The Ant and the Aircraft Carrier
As global citizens, we sometimes feel like an ant on aircraft carrier, right? We know the ship is headed for the rocks. But we are too small to do anything about it. The ship has no captain. We know that. So what do we do? We all just go about our lives, in our little colonies, on our respective decks. Each colony has a queen ant that looks after the colony, to be sure, but at the end of the day, nobody is steering the ship. And we are heading for the rocks. Now, because we are too small to do anything about it, there is no point worrying. Right? So on we go. Copulating and populating, trying to stay busy and entertained. Chins down, gazes buried in our phones, for the most part. No point looking up at the horizon. We can't do anything about the fate of the ship, anyway. Let's call this the 'ant on the aircraft carrier' way of thinking. But something about giving up just doesn't feel right. Maybe it doesn’t feel right because we also know, deep down, intuitively perhaps, that no matter how small we are, we really can make a difference. Hear me out. Picture a neuron. A neuron is a single brain cell, one of the billions of nerve cells that make up the brain. Each neuron is connected to other neurons by cells called ganglia. Just like us, neurons are born, they consume energy, they do stuff, and they die. The stuff that they do – that they are programmed by their DNA to do – is they receive information, through electrical pulses, and pass information on. Clock on in the morning, shoot off pulses of information to one another all day long, clock off for a while, then do it again. The information they pass on to one another - via the ganglia, the cells that connect the neurons - may be a sensory input from outside, or just a piece of information that they have received from another neuron. Input, output. That is what they do. And when enough of them output information in a certain way, the brain as a whole makes a decision, that decision being what the weight of relevant neurons figured out was in the best interest of the whole lot of them. That is how we survive. Now, let us have a pause and think about this: Move the index finger on your left hand, ever so slightly. It moved! This was the work of a bunch of neurons smaller than a pinhead. Each neuron a billionth the size of your finger. But a group of them just used your left arm – as if it is was a conveyor belt – to send information to the muscles in your hand to engage them, like a massive pulley system, to move something more than a billion times the size of any one of them, your finger. The neurons were able to do this because they worked together, as a team. Now, if neurons can work together to move a finger, then it follows that they can do a lot more. They can even steer a ship! In fact, when you think about it, it was neurons working together that built all the ships in the world in the first place! So, maybe it is time for us, the people of the world at this time, to start to move away from that feeling of helplessness, as if we are ants on an aircraft carrier, and to start thinking and acting more like neurons in a brain. Let us not forget the brain has no king or queen, no president, there is no master neuron. But the people of the world don't have ganglia! Right? Not quite. We didn’t have ganglia. But we do now. In the last 30 years – and especially in the last 10 years – humanity has developed a kind of ganglia: ‘the internet’. Through the internet, we can now communicate information to each other across the globe, instantly. Just like neurons can. We too can now shoot electrical pulses to each other as to what is the best thing to do. Not only that, with the internet we each have all the information in the world at our fingertips to help us to make good decisions! Alas, it would be fair to concede we have not achieved much since the advent of our ganglia, so far. Most of use the internet for entertainment, for our jobs, for booking flights to get away from our jobs, for idle gossip and for self promotion. But this could be just a phase. The ganglia is new to us, after all. Maybe we are a bit like a kid with a new toy. We are breaking it in. Maybe we are just temporarily using it to check out the world around us and our relationship with it, before we bunker down and start using our ganglia to combine together do something really, really useful. Who knows? The only way to find out what we are really capable of doing with it is to practice using our new ganglia to communicate with each other about what is best for us all. We have so much in common. Why not choose the best ideas from all people, no matter where they happen to be. Great ideas do not reside in the offices of power, or in one country. Solutions are everywhere. The time has come for all of our input and output. Self-select the issues you care about, and communicate about them on platforms like this. Say your piece or hold your peace. Read other people's ideas on those issues. Agree or disagree, vote or disregard. Say nothing if you choose, that is a form of output. But engage. When all is said and done, it is only through practicing and getting better at using the internet in this way that we will have any realistic chance of turning this ship around.