Remaking the World
Note: This article was started during the last month of the 2020 election.
As of 2020, this world isn’t made for humans.
Yet obviously everything around us was made by other humans. Human hands put things together. Human minds planned and designed our devices, our buildings, our clothes. And if you made something yourself, then the knowledge of how that was done has a foundation reaching back to time immemorial.
Still. The world was broken before Jan 01, 2020. We just didn’t yet know. 2020 gives us 20/20 vision.
Let me explain. Human beings are social creatures. My thesis: Our suffering in 2020 is due to our lack of trust. Our world has become increasingly frustrated. Let’s list some potential culprits:
- politicians, governments, and their policies — perhaps due to immigration or how they (did not) handle COVID-19 or foreign policy)
- other citizens (perhaps due to their inane political stances, e.g., attitudes about climate change or vaccines)
- social media (such as the advertisement, attention/distraction economy)
- technology (again, more confusion about how to use these devices, apps, and new information systems)
The meat of this article (or meat-substitute, if you have vegan inclinations) will be to arrive at an understanding of how our life-world can be “for humans” or “not for humans” as characterized by these kinds of frustrations.
In the interest of brevity, here’s the offer. All of these kinds of issues have, at their root, a problem of trust. The world can’t operate in a way that we trust because, in general, the world doesn’t share our concerns.
Politicians, other citizens, social media (companies/advertisers), and information technology companies are obviously concerned about something other than what you are concerned about.
When you add in finance companies, the food industry (including fast food, and beverage, and whatnot), along with every other conceivable human venture, it’s hard to think that these companies always have our particular interests in mind.
The right-wing libertarian view is that the free market will always lead to the best product available at the best price. Whether this libertarian assumption bears water depends on what we qualify as “best” (or optimal). What I mean is that each of us consumers may not be able to distinguish what is “objectively” best. We may lack the time, knowledge, or the correct standard to rate products. Ironically, the fact that each of us has different concerns, ones that are often at odds with what others have makes it very difficult, if not often impossible, for market forces to push for the “best” (or optimal) of anything. Additionally, companies care about their bottom line or some political agenda that their owners like, and institutions often only care about surviving into the future. For instance, the current lame-duck United States President also has his own separate agenda.
When seen from the right-wing libertarian view, we have interference from anywhere, including government, Disneyland, and every other interest group, #blacklivesmatter, foreign government, or any group/collective imaginable.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the world “at large” ever cared about our concerns. The number of atrocities, pain and suffering, in war, politics, industry, religion, and anything else in history is uncountable.
What I mean is that we humans care by our very nature. Caring is what, who and, how we are, at least, in the Heideggerian sense.
1 Who Cares, asks Heidegger.
Spoiler alert: each of us cares — but in our own particular way about our own particular concerns.
In Being and Time, Martin Heidegger writes
Since being-in-the-world is essentially care, being-together-with things at hand could be taken in our previous analysis as taking care of them, being with the Mitda-sein of others encountered within the world as concern. Being-together-with is taking care of things because as a mode of being-in it is determined by its fundamental structure, care. Care not only characterizes existentiality, abstracted from facticity and falling prey, but encompasses the unity of these determinations of being. Nor does care mean primarily and exclusively an isolated attitude of the ego toward itself. The expression “care for oneself,” following the analogy of taking care and concern, would be a tautology. Care cannot mean a special attitude toward the self, because the self is already characterized ontologically as being-ahead-of-itself; but in this determination, the other two structural moments of care, already-being-in … and being-together-with are also posited.
What Heidegger means is that we are fundamentally what we care about. If we cared about our job, then we would extend ourselves to our job and be/do our job. When we are in a loving relationship, then our care for each other will overlap and intertwine. And of course, we care about ourselves (including our physical integrity). On some animal level, we care about others too. If we didn’t, the Saw movie franchise wouldn’t be classified as horror.
Care isn’t just a solo endeavor. Care is both learned from others and an expression of each of our individual freedoms. A son may choose not to care about his father’s dreams for him. A father may choose to care about his son more than his dreams for his son.
In being-ahead-of-oneself as the being toward one’s ownmost potentiality-of-being lies the existential and ontological condition of the possibility of being free for authentic existential possibilities. It is the potentiality-for-being for the sake of which Da-sein always is as it factically is. But since this being toward the potentiality-for-being is itself determined by freedom, Da-sein can also be related to its possibilities unwillingly, it can be inauthentic, and it is so factically initially and for the most part. The authentic for-the-sake-of-which remains ungrasped, the project of one’s potentiality-of-being is left to the disposal of the they. Thus in being-ahead-of-itself, the “self” actually means the self in the sense of they-self. Even in authenticity, Da-sein remains essentially ahead-of-itself, just as the entangled fleeing of Da-sein from itself still shows the constitution of being of a being that is concerned about its being.
Essentially we both have and cannot not have the freedom to care. Fundamentally we always have a choice about what to care about/put our energy towards. This means that we can also put energy towards something that does not align with us as individuals, such as voting for a political party that does not share our unique individual concerns.
For instance, often, the protagonist in narratives has to choose to care before the story really begins. In the Hero’s Journey, the hero must answer the call to action.
The hero has to want to fight. He may have clear feelings one or another way, but he always has a choice.
Extending our care is our choice. This could mean choosing to center our energies around our hobbies, or our job, or our children. In narratives depicting peace and happiness, often that means people are in alignment, sharing the same concerns, centering their energies on their family, their community (potentially their religion, or some ideology), and all the other things that people care about when culture is peaceful and life is thriving.
Whether you agree with the specific ideals of a given community, is actually irrelevant, because, as mentioned before, everyone has different concerns. What these happy endings have in common is that the “good guys”, i.e., everyone qua us gets our concerns taken care of in some way. (The bad guys don’t get their concerns taken care of, as their concerns are often in conflict with the community qua us.)
In popular fiction, the difference between good guys and bad guys is that, in the end, the good guys care for each other. The bad guys don’t care for each other and are prone to fight amongst themselves.
Incidentally, there are two major examples of how to be “good guys” and care for each other (the world has many more than two).
Historically, Europe didn’t have much peace, as the populations throughout Europe had many different cultures, languages, and customs. European political thinking was built around a balance of power. Some examples of structuring balances of power come from the politics of Otto Von Bismarck, the inter-marriages of European royal families, the United Nations, and the American constitution. Here, people, perhaps in the protestant tradition according to Max Weber, are left to be free to self determine through individual labor. In fact, history after the French Revolution (and especially World War I), shows that Europe had a difficult time balancing power.
In a sense, the European thought of the balance of power culminated with the radical American obsession with freedom and individual independence. Throughout the American government, powers are balanced. In terms of hierarchy, the governmental levels (of city, county, state, and national) are weighed against each other as autonomous or semi-autonomous units. In terms of the state and federal governments, the functions of different departments are balanced against each other also as having control over different aspects of authority (i.e., judicial, legislative, and executive authorities).
In this tradition, being good means upholding your freedom but also respecting the freedom of others. The idea of “consent” is very prevalent in American culture, leading to the proliferation of signing disclosures. For example, in the United States, the opposition is often painted in terms of wanting authority over other people’s freedoms.
Whenever China fragmented into kingdoms, warfare would continue until China was unified (contrast this to European history which was often not about unification). A unified China meant that there could be no more war. A unified China was the dream of peace. Peace also meant the implementation of authoritarianism to enforce conformity. Confucianism instituted a massive hierarchy where no two individuals were equal, someone always had authority. Within state politics, Legalism pushed for iron-fisted politics on the population for their own good, as people were seen as selfish and short-sighted.
In this tradition, being good means conforming and doing your best to uphold both the concerns of the state and the concerns of one’s family and those around you. In some sense, Chinese conformity is the opposite of American individualism, at least when it comes to how the individual is oriented to other individuals.
For both the Chinese and European tradition, at the level of the state, there is still an expectation of unity, that is Americans are a nation of individuals who choose America just as China is a nation of a collective of individuals that choose China.
American Freedom and the State
Taken to an extreme, the United States has conflicting attitudes towards the government, both in support of it and in suspicion of it. In this sense, the Avengers movie, Captain America: Civil War is exactly about how free one should be in relation to national governments.
- Captain America takes the libertarian attitude: people should be free to fight where needed to address their concerns. Captain American is anti-fascist.
- Iron Man takes the technocratic attitude: all people should be managed so that everyone’s concerns are better addressed through bureaucracy. Tony Stark is a technocrat.
This split is just one subject of disagreement the United States currently has, where mismatched concerns can fragment groups.
Now that we’ve covered how concerns are related to society and others, it’s time to bring us back to the original thesis of this essay.
2 Broken Trust and Angst
Our lifeworld in 2020 is full of broken trust. For this section, I will give an example of one of the most common displays of breaking trust, and explain how trust is broken. Why this trust is broken is a question for another time.
Previous to Black Friday, 2020, Facebook required Occulus Rift users to connect to Facebook so it can get better data. A bug in Facebook results in the bricking of Occulus Rift users and the permanent banning of those users. Users attempting to rectify this situation could not get a hold of anyone to help them resolve this situation. The Facebook infrastructure locked these users out with a generic message depicted below.
Facebook’s message explains to the user that they are locked out because the user violated community standards. Obviously, the image above is a default message, but that message demonstrates that Facebook justifies its actions for the good of the community regardless of what that action might be.
From Robert C Solomon and Fernando Flores’ book Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life:
We are all painfully familiar with bureaucratic moods, which are often conflated with “policy”. Such moods dicate a retreat from personal responsibility and judgement, typically in the name of following rules. These are faux heroic moods, in which everyone presents an exaggered self-confidence that blocks both innovation and communication and betrays a fatal lack of confidence.
It’s sad to say but in 2020, especially, we encountered a lack of coordination as various branches and levels of the government responded by addressing different and contrary concerns while the Federal government displayed confusion (such as with the White House and other branches of government regarding the result of the election, or with COVID-19).
This general lack of trust expresses at the individual level, as many people have self-righteously expressed about the results of the election or the legality of COVID stay at home rules. (This is self-righteousness is further spread on social media as it appears some politicians and administrations, like Gavin Newsom, may not take their own rules seriously.)
All of these phenomena, made more visible by social media, reinforces the uncertainty people have in the world.
As the world both disclosures more information (to be concerned about) but also takes less responsibility for individual concerns, more and more responsibility is shifted from the lifeworld onto the individual.
- As consumers, we need to be responsible for our health (get exercise, control what we eat).
- As citizens, we need to monitor our government and stand up for justice (defending our rights and/or the rights of others).
- As workers, we need to be responsible for the needs of our company, and/or the needs of our customers.
- As family members, we need to protect, care for, and fulfill our duties to them.
All of these responsibilities are compounded if we cannot trust the experts who would guide us on our responsibilities, our news organizations, our governments, the companies that make and/or deliver our products, our employers, our co-workers, our neighbors, or even our family members.
Denying our ability to care, in Heideggerian terms, means that our being is denied its full expression. Ironically, bureaucratic moods like the above can be used to justified actions/policies that deny us our ability to take care of our concerns.
This is not always the case, as some brands, and organizations do take great care to become aware of our concerns so that they can take care of our concerns. For instance:
- Amazon has famously good customer service.
- Credit cards have become widely used because they take extra care of customer concerns: making sure customers aren’t charged for services/products they did not authorize.
Yet even these ventures also have another side, as they do not take care when it does not serve their profit-motivated concerns.
- Amazon also famously overworks and underpays its employees.
- Credit cards make lots of profit by encouraging spending and then charging lots of interest on unpaid balances.
Obviously, the market cannot optimize so many different and conflicting concerns, especially since the actors each have unequal access to resources and unequal ability to negotiate.
For Heidegger, angst is the feeling that emerges when one has not yet extended care. Angst is about the possibility of being in the world. Heidegger opposes angst with fear, as fear has an object. Angst has no object to focus on.
Angst reveals in Da-sein its being toward its ownmost potentiality of being, that is, being free for the freedom of choosing and grasping itself. Angst brings Da-sein before its being free for for … (propensio in), the authencitiy of its being as possibility which it always already is.
In contrast to Heidegger, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan defines anxiety as displacement in the social order. For Lacan, anxiety expresses uncertainty in the self’s placement of the world, whereby one does not know their place in the overall scheme of the Other. Lacan’s understanding of anxiety is deeper, as it relates not only to the potential one has for being in the world but also the social nature of care itself.
An example is in order. Imagine you had to go to a job interview. This interview is important because you need this job, it is key to your career and your livelihood. Let’s say you feel you are competent, that you know how to do this job. However, you have no idea what to expect in the job interview. The interviewer could be hostile. She could ask you trick questions. It might be a single meeting or it might be multiple meetings. In this case, it would be natural for you to feel some anxiety over this interview. This anxiety fits both the Heideggerian and Lacanian understandings of anxiety, as anxiety here is over the choices you could make (to take care of your concerns) and it is about the lack of standing you have in the world of this job interview.
Now imagine you had the same situation as before, except this time the job interviewer was your good friend. When you get to the interview, you both recognize each other and she assures you that she knows you are capable (you are confident that you are) and that this interview is just a formality. She is the only one making the decision, there will be no other meetings, and that you both merely have to go through the process so she could document everything properly. There will be no unexpected choices. At this point, your anxiety would diminish quite a bit, perhaps to no anxiety.
These job interview examples illustrate how much deeper Lacan’s understanding of anxiety is. While the modification doesn’t include going through the interview process — so Heidegger’s angst could still be present. After all, you didn’t yet complete the interview process so all the potential for expressing being (having your concerns met) is still unfulfilled. However, Lacan’s definition of anxiety is addressed — with the interviewer being your friend, you are assured that you have a place in the world regarding this job.
Thus, anxiety is about not having a secure place in the world. We can blend Heidegger’s idea of taking care of concerns with anxiety. A safe and secure place means that our concerns are taken care of.
We share many of these kinds of basic concerns (shelter, food, warmth, love) with other animals as we are animals. As we are social animals, where our care extends to each other, so the world that would be optimal for us is one that
- wouldn’t spark our angst
- one that would foster us the security of trusting in the world, by proxy of the individuals and institutions around us.
The path to developing this kind of world requires taking care of concerns. To realize what those concerns are in the first place requires paying attention to moods and attunement.
3 Attunement to a Human World
Heidegger’s notion of attunement is central to trust and love. From Being and Time:
In attunement lies existentially a disclosive submission to world out of which things that matter to us can be encountered.
The key to attunement is mood, as mood directs one towards specific aspects of the world. In that sense, mood, for Heidegger, are modalities that disclose the world around us, by affecting our ability to perceive. In this sense, mood is directly related to salience landscapes, our ability to find certain aspects of the world as emotionally significant. Particular moods are configurations that favors certain kinds of content over others. For example, Heidegger writes
In bad moods, [we] become blind to [ourselves], the surrounding world of headfulness is veiled, the circumspection of taking care is led astray.
Mood directly affects our interpersonal relationships. Being in moods of openness and wonder will let us better attune to the concerns of those around us. Likewise, certain individuals with whom we have deep connections can affect our mood, to make us more or less receptive to what is around us.
Once we are attuned to others and they to us, the chances of developing trust can occur. Trust is a type of relationship. When we trust, we believe that those others will extend their personal energy to take care of our concerns, at least in part. Love takes this a step further, where those who love us treat our concerns as their own. Of course, ideally, love and trust would be mutual.
Beyond moods of attunement, in today’s world, we have companies that see consumer concern as an opportunity to hook consumers with a bait and switch. The easiest example of this is social media outrage, where news feeds present us information that hooks our attention so that while they have our attention (based on whatever we are concerned about) they can sell products to us (which is what they are concerned about). Apps, social media, and other forms of the hyperreal put us in particular moods so that we become attuned to the concerns of others, even at the expense of our own concerns.
Without attunement we may not understand other people’s concerns, leading to a greater chance that, even if we wanted to take care, we may behave in ways that counter people’s concerns. Too much misunderstanding and people will begin to distrust one another.
For example, as of the writing of this article, we are in the midst of the second shutdown in December of 2020.
- California Governor Gavin Newsom seeks to save lives and prevent the overload of hospitals. His concerns are multifaceted, including public health and the concerns of other institutions.
- The concerns addressed by Newsom’s policy does not seem to include the concerns of small business owners, in particular, restaurant owners and their employees who want to have assured income.
No doubt Newsom doesn’t want the economy to fail, and small business owners and their employees don’t want people dying in the streets, but the concerns of both parties do not align. Perhaps Newsom should find a way to get the public to better listen to his concerns. Or perhaps the public should get Newsom to listen to their concerns.
Regardless, if people do not see how their concerns are being taken care of then they will not trust.
So how do we start building a world we can trust? The answer is that first, we need attunement to the deeper concerns of others before we can foster mutual trust.
As Heidegger states, we have the freedom to choose. Recall the quote:
In being-ahead-of-oneself as the being toward one’s ownmost potentiality-of-being lies the existential and ontological condition of the possibility of being free for authentic existential possibilities. It is the potentiality-for-being for the sake of which Da-sein always is as it factically is.
Like the protagonists of a popular narrative, we have to choose to care, and others have to choose to care.
In today’s attention economy, public focus is hopelessly scattered. Undoubtedly there will be many conflicts as events, such as natural disasters and the state of the economy are often unanticipated.
Likewise, trust isn’t simply earned. One must advance some trust first, to voice one’s concerns and allow for, at least a small amount of vulnerability before we know if another cares or not.
From Robert C Solomon and Fernando Flores’ book:
When the Japanese economy hit hard times and the real estate market (in which both banks had heavy liabilities collapsed), the Japanese, in effect threw the contract to the wind. The American lawyers were outraged but the Japanese response captured a good deal of what we have been saying here. The Japanese said, We don’t view contracts as sacred. We view the relationship between us as sacred. In times of desperation, friends do not enforce contracts but look to the needs of the other and the long-term relationship.
That is authentic trust. And what counts as a breach of contract or a breach of trust more generally should always be cosidered within that larger framework. It is a question of always keeping in mind what really counts.
Taking this view necessitates continual communication that is open and transparent, as concerns can shift. Much of our political and public discourse is not honest or open as people “choose” facts and “choose” realities. People are choosing meanings that service their feelings rather than choosing to be attuned to even have the opportunity of considering the actual concerns of others around them.
The result is often these memetic parodies, which point out the gap between justificatory reasons given in an ideology and the actual concerns surrounding the execution of that view.
This denial of attunement undermines trust by preventing people from being able to communicate their concerns. Non-attunement can occur when the listener chooses to
- interpret one’s own concerns in a charitable way at the expense of understanding the concerns of the speaker (which is often the angle taken by organizations such as Fox News, when mentioning other’s concerns) or
- interpreting the speaker’s concerns in an uncharitable way, such as assuming they know better what the speaker should be concerned about than the speaker (which is often the angle taken by liberal organizations like the Democratic party).
Regardless, building trust requires taking continual effort because trust is not an all or nothing endeavor. Trust is a participatory relationship between self and other or self and institution. Choosing to expend effort to care about the concerns of people requires the necessary step of learning what those concerns are (being attuned). From there, we then need to find a way to building a charitable world where people can have their concerns met, or where people can take care of their concerns without being hampered.
A trusting world means that people must have the possibility of their concerns met.
We can apply this politically. Recall the examples of the different kinds of “us” between Europe and China.
- China overvalues the institution as being the authority, where people must conform. Example: Mongolians and Uyghur forced labor camps and organ harvesting.
- Europe/The United States overvalues the institution as a system, where the system is optimized at the expense of people. Example: American tech giants dominate/“disrupt” industries.
- China overvalues the concerns of others at the expense of the self. Example: Social credit system and lack of employee rights.
- The United States overvalues the concerns of the self at the expense of others. Example: Not wearing a mask, or President Trump’s behavior.
The only way for trust to happen is for individuals and the powers that be to make the choice to care for individuals more than caring for fidelity to some policy or caring for having the appearance of righteousness or any faux heroic moods (like the FaceBook example above).
The keyword here is that this must be a choice on the part of individuals, including the elite. The choice is simple: to care or not to care.
Unfortunately, this choice is complicated by the same phenomenon that frustrated right-wing Libertarians earlier, as people have innumerable concerns, which are often at odds without the attunement to discover the concerns others might disclose.
Turning again to movie examples, the villain is often one who chooses not to care.
- Americans have the stereotypical businessman who is very greedy, like Mr. Burns.
- The Chinese have the stereotypical bad or fake ruler who causes havoc from the heavens.
The hero versions of these villains are that the businessman and the ruler who brings prosperity so that the people are taken care of.
In many ways, we do not live in a world that cares for people. In part, this is because we have attitudes that prevent attunement. Speculatively, some of those attitudes could be:
- The American ideal (for individualism) is that people can choose for themselves, which for many implies that one need not care for others because others can and should care for themselves. This entails minimizing reliance on others and maximizes self-interested greed. These decisions are choices, and violating those choices may lead Americans to feel guilty.
- The Chinese ideal (for individuals) is that people are obligated to help and protect close friends and family. This protection entails minimizing personal views in favor of maximizing traditional or authoritarian points of view. These decisions are choices, and violating those choices may lead someone who is Chinese to feel guilty.
Once made, however, the choice to care necessitates participatory action.
The degree as to how much care/energy is needed depends on each individual relationship. This individuality means that taking social ideals as literal truths for how to treat people distorts our ability to be attuned to others. Instead, the attitude one should have is to be aware enough to be attuned to different people differently, depending on the nature of each individual and each situation.
By itself, this isn’t saying much, because the choice is always ours. We also can never be sure if we have understood the other. How much energy do we want to put?
It’s apparent that if not enough of us choose to care, then we will continue to get what we have, but this does depend on our collective mood(s) and the choices we will make in the years to come.
If you are in a curious mood regarding attunement, humankind has a wealth of religions and spiritual practices.
Perhaps less mystically, one interesting pscyhotechnology for improving attunement (through communication) is ObservationWare. This structuring of attention through, at least at first, the recognition of distinctions is useful for gaining clarity about our shared interaction through Reciprocally Transactional Loops.