Assholes, Abundance, and Apologies
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More Empathy for Rich Assholes
It's a question as old as time: why are rich people such assholes?
Of course, I know many generous and caring rich people. I'm sure you do too.
But despite my personal experiences, the studies are pretty clear that they are indeed assholes. They are 4x more likely to cut someone off at a four-way intersection (source). Their brains literally show less activity when they look at pictures of children with cancer (source). They are even more likely to take candy that has been designated to go to poor children (literally stealing candy from babies) (source).
This essay, one of my favorite pieces of longform journalism in recent memory, explores a couple of potential causes for Rich Asshole Syndrome.
The most persuasive theory, in my opinion, is that rich people literally have to condition their minds to care less about others. It's the only way to get through each day without feeling racked with guilt for 24 hours. The rich mind must invent ways to ignore the everyday suffering of others, and it does so by creating a protective apathetic posture.
Of course, this doesn't forgive any asshole-ness on the part of rich people. But it just might explain it.
More Abundance, More Problems
I've noticed something strange going on in the past few years. Maybe you've noticed it too.
It feels simultaneously like there are more dumb people than ever before but also more brilliant people. We're awash in information, and it appears some take advantage while others do not.
There's a handy idea that captures this tension: The Paradox of Abundance.
In short, abundance is bad for the average, but great for a small number of people. Abundance drives inequality of outcomes, since some make the most of the available resources but most don't.
The 2010s were the decade where society hit attention saturation. We've hit a point where attention is scarce and must be carefully managed, the same way you'd manage your diet.
Take 5 minutes today to unsubscribe from all newsletters that you don't read*, unfollow people on Twitter and Instagram who clog your feed, and clean your reading list of all the detritus that is filling it up. You'll feel better and be better able to take advantage of this age of abundance as a result.
*Note: hopefully not this one!
More Heartfelt Apologies
We all hurt other people. Sometimes it's on accident, sometimes it's because we're angry, and sometimes we don't even know why we did it.
This handy little tool is an interactive guide on how to make amends, whether that's directly, indirectly, or by example. Using it won't make you feel better in the moment - it's a tool to create accountability - but you will feel better after you've acted on its advice.
As the Great Stagnation begins to ebb, the 2020s ought to be a decade of sci-fi sounding achievements.
The new Coronavirus vaccines might signal the start of a revolution in biotech (along with CRISPR advancements and DeepMind's protein-folding models). The development of blockchains, VR, and gaming engines could end up creating the metaverse.
But the most urgent and exciting opportunities may come in the way we battle climate change.
"Megascale Engineering" is the creation of projects that could reshape the planet or construct objects the size of worlds. There's two primary ways we might use this megascale approach for climate change: 1) to reduce solar input (and reduce temperatures) and 2) to bind carbon dioxide (and reduce how much heat is retained on earth).
To reduce solar input, we might be able to "whiten" clouds with seawater. We could add aerosols into the atmosphere, reflecting back the sun's rays. Or we could actually put a shade into space.
To bind carbon dioxide, we could cover large areas in crushed olivine, which sucks CO2 out of the air. We could seed algal blooms strategically across the oceans. We could even operationalize existing tech that pumps CO2 underground.
All of these solutions are risky. But I for one am optimistic that society will recognize that the risks of inaction are greater than the risk of action and hope to see these projects come to fruition.
"Your destiny can't be changed but, it can be challenged. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.” - Martin Heidegger
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