Disruption has come to save you
Humans are beautiful. They can somehow balance on their hindlegs, brachiate, create music, make life-changing discoveries and cooperate at scale. After millions of years of neural conditioning, it is no wonder that we have become the dominant species on the planet.
Brave men run in our family
You are amazing because you come from a very long line of people who through their courage and tenacity in the harshest of conditions have managed to stay alive long enough to create the next generation. They have taken on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and won.
Given that our neural programming has improved with every generation, you are the latest and thus the best variant of humanity that has ever existed. That is saying something.
Not so fast
But whilst that is the theory, the bad news is that it is unlikely to be the case in practice. The chances are that mankind’s best and brightest are reading this, contorted on to something called a chair, in a furnished air-conditioned office (or Covid-equivalent). In the back of their mind, they are vaguely concerned that this pandemic might require them to sell one of their cars or pull their brightest child out of the rarefied atmosphere of private school, if God forbid, the economic crisis means that they might have to cancel one of their annual exotic holidays. I am over egging it slightly, but my point is that we have evolved into security-obsessed, pleasure seeking organisms. And as you will read, automaton might be more accurate than organism.
So let’s establish what went wrong. As I have mentioned many times in this blog, humanity has spent most of its time on the planet as hunter gatherers. We were all hunter gatherers up until around twelve thousand years ago. Hunter gatherers:
- Were highly adaptable. There is no point waiting patiently for the bush to regrow berries once they are all eaten. Find a new food source now or die.
- Did not exercise. There were no Pilates or Zumba classes. As humans we were, and are, optimised for movement. I would argue more so than to think. Our body requires us to move for it to function. Chairs are indeed the new smoking. The idea that you might go for a run and came back with no food would seem ludicrous to our ancestors, because it is. A characteristic of every living species is to conserve energy unless we need to escape threats or pursue opportunities, eg. lunch.
- Lived by their wits. Each day was an exercise in survival. The faint growl of an animal or the snap of a twig could mean death for the tribe. If you hadn’t eaten for several days, but spotted some prey on the horizon, you would not leave it until tomorrow because it was now past 5pm. Work and life were very integrated back then. In fact, there was only life.
Capitalism isn’t for everyone
In essence we lived in an era of great uncertainty. Things settled a little with the agricultural revolution and that’s when things started to go downhill for mankind. We seemingly got smarter, taming seed and animals and producing a surplus. We realised that we could use that surplus to buffer us against an unknowable future and we could sell it to acquire further resources to grow the business. Capitalism commenced.
Capitalism itself is not bad, it’s just that as today, very few us were given the opportunity to be a capitalist.
The industrial era which commenced several centuries ago ratcheted the model up several notches. The factory owners were the new farmers and the farmhands became factory workers. Cities were built with the factories at their centre and the infrastructure optimised for the movement of resources and product and the housing of labour. The factories became furnished offices over time, but the underlying model of process and efficiency, dictated behaviour.
Old school genetic editing
This industrial era factory model offered many benefits. People now had discretionary income. Standards of living generally improved. Mortality rates decreased. However it required us to be cogs in the machine, religiously following the factory ops manual. Thus our curiosity, creativity and courage genes were deactivated. You might say that we have been genetically mutilated by the industrial era.
The notion of careers was created to make the pointlessness of our work have some meaning. We enjoyed comfort and security, whilst at the same time having a deep sense of despair and a longing for the evening and the weekend when we could escape this variant of indentured slavery.
Much wants more
Some of us completely lost the plot and rather than simply enjoy our discretionary wealth in our free time, we used our free time to boost it. Thus leaving us with no life. We kind of justified it by arguing that we had a better 4 x 4 than the neighbours and that our kids, with whom we were only vaguely acquainted, had all the latest gadgets.
In recent years, the digital tsunami rolled up and many of us experienced it first hand – defunct business models and career-ending automation. But in many cases, it was someone else’s misfortune. But then Covid arrived and today we have all experienced disruption first hand.
It’s a jungle out there
Now as I have mentioned before, technology and biology are not the only two vectors that are shaping our world. These vectors are interacting and compounding. As I have written previously there is no post-Covid, no new normal nor even a next normal. Abnormal is the backdrop to our lives going forward. And in my view, what we are experiencing today, is simply a warm up act for what is to come.
But some of us have been back on the savanna for some time. In my case, over a quarter of a century. Each day for me is an exercise in survival. I eat only ‘what I kill’, and there are no paid holidays. I am not reliant on the paternalism of a megacorp employer.
Weekends are for people who hate what they do. I traded security for freedom.
Today those in ‘tethered’ employment, have as a result of the disruptive forces bearing down on their employer, traded security for anxiety. This is not meant to be a freelance / gig economy manifesto, but in essence if your life is based around getting well paid for going through the (factory) motions, you are like a bichon frise dog that is about to be released into the Amazon jungle. Streetwise you ain’t. Your life expectancy in the jungle will likely be measured in minutes.
Disruption to the rescue
After several centuries of synthetic certainty we are now returning to the more natural state of uncertainty. Thanks to global supply chains and connectivity technology it is more akin to hyper-uncertainty. The bad news is that a Udemy course on resilience isn’t going to cut it. Genetic editing would be a good starting point as a quick fix, but like the Covid vaccine, it is not quite there yet.
The good news is that the millions of years of programming that enabled your ancestors to duck and weave their way through life is installed, but dormant, in your dome. If we are to survive this pandemic and the subsequent disruptions, we need to activate this essential piece of wetware.
Disruption is not our enemy. It is a test. It is a biofeedback tool.
If you adapt you pass. Disruption is perhaps Nature’s way of saying that if you want to be part of this planet you had better give up your destructive practices. We created these practices to fabricate the illusion of certainty. This is humanity’s greatest mistake. Worse still only a very small percentage of people enjoy the benefits, think the 1% elite. Compared to other species, we are arrivistes. We are something of an experiment, one that could soon be deemed a failure. Disruption is giving us increasingly forcible nudges to shape up. There is no other option.