Slower reactions, better society
On impulse control, modern tools, and the dispassionate work of training people to be better
It's easy to fall for the conceit that all of our modern problems are somehow different than those of our predecessors. But what if we're really just encountering the same problems, cloaked only in different garb? A whole raft of troubling incidents in the news boil down to the consequences of people acting impulsively. Sometimes the results are uncomfortable. Sometimes they are deadly.
■ But go back to 1755, and you'll find Benjamin Franklin making a very modern case for impulse control: "Who is powerful? He that governs his passions." And, as if to drive home the point, he laments: "Who is that? Nobody."
■ Human nature is much more powerful than we routinely give it credit for being. We are rarely as special in history as ego would like us to believe. But sometimes old human flaws do come with new consequences. The modern problem is to figure out how to make sure our contemporary tools don't exacerbate those longstanding shortcomings.
■ Social media makes it easy to make very bad, very public decisions. Computers make it possible to generate dangerous ideas faster than ever. Weapons make it all too easy to escalate a bad moment beyond repair.
■ If we surrender the idea that humans are born as blank slates and instead realize that we're pretty much cut from the same cloth as our ancestors, then we come into closer contact with the understanding that we're not better just because we came later. And it underscores just how important it is to find, maintain, and regenerate character-building institutions throughout society. As our tools speed up, we need to find ways to practically train people -- all of us -- in time-tested ways of slowing down. There's enormous power in governing our passions.