“What’s up with the red asterisks?” and the decline of humanity

a social commentary

I remember when we just moved to Scotland in 2002 (at the time of this writing it is 2018, so that was 16 years ago), then you were normally able to conduct business with people in a real human-kind of way.  By that I mean, you were able to talk to a representative face-to-face, discuss your particular needs and complete a transaction quite quickly (and sometimes even with a warm hand shake).  When we arrived we needed to acquire car insurance.  So I walked up to the local insurance broker, we discussed the product, he even gave me a full discount for having a clean driving record (just by going by my word), I wrote him a check and we were (as it goes) good to go.  Things were simpler then, because people treated other people with a degree of humanity.

Yes, there are risks to being human; we needed to trust each other when we work with each other, when we conduct business with each other.  The Insurance broker made a good decision to give me the discount (we remained his customer until he retired); however, it was a risky move (If it turned out that I was a bad driver it could have been a substantial cost to his company).  Now, I think, there have been many changes in our society which has limited risks to the point that there is little to no room for making necessary relationship risks.  These are the things that make business interactions meaningful and sweeter, losing these consequently gives little to no room for us to practice being human.

I am sure that I share my dislike for the ‘red asterisk’ with many others.  Now that we can no longer do business with other people, in the standard human way, we are forced to do business with computer programs.  Most online applications and forms use the dreaded ‘red asterisk’; this is where the program must have a certain input before preceding further.   If you do not successfully complete the ‘red asterisk’ fields then ‘you may not proceed’.  It is almost comical how rigid the ‘you may not proceed’ phenomenon is.  It reminds me of the famous ‘Soup Nazi’ sketch from the Jerry Seinfeld show in the mid-nineties.  In this sketch there is a soup kitchen where the customers were forced to abide by strict rules enforced by the soup chef, if the customers failed to abide by these rules then service would be refused with a militant shout, “no soup for you!”  This is a funny sketch because it illuminates how ridiculous and impractical such a situation would be.  It is apparent to the viewer that no one in their right mind would subject themselves to such treatment no matter how good the soup is.  But, that was over 20 years ago… was this sketch prophetic in nature… Are we there now?

Even now my wife sits next to be trying to book a holiday for when her parents come out to visit.  She just called the place as usual, but instead of getting through to a person, she is getting a machine that is strongly encouraging her to communicate with another machine via the internet to make her booking.  Is this a coincidence?  I think not!

A way in which we can describe this lack of humanity is to say that there is a lack of love.  How I got to this is by the following.  Humans are relational beings, there is little doubt about that, we need relationships to thrive and even survive, and the best of these relationships are considered loving relationships.  I have worked with autistic individuals for many years; autism describes individuals that have difficulty relating to other people in various social contexts.  Specialists suggest that intervention with autistic individuals is made to teach them how to interact with others in normal ways.  But why?  Why not just let them be.  It is because we (most of society) believe that having meaningful relationships is an important part of being human.  And the greatest and deepest, loving relationships need to be established in order to experience the fullness of being human.  Well, it seems to me that many of our institutions (businesses, etc) are suffering from the same condition.  We need to bring interactive relationship (i.e. humanity) back to business.

It should go without saying that institutions of social nature will only die if they suffer from such conditions.  I think of hospitals, schools, and of course the Church (amongst others).  Jesus warned the ancient church in Ephesus that they will no longer exist as a church unless they returned to practicing love (Revelation 2:4-5).

(I can’t help but wonder if automating our systems as an attempt to rescue us from current economic struggles is actually inadvertently harming us.  I have seen many businesses close due to the current shifts of automation.  I have seen humanity suffer as a consequence of these shifts.  Sometimes panicked solutions are only temporary fixes that will do worse in the long run.  My personal advice to those affected would be to make personal and business changes to adapt to the current changes.  Where there are needs, there will the reallocation of resources to meet these needs, businesses who want to remain ‘human’ need to be creative to find way to access these resources and stay alive.)

Robert, the assistant/youth pastor at Cornerstone preached a brilliant sermon that fits nicely with my argument, I will comment on it now.  He shared with us the dangers of technology (especially social media).  There is a real danger of losing the ability to have meaningful and real loving relationship, which is important for our well-being as humans.  He quoted Albert Einstein who said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction.  The world will have a generation of idiots.”  The word “idiots” is quite strong, but strategic.  As humans we are not only relational, but we are also intelligent.  Perhaps killing one aspect of our humanity, the relational, will have an adverse effect on our intellect.  Think about it, it takes some mental work to socialise.  If we stop socialising we stop exercising our minds.  Many today are physically ill because of modern sedentary lifestyles (the lack of physical engagement with the real world); perhaps many are also becoming ill because of the sedentary lifestyle of social media and the lack of real engagement with fellow humans.

And now another warning for the Church, Charles Spurgeon once said, “If the heart grows cold, everything will be coldly done.  When love declines, what cold preaching we have!  All moonlit light without heat; polished like marble, and as chill.  What cold singing we get, – pretty music, made by pipes and wind (‘hipster’ music now a day), but oh, how little soul-song! – how little singing in the Holy Ghost, making melody in the heart unto God!  And what poor praying!  Do you call it praying?  What little giving!  When the heart is cold, the hands can find nothing in the purse; and Christ’s Church, and Christ’s poor, and the heathen may perish, for we must needs hoard up for ourselves, and live to grow rich.  Is there anything that goes on as it ought to go when love waxes cold?”

We always knew that these days where coming.  Jesus said about these days with a further diagnosis, “And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:11-13).  It is clear from this passage that we are currently being lied to by a false system of truth.  We may think that we are well, but we are not.  We may thing that what we do gives us freedom, but no, the things that we do harm us.  The prognosis is clear, Do not let your humanity slip away (your love to grow cold).  Exercise your social skills on a regular basis, talk to people about important things, face-to-face.  It may be hard, like exercise is, but it will make you strong and give you the endurance to last till the end.

Remember that if you say that you are a Christian then you must believe that you have been given a new kind of life that is spiritual (see Ezekiel 36:26-27).  This complicates the picture even more.  The gospel is clear that it is God’s will to save humanity, and that he does so by using communities of believing disciples communicating the splendid details of Christ and His Cross to each other and to other people in the society around them.  This is salvation for humanity, and it requires us (the Church) being human (being loving) so that the world around us will know that we are legit (the real thing).  Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

Please consider this as a relevant conclusion and application for those who care about our societies:

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

And now look at how deeply God loves us, he didn’t just send us a text, or liked our posts, he gave us His son,

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

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