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Rabbit Holes 🕳️ #43
From utopia factories to disposability culture and lots of thinking, not enough contemplation
Hi there, we’re back with the usual Rabbit Holes format. Before we get started:
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In case you missed last week’s deep dive, click here to explore a few thought-provoking ideas to improve how we talk about climate change and climate action.
Alright then, let’s get into this week’s Rabbit Holes:
THIS WEEK → 🌈 Utopia Factories 🗑️ Disposability Culture 🤔 Lots of Thinking, Not Enough Contemplation
Rabbit Holes 🕳️
Here are three perspective-shifting ideas that I’ve come across lately, plus some fun extras. Enjoy!
#1 🌈 Utopia Factories
How can societies cope with radical change? The article below strives to answer this by exploring a few ideas from Alvin Toffler’s classic book Future Shock. The idea to build a sort of jury service to call citizens up to engage in discussions about desirable futures and new visions is super interesting, and timely in a world that lacks new narratives.
“At the heart of this is the question of how we come together as a society to think about the future.
Toffler’s core concerns here could not feel more timely. He’s interested in how we get better at anticipating where we’re heading as a society, and how we could get better at keeping alternative futures alive. […]
Toffler is thinking of a suite of institutions that would equip us to approach the future with more intent. A system of governance that would enable us to anticipate the future, as best we can, and reflect on whether we like where we’re headed, and course-correct if we don’t. […]
In particular, it would go beyond what Toffler dismissively calls “econo-thinking”, drawing in diverse disciplines to reflect on where we’re headed as a society not just economically but culturally, environmentally, and psychologically.
At the core of Toffler’s vision of social futurism, then, is the question of how we save enough space — and the right kind of space — to anticipate the future and imagine different futures together. […]
Hence the need for a ”collaborative utopianism” and Toffler’s provocative suggestion that we “construct utopia factories”.
This again all starts to sound pretty head-in-the-clouds but in a sense it’s quite a practical project of democratic reform. Toffler refers to jury service as a model, suggesting a system in which we call people up periodically to engage in deliberations about the kind of future we’re building and the kind of future we want. The goal being to fill a gap:
‘Nowhere in politics is there an institution through which an ordinary person can express their ideas about what the distant future ought to look, feel, or taste like.’”
#2 🗑️ Disposability Culture
Do you actually know where your trash goes? Where exactly does it end up? Each piece of it? We’ve become so disconnected from the “resources” we use and dispose off. The article below explores who we normalized mindlessly throwing things away.
“Disposability is one of the most serious generational problems we face today. It originates in human supremacy—the false notion that humans are better than, wiser than, and therefore separate from, the rest of nature. Systems that abide by human supremacy find little use for “nature” beyond what can be extracted for profit. Therein lies nature’s value—it is money, never the sanctity of a river or the dignity of an elephant or the beauty of an old-growth forest. This losing logic is at the root of the ecological crisis we face today. […]
Disposing of things is a daily ritual for many, as quotidian as breathing. As a direct consequence, there is a small continent of plastic in the Pacific Ocean. Landfills are nearing capacity. Climate change is raging.
This lifestyle of “throwaway living” is only a few generations old, but the consequences go far beyond pollution. Research from the University of Kansas “found a correlation between the way you look at objects and perceive your relationships.” The author of the study said: “Even in romantic relationships, when I ask my students what would they do when things get difficult, most of them say they would move on rather than try to work things out, or God forbid, turn to a counselor.”
In other words, the prevalence of disposable objects in our lives is causing our interpersonal relationships to suffer even more than they already were. […]
The real problem is that there is no away [in terms of throwing something away]. […] Away is relative, never absolute. Away is always some other being’s here. We live on an interconnected planet—“away” doesn’t actually exist.”
#3 🤔 Lots of Thinking, Not Enough Contemplation
I believe that across societies there is this deep urge to stop what feels like a constantly accelerating hamster wheel of “more”, “faster”, “better”. So I loved this article about the importance of leisure time and contemplation in a world paralyzed by the “dissembling fog of social media” where “everything” becomes work, and work itself becomes increasingly machine-like.
“We live in a world where information is easier than ever to come across. It is claimed that generative AI will eventually remove most of the work that humans had to do to find answers. In the future, that will leave us all more time for leisure, for contemplation…right?
No. I believe the opposite is true. People are contemplating less, not more — and the trajectory that we’re on will only continue toward a lack of leisure, an inability to contemplate anything at all. We are learning to mimic the machines that are the entities really doing the thinking — and even learning to “serve” them in some way by training them, or orienting our own work around making good “prompts” for them to work with.
And that’s a shame, because the competitive advantage that humans have — the one thing that the machines will never be able to do — is engage in the act of contemplation. […]
Author Iain McGhilchrist has shown that the dominant way of processing reality seems to be discursive thought, logic, abstractions, conclusions. Very little time is devoted to contemplation, or to intellectus [true understanding; a mode of spiritual knowledge] which is meant to supplement, not compete with, ratio [reasoning; science, puzzles,….]. These two modes of thought are meant to exist in a relationship, in a balance. With the hypertrophy of the left-brain, the calculating brain, and a general cultural fixation with ratio, we are left lopsided.
And we lack powerful models of contemplation. Who do you know who is a great contemplative? Probably no one. […] All of the modern models of knowing are nearly 100% ratio, from podcasts to a typical “Conference” full of talking heads to the way that AI presents things to us built entirely on discursive methods derived from programming. […]
In the constant push to create and publish content on schedule, even artists and writers — people who should possess the skill of contemplation, if they are to have anything worthwhile saying — find themselves selling their contemplative time for “productive” time.
Thick desires come from thick knowledge — both about ourselves, and the world around us, even the nature of reality itself. And thick desires require leisure — because it is only in leisure that we are free enough to decide what it is we stand for. […]
There is a shortage of good contemplative models of desire, it seems — at least contemporary ones. Not only models of people who know how to live this kind of contemplative life and inspire others to do so, but also models from the world of art which show this mode of thinking in all of its splendor […].”
📕 Another World Is Possible: How to Reignite Social and Political Imagination by Geoff Mulgan
📕 No Miracles Needed: How Today's Technology Can Save Our Climate and Clean Our Air by Mak Jacobson
📕 Ultra-Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food … and Why Can’t We Stop? by Chris van Tulleken
📺 Provocative Predictions for the Future of Tech with NYU Professor Scott Galloway
🚿 Shower Thoughts
That’s it for this week!
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