A brief sampling of the ideas in my forthcoming book, Civilization Reboot.

We’re currently in the midst of a tumultuous period of change in the world. Such times are actually a normal part of both human history and the natural evolution of all living things. (I know — that doesn’t make it any more pleasant to live through!) The reason it’s a part of the natural growth and development of pretty much everything is that periods of crisis and dramatic change allow major problems to be solved — problems that can’t be solved when everything is relatively stable.

The current period of disruption and transition is particularly significant. For the first time, the human race has the means to wipe itself out. Furthermore, our problems are the most serious we’ve ever faced — climate change among them. For that reason, it’s not hyperbole to say that this period of disruption and transition is the most important one in human history. It could lead to total devastation of the human race and all we’ve created — or a whole new type of human society based on better principles and ways of dealing with each other than we’ve ever had before.

Given that we’re living through such a time in human history, it makes sense to look at our problems from this perspective. While it’s tempting to worry that our civilization might be falling apart, I propose looking at this time as an opportunity to solve our biggest problems. And that’s the point of this book: What are the problems we most need to solve, and what potential solutions are the most promising?

To understand the true nature of our situation, it’s important to understand the concept of a meta-problem. This is a “hidden” problem that prevents us from solving other problems. For a simple example, suppose you’re trying to reach a goal at your job, but unknown to you, a coworker keeps undermining your efforts. You may not be able to reach your goal until you identify this “unseen” problem and find a way to get your co-worker to stop whatever he or she is doing. In other words, you have a meta-problem that you have to solve before you’ll be able to solve the more obvious problems and reach your goal.

It’s no secret that humanity has failed miserably when it comes to solving many of its biggest problems — war, poverty, racism and gender discrimination, for example — not to mention new problems like the climate crisis. It’s easy to assume that these problems aren’t being solved because human beings are fundamentally flawed, but I’d like to propose an alternate explanation: These problems just appear to be insoluble because there’s a meta-problem that’s preventing the other problems from being solved.

The meta-problem in this case is a way of thinking that we humans are very fond of: Certainty.  When we become totally convinced that we’ve found the truth about something—when we have certainty about our belief and see it as an inarguable fact — it makes our life easier. We can stop trying to “figure that one out.” This is a key reason that certainty is accepted as harmless and justifiable. (In fact, the only time most people question certainty is when someone else’s certainty is causing them trouble.)

What most people don’t realize is that certainty-based thinking can trigger a long list of problems, at both the individual and societal level. For example, when people indulge in certainty:
— they dismiss any evidence that contradicts their certainty;
— they only see what they are certain is true, not what’s actually happening;
— they justify destructive actions while ignoring the consequences;
— they feel justified in lying (“the end justifies the means”); and
they become easy to fool and manipulate.That’s true because when we have certainty about something our perceptions and thinking are distorted.

The last point may be the most consequential negative effect of certainty today, because it motivates other people (such as politicians) to encourage their followers to have certainty. The more certainty their supporters have, the more easily they’re manipulated.

But what if your certainty is justified? What if your ideas are right? Amazingly, it doesn’t matter whether your ideas are right or not! Certainty-based thinking  is what causes these problems — even if the certainty is about something that’s actually true. Certainty limits our perceptions and alters our choice of actions, in potentially disastrous ways. In fact, most of the criticisms people level at the human race — for example, that people only see what they want to see, or that people are willing to justify terrible things in the name of their ideals — are actually only true of people who are operating on the basis of certainty! Those criticisms rarely apply to people who have an open mind about the world around them.

All of the side effects of certainty listed above (along with many more) have caused certainty to become a meta-problem. It’s preventing us from solving dozens of other problems—problems that threaten our very survival. And, as long as certainty is seen as harmless and justifiable, it will continue to prevent us from being able to tackle these problems. The reason we haven’t corrected this is that certainty fits the definition of a meta-problem: It  hasn’t been seen as a problem. It’s been hiding in plain sight.

We can change that.

Once people begin to realize how much of the suffering in their lives has been a result of certainty—and how much damage it’s doing to the world around us—then operating on the basis of certainty will stop being acceptable. Once that happens, all those other problems can finally start to be solved.

In Part 1 of  Civilization RebootI’ll address the problem of certainty, showing why humans have gravitated towards it. I’ll detail the long list of terrible side effects certainty-based thinking brings into our lives, and I’ll propose means we can use to get people to stop accepting certainty as a legitimate way to deal with our lives and the world around us.

In Part 2 of Civilization RebootI’ll discuss several specific habits we humans have developed over the years (all of them certainty-based) that  we should eliminate from our repertoires, to make the most of this historic opportunity to restart our civilization on a more humane, just and sustainable basis.