesses can result from stress, which we think is only in our mind. We can discover that some stories make us stressed or unhappy and causing depressions.
Unfortunately, we cannot meditate all the time. At least not all of us. If we only meditate, we would die. We need to go back to real life, a life where we need cooperation, thus society, and hence stories.
Which Story to Pursue
As I said above, we cannot spend too much time in the aisle. We will not live forever. We cannot learn everything, comprehend it, and make the best conclusions. On top of that, no decision is the best one! We can only say what we think is good for us, what makes us happy, but we cannot say the same story will work for everyone.
Any forceful story, no matter how well-intentioned, is wrong. Many people are addict to sugar and cannot help themselves. Sugar makes them happy at that specific time but very unhappy in the long-term. It’s tough to notice. But you cannot create your story about how sugar is bad, ban sugar, and share that story by force. That would not work at all. Unfortunately, the forceful type of story is easier to share.
Our society was created on such forceful principles. Everyone had to behave correctly, i.e., obey commands. You had to follow god, or king, or nobles, or army, or parents. You were not allowed to think and do what you want. Liberation from those principles started not that long ago, and it takes time to change billions of individuals.
Even though a lot is freed now, my parents raised me by power. This is still common in many families, which is not that surprising because liberal institutions are also flawed. We still need to follow laws we democratically agreed on, and we are using power to enforce them instead of using them as a tool. Let me give you an example: you can follow laws properly for all your life, and with just one slip, you get punishment without nobody’s help. Only bureaucratic processes await you, no compassion whatsoever.
Recently, I hear more and more talks about libertarianism. The difference between liberalism and libertarianism is that the former believes the state is the body that can protect liberty. In contrast, the latter sees the opposite—the idea of the government should be abolished. In other words, libertarians say: leave me alone, and I don’t care about anything.
I don’t believe abandoning hierarchy will fix the mentioned issues. We are humans, we are more complex animals, we have greater minds, but we also have limits. Our capacity is limited, and we cannot absorb everything. We have to aggregate because our minds are not able to follow many rules at once.
Humans, as hunter-gatherers, can live without order in chaos. Nature has simple rules to follow—kill or be killed, for example. But our society is artificial, created by us, and suppressing natural laws. Democracy is far from being a perfect system for running our society, but it’s the only one available. All the others failed so far.
Instead of focusing on changing what finally works, more or less, it’s better to focus on the idea that a higher position in the hierarchy is not more important or more powerful. Instead of aiming for a higher position, we should strive to make our circle (people close to us) happy. Being president, premier, or CEO of a big company is indeed a more influential role, but without all the work of the rest of the population, mentioned leaders are nothing.
It’s up to all of us to form our society. This century, I think, it’s more apparent than ever that we don’t have to fight with others to have a better life. It’s more advantageous to support others who can help me back then otherwise. Together we can build bigger pie.
Human evolved into an animal which cannot survive alone. Human needs other humans to form a society and survive. Our civilization made tremendous progress, but it still has many issues. It will always have. No society will be the final one because humans will slowly evolve, and our society has to develop with us, too.
Cooperation is essential for society. No one can solve anything alone because our mind is limited. Because of our limitations, we need some hierarchy. Democracy is so far the best system we introduced, but it has to be clear and transparent, not the one we have.
We need experts taking care of all kinds of issues, and they need to share it with everyone transparently. This is already happening. We lived with the wrong picture of our world for a long time: first with gods and kings, then with ideologies. Now we have the internet, which allows us to share knowledge.
Unfortunately, the internet can be misused as anything else. It can be a potent tool for sharing fake forceful stories that will polarize us and turn us against each other. It’s up to us not to forget that everything is fake, be critical, meditate to find inner peace, and help everyone around you do the same.
I scratched only the surface of several ideas. If you want to read on, continue with the follow up post: Our Fake Stories are Flawed.