The Watchman’s Rattle – Rebecca Kosta

The Watchman’s Rattle [LINK] – Rebecca Kosta

Kosta starts her book by examining human predispositions and instincts. She cites a lot of work from Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (great book!), drawing comparisons from his work on selfish vs. altruistic genes, and her work on what and where instincts will lead us.

For a bit of human evolution history, our brains work in three ways to solve problems. The left performs organized, deconstructive analysis; the right analyzes via creative synthesis; and the third, newer cognitive process, is insight, which solves complex problems through some combination of past learning and deductive reasoning (still much of which is unknown).

When we find ourselves stuck, it can mean either (1) we don’t have the information, resources, and time needed to solve a problem, (2) we’ve reached a biological limit of what the human brain is capable of, or (3) a solution doesn’t exist. When we are faced with complexity, our first response is to retreat to the familiar (comfortable), even if the familiar means failing. We are fearful for the unknown in ourselves.

Kosta’s theory on why this era of civilization will ultimately collapse is our constant reliance on supermemes. A meme is a widely accepted information, thought, feeling or behavior which can be common sense, traditions, theories, biases, ect. A supermeme is any belief, thought, or behavior that becomes so pervasive, so stubbornly embedded, that it contaminates or suppresses all other beliefs and behaviors in a society. Supermemes produce what the Freakonomics  authors describe as the most persuasive incentive technique: herd-thinking.

Doing something that doesn’t have a huge impact is very beneficial if aimed at a problem that is destine to occur. When we aim to lessen the problem, we mitigate the impact it will produce. I am quick to be critical of solutions that don’t provide a major impact, but Kosta explaines that mitigation, and quick wins, are far more important that a flashy silver bullet solution.

While a lot of the book undertakes a pessimistic tone, Kosta explains that we are ultimately in control of our destiny. Destructive beliefs that threaten human progress are man-made and therefore not permanent condition. “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

(I don’t believe every point she makes, but I encourage you to read this book to get an understanding of how societies can collapse.)