What is the direst crisis facing society today: addiction, mental illness, cancer, war, famine or, possibly, the extreme scenario with climate change? We only have one planet to call home, that must be the most pressing issue today.
From my point of view, the spreading trend of moral absolutism, or people thinking they’re right are 100 per cent without exception, is the problem that trumps all the others on the checklist of humanities’ problems. The pun was unavoidable.
From the figurehead of the free world, and everyone else in charge politically and religiously, to the two knuckleheads fighting online about where to put the new waste sewage plant, mostly everyone seems to be full of it. It’s the total lack of compromise that is the social and spiritual virus that might, potentially, have apocalyptic results.
With so many desperately urgent local and global problems needing a fix asap, how can an academic sounding problem of ethics be the most pressing issue today?
Why is this sanctimonious, holier-than-thou person being preachy when the Arctic is, literally, on fire and the doomsday clock is looking like it is pretty much at midnight.
The very brief answer to those questions is: if we don’t somehow quickly find common ground on issues, from local concerns to the immediacy of climate change and nuclear war, the clock will strike midnight and our species will be extinct. C’est fini. It’s over.
One reason people are more venomously opposed these days is something called confirmation bias. It’s a cognitive bias or tendency to cherry pick the information that supports our existing, firmly established views. Two people with opposing views on a topic can view the same information and both feel validated by it.
In ideological or emotionally charged areas, confirmation bias appears most often and amplified. When you combine that fact with the engulfing stream of information that is our 500-channel fibre-optic life, the results are ominously everywhere.
There are evolutionary excuses for this collective bad behaviour. Evolutionary science has the view that our minds are not equipped to handle the world which the recent technological revolution has handed us.
For most of human history decisions were based on basic survival needs. Millions of years have hardwired our neurology to be incapable of processing floods of information constantly. To cool the cognitive engine and stop a catastrophic breakdown, our brains take shortcuts.
We create a black and white, right and wrong world trying to make sense of the confusion when life is actually endless shades of grey, and we can be right and wrong at the same time.
You hope catastrophes like climate change and the consequences of nuclear weapon proliferation should be the ingredients to help us end the extremism and absolutism that threaten humanity. You would hope the current environmental and social conditions would manufacture enough collective empathy to smarten us up as a species.
You would hope.
Robert Skender is a Powell River freelance writer and health commentator.