There is an uneasiness about coming to terms with the social distortion we find ourselves immersed in. Generally it is not something immediately apparent, it kind of sneaks up on you through years of reading journal papers and trying to learn as much as you can. I am not talking about the kind of “research” that has become popular to talk about on social media sites. You likely know the type, watching clever and slickly made YouTube videos that appeal to cognitive bias. Websites in the same vein publishing emotive material focused on social or environmental symptoms, or worse being lightly peppered with fact and laced with tenuous connections to seemingly disconnected incidents to support outlandish claims.
It is that last example that can be the most troubling, as in reality most everything is in one way or another connected. The problem is the connections are not simple and they do not lead to a place where we can identify individual people, or groups of people, to point our fingers at and lay blame. The truly fundamental connections show us the relationships between outcomes are system based linkages, influencing behaviour on a grand scale through the massaging of individual and social disposition.
Viewing the scope of the behavioural error from a social perspective can quickly become overwhelming, it can be difficult enough to understand when making a personal assessment, nevermind trying to encourage hundreds of millions to undergo such a consideration. The idea of widespread social change can feel like an insurmountable mountain to climb. This is less than optimal when we come to terms with the fact widespread social reorientation is exactly what we need to avert disaster, as a result of our global trajectories of rapid and unrelenting life support decline.
You could be forgiven for thinking the internet would aid in this type of collective shift of consciousness as well. The increase in the dominance of a handful of companies acting as gatekeepers to the information available to us has eroded the effectiveness of this tool. Not only do we find much of academic research hidden behind paywalls, but even the ways we search the internet have been manipulated. We have become trapped in filter bubbles and many remain blissfully unaware of this fact or simply don’t care.
Sadly social networks have boomed in popularity, becoming a type of skin across the top of the internet which is penetrated in increasingly rare instances in any real way. This is troublesome because like the filter bubbles of search engines, content viewed on social media sites is also manipulated to appeal to your clickthrough, like and commenting history. Critically, social networks are now going further and reducing the reach of content based on their arbitrary ideas of what is acceptable and what is not. In some cases this may feel like the right thing to do, but it is also a slippery slope and can be easily applied to any subject matter which may be seen as inconsistent with established and accepted norms. Even when those norms may be incompatible with the feasibility of our ongoing human health.
This makes social change much more difficult as we become surrounded by media feeding our confirmation biases, which can reinforce our personally held opinions whether they are correct or not. Further it can lead to the outright rejection of information, creating guardians of the status quo who identify so fervently with an idea that it becomes a core aspect of their personal identity and beyond reproach.
A less discussed aspect of our social malaise is the tendency to become distracted in a quagmire of issues which offer little in the way of valuable social progress when weighed against the very serious deteriorations we face. Pronouns come to mind here, it is really a meaningless distraction with almost no upside when considering the fact our species is facing an extinction level event based on the state of the biosphere. Yet people can feel emotionally charged by this subject matter and make it a core aspect of who they are. There is also the “we can concentrate on more than one thing at a time” argument which can be brought to bear when addressing the folly of such activism. If the last fifty years is anything to go by, that argument falls flat on its face. Socially we have been successfully distracted by all manner of subject matter and failed to deal with known ecosystems declines in any real way. This has left us in a precarious position as science screams at us to drastically alter our social path in short order to avoid the worst impacts of a failing biosphere.
Being aware of the immense difficulty we face with changing the basis of human society in order to shift outcomes for both the social and natural environment can lead us to a sort of paralysis. We can be left finding hope extinguished, leading us to return to the culturally accepted fold or stepping back to simply watch the world burn. However it is not up to us individually to drive social change, all we can do is drive our own personal change. Altering our own personal attitude and behaviour may not be terribly encouraging, as one of billions it is not likely to be of any immediate consequence. However one of the keys to a widespread shift of society is the dedication to personal change by a committed handful of people, acting as a beacon to others, guiding the way.
Changing the world is no small task, and all too often it may feel like a pointless endeavour, but each day you dedicate yourself to being a part of a new way of seeing the world and operating in it is making a difference. Keep going, there is nothing more meaningful right now than working to be the change you would like to see in the world.