It is theorized that in fifth-generation warfare (5GW), the lines between combatant and civilian become blurred to near-transparency. This, naturally, does not apply equally to all theatres of engagement - there is a physical distance between the boardroom and battlefield - but with the opening of new fronts of combat, we, too, are currently engaged in yet another battle with this new front of the war: The Battle of Perception. Even these regimental reports and (forthcoming) essays are decisive acts within these cerebral trenches.
This front of frontal lobes is merely the further weaponisations of human thought. Not a novel development of humanity, but one that evolved drastically as human opinions were steadily 'progressed' to a point of automation. Though we mostly identify as individuals capable of sovereign thought, much of our digital experience - and allow us to be blunt, this is quickly encompassing the majority of experiences for many in Western Societies - are algorithmic in nature. And these algorithms know us rather well at this point. How can we, as netizens, or citizens of a growing Digital Civilization, hope to combat each and every idea/opinion/notion that is flashed into our minds on a daily (almost hourly) basis? I ask you, Reader, can you even begin to count them?
That break in a populations' defence has been identified many moons ago and it seems wide enough today to be worth a significant assault.
Though our discourse has long since been crippled, I still believe there is much importance still to be ascribed to a suite of ancient inquiries, despite the novel circumstances. These questions flow from four simple words: "What do you believe?"
It takes effort to identify one's beliefs. It takes practice to defend and sharpen them. Furthermore, it takes strength to change them.
I was once reading a biography of one Sir William Howard Russell of Dublin - often ascribed the moniker the "world's first conflict journalist" owing to his early writings from the front during the Crimean War (1853-1856). Here, a collection of some of his writings. As an historical aside from the time, as highlighted in a letter, the biographer illustrates Russell's journalism in the context of its time. Said letter showcases the crux of the context. In the letter, a man was writing in dismay of the rapid proliferation of the electric telegraph. The lament, shared seemingly by a number of the man's colleagues, amounted to the following:
For an individual to form an opinion, they must invest ample effort and time. One must spend time thinking. One must hear from various perspectives on the topic. One must discuss with their colleagues, loved ones, or their Gods. One must reflect during a walk or during some other labour (preferably a fishing sojourn, in my preference). It is then, and only then, that one can claim to have developed their opinion. With the inclusion, then, of these cables - cables that bring the news and happenings from "everywhere" and at "all times" - how can one hope to properly have any opinion of merit?
I attempt to bring this observation up at the cafe where I am writing this, and I am met with mostly blank stares. Technology will always be advancing and perhaps we are, indeed, blessed enough to posses the cognitive and psychological prowess to adapt alongside. But part of me remains unconvinced. Much of the pain of the subsequent Connected Generations, even the pain of the generations before us inundated in reality TV, nightly news manipulation, and adult cartoons, keeps nagging in the back of my mind that we were given so much powers without realizing what these powers cost our psyches. Is connectivity a skill to be taught? A philosophy to be incorporated into religions? A belief structure to be added alongside current education curricula? Surely, more can be done, and surely I am utterly unaware of what that "more" can be.
In this view, one may shudder at the mere estimate of how inundated our opinion-forming processes are; how waterlogged it must be. Technology will always shape a society, that should not be ignored, but I believe human thought to still carry superiorities to the vast, concrete, and intriguing digital-level logics. At least a superiority in creating a world worth living in, worth fighting for.
To return to our ancient question, "what do you believe?" again, this is not a new struggle. Spiritual Warfare has been studied alongside military thought and history for centuries. I am curious what lessons can be learned in this vein of research. I believe the field of study to pursue here is referred to as Radical Theology. The brutal reality of modern life without some strong beliefs is a mind bought and traded on the open market of attention, all while that very mind believes itself freer than any of its ancestors.
There are Believers all around us, most people able to wake up in the morning and carry out their day must believe in something, and that is healthiest. What I fear, more, is these beliefs no longer coming from within. No longer coming from the churches. No longer coming from the media. But coming from some unnamed, unidentified, and unrecognizable force. And that this force will not be distinguishable for most souls from their vague concept of God. Maybe it is already here. Maybe it has already claimed its believers. Hell, maybe I am already one. But I think conflicts will continue to grow, and our inability to identify our beliefs will put us in a poor position to prepare.
As these wars continue to evolve, perhaps it is smart to give our beliefs a polish and sharpening. It scarcely could hurt, especially if we refine them better during a period of (relative) peace. They will continue to be more important than we are imagining at present. Keep in mind, you and I have already been drafted, dear Reader, but perhaps we are not on the same side.
May you walk in curiosity and peace.