There is a strange aspect of modern humans (by which I mean “post WW2 humans”): In democratic societies, in which things have been improved to a point where you’d think
all we have to do now is to continue on this path and gradually make things better
people find themselves paralyzed, stumped as it were, by the sheer weight of an awareness of our mortality not as individuals, but as entire nations.
During the Cold War, this was manifested as the threat of nuclear war. Nowadays, it’s asteroids, or some random epidemic such as Ebola, but the fear is there that
all the work that you might put into making small improvements over a lifetime can come to nothing.
This fear is so pervasive as to make it (semantically) inappropriate to say “it may come to nothing” since we are so sure that it will come to nothing when some entity, some body, some organisation, some microorganism (if we’re talking about a virus), when some physical object in outer space happens to hit us, when the temperatures rise and create extremely severe weather events.
So then, the question becomes “Why bother?”
As long as natural disasters, diseases or wars have tended to be quite small in terms of their impact: 5 people in a town, 10,000 people in a bigger city and so on, when the number of victims stops at that (high number if you live there, but pretty low if you live elsewhere) you can still hope.
However, when the threat is that of complete annihilation, when we’re talking about modern war in a way that is easily imaginable post-Hiroshima, at this point we feel that it is no longer wise to bet on it not happening (hence the incredible appeal enjoyed by end-of-the-world religions/cults/movies/TV series).
So everybody is living from hand to mouth, from today until tomorrow.
In turn, this means that we give up on making the small improvements we could make because we are afraid.
Even now, when the Cold War has ended, we have these small crises which are hyped up as existential crises and their main effect on us is not so much to trigger a certain kind of behaviour (i.e., make us act in a certain manner, such as buying security-related equipment, guns etc.); rather
these very real (albeit inflated) threats serve to block our actions and keep us stuck in the ruts of the path we are currently walking.
This makes any small change-into-Good appear superfluous, out-of-touch with reality, gratuitous in the face of this massive potential for disaster just around the corner.
Here I see a very good explanation for our laziness, our inertia, our inability to change.
It is certainly true that the great majority of people are not doing much. However, this is not because people are by their nature lazy or stupid.
No, this happens because people are paralysed
- into inaction,
- into keeping to the path they’re currently walking,
- into making a circle around the wagons and shooting at anything that seems to threaten the current status.
[Note: By “we” I mean those of us living the good life, the comfortable life. These observations do not apply to those too busy carrying water from the well located 2 km away from the village]
The whole world feels like it may come crushing on our heads at any time, so why buy a helmet?
Why bother with small changes, when it could all end up in a big cloud of smoke?
Some people think that this would result in mass suicide, but that is not what we see because the survival instinct is strong enough in most people to guarantee our ability to continue living and only few would succumb to the anomie feeling, to the feeling of futility of going on with our lives.
Of course, more will succumb in a psychological sense and more will experience depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, self-destructive behaviour and so on.
For many of us the most visible effect is that we’re inhibited from taking action, from attempting small changes in our lives and in the world around us because we’re saving our energy for the big trial ahead which
- we don’t believe we are likely to survive, but
- we are certain that the small changes-into-Good (which we could otherwise achieve right now) would definitely not survive.
So that’s why we just keep on shuffling through life and through this world.
Of course, there are some brave or lucky souls who can break through: Those who are fortunate enough to be endowed perhaps with the right genes to display fortitude and resist this onslaught of fear. Fear not of actual things, but rather expressed as a vague feeling that things will turn out really bad (e.g., World War 3).
What is really demoralizing is the knowledge that (as long as this situation continues) things actually get worse as the great mass of people is acting as a huge bundle of inertia, resisting any attempt to change (not because of our intrinsic conservative values, but rather) because
we don’t see any meaning which can be projected into the future other than conserving one’s energy for the real test to come.
This has happened for so many years now that we are actually worse off than if we’d had the psychological makeup of incurable optimists (i.e., people who keep on plunging ahead no matter what).
A minority of people have this personality, this set of traits to press ahead in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but the great majority don’t have it and then we end up being where we are:
in the ruts of a path which is digging itself deeper and deeper into the ground with no horizon to speak of
despite our (very real) potential to achieve improvements, small changes-into-Good, which would take years to materialize, which would require the concerted efforts of millions, especially in the initial stages before this movement gathers momentum.
This is where we are right now, with this kaizen (Change-into-Good 改善) proposal:
We are at a point where we cannot guarantee the momentum, since we don’t have enough mass behind it,
because hope is not as strong a feeling as fear,
because trust is much more risky (in evolutionary terms) than suspicion,
This is another self-fulfilling prophecy, in the end.