Being Human

There’s no getting away from it; despite the most dedicated of management or political intention to pretend otherwise. Humans are and always will be, humans. Which means individual bundles of self-constructed world views wherein each and every single one of us sees the world from the perspective of our … individual selves. There’s no getting away from it. You can only see the world through the goggles of your individual ‘circle’ of perceptions. If it were otherwise, you could see the world through the leaves of a tree or from the perspective of an ant. Which you can’t. You might imagine yourself peering at the world through the veins of a leaf, but it’s always going to be you that’s looking through those veins. Or through the eyes of your cat. Or from the eyes of Steve Jobs, or from the eyes of that soaring eagle you might have wished you could become, at least for a day. Whatever we do, it’s still you doing the looking. If you could manage to leave yourself behind, how then would you be able to report on what it was that was seen through these eyes that are not yours? The ‘you’ in this viewing equation is like a sheet of photographic film. Nothing will be recorded if you are not there to receive the images involved.

We spend our entire lives building the perceptions from which we interpret the world around us. Just like a hugely deep, sponge-like emulsion of film. Genetics are the framework. Nurturing, schooling, and every experience we ever had come together to resolve the pixels in the fabric of the lives we live. Every pixel of light we receive is rendered via our own personal palate of interpretative crayons. We will always have fewer shades of colour to apply than there are shades to be recorded. The picture we paint will always be an abstract view of what it is that we think we see. And everyone else is rendering that same landscape through a nuance and distinction that’s at least slightly different for each observer involved.

What if you see through a palette of 128 colour crayons and I see through 256 shades of charcoal grey?

It’s all pretty scary to those who prefer to imagine a world with the capacity to be described with shared objective precision. This is the source of all arguments. This is the source of wars. Why can’t you see things the same way that I see things? Why do you hold a view that’s different to mine? Can’t you see what it is that I can see? What’s wrong with you! What’s real to me must be real, also, to you. If not, you’ve got it wrong…

Here’s where the fantasies of objectivity come undone. To see the world the way I see the world, you are going to have to refurnish your mental landscape with exactly the same world view as mine. Which means that you will have to erase the mind you have now, to take on mine. But even then, that graft might not take. The furniture of your neurones and all the other minutia of physical difference that describes me as me and you as you will provide a seedbed of difference to shape the way that mind-swap might take hold. The equatorial jungle of your mind might not take kindly to the desert space that’s the landscape by design of my own mind…

So, let’s admit defeat. Our perspectives will always be different.

So, what do we do? There’s two broad paths.

The first is to tune and lock the world to the colours that I alone can see. We can stand with our Nazi salute and insist that every one sees things exactly the way I do. Or throw dissenters into a cage.

The second is to unpack our dissentions through an exploration of difference before we even start. We need to calibrate our monitors to account for the unique values of light that colour our particular views.

Guess which approach is the highway and which is the unused goat track that few ever seek to travel? Why do you suppose there are wars? Why do we have courts? And why do you suppose that politics these days is either an exercise in dictatorship or an exercise in vacuous rhetoric?

One path is fairly flat but heads off ultimately into the hills. The other starts with a mighty climb. The first path is easy to start. But ever so hard to complete. The second is a challenge to start, but a pleasure once we get past that pass now shrouded in clouds.

The whole world is set to take the path that easiest to start. Let’s all pretend that what you see is what I see in exactly the same way. Then let those in power assume all difference away. Let’s construct our theories of the way the world should work and let the theory take the driver’s seat. That’s precisely how modern economics works. When reality diverges from theory, change reality to fit. Then when economics ultimately fails to resolve that which it has no real capacity to consider, we leave it our politicians to sort. Or to our grandchildren. Or, generally, anyone but us.

When we take the more immediately challenging high road, we must tackle the fundamentals of our fundamentalisms. We must deal with the questions we’d rather not address. We must deal with the demands of our insatiable selves; we must open our egos to the introspection of others. We need a talented guide to facilitate journeys like that. Buddhists consult their lamas. The rest of us will probably need facilitators more tuned to the landscapes of the lives most of us live. But digging we must do. Listening is the key. Communication is the power of progress. Deep listening, meaningful conversation. Collective deliberation. Deriving detachment from positions to which we may have become stuck. Like barnacles on the hull of our otherwise sinking ship. It’s not easy. It’s a tough opening climb. But the vistas open to the opened mind are vast and inspiring. Progress is the crop to reward the efforts of that early ascent.

The easier path is a path to dissension. Dissension is the reward when we close our minds to minds that are coloured differently to ours. The downward spiral is actually an unconquerable hill. Like Sisyphus, we’re stuck to push a rock that gathers mass with each additional step. All the better to roll back down over our heads when we think progress has been made; and recycle history all over again.

But that’s the path we always seem to take! History keeps repeating the traumas we think are unique to our current times. Civilisations rise, civilisations collapse, for reasons that are alarmingly the same. Just like the recycling of Sisyphus’s stone.

Surely it’s better to deconstruct the differences we each enjoy. Than to follow the car crash notion that we are all the same. But no. Instead, we have built huge mega industries of band aid denialism. Entire professions feed off the compost of our denial that we do indeed see the world as an infinite array of artistic impressions. Academia is strangled by the tyrannies of conforming with like-minded peers. Public servants tow lines of the politically correct. Corporate stoogism rules the world of commerce. Medicine is strangled by a straight jacket of conventional wisdom purpose-built to deny lateral thought. Politicians tell us exactly what it is we like to hear, rather than what we need to know. With the legal profession ready-leashed to settle the arguments that ensue. We live lives in a thermal sweatbox of deeply composted rules. Rules to constrain what happens when we disagree. Rules to adjudicate, rules to enforce conformity of view. Rules that are laws, rules of religion, rules of fashion, rules that govern procedure at every step. Rules that constrain thought. The greatest construction of mankind has been the edifice of rules we’ve built via denial of the distinction of perception that separates every mind on the face of the earth. That construction is the real Tower of Babel. Like the waxed wings of Icarus, that tower will collapse as it expands ever towards the Sun… Or strangle our view until the entire edifice falls; after apocalypses like global warming and the steady eradication of life-defining biodiversity have tipped beyond the tipping point of no-return.

Surely it’s easier to simply have a chat. To talk things through starting from scratch. Deliberate difference and go from there. There are no objective truths where only one truth can define all. Unless our individual visions can be contained via the propagation of clones. But even then, I am sure the clones would eventually head off to war. The light over here no doubt throws different shadows to what you might be seeing over there…


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