Things Happen

Things happen.

We don’t always know about them, of course—not right when they occur, and sometimes not ever.

Trees topple loudly in the forest all the time when no one is present, waves smash spectacularly on solitary shorelines, birds plummet exhausted from the sky to die on uninhabited barrens.  And nobody is there to bear witness.

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It has ever been that way, from the first appearance of our human species until the present day.  Things happen, even when we do not know.

But that truth has become increasingly hard for many folk to accept.  In this age in which we live—one of marvellous, instantly-accessible, graphic, digital reality—it has become easy instead to believe that, unless we are told something happened, or see it on our screens, or experience it first-hand, it did not occur.

If it’s not up and viral on the web, if we aren’t personally in the loop, it cannot have happened.

How foolish we have become!

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And there is another problem.  Much of the information we avidly soak up from our handheld devices is misleading—sometimes inadvertently, sometimes deliberately so.  Too many users, alas, are ill-equipped to assimilate the plethora of information assailing us, to differentiate, to assess, to form coherent conclusions about it all.

Today, many of us assume if it is up and viral on the web, bringing us personally into the loop, it must certainly have happened.

So, what is real and what is fake?  Hemingway wrote, …there is no one thing that’s true.  It’s all true.  And, in many ways, his observation has proven accurate—at least in the sense that it’s all there in front of us, waiting for us to choose from it.

There is a problem with that, though—one associated with our all-too-human tendency to embrace those opinions we are already in agreement with, and to reject those to which we have a preconceived aversion.

Don’t bother me with facts! we seem to say.

Unfortunately, even so-called facts can be fabricated by malevolent purveyors of misinformation, leaving us even more confused and more susceptible to manipulation.  That may not be overly-problematic if we’re being influenced to buy one brand of toilet tissue over another, for example; as an aside, a friend once told me, “On the (w)hole, they’re all pretty good!”

But it might be calamitous if we are being callously misled about the relative merits of one political leader over another.

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Which of these two imaginary politicos would be more palatable to the average voters, do you suppose?  The one who tells them exactly what they want to hear, who panders to their fears and prejudices, even if (s)he has no intention of fulfilling the empty promises?  Or the one who dares speak about the looming climate crisis, for instance, despite knowing the warnings might fall on deaf ears among the electorate?

Which of the two would be more favoured to win, the one who croons the siren-song of making things better—the way they used to be—or the one who tells of the hard slog ahead to deal with climate change, the existential crisis of our time?

The answer, I suspect, is the person who most-closely approximates the baked-in attitudes and ideas of us who are the voters.  Or the majority of us, anyway.  The relative merits of the candidates’ positions come secondary to that.

Facts no longer seem to matter because, while they used to be considered unassailable, almost sacrosanct, they are today viewed as permeable and malleable.  Where they used to be built on a rock foundation, they stand today on shifting sand.

Facts are, in this worldwide web of deceit and falsity, whatever any shill or charlatan wants us to believe they are.

But in a way, none of this matters for the planet.  Not really.  For, in spite of what we are told about this critical issue of our time—whether it’s the truth or a lie, whether we heed or ignore it—there is one fundamental reality that does not change.

Things happen.  Whether we choose to know about them or not.

Glaciers shrink and shed meltwater all the time when no one is present, permafrost thaws in the isolated, wind-swept tundra, animals disappear from our planetary menagerie, never to be seen again.  And too many of us choose to look away, refuse to listen to those who are compelled to bear witness.

The planet will go on, regardless.  But what of us, wrapped in our imperious cloak of superiority?  Will humankind survive?

Things happen.

reaper

A Preponderance of Stupidity

In these perilous times in which we all live—the beginning of the end-of-times, as some might say—I have become increasingly intrigued by the preponderance of undeniable stupidity evidenced by the human species.

Of which I am a part.

Consider the challenges currently facing us worldwide.  According to the oft-maligned Millennial cohort, that generation of innocents born into western culture during the 80’s and 90’s (of which I am not a part), the major issues include the climate crisis; armed conflicts, often religious in nature, with their threat of nuclear annihilation; poverty, linked to increasing inequality among races, genders, and social classes; rampant corruption among government and corporate entities; and the spectre of food and water shortages, even in the developed world.

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Every day, it seems, I read about extreme climate and weather events that are almost unprecedented, at least in our limited experience.  I hear about regional war-zones expanding in places faraway from me, drawing major nations closer and closer to open conflict.

I learn about the increasing wealth gap between the haves and have-nots in our society and its concomitant effects—homelessness, unemployment, skyrocketing credit debt.  I see public figures from both public and private sectors who have been caught with their fingers in the till, so to speak—people we older generations were taught to respect and admire.

And I watch as our precious arable land, oceans, and freshwater resources are choked by urban development, abuse, pollution, and general mismanagement.

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Stupidity may be defined as—

  • a lack of keenness of mind;
  • inanity or pointlessness;
  • an annoyance, irritation, or troublesome state;
  • a state of stupefaction.

More humorously, here are some definitions essayed by minds more creative and cleverer than mine—

  • Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. (Einstein);
  • There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life. (Frank Zappa);
  • Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. (George Carlin);
  • Stupidity cannot be cured. (Robert Heinlein);
  • In politics, stupidity is not a handicap. (Napoleon); and
  • Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results. (Margaret Atwood).

But my favourite is this from Ricky Gervais—

  • When you are dead, you do not know you are dead. It is only painful for others. The same applies when you are stupid.

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The humour is short-lived, however, when one pauses to consider the potential consequences of our collective stupidity.  On a small scale, it’s as if, having finished the last of the toilet tissue in my bathroom yesterday, I fail to notice and decry its absence until I need it today.  And by then, of course, it’s too late.  I must do without until I can replenish the supply from a store.

But what happens when all the stores’ supplies are exhausted, too?  Is this where our stupidity is leading us?

Buckminster Fuller wrote, “Human beings always do the most intelligent thing…after they’ve tried every stupid alternative and none of them have worked.”  Would that he is right before it is too late!

If you have read this far, you might well ask me what I am doing to combat the dire state of affairs I’m bemoaning.  The answer, unfortunately, is not a whole lot—unless you count the several blog posts I have written on this site, which almost no one will read.

Of course, the same question might be asked of you, assuming you share my concerns.  Perhaps the best answer for both of us is this statement from a young American activist, Aditi Juneja:

“If you’ve wondered what you would’ve done during slavery, the Holocaust, or the civil rights movement…you’re doing it now.”

apathy

As are so many, alas.