Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Pursuit of Power

”Power” may be the most aggressive and dangerous concept in world history. Certainly, the pursuit of power has led us to countless devastating events, including the one we are witnessing today in Ukraine. Is such behavior, if only carried to the extreme periodically, inevitable? Is peace the exception?

The biological sciences can shed much light on human behavior. It is necessary to understand that Homo sapiens is an animal species, subject to the genetic code that has “advanced” us to the pinnacle of social organization, and supremacy over other species. What began as mating success through physical superiority to other males evolved to success through demonstration of better skills at provisioning food and other resources. Today, we no longer compete merely in a tribe or village, but on a global stage. Accumulation of excessive material wealth is now one standard. Use of military force is another means of demonstrating an "alpha" persona.

Our cultural revolutions, from the Agricultural Revolution to the Industrial and Digital, are mere extensions of our biological evolution. They have all been driven by personal aspiration to power in the sense of reflecting our biological imperative to advance our personal genetic code through future generations. The collective success of our species is probably largely a by-product of personal pursuits, choices, and invention.

We have always coveted resources held by other humans, and viewed “others” as competition, or impediments to our selfish pursuit of a monopoly on genetic advancement, though we would never come right out and say this. We have become so conditioned to ignore the role of our biological instincts that we create all manner of arguments to distract us from it. We are loathe to accept ourselves as biological beings subject to the “laws” of nature, yet it is at the heart of everything we do.

The most terrible situation of all is when an individual succeeds in convincing others it is in their best interest to advance his personal agenda, when it does not benefit those who endorse it. Tragically, we see this scenario time and again, so we are apparently not learning anything from it. In fact, when the scam is revealed, it often serves to solidify allegiance to the scammer. We abhor being duped more than we are committed to truth, justice, and equity. People who are easily fooled do not perpetuate their genes as successfully.

Time out. None of us want to admit we are that basic, that everything is driven purely by biology. Fine, but that is the foundation of our success to this point, and there is no shame in that. What is shameful is how we have chosen to evolve socially. Social evolution is largely a feedback loop that begins again with genetic code that is then modified through experience and experimentation. Social evolution is nature and nurture, the latter being more than maternal, paternal and familial, but including the global village. What works is perpetuated, what fails is not. Well, ideally, anyway.

The fact that we see rampant opposition to warfare, colonization, poverty, racism, and other manifestations of oppression and exclusion, speaks to at more than marginal success in advancing a genetic and social code based on peace, justice, and inclusion. This is highly encouraging.

Here in the U.S., efforts to gerrymander congressional districts and restrict voting rights are actually signs of success. The more desperate the measures to protect concentrated power, the more we should accelerate the opposite agenda, because we are at the brink of breaking the power cycle forever.

That is the ultimate characteristic of individual power: it is fleeting, impermanent. Even relatively benign examples like the British monarchy, are likely to expire in my lifetime, or at least be rendered irrelevant. Powerful individuals and families tend to stop evolving once they have achieved their personal version of success, while the rest of society continues to evolve, eventually overwhelming them, replacing them with more effective institutions.

We are living an accelerated social evolution right now, where, at its best, social media is creating widespread empathy for those not in positions of power, empowering those who previously believed themselves to be powerless, and organizing movements at lightning speeds. Despite a global pandemic we are refusing to allow ourselves to be isolated. We still take to the streets locally (hopefully vaccinated and still masked to protect the immunocompromised), and broadcast globally. There are fewer and fewer strangers every day.

We are getting there. Refuse to acknowledge anyone who tells you otherwise. We will prevail in normalizing the pursuit of equal power for all, and aspiring not to material wealth but to generosity and critical thinking.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Digital Anxiety

Forget the global pandemic. That I can manage through personal choices to vaccinate and wear a mask in confined spaces with strangers. No, fears of contracting a novel coronavirus pale in comparison to my constant anticipation of some failure of my desktop computer, my laptop, my phone, wi-fi, social media platforms, and everything else electronic. Recent experiences have only heightened the tension in my brain and body.

At the end of the 2021, my old (admittedly too old) desktop began to display a blue screen at start-up. The local computer fix-it shop determined it was a compatability issue between the ancient processor and the desire for Windows 10 to update properly. Do not tell me to get a Macintosh. I am too committed to Microsoft, and while it is arguably not that intuitive, there is remains a mild degree of comfort and familiarity as I, myself, continue to age.

Even after the tech folks diagnosed the problem(s?) and did the best they could to fix them, I still got a blue screen a few days later. They strongly suggested I purchase a new desktop, and so I did, last month. I ended up with the "house brand" from Micro Center, got talked into their supplementary security software, and off I went. I did manage to upgrade to Windows 11, so I feel set for awhile, but still dreading some pop-up window that I don't understand, or am leery of accommodating.

I transferred some files to my documents and pictures, but soon filled up the One Drive that was syncing with the PC. I had forgotten that abomination of "The Cloud" that Microsoft insists you subscribe to, demanding you to pay for extra storage. I thought I had managed to unlink, and then uninstall, One Drive, but yesterday I created a new Word document that I accidentally saved to One Drive instead of my desktop, so could not immediately locate after closing it. Now it is saved to "My PC" with a slightly different file name.

The laptop seems to be doing ok, but it is refurbished and I already know it will not be compatible with Windows 11. I am not good about backing things up regularly, and when I do, I end up scattering things in different external hard drives and flash drives. I no longer re-use SD cards from my camera, in case every hard drive fails. That is how paranoid I have become.

I was dragged kicking and screaming into buying a smart phone because the last time I tried to add minutes through my pay-as-you-go carrier, the service disallowed the transaction. My basic, reliable flip phone was at last obsolete, incompatible with 5G or whatever. I had to have my spouse set up the beast, which is an android. She has an iPhone, so she was a bit frustrated, too. I remain steadfast in having as few apps as possible, and I still managed to fill up my phone with only a handful of pictures. Nobody told me that I need a micro SD card for more storage.

Having enrolled in a self-paced wildlife conservation photography course, I learned that Instagram is a good place to showcase your best images. Consequently, I resurrected my dormant Instagram account, and started posting. I was initially getting prompts that Insta was not recognizing me, so I had to change passwords several times before agreeing to have a two-step authentication process that included my phone. I was doing Instagram through my laptop, and progressing ok, with a whopping fourteen posts. Then, when I logged in a couple days later, I got a message that Instagram had permanently disabled my account for a "violation of community standards," and I had no way to appeal. I can guarantee that I committed no violation, unless posting a photo of the cover of my book Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect was somehow copyright infringement. I have no plans to try making a new Instagram account. I'll continue relying on Flickr as a way to attract the attention of publishers. Pity, though, as there are some friends I can follow only on Instagram. I do hope they will forgive me.

My overriding existential fear, naturally, is that my voice will become increasingly irrelevant as the next generation of digital technologies leaves me ever farther behind. No Tik-tok for me. I have a few things on my "Bug Eric" Youtube channel, but that is about it. I have been posting all my edited images to iNaturalist, but am terribly behind in uploading to Flickr. Both are my way of saving things to "the cloud," but only Flickr lets me save images at their highest resolution. I may need to find additional solutions.

Too much screen time, too little exercise here in the winter months, and the trepidation I feel every time I push a power button, is taking its toll. It is highly tempting to return to pen, paper, and typewriter, but that would be self-inflicted irrelevance. I feel compelled to keep my social media friends entertained and informed, but get less and less satisfaction from Facebook and Twitter all the time. In-person interactions are not only problematic from the standpoint of the pandemic, but unappealing given the highly religious and conservative community I now find myself living in.

How do you cope? What comforts, and cures for anxiety and frustration am I unaware of? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you.