Let’s turn this decade into a 10 year hackathon – and hack a better future.
All thinking is a construct. So is our model of the world and how we think to navigate it. We forget that what we think is not reality.
What we think is shaped, to some extent, by reason, logic and science. To a great extent, what we think is shaped by our genes, hormones, environment and cultures. Our thoughts are also shaped by what is fed to us via Facebook and most importantly by our mythologies. Modern, secular, scientific societies are no less prone to these mythologies. No one identifies and communicates this better than Yuval Harari in his bestseller Homo deus. It you haven’t read it, please do – it is simply the best book I have ever read by a big margin.
Harari points out that the mythology of our society is a humanist one, based on the idea of free will, a concept which is completely scientifically untenable. In science, things have causes, so there is no room for free will or indeed for concepts such as freedom of choice. As committed scientists say, ‘If you believe in free will, you might as well believe in magic’. [As an aside, I think there is a way out here by seeing ourselves as spiritual beings, but that currently has no place in science – I will share some thoughts and experiences in a future blog. I am sure you have thoughts on this too].
The concept of free will was not a problem in the twentieth century – but now, as Harari points out, technology allows us to hack all the factors on which we make decisions. An obvious example is the hacking of the Brexit vote via Facebook. But this just clearly shows us what was happening all along – we, like it or not, to a greater or lesser extent, are brain-washed by the information we are fed. A lot of this information tells us to consume more and more products, services and experiences, which is destroying the fabric of the planet on which we depend. There was a time when the planet could cope with the concept of freedom of choice, but it simply can’t now.
Fortunately, we don’t need to believe in the concept of free will. At least not in the way we now view it, because it is not useful to us anymore. This might be very challenging as we hold on tight to our cultural mythologies. We are so deeply conditioned in our society to believe in free will and freedom of choice that we simply can’t believe it doesn’t exist.
This is where meditation comes in handy. Harari ascribes his insights to Vipassana meditation. Vipassana translates to ‘seeing reality as it is’. It is a very ancient form of meditation, taught by the now deceased SN Goenka. This is the same meditation training I took up thirty years ago and I ascribe the conception of One Planet Living to this technique. Give it a go. It can help you see that you are not your thoughts or your beliefs. With a bit of training, you can experience that for yourself.
Vipassana is based within the Eastern concept of enlightenment; the polar opposite of the European Enlightenment. The latter being built on concepts such as ‘I think therefore I am’. Vipassana allows for a different way of processing information, which uses parts of our brains, predominantly underdeveloped in our western societies. One is not better than the other, but we are most powerful when we develop both faculties.
Not believing in the mythology of free will does not mean we need to remove choice. Ironically, it can give us more freedom; the freedom to act in ways which are better for us, and the planet. Accepting that all decisions are made within a context allows us to manage, or nurture, the contexts in which those decisions are made. Price signals, culture, peer pressure, data and information are all things which can be managed to support us to make decisions. Decisions which are better for us as individuals and for sustainability.
What does this mean for tackling the climate and ecological emergency?
It means we can hack all the factors (i.e. create the physical, cultural and emotional environment), which make the planet-friendly choice the easy, attractive and affordable choice: a ‘nudge on steroids’ if you like. Rather than think in terms of freedom of choice, we can literally choose to hack a better future.
We have ten years to turn things around. This is the decade when we have to get sustainability done. Let’s have a ten year hackathon and create the future we want.