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April 2nd, 2021
Trends in communal attention are almost always the result of a conceptual microscope being placed upon an issue at the exclusion of proportion to other issues. This is not to say that some issues don’t need a bit more focus and attention in order to make things better, but that the weight of communal attention always risks an over-reaction that misses the goal: much like an elephant stepping on a lop-sided toy boat in an effort to right it. The chances that toy boat gets crushed, or simply perverted by now tilting in the exact opposite direction is huge. In fact, those chances are probably relative to the size of the crowd gunning for the change.
We do the same thing on an individual level. We ruminate on a topic, allowing the same feelings and thought to engrain repetitively until it’s blown out of proportion and we are far more worried about some innocuous issue than we need to be. We are each more than familiar with this personal phenomenon. How on Earth would such a phenomenon keep in check when multiplied across hundreds of thousands of people, all equipped with the same attentional microscope?
Emotions enlarge when shared. The power of communal feeling creates a tremendous degree of salience which can and often does push people to take action that feels equivalent to that degree of salience. This is how buildings that are totally unrelated to an issue get burned down. This is how the results of the action we take can actually be completely at odds with an actual solution and even exacerbate the issue at hand that we are trying to remedy.
Emotions are the primary fuel for people, help on a ton of emotion, and chances are, there will be a proportional amount of action. Now enters the real problem: is the emotion in proportion to the problem? How can we ever be sure? Especially when the size and intensity of emotion is so variable, and so likely to accelerate when it becomes shared among more and more people?
There is a clean view of reality that would place every conceivable issue on a hierarchical list that ranks every human issue in proportion to others in accordance to our communal long term goals and ranked by statistical likelihood of jeopardizing our long term goals. Such goals would be the unarguable hopes that are shared by virtually everyone: the wish that our species continues through time, that our experience of that time improves, et cetera. But of course this list is a fantasy. Such a list would instantly be invalidated when someone sees an issue with a specific ranking that they disagree with. Attention is a finite and narrow resource, and it’s impossible to hold too many issues in mind simultaneously. Because of this, we would each see an issue on the list that has a lot of personal salience and feel that most if not everything ranking above it doesn’t matter as much. This is exactly what happens with “current events”. What happens this coming Monday or this morning often highlights something on our list of communal priorities. It becomes “THE” issue, as though it floats straight to the top. Does this mean that it should be the top issue? No, not at all. It just means that we’re simply all focused on it. It becomes “The Obvious Choice”.
It’s worthy to note that the etymology for the word ‘obvious’ derives from ‘frequently encountered’. This means that ‘the obvious choice’ bares no real relation to the concept of the ‘right choice’ it’s just the issue that we see the most, and this happens almost exclusively because everyone else is talking about the issue which makes it pop up in virtually every avenue of life that we interact with short of going for a hike in the woods alone.
‘Current Events’ and the dialogue that orbits such instances bare more resemblance to bouts of hysteria than it does some effective avenue toward progress and meaningful change. Those last two golden eggs often occur quietly and slowly. What is loud and feverish among groups rarely burns away the problem that everyone is squawking about. If anything, intensity of emotion, on an individual level and a group level makes clear thinking less possible, and because of this, individuals and groups can be steered somewhat mindlessly toward targets held in mind by calmly malicious actors who see the angry mob and simply point at the store front.
The wild disparity that often accompanies the feelings around current events and the actual issue is the fundamental reason why Tinkered Thinking avoids current events as a rule. Beneath the fickle and polar swing of communal attention resides a stronger, subtler current of human functioning, and it’s this current that Tinkered Thinking is constantly trying to tap into and explore. To be swept up by the river of emotion that changes course through human attention nearly every day is to lose sight of the river itself. We risk getting trapped in eddies of repetitive thought, bickering about one tiny nook in the river instead of focusing on where exactly the river is headed beyond it’s many twists and turns..