Thursday, February 23, 2017


Chris Anderson, curator of TED talks

Social media is based on numbers of engaged people which means they must always expand, EXPAND, and the websites panic if the numbers go down.  The Trump win on election day gave them a jolt.  On the one hand, a lot of people are now looking for clues to the source of the unseen surprise.  On the other hand, it was advertising-based and the advertisers were all from one class, one opinion, one comfy set of assumptions, leaning hard on greed and fear.

In the meantime, some of us have been reading long-form explanations and analysis.  So suddenly every push for growth is asking us what we think.  How do we like the socks we just bought and what should we do about the end of the world when the sun burns up the solar system, less that eight billion years from now?

TED talks, which specializes in intensely enthusiastic people they consider interesting, had been leaning towards trivia, but now they’re going “deep.”  “How do we make sense of today's political divisions? In a wide-ranging conversation full of insight, historian Yuval Harari places our current turmoil in a broader context, against the ongoing disruption of our technology, climate, media -- even our notion of what humanity is for. This is the first of a series of TED Dialogues, seeking a thoughtful response to escalating political divisiveness. Make time (just over an hour) for this fascinating discussion between Harari and TED curator Chris Anderson.”

This thinking is surprising to find on TED talks, because they’ve been fooling around with liberal funny business, pep talks for do-gooders.  Partly, I think that’s due to being too busy with growing to see what was going on elsewhere.  Partly it was because Edge grabs all the high end thinking, some of it too high to understand.  Maybe it's partly because Chris Anderson’s real personality and interests have been restrained by business purposes.  I’d just as soon they weren’t.  Anderson was born to English missionaries in Pakistan and has a sturdy respect for the woo-woo, which he seems to see as something practical, not just a song to sing at camp.

To Chris, Yuval Noah Harari is not exotic.  They like sitting down together to search through the landslide of new ideas that is just outside the consciousness of most people.  The two men endorse the universal protection of the multiple and unique.  They call for people to reconnect with their bodies and senses.  They admit that the planet earth is always unfair in tragic dimensions. 

What are humans for? asks Chris.  And Harari is bold enough to say they aren’t for anything.  They just are.  Chris asks Christian questions, like where are humans going, and Harari gives Hindu answers like “nowhere.”  (Human continuous evolution is neglected, esp. the evolving abilities of the human brain.)

I was interested that when they got to the question of consciousness, which seems to torment the minds of male college sophomore trying to find the kernel of their own minds in hopes of reassurance that they are valuable, Harari related it to suffering.  What is a “sentient” being?  A being capable of suffering: not rocks but certainly even primitive animals and — well, we should think about plants.  

Likewise, when it comes to the problem of separating fiction from reality, suffering is the guide.  If it makes you suffer, it’s real. But suffering can create a uniting of people behind mythic understanding, mythic as in the powerful and meaningful stories of religion.  Harari is Jewish, a suffering people.

We are always busy trying to change the world into something that we want, but this interferes with our understanding of reality.  We should want to know what is actual and real, not just what suits us.  Our real task, the one we can actually pursue, is discovering the reality that is inside us as individuals, the truth we carry in our bodies.

But people have lost their connection to their bodies and senses, because they are always trying to overcome them.

In the beginning of this talk it was billed as an exploration of the difference between national governance and interests (often ethnic) and the global.  By the end it seemed rather to be saying that the way to achieve the global -- the planetary level of behavior -- was through the individuals finding peace.  This might not be quite what anyone else would hear, but it seems to me like a fair idea.  I just wish it were a little more cheerful.

One school of thought in the Bible is that the purpose of humans is to enjoy creation as a gift from the Theos.  Personally, I see it as more like the embodiment of whatever theos there is, which is a kind of immanent idea of merging and emerging, one thing transforming into something else while not losing relationship.  It’s close to being nature-based.

This transcript of a clear and graceful “Chris” talk, is a link to why he thinks the way he does.  The talk with Harari is really a way to convey this point of view.  I don’t think Harari minds — he’s in on it.

I ordered Harari’s books and will try to follow out his thoughts.  “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” are the titles, the latter being the newer one.  But I’d really rather follow Chris.  I’ve been zapping TED talks without reading them because they are such little liberal pep-talks from do-gooders.  I see now that this was a deliberate policy change to let ordinary people have their say instead of going off into the stratospheric high-tech theories of Edge and their tantrum-like insistence on atheism.  Chris is more of a Whole Earth kind of guy, which ironically was one of the roots of Edge.  TED leans towards AEON.

It’s that Brit thing.  They were such bullies, so ecocentric in their Empire days, but the colonies taught them even as the outsiders “organized” places they didn’t understand.  It was hard: eight-year-old Chris returning to England was constantly beat up simply for being born in Pakistan though he’s genetically English.  But as he proposes, one can use one’s biological possibilities for empathy and that will help very much to relieve our burden of suffering as sentient beings. 

This seems like more of a religious mission than a popular media goal, but good religion is where you find it, sometimes not in a box.

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