First, there is a clear distinction between facts and opinions. In the movie’s case, facts can be shifted and made to fit an individual’s perceived reality. When facts about a comet hitting the earth were revealed to the President, there was an immediate question of how it could be used to spin and strengthen poll numbers. Politicians have always shaded the truth, or omitted inconvenient facts, but we live in an age where spin and narratives almost completely eclipse demonstrable facts. Of course, our politics is a reflection of wider society, where technological and other changes have shattered consensus and discredited the institutions that we used to rely on to build that consensus. Our current media environment means that all of us are constructing our sense of the world using cherry-picked facts, refracted through a system of secret algorithms, driven by the imperatives of limbic capitalism.
We all experience “a reality”. It has always been the case that every human being has their own individual shaping, based on their parents, community, identity, etc. This and their accumulated life experiences define that one person’s reality. Social media may stick everyone else’s reality in our face, all day every day, but you can learn a great deal about yourself and others if you can slow down and listen on a more human level. Consider that each of us are experiencing an event from our own individual reality which actually is not THE REALITY. It takes curiosity and openness to be able to include different perspectives.
When we are attached to our own reality as the “truth” it is hard for a new possibility to emerge. Hence, we keep doing the same thing with deep hope of a different result. We see this approach manifest in a society that is getting increasingly sure of what it “knows”, and increasingly frustrated that we can’t convince others to accept our truth. Don’t Look Up satirizes this phenomenon, but the real-life consequences are getting less and less funny. Our inability to listen and speak to others’ reality creates political gridlock, social atomization, and reduced quality of life for everyone. And that’s before we factor in emerging crises like climate change or superintelligent AI. Facing these will require collective action, critical thinking, and foresight.
So how do we cultivate the skills that will be needed for the times ahead? The practice of staying open and curious takes just that, Practice. Allowing yourself to make mistakes, own them, and then try again. Letting in information that you disagree with or even think is completely irrational, and still staying curious. Being willing to ask questions like; Why would this person think that? What underlying concerns or values might be at work here? This process is not about building agreement, but about empathy. With curiosity and empathy comes the ability to build a shared reality, even if it is initially limited in scope. This is something that you can then build on to achieve incrementally larger results. This is ultimately more satisfying than being “right”, and may just help us avoid an apocalypse.