Below is my response to David Weinberger relating to his latest newsletter that talks about the depressing cultural effect of relativism.
David, regarding relativism, are you thinking what I think you’re thinking? You’ve just explained in logical depths why our current way of thinking now is so flawed (which I fully agree with) but you haven’t mentioned anything about this new way of thinking that the Internet is giving us, that I think is becoming more and more prevalent with each passing day.
I agree that our current culture is flawed because our current way of thinking is emphasizing the wrong values within it. And yet this wrongness you spoke of is something that I think we all feel now and again. We can’t explain it but we feel it deep down inside of us every once in a while. I think we know these values feel wrong though because we are comparing them to the right values that are still in the back of our hearts and minds.
You spoke of words like truth and trust. Aren’t these values that we are told as child to pursue? And don’t these values feel right to us even without being told? They just feel right. Yet as we grow up, these values get pushed back into the recesses of our hearts and minds because those values often don’t work in real life if you want to "succeed" and in turn make money to be able to live. It doesn’t mean that we still don’t value them, its just that they get pushed back by all of these wrong values instead and thus they don’t get accessed as often.
You spoke about diversity and valuing life. Well if you value diversity then you value all life because every single person, no matter who they are, adds to this diversity. Why is diversity important? Because it allows us to collectively solve common problems and do things which a single rigid way of thinking may fail to overcome or take forever to achieve. These many small diverse thoughts, viewpoints, and approaches that the world contains, actually are a benefit because it allows the world as a collective of loosely joined and diverse people to overcome and achieve things together much faster and efficiently than before. Nature is a perfect example of this approach as it has been noted that after a fire those areas of a forest with the most diversity often recover much sooner than other less diverse areas. And hell look at the way natural selection itself works with its multiple diverse approaches to achieving a common goal of survivability for the entire species.
Now do you want to know the really weird thing that I noticed when defining some of these cultural values that feel right to me? I noticed that these values in themselves were not just a collective of small pieces loosely joined that formed an encompassing culture but, more importantly, they seemed to be interdependent upon one another. I found that when you mention one value or trait, another one is often there waiting on the side to connect with it. I mean if I say that I’m an open and honest person, what other values immediately pop into your head? The reverse is also true of these wrong cultural values. If I say that I am dishonest and closed minded, again what other values immediately pop into your head?
And finally, yes, I did mean to repeat the word "feel" so many times above. You see for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I felt more connected offline, away from the computer, than online supposedly connected with millions of people. It wasn’t until I looked at my question and noted that single word "feel" (i.e. why don’t I feel connected?) that the answer came to me. I believe that it is our feelings and emotions that help us to connect with one another as people. I mean isn’t that what the Web is supposed to be really about? The things that we care about? And isn’t caring a feeling that allows us to connect with others?
Yes, conversations are an important aspect of the Web but they are just the medium to relay these emotions and feelings. Without them, you’re only getting unemotional factual information in the story or conversation that can be as interesting as someone telling you about going to the corner store to get some milk. Who cares? Yet, if you instill those stories with emotions and feelings, like the stories told by those during 9/11, you can’t help but to feel connected with those people and care about them because we all as a diverse group of people share these same certain emotions. Now let’s go back to the milk story. Turns out in getting the milk, the person avoided dying in 9/11. Now how interesting would the details of that story be to you now, how does it make you feel, and how does it connect you to the person? We need to instill more emotion in everything we do. And isn’t that what passion (the number one thing businesses want in their employees) is all about? We can even include our emotions in the technology that we create by cultivating it with these same cultural values that "feel" right to us. Just look at how the Web works and you’ll discover those cultural values that feel right to us, already embedded within it.
In closing, I just want to relay a question that I asked myself a while back that I think sums up this emotional battle that is going on inside of every one of us everyday between this wrongness and rightness of values. The question actually relates quite well to your mention of this culture’s depressing and deadening relativism that seems to stifle our emotions and prevents us from feeling.
"Are you dying to feel alive?"
BTW you may be wondering if we already have these right values in us, why are we not using them instead of the wrong values. It is because culture itself is an environment that we are within. That environment influences and effects us on a daily basis. However, as I discovered myself in the past, a culture can be changed and defined by the people within it as well. And in changing that culture, it will in turn change and influence others within it. However, for us to redefine our culture as a whole, it would require an enormous collective effort on many people’s part to achieve this "tipping point" of change. I believe this buildup of change is already happening though. To see it, you only need to start looking for the ever growing number of conversations by people relaying their emotional feelings about the things that they care about and value. Then just start collecting the common values that they keep talking about and you’ll have the values of your new culture which interesting enough equates quite closely to that of the Web.