What Keeps Me Awake At Night?

Ben Taylor responded to a challenge from Katrin Shaw on LinkedIn, and I’m taking it up, and taking a lead, from his response.

Suffering? No, I certainly don’t lie awake worrying about widespread suffering, unfairness and inequality in the world – a question as old as philosophy and theology, and I’m certainly fortunate not to suffer as a victim. Except maybe where it’s more like self-inflicted Stress, the stress of current ongoing commitments made to fellow humans, which are themselves part of an evolving set of wider operational, tactical and strategic priorities. The only time the bigger picture might keep me awake would be a positive complement to stress – those times when you may have stumbled Aha! onto some valuable thought or contribution to solving that bigger picture of “world suffering” – which you need to work out and articulate. In such cases, get up, write it down and forget about it until the next available day.

I spend my waking hours worrying about / working on that bigger picture of suffering – what can I/we do to make the world a better place? Which is of course then part of that conflict between tactical action and strategic intent – specific commitments now and better plans for the future. [If you were to poll my past employers, you’d probably notice a failure to deliver. I already know myself pretty well, so I often warn planners “that’s not really the kind of task you want to give to me? (or plan at all)”]

What is wrong in the world – suffering and injustice, and ineffective / inefficient / counter-productive responses to these – what needs fixing, what our creative-change priorities are, is an evolving and growing list already as long as your arm. Specific global crises, poly-crises, meta-crises, and all their local consequences in context. There is no shortage.

Politics? Ben says it only came to him in 2016 that politics, use and abuse of social power, despite his long-term active political engagement, was where the problem lay. For me that dawning was my first proper understanding the word “Cybernetics” back in about 2002. It is precisely about how we govern ourselves, our applied systems of governance – imperfect democracy, making, enabling and enacting, policy and decisions. Throughout the 1990’s I was already “being kept awake at night” by the thought that “we could do better” – better than my business (tech) systems day job – nagging worries that had no other outlet then than sleepless nights. The trigger moment – we really can and must do better – was 9/11 – consequential but incidental to the actual problem.

The learning since then has been that the problem – “the inability to make and enact good decisions” – applies everywhere from individual to social levels, from the simplest seemingly rational / scientific questions to the knottiest Multi-national Machiavellian scenarios. Left or right, liberal or authoritarian, all parties suffer the problem, a problem that prevents us even hearing each other. I’ve been selective as to which specific “crises” I’ve engaged with, driven mainly by the extent to which these are tractable examples of the deeper “Psybernetic / Dysmemic” problem.

Anger? – “Anger is an Energy” sings Johnny Lydon. [Another poll of past employers and colleagues would tell of my impatience.] I’ve learned a lot since the 9/11 milestone. I’ve learned a lot about where emotion properly fits our decision-making processes. And it really does. Attempts at excluding it are in fact part of the problem. My learned strategy is one of dynamic cycles over time, where, when and how. Visceral live-music events – natural outdoor mindful moments – and cool, spacious, cathedral-like human spaces –  are all part of my “Grace” toolbox.

Your experience may vary.


2 thoughts on “What Keeps Me Awake At Night?”

  1. Nice, thanks! You’ve got a very well-developed meta perspective on this (as I might have suspected you would have) which I aspire to, I guess, at my best 🙂

    Just one clarification – I cared a lot about politics up until about 200something… from being a youth then a student activist (of a sort) to working directly for politicans (in a non-political role) in Hammersmith & Fulham about 2000-2004. It was that period which actually put me off politics – they were decent people doing decent things – but so many compromises and frustrations! And the problems of the party system… and I left the Labour party over (specifically) the Iraq war, and more generally the unquestioning neoliberalism of the Blair government.

    Between then and 2016, it was a combination of ‘it’s in basically safe hands despite all the problems – and I won’t be able to chnage those’ and ‘I can safely ignore politics, because there are problems in the world, but not so much in my life’. And then the EU Referendum shook me up enormously (and it appears to have all been downhill from there)…

    But anyway, yes, “the inability to make and enact good decisions” is a pretty good one to hang one’s hat on!

  2. Yes. You were political active and interested, more than most of us probably, but it was the dawning that that was actually where the deeper problem lay. [Edit made] (I actually had some opposite experience too – whenever we had knotty philosophical dialogues in the early days, I would resist people bringing current political issues in as examples. The partisan aspect always seemed to skew any discussion. Something I understand a lot better now.)

    Yes too, we seem to be on a similar trajectory, I’m simply a decade or two older.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Fascinating stuff. (Reminded by recent interest in Dennett of a great convergence happening across many disciplines.)

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