What Do You Think?

Why do we care about those around us? Really, why do we care? What is it to us that we are not alone? Why do we need other people in our lives? People have a herding instinct, at least that I’ve observed. We have a natural tendency to form ourselves into groups. I suppose this is because most of us have families from the time of our infancy, we have some sort of group of people around us. We usually have people around as infants. We grow learning the value of being a group. The funny thing is, we maintain our groups in our cars. Have you ever watched people driving? They have to keep their cars together. They do the same thing with their cars as they do when they are out of the car. The cars, in a sense, become an extension of the driver. If you watch cars, not as individual cars, but as a group, you start to see that there are more often then not, several cars all packed together in a part of the road where it would make much more sense, and be much safer, to be much more spread apart. I don’t think it’s strictly just impatience but our herding instinct kicking in. We feel threatened when we drive. No surprise there. Regardless of whether there is an immediate threat or not, we feel threatened by the whole of the driving experience. When we’re threatened we do what we do, we run to the group. We form a group, to make a bigger threat against our perceived threat. In this case, our driving. So we herd together even in our cars.

All this despite it is more often then not that we actually find that the biggest actual danger is not the perceived threat, but the herd we join. Rational driving says keep your distance, but we drive too much on instinct to be rational, so we drive too close to each other, and errors lead to crashes a lot more often then is necessary if we had been driving, not on instinct, but by driving rationally. Saying, okay, if we keep all the cars far enough apart, then it will be a lot easier to stop in time if something unexpected happens. Road design caters not to reason, in most cases, but to instinct. If we were designing roads to be safer, we would never put two lanes that go in opposite directions on the same road, that’s just asking for problems, but when we first started building roads, we never took into consideration the technology we have for driving on them now. We were thinking about walking, and horses. Not cars. Most roads we have today are not built for cars.

Of course the cost of changing all roads into divided roads would be astronomical, especially in areas where there is a lot of buildings and such in the way. But, we still keep building our roads wrong.

But even if we designed our roads for cars, we still have to deal with the problems that the herding instinct cause. Namely driving too close together. I honestly don’t really know of a good solution to keep people from driving too close to each other. Laws don’t have any effect, the instinct is too strong.

Smarter cars perhaps could help the problem, but it would be quite costly to implement, and maintain. We do not have the money to afford it, even if we have the technology to do it. For example, if we had a device that would automatically reduce the cars speed if we drove too close to another car, it would have to be in every vehicle  because it would have to be adjusted to compensate for the change in one car, in all the cars in the proximity. At the time, too much can go wrong with this system, and where is the computing power to do the thinking going to come from? And how is it going to communicate with the vehicles at a high enough speed to make the alterations in milliseconds? In theory, we have the components to design such a system, but the practicality and cost would make it rather difficult. The truth is, any time the car takes over an aspect of the skill of driving, the drivers skill will diminish, so even if the driver has the knowledge of what to do if the components fail, he will not do it as well as he would if the system was not in place to begin with. So, in case of component failure, we still can’t rely on the driver to respond in a manner that with a positive outcome. Nothing is really solved, so smarter cars do not really help that much.

So the questions we need to ask about our driving is what can we do to help us drive rationally? We need to look for ways to make our cars safer, but one of the first places we need to look is not the cars, but the driver. How do we deal with the instinct of humans to herd? How can we resolve the problem of two opposite lanes on the same road in a cost-effective manner? How can we redesign our transportation system to be safer? For example, stop signs might not be the best method to ensure safety at an intersection, is there a better solution? (I think there is something called a roundabout, which aside from being fun to say, I’ve heard is a better solution to the problems that stop signs are supposed to solve but do not. I’m not very familiar with them, as they are not part of my regular driving experience, I’m not sure if I’ve actually ever driven on one actually.)

I am convinced, however, that there are better solutions then what we have now, some of them will require drastic changes, but others are not so drastic, only just different then what we currently are used to.

All of this brings me to what I really want to talk about. I would love to see us look to solve things in a rational, civil manner. The current world works on some very ineffective methods. It works, but I’m convinced it could be better, a lot better. It would make much more sense for cooperation over competition for example. In most cases competition is only useful to a certain extent, but after that it works against success. What do I mean? Technology provides a great example of the value of cooperation. The Compact Disc. Instead of hundreds of competing formats, and some very frustrated and confused customers, we had for a number of years a more or less, single standard, which I could play in players made by a variety of companies. I could expect the same disc to play on my home stereo, the car, my personal CD player, or my computer. And it would work relatively the same in all of the devices. It was a better system then if I had to be stuck with a particular player for a particular disc. It was a system that was good for everyone overall. We have and we have not learned from this experience as we’ve moved now to other formats such as digital files over the internet as our primary source of obtaining the data we once obtained from the compact disc. I still cannot buy a song on iTunes and then play it on Amazon’s cloud service, even if I already bought the same songs for example on iTunes, I’d have to buy it again on Amazon to do that. (Well, there is an upload function on Amazon’s service, but it’s kind of more of a patch, then a solution to the problem.) There are some disadvantages to how we do things currently, but overall, there are some advantages. At least for the most part we’ve realized that digital rights management was a stupid idea for everyone, whether we are talking about the buyer, the seller, or the producer. It was a bad idea to begin with, only providing an illusion of protection for the producer, but for everyone, including the producer, one massive headache was all that one really got out of it.

Which brings up another point. If we could somehow have a number of music stores for digital music, not competing with each other, but cooperating, I think we could all but destroy piracy. Piracy is often used when something is more difficult to obtain by paying for it, then it would be to obtain it by piracy. For example, say a song was not on iTunes, or any of the other major stores, could be ordered on a physical CD as an import, but otherwise, not legally available. Which do you think is going to happen in most cases? The hassle of ordering a physical CD or simply doing a Google search for the files that contain the desired content? Probably the Google search. A good part of the time it isn’t because people don’t want to pay that we have piracy, it is because obtaining it isn’t easily within reach, and sometimes it is completely out of reach altogether. Whether because something isn’t available or because it doesn’t have a good payment system, if it gets to a point where it is too difficult, it will be pirated. Instead of fighting the demand, the solution is to provide a workable solution to fulfill the demand. What you have is a system where there are people clamoring for your product, but if you don’t give it to them in the format they actually use, not even for sale, they’ll just take it anyways. If you force them to buy a CD when all they want is to play it on their MP3 player, what do you think is going to happen? This isn’t rocket science, but I am astonished at how often I cannot find something I’m looking for in the desired format, and so must go without, or pirate, not that I advocate pirating, I’m just making an example of what is left to do after failing to find a means of obtaining otherwise.

What we need to do is approach the entire system in a different way. But between the current system of competitiveness  and the fact that the industry has always been a bit slow on the uptake about what the better solution to the problems is, in more cases then not, actually fighting it, and making the problem worse then actually fixing anything. Again, I have to bring up digital rights management as an example. It didn’t really fix anything, and if anything only prompted more piracy then anything else.

We need to rethink how we do things as a whole. We need to shift our focus to a system that is dedicated to finding solutions to problems, rather then what we have now, in which companies must do things to maintain something distinct about them to set them apart from the competition. But distinction often only provides a solution to the smaller problems, rather then what it is we set out to do in the first place. Which is why we need to form a culture of innovation, to be solution minded, and to cooperate for the benefit of everyone.

What competition is good for, is creating the initiative to innovate, but after that it tends to kill the products it works so hard to create. This is a problem. There are some fantastic ideas that end up dead before their time.

I’m convinced that the way we do things now, is broken, and a bit of common sense, cooperation, and innovation, will work wonders. But in all this, I am aware, that there is also the need to have distinction between various companies. As I said above, competition is actually mostly useful for spurring innovation, but after that breaks what it works hard to create. All I am trying to say is that our current system focuses too much on competing and then continuing to compete after its needed, which is why we keep running into more problems then solutions.

I’d like to see companies working together more often then against each other, if it is needed to create a better end result. I’d like to see more innovation taking place, while at the same time, keeping things standard enough that we do not have frustrated customers.

Now, I don’t really have any experience in corporations, in companies, and very little in driving, so I’ll admit, I might be missing something quite obvious. Still, these are my observations of the system as I see it, and perhaps it holds some value. Even though I’m not exactly an expert on it, perhaps expertise isn’t everything. I am a human, which is something, and as a human, I am most qualified to have thoughts about it.

I have to say I like what I’m seeing on YouTube, even though YouTube itself isn’t exactly helping it. You have individuals creating things, and then essentially becoming someone formidable in their particular field, when if they had tried to do it traditionally, we probably wouldn’t have ever heard of them. For the first time in a very long time we have a system in place where extremely talented and gifted people can create things, by themselves. And while there is a lot of junk, there are more geniuses that would never have seen the light of day in a hundred years by the traditional system. The traditional system, unfortunately relies more often then not on marketing then on talent. Ever notice the number of artist under the traditional system that sound the same? It’s not for lack of talent, in fact in most cases, it’s not the artist that is to blame. But, for some reason, it has been decided that only such and such sells, so only such and such is permitted, because it is marketable. But, art doesn’t work according to the market. It isn’t something you can be that selective about. But now we see people who are not part of the industry creating things, independently, and as such, their art is allowed to thrive, whatever direction they take it in. This is a good thing. And, big surprise, a lot of it goes viral. People want something new, and refreshing, and they are tired of being force-fed whatever it is that the industry is throwing at them. Up until now, that was the only well in the desert, but now there are a lot more wells to be found. Some of them have quite a bit better water. Where do you think people are going to drink from? Again, the industry has a lot to learn or it’s going to go the way of the dinosaur. It’s just a matter of time. Either turn the focus from profits to the art. Or get out. People will pay for good art, but if you are not allowing good art, they’ll start looking elsewhere. You’ll still make a profit, but right now? You’re doing it wrong.

The film, music, and traditional publishers, in particular, the big corporations, the giants of the last century, had a successful model once. But that model is now severely broken and outdated. And you can’t expect yesterday’s success to keep you afloat. We need to find new ways to do things.

Again, I like what I’m seeing when the artist take it into their own hands, and just make great art. Whether or not they ever get a contract for it or not, is irrelevant, the passion for the art is the primary goal, and for the artist, that is what it should be. Or, it is missing the point. If art is not the focus of the artist, then something is lacking, and while we might not always be able to put our finger exactly on what it is, we are good at spotting it, and we feel not enjoyment, but repulsion. As an artist, unless it is something designed to repulse, the last thing I want people to feel when they see my work is to be repulsed by it.

Again, I’m not an expert. I’m just an artist, and I desire to create great art. I do not particularly desire fame, fortune, or what not, I desire great art. For me, the current state of things is not a help but a hindrance to great art. I have a feeling that I am not alone in this frustration.

For my part, I would like to see empowered, innovative, individuals as being the artist we know in the future. The current system undercuts empowerment of the vast majority, squashing them instead of building them up, squanders innovation that isn’t deemed marketable, (Along with the Beetles, whose guitar was on the way out. You probably know the story about how they didn’t find acceptance at first in the industry.)

Again, competition is a hindrance more often then a help.

So why are we so bent on competition? I don’t know, perhaps it is because there are a handful of things we humans will go absolutely mad for, cravings, desires, and what not. Safety or more accurately the perception of safety, Food, sleep, violence (blood), and reproduction. Of these, it is our desire for violence and security in particular that makes us compete with each other. Despite that we would find better solutions in working together then in competing with each other, we still compete. Why? I would guess that we do not act according to reason, but according to instinct.

The same is true of politics. Do you know how many wars could be prevented if we didn’t act according to basic human desires, but instead chose to discuss things rationally? Wars do not make any sense, rationally, but in light of our human desires, they are the expected result. We must have blood. We demand it. So we go to war. It is also the desire to increase our perceived safety. And an instinct to have access to more food. Again, though, that comes out of the desire for a perception of safety. Our craving for blood is perhaps the least rational, but also strongest desires we have. And whether on the battlefield, or in our corporations, we demand it to be fulfilled. So we compete.

So, I make the suggestion to look at the fact that we crave things, and then start discussing things rationally, and cooperating when that will produce a better result in a better manner then what we would have otherwise. Letting reason be our guide. To be rational instead of basing our decisions on desires designed to keep us alive, that is to say, the whole of humanity, in the wild. I think in most cases, the survival instinct works against us, when it comes to developing better solutions. It can be useful, and will ensure our survival as a species, it fosters innovation to get there, but it works against us in maintaining it.

Thankfully, we’ve been given the ability to say no, and to use something beside our instinct to make a decision. We can be rational when we choose to be, and reason is superior in decision making to instinct more often then not. Not always of course, but reason will lead us to coming up with better things, then we would have come up with if we allowed instinct to keep us confined to its rules in most cases.

So my question is, why do we have a system built off of, and catering to, not reason, but instinct?

It was a system that worked fine once, but as we advance in our knowledge, it works against us. Technology is altering how it is that we, as human beings, function. We need to consider that as we adjust to these changes, but instinct prevents us from adjusting very well to it, and so we fall behind. It is the adaptation of the human race to change. Now, obviously progress isn’t always the ultimate goal. If we make progress the goal, we start losing what it is to be human beings, and when that happens, suffering follows.

Which is why not only do we need to find ways of working out problems in a more efficient manner then what we currently have, but we need to find ways to do so in a manner that promotes doing so ethically. We need to seek to find ways of reducing suffering wherever, and however, and whenever, we can. Whether that is seeking ways to ensure environmental integrity for future generations, or insisting on doing things ethically now, even if it means dealing with other challenges, such as not being able to meet demand as fast. Human rights should be our first priority. Apple for example, while I like them as a company for the most part.  Except for this one thing, I cannot ignore that in light of the high demand, and so forth, that there have been lapses in human safety in the production process of some Apple products. I recall hearing for example about iPhone screens and the chemicals used to clean them at the factory, and true or not, I’m not assured of the safety of the workers who worked with them. I want assurance. And while it is a vastly complicated system, I would like for products to be ethical from the inside out. No matter how obscure or common the component or where it was produced, I want to have the assurance that people are not being harmed in the production of any part of it.  Now, to be assured of this, we may have to learn to get used to significant delays in production, but human safety needs to take precedence. So while, I do not protest to the point of boycotting Apple products, I do advocate opening up discussions on the darker side of iPhone production, and then seeking to find solutions to it. I understand that demand is high, and loss of time is loss of profit in todays consumer  market. So to the companies, I hope that we can see a dedication to the reduction and whenever possible, elimination, of human suffering.

There will always be a small amount of suffering in any work, we are human, some work does need to be done, and work produces discomfort sometimes, it’s just part of the job. That’s not the kind of suffering I’m speaking of. I speak of dangerous working conditions where solutions exist. And more often then not, the solutions are not complicated, difficult to implement, or expensive, but simple, common sense measures.

But, we live in a world where we rule according to instinct rather then reason. And as such, we will do whatever it takes to get what we want, when we want it, because our instinct to have a perception of safety demands it. There is a sense of safety in hording things, and it is the hording that is responsible for our demanding things when we want them, where we want them, and so forth. It is because we believe according to instinct that if we hord them, we will have what we need to remain safe. It isn’t necessarily true. But we operate as if we are the only important humans on the planet, and if we are the ones with the stash of goods, then in our minds we are more guaranteed of safety then those who do not have the stash of goods.

Again, it is our instinct taking over, rather then reason.

It’s why if there is two boxes of tea on the shelf at the grocery store, and I only need one, how many do you think usually end up in the cart? Two. The hoarding instinct, the perceptive safety instinct says in order to be safe, I need to have both boxes of tea. When I only needed one when I arrived at the store. That fact hasn’t changed. I still only need one box of tea. So why do I bring home two?

That’s how the world works these days, but that is also something we can do something about, if we have the mind to do it. It’s not a matter of having the tools or not, we have the tools, and they are readily available to us.

Our heads really are quite useful, we should use them more often.

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I’m not saying this is the problem or the solution, things are not quite so cookie-cutter as all that, but it is an idea that I offer to those who might find it useful, at least in part.

And I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the article I read, it more or less offers a good introduction to the issue of the iPhone screens and factory conditions I mentioned: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57516096-37/no-more-islave-an-activist-fights-for-iphone-workers/