The World Isn't as Bad as It Seems
Our perception of the world is distorted by an inescapable confluence of forces that present the world as a far more toxic, dangerous, and apocalyptic place than it actually is.
I'm here to talk about why.
Four factors are working against us:
These factors are like the components of a lens. We all view the world through lenses. And like glasses, or scopes, lenses distort how you see the world, for better or for worse.
The most common lens? The illuminated rectangle you're reading this on.
It all starts with the source of the problem, which, is the same as the source of most of our problems. Us.
A Darwinian mashup of Survivor meets The Bachelor/ette.
The objectives are simple:
Our ancestors have honed us to play this game for millennia.
To Stay Alive - just avoid the stuff that kills you.
Our ancestors survived because they were the ones who paid the most attention to danger, and subsequently prepared for it, avoided it, or straight up destroyed it.
Resulting in us, the descendants of the people who were the most anxious, afraid, and angry. 🙃 Quite the inheritance.
Speaking of inheritance, objective 2, Make Babies. You're going to need to find a mate. How do you do that? To sum it up in a single word, status. Prove you can survive and provide.
Today, we have an easy way to measure status.
Now, just Repeat.
If you can avoid dying, and stack that cash, repeating it shouldn't be an issue. So long as you’re in the tribe. If you get kicked out of the tribe it's pretty hard to stay alive. It's really hard to make babies.
So, how do you stay in the tribe?
Fairly easy, do things that help other people stay alive and make babies. Beyond that, just avoid getting people worked up, freaked out, or pissed off. You know, read the room.
Which is another trait we inherited - a predisposition to being very sensitive to feedback.
Most of us anyway...
Did you know that about 1% of the population are considered psychopaths?
That's a fun fact isn't it?
Remember that, we'll come back to it.
All of this means that one of the most important skills we can have as a member of the tribe is effective communication. Over time whole career fields were created whose whole deal is just to communicate things.
Things that were changing.
Things that were new.
Over time the mediums have changed, but the intent has remained the same.
🔥 🔔 📣 📰 📻 📺 🖥️ 📱
Until recently, when The News met capitalism.
Well... to be more accurate, money didn't corrupt the news. People have been paying for information for centuries. The corruption started when the people consuming the news stopped paying for it.
The Attention Economy
For this next section, it helps to understand how the advertising industry works.
How Modern Advertising Works:
How do you grow your audience reach and frequency? You publish the stuff people are hardwired to pay attention to.
You publish the stuff that already resonates with our survival instincts.
Stuff that makes us anxious, afraid, and angry.
Our attunement to this kind of content has been shaped by evolution. It helped us survive when danger was an infrequent and incredibly urgent thing. The pace of life thousands of years ago was slower, our ancestors would hear about danger maybe a few times a day. There would be stretches where they wouldn't hear about danger for days or weeks at a time.
The media has highjacked that sensitivity, cranked it to 11, and publishes 24/7. A perpetual IV drip of super stimuli we find almost impossible to ignore.
From mere exaggeration to pure fabrication, we're getting worse…
Social media was supposed to free us from this trap of "centralized" news. Democratized content, for the people, by the people!
Just... not all of the people.
A common rule of social media is the 90-9-1 Rule
90% of users almost never post - they consume, but don't contribute.
9% of users occasionally contribute.
1% of users account for vast majority of social media content.
Of this 1%, some are intrinsically motivated. Most are not.
(In fact, many aren't even real*.)
Consider this? How do you feel when you post something that makes other people anxious, afraid, or angry? You'd probably consider editing, amending, or even removing your post.
Most of us are not made happy by worrying, scaring, or angering others. Most of us, when we receive negative feedback, will feel sad, ashamed, anxious ,or afraid in our own right.
But not all of us.
People who don't give a 💩 about what other people think.
Psychopaths, for example:
Which, as you may remember, make up about 1% of the population.
The same percentage as those who create most social media content. That's interesting isn't it?
I'm not saying all people who frequently use social media are psychopaths. But I am willing to bet that the occurrence of psychopathy in the most active users of social media is significantly higher than it is in the general population.
An egocentric person doesn't care if they are receiving positive or negative attention. They just want attention.
What happens when they post something that scares, worries, or angers others?
They get psyched.
Their post is hitting all of our evolutionary hot spots, which causes us to react, so engagement is high. High engagement means more money, so naturally it's promoted further.
It starts to "trend" and now others hop aboard the hype train.
Other media outlets see it's getting attention, so they'll get engagement (aka money) just by covering it. Their coverage prompts even more social media banter.
The cycle continues, creating a negative media uroboros.
A uroboros that turns 😡 into 💰.
The negativity snowballs - what started as a small percentage of the population (~1%) incentivized to "report" (or make up) something that would get a rise out of people is now the dominant way we view the world!!
These lenses, coupled with our own evolutionary wiring, lead us to believing the world is this absolute garbage heap.
Despite the fact that it is, statistically and objectively, the best time there has ever been to be a human.
Doesn't feel that way, does it?
Beyond that - even if you manage to cut yourself off from all this mentally toxic exposure, you can't fully escape it. Because these are the same lenses everyone around you is using to view the world.
Your family, friends, colleagues... people creating other media; movies, music, Tv, podcasts, books, and video games. It's persistent, it's insidious, it's everywhere.
If you want to interact with other people, its grasp is inescapable.
So long as there is money to be made, the world will be constantly distorted to focus on the dumpster fires and train wrecks.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Nothing ever is. Is it getting better? For the most part, yeah. Is it better now than it's ever been? Absolutely. That's worth pausing and reflecting on from time to time.
Step away from the screen.
Take off your headphones.
Ignore, for a moment, the opinion of others.
Experience the world directly through your own senses.
What is the difference in the world you experience yourself, and the one you perceive through a lens?
What we see in our screens isn't a realistic depiction of the world. It's a distorted looking glass that finds and focuses on the worst the world has to offer. Simply because we've evolved to pay attention to it.
Attention = Money
Money = Status
Status = Survival and Reproduction
Now knowing this I hope you can give yourself permission to opt out of this artificial version of the world. To disconnect, even if only momentarily, and put down the unnecessary stress the world forces on to you.
We can choose to be happier. To be less worried. Less anxious. Less afraid. Less angry.
I’m not saying there isn’t anything wrong and we shouldn’t be concerned about things. In fact, humanity’s ability to direct its dissatisfaction at a problem and solve it is what has propelled us this far.
It is incredibly important to talk about the things that are wrong with the world, so we can continue the vital working of improving it. That said, it doesn’t have to be all consuming. You can work on making the world a better place without constantly dwelling on the things that are wrong.
PS - If you’d like to know the solutions to this problem that work for me, let me know.
While I think everyone needs to find the answers that work specifically for them, I’d be happy to share my solutions, maybe in a follow up video or article, in the hopes that they help you find yours.
References and Additional Reading
American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/03/ce-corner-psychopathy
The Attention Economy
Berkeley Economic Review: https://econreview.berkeley.edu/paying-attention-the-attention-economy
Participation Inequality (The 90-9-1 Rule)
Nielsen Norman Group: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/participation-inequality
How Many Social Media Users Are Bots?
Imperva 2023 Bad Bots Report: https://www.imperva.com/resources/reports/2023-Imperva-Bad-Bot-Report.pdf
Graphs - ℅ Our World In Data
Life Expectancy: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/life-expectancy
Access to Healthcare: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/healthcare-access-and-quality-index?tab=chart
Gender Wage Gap: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/gender-wage-gap-oecd