Worldview defense system
Every day our subconscious weaves the experiences of the day into a previously written story. A story that has been outlined, drafted, written, and rewritten everyday of our life. This story influences our assumptions, our perception, the things that we do and don’t say, and the actions we do and don’t take.
In German there is an amazing word for this story, “weltanschauung” (welt-an-schau-ung). Meaning a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group.
By definition a worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual, group, or society encompassing the outlook of the individual, or a collective group’s experience, knowledge, and perspective.
I believe that a worldview is actually a highly attuned automated defense system. It works as a filter in two ways. Firstly, to help us process events in real-time as they occur (bias), and secondly by filtering what gets stored into and discarded from the system, making it more adept and effective over time (subconscious).
Consider that every experience we have ever had, has been biased by a contextual filter. In fact in this very moment as you are reading this, it is there, sifting through each grain of this article. Probably telling you I am completely full of shit. And that is interesting… why?
Our minds filter and bias as a way of protecting us. An always on subconscious subroutine scanning to detect what we can or cannot safely accept based upon current and past inputs. It really is a biological defense system.
This particular system also requires a highly refined super fast knowledge base to be effective. As our psyche attempts to process the constant stream-of-consciousness of our lived experiences, there is far more information available, than could ever be written to disk.
Again the filter determines what gets written, overwritten, or filtered out altogether. Because there is so much information the filter tends to seek the highs and lows of our experiences first, and definitely never misses a low.
This is why when you last went on vacation all you remember is the really bad sunburn you got. There were like a bazillion miracles that occurred for you to have that singular experience, but no, all that data was flushed. The sunburn information is stored first because it is useful to ensure your continued survival. Storage of this information protects you. Your worldview is an elastic always adapting human defense system optimized to bias towards keeping you alive.
Shared versus filtered worldview
Awareness of worldview can vary considerably from one person to the next. For some this may be a completely new idea. While others may be very much in touch with this story. Some actively curate new experiences to inform and expand it.
Who is in our inner circle and who is not is a direct reflection of our worldview. We tend to gravitate towards shared experiences with others that share our worldview, which serves to confirm and reinforce it.
Generally, when we are with others that share our worldview we feel confident, safe, and openly and actively exchange thoughts, beliefs, and ideas without hesitation. Through this discourse we establish the foundations of relationships. We build rapport through worldview, and begin to explore common interests, develop connections, and eventually establish trust.
When we aren’t certain we are in friendly territory we consciously filter how we communicate. Depending on our level of awareness of worldview, our posture changes, our tone shifts, we speak less, and each word is generally far more considered, that when we are relaxed.
When we are with others that do not share our worldview we no longer trust the cruise control and have switched to manual. Our worldview which is normally happily buzzing along in the background of our subconscious, is suddenly thrust into consciousness.
We filter consciously in the interest of “keeping the peace” and to avoid conflict. We do this because we are social animals and have learned to survive through-the-ages by maintaining some degree of social cohesion. We do this in the shared interest of maintaining the “greater good.”
Every successful family gathering around the holidays is often about manually filtering worldview, to sidestep and avoid unnecessary awkward or incompatible views. This is also why almost all conversations with strangers intuitively start small. We filter in this way socially constantly and often aren’t even aware we are doing it.
Today in part, because of our adoption and use of personal technology we are becoming more and more inflexible in our worldview. We use screens like a digital magnifying glass. We use screens to collect and harness information into a concentrated focal point. We concentrate so much energy collectively that “virtual fires” are a daily occurrence —virtual wildfires are the new normal.
We use technology to sharpen and curate our personal worldview. Technology makes it far easier to triage information and people out that do not agree with us. This makes input into our worldview less diverse, less inclusive, more concentrated, and less flexible.
We join or create virtual niche affiliation groups which provide the benefits of safety, inclusion, and reinforcement or our worldview, with the added benefit of anonymity. Virtually there is little to no meaningful social accountability.
Within highly specialized virtual affiliations without social accountability, group-think reigns. There is little to no disagreement and objectivity fades. We begin to lose sight of truth in favor of collective opinion. There is no clear delineation between fact and fiction.
Whenever a troll (someone intentionally or unknowingly questions the collective worldview within a virtual affiliation) no productive discourse or disagreement occurs. Instead the hive attacks the invader because worldview is a defense mechanism. Conflict replaces discourse because there is no social accountability. Eventually the invader gets blocked or removed to prevent further or future unrest.
All this time, effort, and energy invested in virtual safety bubbles allows for the troubling trend of favoring individual opinion (which aligns with our personal worldview) over the actual world (scientific research, data, facts, and the pursuit of truth.)
Virtual worldview is the new religion. Opposing niche groups do battle, and scheme against one another, to prove and assert dominance over the perspectives of others. This virtualization of world view is deepening the social divide.
While we peel off into virtual safety zones we lose sight of the value of entertaining ideas that contradict our own. We risk losing the ability to entertain multiple opposing ideas. Our intolerance expedites lose-lose, all or nothing resolutions.
Soon we will no longer remember how to rise above our differences in the collective interest and well-being of “the common good.” The same way we no longer remember phone numbers.
Open source worldview
So why does all this matter? When faced with collective human crises such as a Global Pandemic and Climate Change, it is our stubborn willful adherence to a fixed inflexible highly individualized worldview that puts us all at risk.
Without the ability to loosen the grip, entertain opposing or non-complementary viewpoints, we fall prey to the limitations of our biological monkey brains. We fight. Without the ability to seek some amount of compromise, find mutually agreeable win-win outcomes, and to simply get out of our own way as a society, the ability to rally in the interest of the “greater good” will be lost. Instead replaced by a disastrous end-game, of endless infighting. While the global problems proliferate unaddressed.
When are we going to grow up, and stop acting like two siblings bickering in the back seat of the car? If we keep this up, we won’t ever get where we need to go.
In the old days of software we used to have similar religious wars about process and use of specific technologies. And what has emerged as a result is a fantastic solution. The creation of public open source libraries. Open source engineering allows teams to choose specific technologies to address specific needs, similar to how a chef might source ingredients for a recipe.
I propose that a similar approach is required to address the global issues facing all of humanity today.
We need an open source approach to worldview.
Suppose we begin by unpacking each of the known solutions. And rather than view them as all or nothing options, we simply add them to a library. This enables a scalable system where solutions can be mapped to target and address highly specific needs. What would it feel like to stop wasting so much time trying to agree on a singular universally adopted worldview?
This approach fundamentally shifts the conversation from an all or nothing approach to a more sophisticated debate of selecting the right tool for the job.
Perhaps instead of allowing ourselves to remain divided, we could have more thoughtful conversations that lead to smaller, more targeted, actionable solutions. All or nothing thinking is going to lead us to nothing.
So how do we get started? Perhaps it begins by remembering despite our differences, that we are all suffering through these crises together. We are all impacted, we are not alone. We are all hurting, we are all angry, we are all tired, impatient, and struggling to cope. These burdens are something we all share. There is common ground there.
Perhaps instead of making things worse with endless complaints and punishing one another virtually, we might realize how much time and energy we are wasting. What would it look like to take responsibility for part of what brought us to where we now find ourselves.
What if we stopped responding to anger with anger, softened our voices, stopped pointing fingers, blaming, escalating, and being disrespectful virtually or otherwise.
What would it look like to confront our fears instead of being ruled by them? Suddenly maybe it doesn’t matter so much to be right all the time. Perhaps this would create enough space for us to really truly begin to listen to one another.
I submit to you that the answer will not be found in some single great event or massive upheaval. There will be no public announcement, or clear signal. We can no longer look to leaders because that makes us all followers.
Perhaps it is time to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, shake hands, open up to our differences, and remember the value of “we” instead of “I”, and start leading ourselves together.