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It is a dangerous game to be so critical of society

I went on Twitter this morning and saw two tweets which I thought stood slightly uneasily next to each other. The first one was someone calling for the UK police force to be abolished – not reviewed, not reformed, but eliminated. No more police. Full stop. The second one was one of those slightly wacky ‘shower thoughts’ quotes – ‘Think about this: you are the sum total of a 14 billion year chain of unbroken cosmic evolution now thinking about itself’. Although a tad overly grand, it offers an interesting contrast.

I’m sure you’ll recognise the first style of tweet. It’s a pretty typical specimen and Twitter’s style probably fosters its kind. It’s very easy to be so critical when all you have to do is tap out a couple of hundred characters, press enter, and sit back. Although I try to avoid it, I think I’m probably guilty of that sort of thing more often than I’d like to admit. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

We might do well to remember that it’s a lot harder to build than it is to demolish

Of course, there is a lot in our society of which to be critical. Lots could do with changing. One only needs to reflect on recent events in Minnesota to see that some police forces have serious problems. And this is just one instance among many showing that some things are broken and need fixing.

And yet, think back to that pompous but pithy ‘shower thought’. Leibniz thought that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’. Whilst I don’t quite share his same level of optimism, there is a ring of truth to this. I think it’s relatively uncontroversial to claim that we are living in the best time that there has ever been to be alive. People have never been so healthy, educated and free as they are now. But, in a world containing almost eight billion people, trying to live together within hugely complex societies, it’s only natural to expect some complications.

They think that their narrow lens is the big picture

As much as we complain, rightly so, about the faults in our societies, it’s not all bad. We ought to give more credit to the societies we’ve managed to construct over the last few millennia. It’s a miracle that we all manage to coexist as well as we do. It’s thanks to the societies we’ve built up that it’s possible. We might do well to remember that it’s a lot harder to build than it is to demolish.

Now, I’m not claiming that (as David Mitchell’s character in Peep Show ridicules) ‘the news should just be a dispassionate list of all the events that have occurred the world over during the day’. Apart from taking forever, it would miss the point. There are many things wrong with our societies. Reporting on such faults is the role of the news. Criticising those behind them is the role of commentators. However, things start to go awry when people forget that all this is a sliver of the actual situation. Before we’ve had our morning coffee, a bin man has collected our rubbish, the council has swept our roads and the police has kept our neighbourhoods safe. Some people seem to have a tendency to forget all this. They prefer instead to put down their coffee and turn to the business of the day – incessantly complaining about some mistake that a public figure has had the cheek to make.

Extreme ideas start to seem more appealing when one loses a frame of reference

Fair enough if you want to spend your life doing that. After all, we need some people to do it to hold our representatives to account. But, for the average person, it doesn’t seem a particularly healthy mind-set. To be always so condemning, disapproving and defensive must be a wearing way to live life. Of course, people should be free to do so if they want, but I fear most people don’t recognise what they’re engaging in. They’re not just zooming in on a problem whilst retaining some broader perspective. They think that their narrow lens is the big picture. This is a dangerous way to view things; it allows one to easily slip into dogma and closed-mindedness. Extreme ideas start to seem more appealing when one loses a frame of reference. By all means play the game if you like, but bear in mind that it might not reflect the fullest sense of reality.

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