The Human Cog
[This article is a response to an article found here, written by Vlad Rapoport]
We are experiencing a rapid shift in human evolution. We (for the most part) have moved on from the age of manipulation and into the age of biological digitization. For centuries, man has harnessed their minds to wield the mighty swords of math and science in order to bend nature to our very will, and now we know what one person thinks about tofu all the way across the globe at any given moment.
What I’m talking about is the active processing of the collective human consciousness. With social media, we can use other people’s knowledge to choose where to eat tonight, to learn of an oncoming weather catastrophe, or to celebrate the birth of a child. Because of this knowledge of other people’s beliefs and the collection, distribution, and storage thereof, we have effectively digitized our collective consciousness as a species.
Amazing, is it not? Yet however incredible it may be, it also poses a great struggle for humanity. Are we going to allow ourselves to become robots, biological computers that live inside this digitized world, valued only as pieces of the collective machine, or are we going to realize that there are some parts of life that cannot – or perhaps should not – be calculated into certain desirable or undesirable traits?
Everyday I become more aware of an incredibly mechanized world. Human beings are not valued for the people they are. They are not valued for the love they can give and receive. They are not valued for their smiles, their frowns, or their tears. Humans are valued as cogs – a direct result of the separation from human kind and animal kind. I’m more sensitive to this subject since having graduated only five months ago; there are 50% of us newly grads that remain unemployed. But that’s not the even the bad part – we equate unemployment to failure. We equate not working to being a worthless human being. There is something horribly wrong going on here.
Just how did humanity develop such a contrived, cold, and utilitarian view on the importance of the human being? The culprit, as I’ve written many times, is the idea that we are separate beings.
Let’s start with the fundamental level of separation: language. When man learned to speak, he immediately had to learn to differentiate thereafter. And when I say, “speak,” I don’t mean with words or symbols you and I recognize today – I mean the most banal, guttural sounds an animal can make. I won’t stop there, either. All animals have some concept of self versus not self – a lion kills to remain alive, a dog barks to protect its territory, and a rabbit runs to save its life. However, animals did not develop a sophisticated means of articulation of ideas, thoughts, or feelings. We did. And so, language was born from a sea of ideas in which viewed the world as outside our own self.
Nature is not the culprit here – the mind is. When we learned how to form our sounds into distinct patterns and syllables, we only further supported our concepts of "this versus that." In other words, language is a direct reflection of our preconceived notion that everything is separate. This is a fallacy. Nothing is actually separate from one another. A rock is composed of the same elements you and I were born from. The real problem, then, is not nature but our belief that our concepts are in fact reality.
Don’t believe me? Mentally break down any item you see before you (let’s say, a CD). Crash it into pieces. Where did the CD go? Two answers are plausible here: A, the CD is now in pieces; B, the CD has become bits of plastic. Each is true. How is that possible? Continue breaking the pieces until they have become a fine powder before you. Where did the CD go? Again, different answers are plausible: A, the CD is now millions of tiny pieces; B, the CD has become powder. Continue breaking the millions of pieces into smaller pieces until you have nothing but separated atoms before you. Now, where did the CD go?
This isn’t a trick question; anything you say in response is true. The trick, however, is in the multiplicities of the response. How can there be so many true answers to the one question? The answer is simple: our concepts create bubbles of reality in which we can define things categorically and definitely. The reality, however, is that it is undeniably infinite stuff before us. The CD isn’t a CD until you call it a CD. The CD is simply the same stuff we and the Earth and the stars are made out of. It was our concepts, calculations, and manipulations of nature that allowed us to create a “piece of reality” – a CD – which does a distinct thing that we have allowed it to do – play music. The reality is much simpler than our means of defining things – there is no CD at all, only the one we differentiate inside our minds.
Fast forward to today. Language was the foundation of the development of religion, ethics, morality, philosophy, government, and Greco-Roman economics. The separation of you and I created the belief that you were out to get what I have – competition. This sense of needing to beat a fellow human in skill and work ethic furthered the distinction of a successful man versus an unsuccessful man, where the latter may as well give life completely. I recognize I am simplifying an otherwise greatly complicated system, where there is an odd split between debt-based economies and gift-based ones – the idea of debt and property isn’t intrinsic within humanity; there were and still are many tribes of people who view the world in a collective consciousness where their economics are based off of how much you can give to one another rather than how much you can accumulate. Nonetheless, the subject can be simplified for practicality – the fundamental structure of humanity’s way of thinking is the idea of self versus not self, therefore we can see all problems we face now as a symptom of the ultimate forgotten truth that there is in fact no separation at all.
This all leads back to the original prompt: we have turned ourselves into cogs. If the cog does not function properly or doesn’t please us enough, we toss it into the trash pile and ignore it. Ever passed a homeless person and not notice he or she is there? We are trained to not feel remorse for those less fortunate than us. Now, I’m not saying wealthy people placed poor people on the streets directly and intently. I am saying, however, that it is symptom of the underlying problem, that we think they are where they are because they aren’t a properly function cog of society. Drug addict, drunk, laid-off lazy worker – these are just excuses for us not wanting to face the truth.
We have placed the importance of the human being directly on what he can do. If he can’t do anything, he may as well not exist at all. It doesn’t matter if he suffers either; if he can’t preform the task given to him that will pay for food, then he is forgotten with two words, “You’re fired.” From a business perspective, this makes perfect sense, but that’s the very problem. Why are we thinking like a utilitarian machine? What happened to the warmth of being a human being? And maybe this problem isn’t a new one, just that I’m becoming more and more aware of it. In either case, shouldn’t humanity – being as smart and evolved as we are – do something about the indignity we put other humans through? When will we understand that wealth means nothing at all?
Money is nothing more than the agreement of a means of trade, but now it’s evolved to the end of trade as well. We work to accumulate money and wealth, putting ourselves through great stress to get this phantom called security. “If I had a million dollars, then I could do what I want.” We’re effectively outsourcing happiness to future wealth, as if we can buy it with the giant sum of digitized cash sitting in a bank account. This is the danger of separation. We start to believe that we are not worth anything if we have no wealth or prosperity to show for it. Why can’t a human being just be? What’s wrong with that?
I’ll conclude this short article with a bit I heard at a comedy joint not long ago, one that was half serious and half a joke. This comedian asked a very simple question: what would happen if nobody, absolutely nobody, went to work at 9:00AM? Nothing would happen. Work would start when people got there. And that’s the reality of our situation; if nobody went to work tomorrow, would we all suddenly die? Okay, in the case of safety hazards for people – power plants exploding, for example – it may be detrimental for some, but suppose we’re not talking about those types of jobs. What if nobody went to work at Starbucks? Or Target? Or the White House? Would we all just fall down and die? No. If nobody did any work, nothing would happen. Nothing at all.
We're human beings, not human cogs. Once we start acting like living, breathing, infinitely unique and constantly changing beings, then our problems will start to take care of themselves. True progress is not made through tinkering with our current systems of thought, government, or economics. True progress is a natural phenomena, one that we don't realize is taking place. Amidst all the frustrating politics and frightening insecurities of our economic infrastructure is a tidal wave of human evolution. All of these problems aren't problems that can be fixed; they are tell-tale signs of fundamental shifts in our way of thinking and living. The real challenge is enduring the growing pains well enough to learn that we aren't human cogs. We're human beings.