We are not wired for modern life

Despite what some would say, most people, in the West at least, but increasingly everywhere in the world, are living a better quality of life than Aristocracy did less than a hundred years ago. For all the talk of the 1%, most people born today are in the top 1% of everybody who has ever lived in human history.

I’ve always been fascinated how we can have so many material comforts, and so many deadly problems our ancestors faced have been eradicated, yet we still have the capacity to be miserable. There is a strong negative correlation between mental health issues and increases in comfort, especially rates of suicide in men and self harm in women. As life objectively gets better, paradoxically many of us become less happy. In fact many believe we are currently in the midst of a mental health crisis. There is a reason why this bit from Louis CK went viral, because it’s true:

One of the reasons is relativity, we compare ourselves to others, rather than appreciate how much worse things could be. However, the bigger problem as I see it (or my pet fascination at least) is that we are built for adversity and for living in groups, but we are experiencing much less of both. Our ancestors who survived long enough to reproduce were the ones who had it in them the ability to thrive when times got tough. We have evolved from the industrious, the aggressive, the survivors and the community focussed. When times are relatively easy, that part of our DNA does not just switch off. It takes thousands and thousands of years for us to evolve to changing circumstances, and we currently live in a time when everything is changing more rapidly than ever before.Continue Reading

How the Internet divides us

225px-Internet_argumentHave you ever been on holiday and, despite traveling thousands of miles, you meet some people who are also from your town? You end up getting along really well and spend the majority of the holiday with them. It might be another couple who you go to restaurants with, a group of likeminded lads or lasses you go to the clubs with or indeed could be the start of a holiday romance. You go all that way to another part of the world, to soak up the culture, meet new people and get away from the same old routine, only to spend the entire time with somebody you could have met in your local pub.

That is what the Internet has become.

The Internet is your 18-30 holiday in Malaga.

The great promise of the Internet is that it would bring us all together, that it would do away with all the things that divide us and expose us to new ways of thinking. I remember in the very early days of the popularisation of the world wide web in the late 1990s and how exciting it was to be talking to someone from the other side of the world on AOL. In the early days it was such a novelty to speak to someone and ask them questions knowing that their life was completely different to yours. The Internet promised an end to tribalism and to bring us all together.Continue Reading

Why does politics bring out the worst in us?

Nazis

Politics in the UK and the US has arguably never been more divisive and ugly, from all ends of the political spectrum. I’ve written before about why it is we can think so differently to each other, and today wanted to focus on why this can lead politics to get so nasty, dishonest and even violent.

In 2014 Adam Waytza, Liane L. Young and Jeremy Ginges did a study of 3,000 people from opposite ends of the political spectrum, including Democrats and Republicans, and Israelis and Palestinians. Participants were shown a sample of people from either their in-group or their out-group and were asked judge to them on what their motivation was in a given situation. The study showed that the majority of participants attributed ‘love’ as the primary motivation of their in-group, and ‘hate’ as the primary motivator of their out-group. So Republicans would say fellow Republicans acted out of compassion, but Democrats did not, and vice versa.

This led them to coin Motivation Attribution Asymmetry. The theory that, in conflict, when someone disagrees with or opposes us, they are motivated by the opposite of what we are motivated by. It’s a cognitive bias that makes compromise very difficult. Continue Reading

The generation that can’t compete

50239799ifhfcI stumbled upon an interesting article this week, the cliff notes of which were a group of interns at a company did not like wearing formal clothes at work, so they (all but one of them) started a petition to change the company dress code. They were called into a meeting, which they assumed was to discuss the changes, and all of them were fired.

Below is a sample of it, but I implore you to read the whole article, because there are some excellent rebuttals both from the author of the post and the readers in the comments, explaining that a workplace is not a democracy. I wanted to touch on a few reasons why the new generation of workers are seemingly so out of touch.

“I spoke with my manager about being allowed some leeway under the dress code and was told this was not possible, despite the other person being allowed to do it. I soon found out that many of the other interns felt the same way, and the ones who asked their managers about it were told the same thing as me. We decided to write a proposal stating why we should be allowed someone leeway under the dress code. We accompanied the proposal with a petition, signed by all of the interns (except for one who declined to sign it) and gave it to our managers to consider. Our proposal requested that we also be allowed to wear running shoes and non leather flats, as well as sandals (not flip-flops though) and other non-dress shoes that would fit under a more business casual dress code. It was mostly about the footwear, but we also incorporated a request that we not have to wear suits and/or blazers in favor of a more casual, but still professional dress code.

The next day, all of us who signed the petition were called into a meeting where we thought our proposal would be discussed. Instead, we were informed that due to our “unprofessional” behavior, we were being let go from our internships. We were told to hand in our ID badges and to gather our things and leave the property ASAP.”Continue Reading

A Retweet is not a character reference

bury-heads-australia-v3Without doubt my biggest personal gripe with the the combination of short attention spans, social media consumption and increasingly polarised politics, is what I call the preemptive ad hominem attack (I’m working on a catchier name).

This describes the inevitable moment when you share an article, or a comment, or a poll, or a statistic, or some other nugget of information, and somebody will attack the source before even contemplating the information being shared.

So if I share an article from the Daily Mail or Fox News, regardless of the content, somebody left-leaning will express how they disagree with whatever it is on principle that it came from the Daily Mail. Or perhaps I retweet a Guardian or New York Times article, and get the mirror response from somebody with more conservative viewpoints. The content gets dismissed before it is even consumed.Continue Reading