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Weekly Commentary - December 9, 2019

By projecting our inaction to the world, we contribute to the reduction of the world

I recently learned, while reading a book written by James Mallon, that the consequence of inaction is not just to allow a problem to get worse or an adverse situation to get out of control. The consequence goes beyond the loss of goods, money, opportunities or health. The worst consequence of inaction is something much deeper.

According to Mallon (and we agree), the consequence of inaction is accepting the external world as it is and, at the same time, separating our inner reality from that outer reality. In other words, when we project our impotence to the world, we contribute to making the shared world in which we live smaller and, in fact, more chaotic.

But, if we are honest with ourselves (a rarity in our times), we must admit that all of us project our internal conflicts in the outside world, assuming that the problem is "out there" and not within us and, on that basis, we decide to do nothing, believing that there is nothing we can do. 

Let me share a couple of examples to illustrate this situation.

A few days ago, a person told me that two young children he knows found a photograph, clearly already ruined, on the floor outside their school.

For fun, they drew mustaches and lines on the face of the man who appeared in the picture, a man they didn't recognize. And then, to increase the fun, they left the photograph in a tree away from school, but visible to other students.

The next day, upon returning to their classroom, both children were brought before the school principal, whom they had to listen to for long minutes while the principal accused them of having disrespected a former teacher of the establishment. For that lack of respect, the children were sanctioned.

Obviously, the children knew nothing about the former teacher. They only found an old and abandoned photograph. And, clearly, the problem with the former teacher was in the mind of the director of the school, who projected his problems to the children. The director's inability to act according to the situation, that is, his inaction, increased the negativity of the situation.

And I personally know the case of an 11-year-old girl at a school near Denver who was arrested by police officers, handcuffed and taken to a patrol car after a teacher called the police to report the girl for "destruction" of an object inside the school.

The only thing the girl had done was to put her hand on the teacher's desk and, in doing so, break a chocolate bar that the teacher had there. Again, the inability of the teacher to act appropriately led her to project her problems and her helplessness over a clearly innocent girl.

The examples could be multiplied, but it’s not necessary. It is clear that our inability to detach from our own internal inability leads us to project a chaotic inaction towards the world, fostering negativity instead of a future of co-creation and coevolution.

The uncertainty of the future used as an excuse to ignore the future

Quite often, when I talk about the future, someone says that, because the future does not exist, we should not worry about the future, thus using our total lack of certainty about the future as an excuse to ignore and even disregard that future. However, it is increasingly clear that the future is the only thing that truly exists.

Those who affirm that attention should only be paid to the present because the past is no longer and the future is not yet (that is, neither one nor the other exist) asks us to hold on to an ephemeral transition, always in motion, to which we allocate some type of entity even though it only serves as a bridge between two (supposedly) non-existent elements. 

And those who, with greater care, remind us that we should not confuse the present with the now, since the now includes a psychological dimension and, therefore, consciousness, even so, they do not explain how focusing on the now results more beneficial than creating (or, better yet, co-creating) a future.

One could say that the two main reasons to hold on to the present are the desire for nothing to change (as generally desire those to whom life constantly smiles) or the fatalistic belief that, even if everything is going wrong, nothing will change because neither ourselves nor someone else can generate any change.

But neither the repetition of the present ad infinitum nor the perpetuation of the past is possible or advisable at a time of profound, unthinkable, unforeseen, global, and irreversible changes. In fact, those who fill their entire present with their past leave no room for the future and, therefore, live in smaller and smaller worlds.

Therefore, it could be said that those who say that the future cannot be known say it because they are locked in the present or, worse, they were enslaved by the past. Without knowing it and without having reflected on the subject, they generalize their limitations and use that generalization as the basis for disregarding their future.

What they say does not exist (the future) is what could "save" them (to put it in some way), and not for some kind of technological advancement or scientific discovery, but for the future itself, precisely because, being undetermined, it generates an existential uneasiness that, well understood, shakes us, removes us from our confinement and, if we are allowed to say it, makes us transcendental by forcing us outside ourselves.

But there is a serious problem: the future is incompatible with narcissism. Narcissus (the one from the famous myth) just wanted to see his undistorted image and he was so attached to his self-image that he preferred death before seeing a different image of himself. But, the myth says, not even death was liberating for him. 

In fact, more existential bravery and personal maturity are needed to open the mind, heart and will to the future, to ambiguity, to indeterminacy than the forces necessary to (supposedly) perpetuate the narcissistic past. 

The inability to dialogue ruins the present and destroys the future

For reasons related of my work, recently I had to go to the bank where I have the accounts of my business to get a certification indicating that the accounts of my business are really mine. In the past, that simple procedure was completed in a few minutes. But this time, things were very different.

I explained my request to the bank representative and his response was: “If you need the direct deposit form, you have to request it from the other company. We do not have it.”

I told the representative that I never, at any time, mentioned anything about any direct deposit form. And I asked again for a document certifying that my business account in that bank was mine.

The representative then told me that they do not give advice on job applications and that there are many places where they can help me find a job. I told him then that I was not looking for a job and that all I wanted was a certification of my account in that bank.

His next answer was that to pay state taxes I had to contact the state tax office. I mentioned that I didn't say anything about state taxes and that my request was simple: I need to verify that my account is mine. Nothing else. I then gave him my ID asked him to use his computer to see my account.

To facilitate the process, I also gave him my business credit card (issued by that bank) and my business account check that I opened there more than two decades ago. The representative began searching and searching. And then he called someone telling the other person on the phone that I was asking for information from an account he couldn't find. 

I interrupted him and, firmly reflecting my discomfort, I indicated that I had not requested any information from any account, much less from my own account, because I already have that information. And once again I explained that all I wanted was a certificate issued by the bank indicating that my account was mine, as that same bank had already done before.

A ridiculous smile and an aggravating silence dispelled any doubt about the inability of that person to maintain a fairly reasonable and intelligent dialogue. And, incidentally, it was no use talking to the assistant manager, the manager or the regional manager of the bank. They all provided unacceptable excuses and, at the end, did absolutely nothing. 

The inability to dialogue, the aggressive ignorance, the constant prejudice that leads to assume that whoever asks a question is ignorant (instead of admitting our own ignorance and learning in the process) not only prevents any dialogue, but it also corrodes and destroys, with its ridiculous smiles, all vestiges of civilization and humanity. 

When a common point for meeting and understanding disappears, when we only listen to ourselves and we no longer listen to logos (as Heraclitus asked), little, if anything, is left of being human.

Our closed minds reduce our world to a very small world

I recently met a young man who shared with me his serious personal problems, perhaps only to have someone listening to him because at no time he asked for help. During his monologue, he said that "What happens to me must be normal because it happens to all the men I know."

The young man explained that his father and his uncles had similar problems (conflictive relationships, job instability, addictions), as his grandfather had had them before and as his co-workers and his friends do. Therefore, he thought that "if the same thing happens to them" these problems are "normal" and, in fact, are not problems at all.

The issue is that his many undeniably self-destructive behaviors are affecting him, his close family, and his extended family. But in the world in which this young man lives ("world" in the sense of interpersonal connections and shared and accepted ideas and beliefs), these self-destructive behaviors are so prevalent that they are seen as "normal."

This poor person is trapped inside his own world (literally). He not only rationalized his situation by justifying it in the oldest possible way ("Everyone does the same"), but he was unable to see the limits of his world and, therefore, to imagine beneficial alternatives for him and his family beyond that small world.

But let's be honest: we are all locked inside our small worlds. "It’s a small world after all " endlessly repeats one of the rides at Disney World. And, thanks to social networks and the omnipresence of smartphones, that “world” is getting smaller and smaller.

We accept as "normal" something we see every day simply because we see it every day, ignoring the historical, cultural, social, political, and ideological origins of that "normality."

And although that "normality" is as self-destructive to the life of the planet as the addiction that destroys every day the life of the young man mentioned above, we accept our global destructive behavior as "normal."

In fact, we thus normalize violence, injustice, exploitation and ignorance and then we give them "acceptable" names, such as "law and order", "justice", "work," and "education". Because that is the world we live in; we believe that it is normal and that there are no alternatives.

If the man with whom I spoke doesn’t change his behavior, in a short time he will lose everything, even perhaps his life. However, if he changes his behavior (with the professional help needed and in support of those who want to help him), he will probably save his life and his future.

On a global level, if we continue to do what we are doing, planetary ecocide will be a reality. And if we change our behavior (with the help of the great minds and hearts who want to help us), even so, there are no guarantees that we can save our future.

The Universe may benefit from the disappearance of our self-destructive and immature humanity. But the Universe could also benefit from a truly human humanity.

“I don’t have time for the future”

During a recent informal meeting with a business expert, in the context of a conversation about new community projects, this person told me "I don't have time for the future". And, with a kind smile and body expression, he ended the conversation.

The expression “I don't have time for the future” took me by surprise, because (without assuming for a moment I know what that means) it gave me the impression that the person who said it did not understand what he was really saying.

For example, is it really possible to "have" time in the same way that you “have” a car, or a house, or money in the bank? Certainly not, since time is not a “thing” we "control" or accumulate (unfortunately for us) as we do with strictly material elements designed for consumption or to facilitate consumption.

In addition, "not having time" generally means a life so busy (though not necessarily successful or happy) that it no longer leaves room for anything else, even for the future. But the paradox is that the future is where we will spend the rest of our life, regardless of the duration of that life.

Was this person saying he didn't have time for his own future life? He might not admit it, but that is what I thought was hiding behind his expression.

But if you don't have time for the future, why do you have time for? The only options are the past or the present. But the past already happened and, for that reason, it no longer exists, or it only exists as a memory. So, the only way to devote time to the past is to remember it or, in the worst case, trying to revive it or recreate it in the present.

Is the present then what fills our time so much that it leaves us no time for the future? But the present is a fleeting moment that immediately becomes the past. So how can we give time to something that as soon as we look at it ceases to be what it is?

Obviously, I do not think that the person with whom I spoke thought about having a philosophical debate about the essence of time or about the impact of temporality on humans (if one can really talk about "impact").

I think, however, that person was looking to express something more pragmatic: his future has no place for something other than the future that this person already had in mind. And that "future," which could best be described as a "perpetual continuity of the past," was then closed to any other alternative.

In short, "not having time for the future" seems to mean something like "being so caught up in everyday life that we see everything as 'things' and that we no longer see anything transcendental." If so, what we are saying is that we forget that humans, precisely because we are human, are possibility, project.

To be human is to be future.

The dispute is not between reality and fantasy, but between meaning and nonsense

For many years, in the context of my studies in philosophy, theology and comparative religions, I focused on understanding the difference between reality and fantasy, between what it is and what it seems to be, between what is present and what appears. And although those efforts were sincere and academically valid, and some results were achieved, they were also unsatisfactory.

The reason is quite simple: distinguishing between reality and fantasy means being predisposed to decide and express which is which, which in turn means accepting a certain scale of values in which the real, precisely because it is real, deserves greater attention and appreciation than the fantastic.

If we all lived all the time within what we accept as real, we would not only be slaves of that reality, but we would not even know that we are slaves and, therefore, we would do nothing to free ourselves. In that sense, imagination (not to be fully identified with fantasy) has a liberating effect.

Therefore, looking for the difference between illusion and reality is, in short, looking for that element or idea that serves as a point of support to overcome both, without getting rid of any, but keeping them in a constant dynamic interaction of unresolved ambiguity. Said with an example: virtual reality is no less real than real reality simply because it is virtual.

But, assuming that the old dichotomy between reality and fantasy can be overcome (and everything we now call "artificial" or "virtual" invites us to do so), what lies beyond that dichotomy? What lives in the center of the unresolved ambiguity that is presented as such and that does not want or seek to be resolved or overcome?

Perhaps the issue, then, is not what is real and what only seems to be, but what makes sense and what does not. But then we enter a dangerous area: if we want to know if something makes sense, we must first define the meaning of meaning, which can lead us to an infinite regression in which we will never find a primordial turtle that will serve us as a solid foundation.

In other words, all meaning is, as far as we can know or imagine it, contextually and historically determined. Laws regulating vehicle traffic only make sense in a context of mass use of trucks and cars. In the same way, the laws that in the Middle Ages regulated the entry of horses into cities now make no sense.

And what we say about the laws can be applied to almost human activity: education, justice, government, religion. All these activities make sense (or seem to have it) in a certain context or paradigm. But what happens when that paradigm disappears, and a new reality emerges?

An obvious and widely spread response is to hold on to the present and the past as the source and basis of meaning. But as Milton and Proust taught us, paradise and time are already lost. Holding on to them is nonsense.

We live in such a meaningless world that we even want to make sense of nonsense

We live in an interesting time when, because nothing makes sense, no narrative is acceptable to us and no explanation convinces us, we seek to make sense of nonsense, without even becoming aware of the paradoxical and contradictory nature of that action.

It is clear that our uncultured culture, our uncivilized civilization, our dying planet, are in crisis. The crisis is evident in two undeniable facts: we repeat again and again the same behaviors and solutions waiting for different results that will never come (the classic definition of insanity) and even experts can’t find true and lasting solutions.

In that context, nothing makes sense. And nothing makes sense because trust in the institutions, organizations and people that previously generated and imparted meaning has been lost. Let's see explore some alternatives of people and professions we used to trust. 

The banks that are supposed to be there to protect our money, wasted it and lost it, as it was seen in the economic recession of 2008 (not yet fully overcome). And doctors, who are supposed to be cure us, prescribe "medications" that make us addicted.

Confidence in politicians has not existed for a long time (unless blind idolatry is confused with confidence). We cannot trust politicians nor can we trust priests, as evidenced by numerous cases of very serious expressions of immoral misconduct.

In the past, scientists could be trusted, but now, although there are still many excellent scientists, it is also indisputable that many of the scientific "studies" are not such, but in reality they are propagandistic expressions paid by corporations only interested in "science" to boost their own business and to deter competitor’s businesses. 

So, who can you trust? Certainly not the media, which even with good and noble intentions distort and fragment reality. And we can’t trust social networks, whose only function is to enhance the negative elements of our personality to generate profit (of money and data) for large corporations.

Can we trust teachers? It is doubtful, since there are few schools where teachers reflect the demographic situation and socio-economic life of their students. And the classroom is no longer the center of the learning experience. In fact, in many cases, classrooms hinder learning. The teacher is no longer the only one with knowledge. 

What about parents? Can we trust parents? In this time of rapid, profound, unexpected and irreversible changes, the traditions and experiences of our parents are of little help and of great hindrance to the children. For that reason, and because the generation gap is now an abyss, trust in parents has been greatly eroded.

God? No: he/she no longer satisfies us and is farther and farther away. Ourselves? The mental health epidemic shows that in practice we cannot trust even ourselves. So, what can we do? After all, it makes no sense to look for sense in meaninglessness. We have embraced nihilism so much that now even presides over us.

But, as Holderlin said, "Where the danger is, the saving power also grows."

We are witnessing the end of education and we still don’t know how to react

If we really open our minds, hearts and will and just see reality instead of only seeing and perpetuating our ideology, if we let the future emerge instead of insisting on living inside an echo chamber, then we would see that we are witnessing the end of education. And, whether we accept it or not, we don't know how to react.

A recent article by Rodrigo Assael published on the Educación Futura site highlights something that should be obvious: education is no longer preparing us for the future. In fact (we say), maybe it never did it. Perhaps education was and is only the necessary level of domestication to perpetuate the present.

According to Assael, the Fourth Revolution (artificial intelligence, biotechnology, 3D printing, 5G network, Internet of Things, and quantum computing) has made the current educational system (which still prepares workers and employees for repetitive, mechanical work, specialized or a lifetime) obsolete and outdated. 

In other words, current education prepares good workers for the First Industrial revolution two centuries ago. But we are now in the Fourth Revolution (or in the fourth stage of the same revolution, if you prefer.) 

And in this new revolution, education (understood as the transfer of information in a formal context controlled by teachers or professors) is coming to an end. It remains to be determined how long the agony will be or if the end will be anticipated or sudden. Perhaps, in the post-truth and deep fakes era, no one will cry for the death of education.

Paraphrasing Nietzsche, education is dead, and we have killed her. Or almost, because there are still certain elements of post-education hope because of the actions of those who know, understand, feel, and live that the future is not continuity of the past.

Consider, for example, the case of BR, a young woman from Argentina who at 13 completed her secondary studies online at a school in the United States and then enrolled in a nationally accredited university to study mathematics.

None of that was to the liking of the local school district that refused to accept BR studies and wanted to force her to return to traditional school and to begin therapy sessions for having studied alone. But it all ended in a good way when a local court ruled against the measures of the school district.

The judges forced the local district to accept BR's studies and argued that the girl, although she sought a “heterodox educational solution” to her desire to study, had to do so because that was the only way in which “she could exercise her right to educate herself ”, something that “the inefficiency of the educational system” didn’t offer her.

There are already hundreds of thousands of and perhaps millions of young people like BR who, tired of their dying education, create their own solutions without waiting for adults to act. To those adults who still confuse education with straitjackets, young people respond as Greta recently did: How do you dare!

How absurd is to assume that the absurdity is abnormal!

Recently, I decided to make the monthly payment of my credit card by phone (I was not near a computer at that time), and, to complete that task, I had to digitally enter numerous personal information, including part of my credit card number, and my date of birth, telephone and zip code. But that was not enough to make the payment. 

After entering all the requested information, the system automatically transferred me to a human operator (I assume he was human) who asked me to repeat all the previous information and then asked me to spell my full name and verify my email and my phone number. I did so and his next question was to explain the reason for the call.

I explained that I was calling to make a payment on my credit card. I remembered that I had to make the payment and, because I didn’t have access to a computer, I decided to call. The representative then asked me to confirm the last four digits of the bank account that I was going to use for the payment. I confirmed the digits and then he said:

"I'm sorry, but we can't complete the transaction because we can't verify your identity." And that was the end of the conversation with that person, but not the end of my internal dialogue about what just happened.

I would have liked to ask him how it was possible that after answering all the questions they asked me and after they themselves verified that the answers were valid, they still could not determine that I am really me. What more they wanted from me, a sample of my DNA?

Perhaps the level of skepticism about my identity was so high for the customer service representative of this company that he could not have been convinced of my identity unless an angelic being with a thunderous voice appeared with the good news that I am me.

And if the angelic being was not available, perhaps an alien descending from his spaceship could do that job.

Another question also came to my mind: how many people call the credit card company and say they want to pay my card? And how many people (including me) are told that this transaction cannot be completed, even after having answered all security and identification questions truthfully?

If there is someone who impersonates me to pay my debts, I would like to know it so as not to interfere with that person's noble task, but I doubt anyone will do it. In fact, I am sure that the only person who, by phone or online, pays my debts is me. Otherwise, I would not have those debts.

But there is still another problem, in my opinion even more absurd and worrying. Before interrupting the conversation, the customer service representative told me that the transaction could not be carried out "to protect your security", that is, my security. But "my security" is useless if it’s used against me.

How much good information and opportunities did we throw away due to our ignorance?

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of parents about the (relative) importance of college education and, at the end of the meeting, a mother approached me indicating that she had a question.

The mother contextualized her question by saying that her daughter was already close to finishing high school, with intentions to continue studying. "Is that why she always gets so many letters from universities?" asked the mother. "Yes," I replied.

“Because I didn't know it, every time one of those letters arrives, I throw it away. Since I don't understand what those letters say, I thought my daughter didn't need them,” the mother explained.

I felt the urge to kneel on the ground, extend my arms, move my head back and, under a black storm cloud and heavy downpour, shout "Nooooo!" for several minutes.

I did nothing. Instead, I said, “Some of those letters may be worth several thousand dollars to your daughter. From now on, every time you reach a letter, give it to him. She will know what to do.”

But the truth is that, throughout our lives, each of us receives valuable information or unmissable opportunities that we "throw in the trash" because of our own ignorance, be a real ignorance or, worse, self-imposed and consciously repeated ignorance so that the truth does not threaten or change our little world.

In fact, I am absolutely sure that I myself have thrown it away, certainly even without knowing it or without becoming aware of it, information and opportunities that, if properly activated, could have been of great benefit to me and, even more important, for those around me.

(Incidentally, I learned a long time ago that the best opportunities I receive are not for me or just for me, but to be shared with others.)

In a sense, it is better not knowing that, due to our ignorance, good information was lost or a good opportunity no longer exists, because becoming aware of the consequences of our ignorance would mean becoming aware of our ignorance and, therefore, ignorance no longer would serve us as an excuse.

But sooner or later, by those turns of life, we reach a point where we understand that we have wasted information and opportunities, in some cases unrepeatable and of high quality, simply because we prefer to cling to our ignorance (which we call “common sense”,  “tradition”, and “education”, among other many names) than to open our mind and heart to a new reality.

We may need to adopt the habit of assuming that every message that comes our way is a message for us or for someone close to us. To think what that message may be is, therefore, to resist ignorance. As Socrates said, wisdom is knowing our ignorance. 

Two millennia ago, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) taught in his speech in Athens that what God really forgives is our ignorance. Therefore, with that forgiveness already received, do not discard the next message that comes to you.

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