In our universe the how dwarves the what
At about 300 million light years away lies the Dragonfly 44 galaxy. This galaxy is as massive as the Milky Way but so, so, so empty that we had to figure out that it must be made of, get ready, … badum tsss: dark matter! Hang on. “Dark” matter?
You see, dark matter and dark energy are great metaphors for the fact that we humans never run out of great names.
We are all a species of suckers for naming and descriptions. Whatever it is, no matter, we’ll find it a name and fill an atlas with data about it. The atlas in our head. Most of our brain is busy with the unsexy art of classification. When I hear accountant jokes, I laugh on the innocence of the one telling the joke. Accountants are ideal humans, folks.
That is why, I say: the answer to “what” is weak. We all know it.
Take more niceties from physics: the strange quark, the weak force which is actually not that weak, the strong force which could be very weak, the color property that has no color. These people who study quantum physics are completely submersed in the knowledge that:
The question “what” can have anything as an answer!
Because, if your field of study opens things which are completely unexplainable, with every single venture forward you make, you start to not care anymore. And it is for the best, because, most of the time, “what” doesn’t matter.
What matters is how.
Say, you could memorize the whole Standard Model, all the types of celestial bodies, every element on Earth. All this data will not give you a single clue on what can we humans do with it. It is dark data. You will not know physics, astronomy or chemistry by the way of answers to “what”.
The spark of light, the comprehension, the learning, is always, always the bland answer to “how”. But, well, there is a catch: what is easy, how is hard.
The too much “what” and too little “how” is in fact all over the place. As a society we devised all kinds of theories, systems, philosophies that describe at length all kinds of “whats”:
- Libertarianism, what is a society where we ignore all problems with spite?
- Social justice, what is a society where we don’t ignore not even the smallest of problems?
- Objectivism, what is a society where we can discard the weak?
- Marxism, what is a society where we ignore all problems with hubris?
About any system that explores “what” more than “how” is an anti-system.
Anti-systems have two major problems:
- they are laser focused on the present
- they always elicit revolutions
Shouldn’t we use our brains to find out the “how” more than the “what”?
Social Justice is such a problem. If it weren’t for the stubbornness of the conservatives, who are cemented in their religious values, there would be no social justice theory.
Libertarianism is another similar problem. If it weren’t for the progressives’ enthusiasm in bureaucracy, we’d lack the reason for a libertarian dream.
Marxism. Had we have anything close to an actual revolution ever in our history, instead of the same tens of lineages hoarding wealth, then marxism would have made even less sense.
Nationalism is a similar problem. I can’t even. — What is wrong with this species that we require so badly to be called names, some names, not other names? To me “nationality” is a superb example of “how” put at work, but a good idea for a bad finality: how to make a moral jail of the mind.
As a note, regarding Marx, I lived what people make of marxism first hand, it was called “advanced marxism”. It made of a bureaucratic nanny state, that supervised entire “nations” with the goal to make the “new man” so we can enter the “golden age”. Marxism in practice becomes nazism first class. I am left with stupor every time people talk about any antagonism between communism and nazism. I literally learned in school about the ideal man of the future and how we worked to make it a reality. My uni, back in the day was the propaganda uni, we had such a thing.
Objectivism. So much what! So little how. I am one who likes Ms. Rand. I like her personally, as a personality. I like how she spoke and how she explained. But I am stunned that one such as mr. Greenspan actually applied objectivism by the letter. And look, there is a compiled list of people “influenced” by Ayn:
Which is OK, I guess. You can be influenced by anything actually, it is just that influence means a belief in another person’s answers to “what”.
The fact that we call Utopia a utopia, makes it a utopia.
Isn’t it funny how real, tangible social and political progress is utopia, but presidents swear on the Bible, that Bible where we’re promised exactly the Utopia? It applies to all religious nations.
I believe that because we believe Utopia to be utopia, we miss the possibilities. Because utopias talk more about “how”. Actually, in the book that gave us the concept, Thomas More takes a lot of time to explain a lot of “hows”, actually the whole thing is “a how to”. Not a correct one, sure, not even Thomas believed better of his work, although for 1516 it was pretty radical, that is why it named the perfect place Utopia — unreachable.
But we should consider utopias to be the bullseye of our future targets.
For ages humanity is led by people whose position didn’t change, no matter the historical events. Whenever people started to question the way things were going, the solution was to start and explain that all evil is the people’s fault, borrowing from religion heavily: poverty, disenfranchisement, segregation, ignorance, and the idiocracy we work so hard to achieve. We have this self blame ingrained in all the systems of law and economy that are presently running on Earth.
However, mission and vision comes top down, in a business as well as in a society. So the state of things are never the fault of the bottom layers. Yet, whenever a business person moves from business to politics, suddenly they ask the people to make the society’s mission and vision on their own. The hypocrisy is astounding. So we wonder if hordes of scared uneducated people can govern themselves. Of course, we answer no. Then, bam!, utopia!
No folks. The branches at the top get the most sun. You cannot ask the roots to make the leaves! The roots suck the life out of the wormful ground and strive to hold the whole shebang pointing up, under immense pressure from the khaki thing it is stuck into.
Since we cannot conceive a society where a person cleaning toilets can earn as much as a brain surgeon, maybe we should stop paying people for work and instead pay them for learning. But no, in some countries people start their life in debt because they used their brain. This has chilling effects later on when politicians discuss taxes and welfare.
Since we know bureaucracy is bad and systems ran by the state eventually fail to progress technologically, perhaps states should be involved in other things. After all there are two basic things we require: energy and food. If you supply these for free productivity is million fold.
So far we know red tape is bad. Yet, deregulation is for profit. What do lobbyists have that other people don’t have? Time. Maybe more free time for everyone is a societies way to protect itself against being gamed into voting its own decapitation.
But these ideas belong to those who actually go nine to five to think of and about them. What do they do instead? They infuse the world with “what”, dark data, things of low value, with heavy news make up.
What is a killer question. How is a life saver question.
We constantly ask what happened and we get the news. How many cafes should be blown to pieces, before anybody stops and wonders, how is the world doing, instead of what happened? We look at innovation and ask what is it, and we get products to buy. How low must we go into mass escapism, before we ask how innovation can help the world do better?
At least some people still ask “how are you?”, right. How are you? Ha, the hope question, the one bad instance of “how” which we hold so dear! I’d switch any day to asking,
what are you?
… and ask only myself: how am I?