Is the World Getting Smaller Again?

Trust and knowledge were restricted by geography. Travel advancements, then telegraphs, telephones, and finally the internet expanded the range of trust and knowledge to nearly every corner of the globe.

But the low barrier to information led to an overwhelming volume, and increasingly clever tricks and tech allowed people and governments to game trust-enhancing systems.

Now the internet is becoming a weaker source of knowledge and trust. People are reverting back to smaller communities.

The digital “globe” you experience in your news feed is curated to match your tastes, leading you to believe the world looks a lot more like you than it likely does. When you experience the shock of reality, trust erodes further.

The shrinking of the reach of knowledge and trust is neither inherently good or bad. It is sad, but in the same way that anything that results from human weakness and sin is sad. It is not uniquely sad, except for those who grew up watching the web of knowledge and trust expand in a seemingly endless and inevitable way, and now are seeing it shrink back to what feel like barbarous times.

Maybe the world gets smaller and stays smaller for a long time. Or maybe this is just a bump in the road and new trust enhancing mechanisms and signals will emerge to continue the expansion. But for now, the expansion has halted and a contraction has begun.

There is Only One Cause: Your Salvation

There’s this idea among the church fathers that praying for mercy for yourself is in fact praying for the whole world.

The cosmos is contained in each of us, a fractal of reality. If we get our hearts right, we will help right the world.

The older I get, the more damage I see causes and movements do – to the individuals that participate and to the world – the more I believe this.

You banish the darkness by shining brighter, not by starting an anti-darkness campaign.

Repeating People Patterns

One thing I love about reading older fiction is encountering characters who are exactly like people I’ve met in real life.

How could something written 60, or 100, or more years ago in a totally different country and culture depict an individual who is exactly like some that I’ve met, in speech, mannerisms, actions, and ideas?

Archetypes are real. There are certain frames of mind, personality traits, and dispositions that attract people to certain vocations and milieus which further condition them into recognizable types.

None of this is groundbreaking, but I’ll never cease to be amazed at how universal these people patterns are. And it takes a great observer and describer of humans to tease these patterns out and insert them into stories.

Beyond Symbolism

Materialism’s heyday is past. It is common for people who once wouldn’t have dreamed of doing so to talk about symbolism and a structure of reality that goes beyond what can be seen and measured.

Forms and archetypes and egregores are entertained. Interdimensional realities, consciousness extending into other realms, and unknown beings are discussed. Tradition and religion are en vogue.

I think this is a good thing, because reality is more than what can be measured in a lab. There is a danger, though, of not going far enough.

The embrace of psychological realities found in religion and symbolism and patterns beyond our own minds is easy to abstract. We can get caught up in discussing these things as grand ontological or epistemological categories and feel very broad minded indeed. All the while skirting and evading the real question:

What does it mean for me, personally?

If symbols are more than man-made tools; if behind them is some real power, intelligence, or entity, what does that mean for me?

If the Logos is more than fiction, what is it? Who is He? What does He demand of me?

If religion isn’t hooey; if a spiritual world, or other dimensions, or extended consciousness exists, what should I do?

This part is hard for smart people. Because it bring you down out of the realm where you are demonstrating to people how all of reality works – an impressive and helpful feat – and forced to either do or deny embarrassing, old-fashioned things that this understanding demands. Prayer. Baptism. Communion.

The symbols reveal a deeper reality, yes. But that reality is not merely a map of the world beyond our senses. It is a call to participate in it. Not as an intellectual plaything. But with our flesh and blood and heart and mind and habits and words.

It is a call to not just know about the divine reality. To not just acknowledge His existence and authority. To not just speak in His name. But to know Him. To do His will.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

This is a hard pill to swallow.

It puts the simpleminded old churchgoer who does His will without a wit of understanding on the same plane as the genius professor who sees the full pattern of reality. Both are in equal danger of not really knowing Him, and both must seek Him and do His will (‘love the least of these’, ‘feed my sheep’) to avoid that danger.

Breakdown of Trust

I keep seeing more signs of eroding trust in society. Little things. Fast food restaurants no longer having self-serve fountain drinks. Theft and break-ins in neighborhoods that even a few years ago never thought of locking doors. Service providers that never show up, ratings that mean nothing, Uber drivers that cancel on you.

None of these in isolation are a huge deal. Normal bumps in the road. But the number of these little shifts is astonishing, and combined, create an undercurrent of inability to have confidence in anything. You have to have a second thought about things. The benefits of a high-trust society – speed, efficiency, safety, ease of business – are eroding.

This does not bode well. Low trust societies are survivable, but not enjoyable.

Order of Operations

I’m writing this post after having cleared my inboxes and (half of) my Slack messages. Which means I’m in a terrible frame of mind for writing and I’m thinking about other things and treating this as a chore. Bad.

Every morning, I do a bunch of stuff. Workout, read, pray, write, eat, review calendar, clear messages, and get to work. In that order.

If I jumble the order, a cascade of jumble befalls me. The days is disordered, rushed, and unsettling.

I’m going to knock this post out and try to reset the order and see if I can prevent the chaos from breaking quarantine.

Pacing

It doesn’t matter how fast or slow, busy or free the pace of work. To maximize productivity and happiness, what matters to me is who is in control of that pace.

When I own and set the pace, I enjoy work and do it well. (Mostly).

When the pace pulls me along, forces me to adjust to it, I struggle.

I don’t like a frantic pace – unless I set it. I don’t like a laggy pace – unless I set it.

I want pace control possibly more than I want control of where I work or what I work on.

The Homeschool Progression

Homeschooling your first kid:

“Okay, here’s our schedule, starting at 5am with Latin and Greek, working through the Trivium, then several elective subjects throughout the day, ending at 6pm when we make dinner together.”

Homeschooling your second kid:

“Okay, Monday and Wednesday, just do whatever your brother is doing. Tuesday and Thursday are co-op and you’ll have to come grocery shopping with me or read a book at home. Friday is sports meetup day.”

Homeschooling your third kid:

“Did you talk to anyone today? Good. Rhetoric is covered. You played Roblox? STEM is covered. You hit your sister? PE. Now look at the road signs while we’re driving your siblings around all day and you might learn to read.”

Spreadsheets Save Lives

The spreadsheet might be the greatest digital invention in history.

Of course tables and ledgers are a pre-digital technology, but the ability to enter formulas that auto-populate, edit, delete, reference other sheets, etc. is unique to the advent of personal computing.

In all my years of using computers and the internet, nothing has added more joy and value to my life than spreadsheets.

The best part about them is that they don’t lie. Budgets and data and formulas just tell you the facts. If we spend this much vs save, here’s how much we’ll lose in monthly interest. It’s just a brute fact. Then you can make choices.

I feel so peaceful every time I update or adjust my spreadsheets.

Redemption and Consequence

Death sucks.

Even if you believe that life is eternal, death still sucks.

Before raising Lazarus, Jesus wept for him. Before facing His own death and resurrection, he begged God to take the cup from him.

Because death, even though life comes after it, still sucks.

Death is a corruption of creation. Even though it has been ultimately defeated, we still (for the time) feel the sadness and weight of it. We know, deep down, it’s not how things are supposed to be. It reminds us of our fallen state.

You may get along even better after fighting and then making up with someone, but the sting of the fight is still there. You still feel the consequences of the error, even after all is set right.

Attitudes About Money

It seems like the people with the most realistic and relaxed attitude about money tend to have an abundance of it.

Those who claim to hate money and eschew materialism entirely tend to be greedy, even conniving.

Those who think about money all the time and focus on getting more of it tend to be stressed and stingy.

Those who ignore money and go about life without thinking of it at all tend to have responsibility issues that plague them and create inconvenience for everyone around them.

The people who understand money, do not fear it, do not love it, but see it as a tool, a thing that can ebb and flow, that can make some things easier and other things harder, seem to be those who are never in want of money nor ruled by it.

They part with it easily, but also understand the value of what they are parting with. They save it easily, but also understand the opportunity cost of saving.

They may or may not enjoy investing and other financial activities; that does not seem to be essential. But they always have a sense of stewardship. Like they have a responsibility to ensure money is always the servant, never the master, but to be a good master and not a tyrant demanding more from money.

This often bleeds into other aspects of a person’s character. A healthy relationship with money tends to cultivate (but by no means guarantees) wisdom and discretion elsewhere.

Punctuated Perspective

You know those moments when you realize what’s really important?

A shock of tragedy or a near miss snaps you into perspective.

In those moments, you resolve to maintain this perspective all the time.

But you don’t. You can’t! No one can. The perspective is too shaped by intense emotion, which cannot be sustained.

That’s a good thing.

To function properly, we need to have a general lack of perspective most of the time. The overwhelming tragedy of the fallen world is too much, our smallness to small. The overwhelming joy of creation is too. We’d be perpetually stupefied.

Perspective is good in small bursts when we start to get warped. It’s a wonderful shock, precisely because it’s a shock.