The Future That We Await

The future we want — opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debate.
President Barack Obama

If you are a young black man, you are nearly 10x times more likely to be killed by the police than any other Americans. That means that at random traffic stop, a misunderstood word or gesture, or by simply by being afraid--you might end up dead. I experienced what can only be a shred of this recently so if you think I don't know what I'm talking about, read here. 

This age demographic only comprises 2% of the population.

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population.
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population.

As a social commentator, I am concerned with how American society is transformed by race, capital and politics. As hard as I might search for it amidst stump speeches and political-speak, I don't think we have developed the vocabulary to capture the nuanced realities of this problem. Despite reports that we are becoming a more diverse society, we are not a post-racial one. We are evidenty not ready to abandon ethnic-racial categories. One cannot deny the corrosive effects of this tenancious culture disease. Not today, or any day for that matter.  

MLK, who I believe epitomized the first order of this expression, spoke of a new society in which we are convinced more of our power with one another and for one another. By definition, this means we might become less motivated by what we can get from one another, and more interested in what we can do together.  That "getting" includes the oligarchical structure we now live in, and all of the ancient lineages-namely racism, slavery, and sexism that it tries to ignore, and rather, exploit to keep us divided, antagnostic and unproductive. 

MLK envisioned an alliance that would be better for all Americans. For what else do we celebrate this day--but the triumph of one man's ability to catalyze collective efforts to overcome the tyranny and oppression of his people and fellow Americans? 

The question we must ask is whether or not we listen to what we don't want to hear (especially in potentially volatile areas like race) without invalidating the whole conversation because it makes us 'uncomfortable.'Pull up a seat to the table and speak your mind.

Isn't the most vital part of our patriotic heritage our willingness to welcome, listen and engage in encountering and redressing injustice?
How sad it is that we forget this. 

When we encounter and examine power, we often find that we have more of it than we thought. I've taken my lumps for this question on before about sexism and my dissidence was handily approbated for it.

How many of us have ever considered what it is to be a white? Or to be a white male in the workplace? This exercise isn't one to shame you for your racial background. Quite the opposite. Do you realize you possess the ability to influence how others live by just speaking from the place of power you were born into?

I'm not talking about the unexpected challenge to everyday racism or sexism that you dodge with a joke that get's you off the hook. Just because you have a few black, Hispanic, Asian and gay friends doesn't make you a social revolutionary. You encounter cosmetic diversity when your HR head says: "We should hire a black gal to mix things up around here". People tokenize diversity instead of seeing the merits of a more inclusive workplace, with statements like "We ought to have some gay guys work here-that'd be fun." We trivialize ourselves and the inevitable diversity of this nation entirely with this sort of stupidity. 

Even if only momentary, company "cultures" should offer open, round-table discussions today about opportunity and consider that there is something still wrong with race relations in this country, and its high time we begin to encounter openly those feelings, as business people, most especially.

Despite the efforts of MLK or Gandhi, to whom we look to as standard-bearers, the world doesn't change because of them, or even one person at a time. Culture matters when culture exerts a positive influence on problems. Things change when networks of relationships form among people who share a common cause and vision of what's possible.

How many of recallt hat The Constitution of these United States was written by a Congress, not one man. Apply this to any trend, movement or religion and you can easily see that successful growth of an idea is more about the group that arises from those ideas, and not a single individual. We tend to believe otherwise, but if we take a minute to think about it, creating a positive future for the planet doesn't require a hero—it requires networks of activists. 

Here's a surprise.

We do not need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with people that think like us and who will act with us. People who share our ideas and are willing to activate them through their individual agency. People who can override self-interest, and, through these relationships develop the new frameworks and strategies to ensure that we do not just continue to exist, but that we thrive in such a way that serve the entire system.

Do we know anymore the difference between what we want for ourselves and what we will are willing to protect, even die for others? Can we believe that we still adhere to the notion of "Freedom For All"?

How versus What.

Modern social theorists posit that social media and search results comprise a "synaptic snapshot" of the marketplace. I will ask the reader to consider that this snapshot is not of what people want to buy. The collective social energy of our species online or offline cannot be reduced to "purchase impulse". The human-machine synaptic moment is about how people get what they want. Anyone genuinely interested in social movements, power, media (or AI) is by definition interested in how others think--not what they want, and that makes the virtual world all that more interesting, potentially exploitative, and undeniably powerful.

Mixed into is the notion that the most powerful obstacle to understanding the need for truly revolutionary thinking is the dichotomy of detrimental self-interest versus atavistic community-interest. Indeed, emergent thinkers are interested in others and direct and compel themselves and their communities towards atavistic and supportive ends, not towards ways to get peopke to buy more shit. When I refer to social media like this, I am talking about the self-referential, and thereby limited mode. A way of being and thinking that is both internal, closed, and myopic. A way of being and thinking that is about understanding things in a consistent and coherent way.

The difference that seems lost on this generation of votes (and entrepreneurs) is that a misunderstanding that economic franchisement does not only you personally. Full economic vitality, the creation of jobs and conditions necessary for radical inclusivists is comprised of different parts and interconnections that make it whole and dynamic, whose network effects distribute the problem to many individuals.

The myopic style of interest epitomized by massive valuations and self-centeredness of Silicon Valley functions at the bio-dynamic and psychological level, whereby the individual only sees the world as it relates to self—how one gains—and not as the person refers to the multi-faceted world in which we live.

The short-sightedness of humans is a problem that many of us naively thought social media might help us overcome. It hasn't. Instead, we get useless, overvalued app companies like Brian Wong's Kiip, a mobile app rewards platform that lets brands and businesses give real-world rewards for in-game achievements. What value does this have in society as a whole? It as if JFK's famous advice has been horribly inverted to, "Ask not what you country can do for you, ask what over-valued app you can create for your peer group."

The modern hero worship of the entrepreneur has at its core a modus operandi of creating modes of public spectacle that ultimately separate, stratify and isolate individuals. Some theorists believe that nothing will ever overcome this. History bears out the that those who manipulate finance and media realized quite some time ago that virulent self-interest is the very thing to be exploited to ensure the disenfranchisement of individual agency. Quite the opposite of wha my collegeues here in the Valley would have you think. The ultimate failure of the capitalist system is to address the whole human. Look no further than Edward L. Bernays seminal book Crystallizing Public Opinion if you don't believe me. He wrote this book in the 1930's, and it's ideas are as relevant now as they were then.

Bernay is not the only one who saw this. Austrian School economist Carl Menger wrote in his work, Principles of Economics, "As each economizing individual becomes increasingly more aware of his economic interest, he is led by this interest..." Add to this the unfortunate fact that most individuals in western society have only limited knowledge of media, political systems and wealth apparatus and we have a problem, Austin. Consider that at the same time, the "Hamburgers and Cadillacs" phenomena--the wholesale exportation of our consumption habits to Southeast Asia-- has taken hold.

A person without knowledge is without power; this shift from pure self-interest to a greater collective interest in the system and all of its constituents cannot be understated. It is necessary to evolve the system, requiring more networked knowledge, hence the need to keep the internet free. If we actually support urgent systemic changes, then we need pressure public officials who derive their power from We, the People, not corporate money.

We need to embrace fully the power of networks to realize the radical democracy we now require. We need to create safer communities. We do not need to continue to militarize the Police. We need to rally and elect public officials with the courage to do what is needed. We need technologists to create tools for the people to create growing power, not so they can collect mobile rewards for staring at screens. 

We might like to brush aside a nominee's vitriol, but there are unintended consequences that everyday people suffer when corruption trumps accountability and transparency and instead concentrates their power on sensationalism. The country still requires economic policies that will alleviate problems for those disproportionately affected by wage inequity, in particular, people of color. We must, as true Americans, push to create the political will to solve the problems that MLK and people like him helped lay bare.

The future still awaits us. 

 ~

* I write for you-the reader, and I appreciate your attention enormously. Iask only that instead of just "liking" it, please be sure to share the article with your network.   You can also read more of essays like this and dowload a full collection of social essays and commentary for free on my site www.bigthinker.com.  Thank you for reading. 

Davos’ Brave New World @World Economic Forum — Medium

Why Civility Mattters