Jungles and civilizations

It’s horrifying to think how much personal information we are prepared to give away and how willingly we accept others’ opinions with little independent research and thought.
Much of it comes down to our animal instinct to follow a leader so as to feel like we belong.
Yet throughout history, all great human tragedies occur when we stop thinking for ourselves and start rationalizing the decisions and behaviours of a human leader, either forced or willingly.
Giving up our minds and personality to Facebook, Twitter and Bots is particularly astonishing.
Facebook didn’t coerce billions of people worldwide to give up tomes of personal information, it was voluntary.
When we give up our sleep patterns, eating habits, vital statistics and exercise activities by joining an app or wearing a Fitbit, should we not consider that someday this data could easily be used against us to restrict medical insurance coverage?
Smartphones, smart TVs, smart refrigerators, smart security systems, smart cars and baby monitors are basically electronic spies that we voluntarily let into what was once private spaces—bedroom, home and car.
All may be convenient but, in the same way Facebook was lauded for bringing connectivity to distant friends and family, each smart item can be easily weaponized.
I’m a great advocate of reading fiction as much as non-fiction. The advantage of fiction is that it’s often based on historical events but even more, it puts you in the shoes of others whom you may never cross in real life.
Reading Victorian literature such as works by Jane Austin showed how privilege and inequality eventually stymied a society.
Recalling the past is particularly relevant today as the top one percent is menacingly wealthy and insulated, while anger and fear amongst those losing ground are turning democracies upside down.
Thinking back to George Orwell’s book “1984” or Margaret Atwood’s, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, both depict societies controlled by a central authority where individual thought was punishable by death.
Stories albeit, but it’s a sound reminder. Adolf Hitler masterfully manipulated the minds of ordinary, good Germans into monsters.
It’s similar to what Donald Trump has successfully done to a vast majority of evangelicals who now support and justify a man who promotes racism, infidelity, dishonesty, obstruction of justice, bullying and greed simply because of who he might appoint to the Supreme Court.
Former Governor General, David Johnston in his book “Letters to a Nation”, quotes author Hugh MacLennan’s analogy on jungles and civilizations, “In the relatively rare periods in the past that we call civilized, people understood that a civilization is like a garden cultivated in a jungle.
“As flowers and vegetables grow from cultivated seeds, so do civilizations grow from carefully studied, diligently examined ideas and perceptions.
“In nature, if there are no gardeners, the weeds that need no cultivation take over the garden and destroy it.”
Facebook was not the sole culprit in the 2016 U.S. or the Brexit elections. Ordinary citizens share much of the blame.
Distrust of elected officials, hatred of the press, applauding fake news and letting others think for us is a sure way to return our gardens of democracy back to the jungles of autocratic rule.

B.P. Schimke

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