This is the tenth and final update of my first series. Therefore this update will be slightly different. I will attempt to reveal the thread that connects all my previous, seemingly arbitrary updates. Then I will finish this series with 5 steps to save the world. (Reading time: 7 minutes.)
If you have read all 9 updates of this series, you may have learned 9 new things. But once you understand the underlying thread of the 9 updates, you will have learned a whole lot more.
Update 4 (calories) got the most response, by far! Clearly sex and food are a killer combination for generating web traffic – but that is not what I wanted to say. Set aside the dietary advice, and what remains is a lay-out of a complex system that has to be in harmony for it to function. It shows why each and every cogwheel is crucial to let a system function steadily and smoothly. You wouldn’t do the system justice if you would reduce its complexity to one single figure (energy intake in this example). If you would, you are blinded for the system’s delicacy (and perhaps beauty), and symptoms of let’s say malnutrition would not be recognized or understood in time. These principles apply not only to your metabolism but also to systems like organizations and societies, world economics, ecosystems or the climate.
These systems, when disturbed, may appear to be pretty resilient at first. However, when certain boundaries are crossed, the system may suddenly collapse. Then simple metrics, such as caloric intake, economic return, gross national product, temperature, turn out to be inadequate to monitor the system’s health by themselves.
Unfortunately, the lazy human brain happens to adore – and cling on to – a simplistic world view, as was explained in Update 6 (irrationality). Whether it is appropriate or not, our mind will take short-cuts and jump to conclusions that are not always right. Usually, this does not lead to big trouble — on the contrary, it used to be an effective mechanism for survival. But as you may have noticed, we’re not living in the jungle anymore. Yet, ‘fast thinking’ is deeply embedded in our minds: so deep, even, that we’re not aware it happens, until we pause and meticulously trace our line of thought.
In addition to our irrational behaviour, I am especially puzzled by our emotional inconsistency, as I have tried to explain in Update 7 (emotions). Things that we morally disapprove of — think of slavery or animal cruelty – can leave us indifferent when out of sight. Similar to ‘fast thinking’, it makes perfect sense in terms of survival to feel no remorse for anything outside our social circle. However, in Western societies, where survival is no longer a concern and social circles are no longer needed for protection, this can lead to inconsistent moral judgements that are difficult to defend.
Now comes the important bit. You — and your inconsistent, irrational mind — are part of a system described earlier. You are a cogwheel in the big machine. Every day your activities affect the lives of countless other people and animals.
Cynics will not be surprised that a system of indifferent and irrational people will lead to trouble. If we continue business as usual, by the middle of this century we will suffer the effects of run-away climate change, characterized by floods, droughts and storms that lead to failed harvest, hunger, thirst and finally wars, as was briefly touched upon in Update 2 (global warming). Today we can already see how our behaviour is responsible for irreversible damage: we are wiping out one species after another, as explained in Update 8 (mass extinction).
But before we give the cynics too much credit, it needs to be said that this pessimistic world view is too simplistic as well. The truth is much more complex, delicate and beautiful.
Besides indifference and irrationality we must consider other characteristics of human behaviour: as a whole, we are a highly organized bunch of organisms, who are compassionate towards our loved ones, and incredibly inventive and creative. In addition, as our scientists and philosophers illustrate, we do not have to listen to our primitive brain: we are capable of recognizing fallacies when we are reminded of them. In other words: we don’t need to be indifferent and irrational all the time.
Every now and then, a cogwheel in the system starts to act differently. Whether big or small, it will make a change to the system. And once enough people start to rethink their principles and actions, amazing things can happen. The end of slavery in the United States, women’s rights, same sex marriage.
Central in this series of updates was Update 5 (energy revolution). You can add that to the list of amazing things. If we do this transition well, we will build a world in which energy has no price, neither financial nor environmental. Envision the possibilities.
The energy revolution has already brought about a few miracles, including the uniting of world leaders. Together with a decreasing dependence on oil and oil states, this could induce an era of world peace as was explained in Update 9 (world peace). In order to fight global warming and stop mass extinction, we have to work together; not fight each other. After all, other human beings are no longer competition, since overpopulation seems to be a myth as was explained in Update 3 (overpopulation). We do not need to fight others for food. Theoretically, we can produce enough food to feed 11 billion people – Update 1 (hunger). However, we feed an awful lot to our livestock instead of directly to people.
This brings us to the 5 steps to save the world.
How to save the world in 5 steps
It took some effort to come up with 5 effective steps to save the world – saving the world is quite difficult – but I think I have cracked it.
STEP 1: OPEN UP
Be critical of your beliefs, your world view, your principles and your knowledge. After all, jumping to false conclusions comes pretty natural to us. So dare to open your mind, broaden your view. Realize that you are part of the system, not just a spectator. It is crucial to understand that you are still learning. All geniuses have in common that they were aware of how little they knew. So if you think you know it all: you’re probably not a genius.
STEP 2: ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
The right questions are not always difficult ones. Question the obvious. Question everything until you have reached the principles that are the foundation of your thoughts. Question yourself and question the system. What would I do if I were them? Who made this? What is this made from? Why do I do it this way? What if this is not true, or what if it is?
STEP 3: GATHER KNOWLEDGE
Now do your research. We have the internet, use it. Chances are that somebody else has asked the same question before. If you’re lucky, they have even made a short video or documentary — jackpot! Perhaps they have written an update about it and put it on their weblog – you’re welcome! Prefer a more old-school approach? Read books or talk to people that are asking the same questions.
STEP 4: ACT
Time to put theory into practice. No, you do not have to wait until you know it all, since you will never reach that point if you do not act first. Take small steps. A house is built brick by brick. Perhaps you have come to realise that you are part of a system that you despise: in that case, now is the time to distance yourself from it.
STEP 5: GAIN INSIGHTS
Yes, only by taking actions, you will acquire insights. Try to think of the first time you drove a car, or the first time you stood on skis. You can read about it as much as you want, but only after you have actually done it, you may experience an aha moment. Don’t sit and wait for insights, they will come.
If you were expecting to find clear cut steps like ‘use public transport’ and ‘eat cauliflower’ I have to disappoint you. The 5 steps above will make you a more self-aware cogwheel in the machine that we have built together. If some people can start spinning in a different direction, surely you can too! And before you know it, even the most stubborn people will conform, as they will blindly follow the masses.
Thanks for reading this far. And thanks for reading Your Weekly Update. This story concludes the first series of 10 updates. After a short break, YWU will be back with more updates. Subscribe to the newsletter or follow me on Facebook, where I will continue to share interesting facts and updates.