Friday, November 20, 2015


Last time I warned how life is moving so fast and becoming so much more sophisticated and complex due to technical innovations that trying to survive with the same old habits, assumptions and behaviors of the past would lead to disaster.  It is a premise of these essays that the crises American society faces are mostly the accumulation of the consequences of individual behaviors.  It is important and urgent to understand this and adapt.

You have read here and in many other sources the scientific explanations of modern behavior, how we often base our reactions on primal instincts that served us very well in the ancient past, and that perhaps allowed us to get by with a minimum of inconvenience a few generations ago, but now have become more and more problematic in our modern high tech, high speed world.  Here is yet another example discussing the phenomenon of comparison.

Authors explain in this CNN science article:  “We are hardwired to engage in comparisons…we're doing it to try to make sense of our world. Do I make enough money? Do I need to update my kitchen? Do I need a new car? Are my kids doing well? It's almost impossible to make those assessments objectively. So instead, we turn to comparisons.”  This tendency can work for us or against us.

Comparison makes for competition.  Wondering if I am as good or can be as good as the next person makes me raise my goals and standards.  People tend to work harder at any task when they feel competition with another, for example, “people tended to run faster if their rival was also racing that day.”  Generally this effect benefits everyone.

Comparison also makes for disappointment and waste.  It can make a person miserable.  Trying to keep up materially with the “Jones” or constantly comparing ourselves or our children to others in every aspect of life is frustrating.  When two people compare salaries or possessions there is always a winner and a loser.  So it is with almost any such comparison.  Since everyone has individual strengths and can’t be good at everything, comparison is bound to eventually result in disappointment.  Some research cited in the article shows how even monkeys can be driven to frustration and disappointment due to their hardwired tendency to compare themselves to their peers.

The lesson here is the same.  We can no longer afford to go through life on automatic pilot.  The tendencies of our ancestors are lurking in our brains ready to derail our ability to cope with the modern world by activating defenses and reactions that served us well in the past, but keep us from taking the time to make considered and well-informed decisions about our fast-paced life.  This is not going to go away; it’s only getting worse, in terms of speed and technology.  Critical thinking, to slow us down, and a healthy sense of perspective, to lead us away from disadvantageous comparisons, is more critical now than ever.

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