Being Good in a Post-Modern World

Modernity, it now becomes evident, has been all along eroding its own foundations. — Robert W. Johnson

There should be a very real conversation about meaning in everything that we’re doing as a society. From technology, to politics, to personal decisions, the world we’ve built has eroded most of our historic markers for meaning.

Religious identification is declining internationally. Membership in fraternal and service organizations continues to decline. And marriage rates have dropped over the years.

But all of that has arrived with declining rates of global hunger, violence and poverty. So it can’t be all bad.

But what we’ve missed is a consideration for what makes us inherently human — meaning. In the pursuit of technological innovation and rationality, we’ve kicked over our historical meaning-making institutions and failed to replace them with anything new.

Instead of investing in something that makes us feel valuable or worthy, we’ve let technology and new-found leisure time simply become distractions from life. Heavy social media use has already been tied to higher rates of depression.

And in some cases, we’re being distracted from life without knowing it. Here’s a great interview with a video game addict. The author concludes that video games never made the addict depressed because they replaced the lack of meaning he otherwise might have felt.

Depression feels like an absence of meaning, but as long as he was immersed in the game, I believe that his life was saturated with meaning.

But does that meaning translate into a better world for anyone, even the player? Does if feed, clothe, heal or comfort anyone? Does it discover anything new or help anyone else grow? Not really. At best, it’s a masturbatory way to blow off some steam, which is fine until it becomes a major life component for a generation of young men.

We’ve let “good” become synonymous with “efficient” and “comforting”. And “intelligence” becomes synonymous with “logical” . In that world, we deserve to be replaced by AI and robots. After all, they’ll soon be better than us at creating logical efficiencies (if they’re not already).

In that world, even more people will have most of their Maslowian pyramids accounted for. They’ll have food and water. They’ll be safe in their homes and be able to find communities online that give them belonging and self-esteem.

But we’re breeding a society that has every opportunity to finally make a run at self-actualization. And we’re giving no one the tools.

As long as technology, education and innovation are geared towards developing cogs and consumers, we’re in a lot of trouble. As a society, we need to put some effort at innovation our meaning-making process and ethical structures.

I absolutely don’t want to return to the days of monolithic faith systems or conservative social norms. If the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend towards justice, it’s not because a universal force is making it happen. It’s because we, as agents of history making, participate in the process and make moral decisions every day that support equality and actualization.

If we can’t build a society that empowers individuals to operate as conscious moral agents in their own life, a future as algorithms may be the best we can aspire to.



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