Crowd Wisdom and Sustainability

390

Mass confusion, despair, contempt, and barely coping with life – this state of mind characterizes so many of the people I have met over the years, be they in various countries, of various backgrounds, employed or unemployed, rich or poor, religious or non-religious. People I have talked to have demonstrated varying degrees of confusion as to how things work and what should be done to improve the state of affairs in the world.

As the complexity grows of our increasingly interconnected human civilization, and as the global economy recovers and as labor markets continue in transition, as policies change as they pertain to certain matters of concern, it seems more of the people than ever that I talk to are suffering from a sense of mass-confusion, despair, contempt.

Although many have various opinions on larger matters, such as terrorism, or the Arab Spring, or their election candidates, nobody really seems to understand what is happening in the world beyond their own sphere of happenstance, be it their job, their commute, their family life, their school life, etc.. And, although they might be aware of a great, overbearing, complexity of “the system” looming over them and having influence over their day-to-day lives, nobody I have talked to has been able to offer any insight into how it actually works.

The “system” and our relationship to it as individuals, I suppose, is simply too daunting a concept for us to fathom, let alone understand. Out of this immense confusion, then, comes the need to cope, somehow, with our place in the grand scheme of things, be it by our day-to-day activities of work and play, each within our own sphere of happenstance, and do so without concerning ourselves as to the effect the “system” has (or might have) on us as an individual nor as to the effect we as an individual might have on the system.

And, yet, as responsible citizens of the world, we are expected to understand this interplay of cause and effect by the individual upon the system and by the system o the individual when we vote according to our conscience at election polls. We are likewise expected to do so when disposing of / sorting trash; we are expected to do so when purchasing products and services. And to some degree, we do so. To some extent, voters and consumers, in their decision-making, tend to demonstrate an awareness of the interconnectedness of this cause and effect relationship between the individual’s happenstance and the system.

And we perceive the effects on a large-scale or even global level when we read the headlines, follow stock prices, or currency prices; when we hear of new facts as to the extent or effects of global warming, or when we hear of changes in the unemployment rate; we perceive the effects when facts and analysis are presented in the media, of which we, as responsible citizens of the world, are expected to remain constantly aware. And yet, the cause of these effects and the true nature of the interplay of cause and effect going on between the individual and the system continues to elude our grasp.

For no matter how many articles in the media one might read; no matter how much one might keep up with current events, can anyone honestly say they have anything but a tiny grasp of how things actually work? The complexity inherent in our contemporary, global society is simply beyond any single one of us to comprehend. And, as such, can anyone really claim to be a responsible consumer? Or even voter? Do we really know recycling our pop cans or voting for one candidate over another or buying one brand of laptop rather than another can really have a positive effect on the system rather than negative?

Likewise, amidst such increasing complexity can policy makers even claim such? Who really knows whether or not a change to the system is going to impact the individual or the society as a whole for the better or the worse in consideration of the interconnectedness of contemporary society?

There is a disconnect between what we think will have a positive or negative effect and the actual effect a matter of concern has. This has resulted in a lot of trouble for humanity over the millennia. Much of what we might consider as negative effects has resulted from policy decisions or systems that were expected to have positive effects rather than negative.

In forthcoming articles, I write about various matters of concern, relating to companies, organizations, policies, or products, and raise questions about the nature of their effects. The articles will be in the form of a column, a journey through day-to-day life, as I interact with companies, policies, and products.

Ultimately, determining the actual extent of the cause and effect relationship between the system and the individual and society at large is far beyond my capacity to portray. Nevertheless, one direction the articles will take will be an analysis of certain crowdsourcing projects that might be able to do so.

An exciting development in the tech sector that forthcoming articles will follow is a trend towards synergising job-search websites such as indeed.com and Corporate-Social-Responsibility rating agencies such as ethicalconsumer.org and ethics-based web-search like wegreen.de with social media platforms in harnessing the power of crowd wisdom to determine ethics-based ratings for various matters.

There is potential, in such a trend, to have an enormous effect. As the 2008 financial crisis has made abundantly clear to governments, regulators, and the general public alike, the extent to which humanity is interconnected has been clearer than ever before and governments are increasingly adjusting policy and regulatory environments accordingly. Is it possible that with the growing prominence of crowd-sourced ethical ratings influencing consumer behavior and policy, might ethical concerns start increasingly influencing credit ratings, thereby necessitating credit rating agencies like wikirating.com to synergize their efforts with ethical-rating agencies as well?

The articles will follow this trend, serving as a measure of my sense of direction as an opportunity to remedy our long-held disconnect related to the interplay of the causes and effects of human activity. I hope the articles will have a positive effect, albeit keeping in mind the old adage, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and thereby trying to keep a balanced, impartial perspective on such trends.

Something tells me that exponentially increasing complexity of human civilization is not sustainable; and at one point, “something’s just gotta give.” The mass-confusion, despair, contempt – the state of barely being able to cope with our lives – a state that I perceive in so many of the people I meet has got to subside somehow. We as a civilization cannot afford the sorts of social-conflict, wars, strife, etc. that occurred in centuries past. The advent of nuclear weaponry and our increasing complexity as a civilization makes such social strains and the revolutions they might have caused in the past, simply untenable in contemporary times. Historical grievances need to be remedied; international disputes resolved, and perhaps with consumers and policy-makers alike guided according to sound rankings or ratings that take ethical concerns into account, in balance with economic concerns, such future conflicts that might threaten the survival of humanity might be averted.