Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Big Picture of Progress

One of my longtime and favoritist readers responded to my post on people who see compromise as a problem, lamenting the fact that we can't all get along and how we're heading for turbulent times; not least of which is Global Warming.  And I felt my response was important enough to not hide in a comment, so here it is.

Here's an excerpt of her comment:
I am not an "end of the world" lover, but I think we are going to be a failed species sooner than most failed species. Desmond Morris called us "The Naked Ape", and we still can't seem to get past our primate past. I believe our ancient planet will be going through one of it's many, many upheavals, when most of what we know and value will be destroyed.
And I definitely understand the point, but think she's reading too much into the intimacy of modern life to see the bigger picture of where we're heading as a species.  After all, on the grand scale of our species, it was quite recent that a large portion of our country was so convinced that it was their god-given right to enslave and destroy humans that they were willing to die fighting for it.  And even more recently, Europeans used their best minds to create a mass killing machine to destroy humans and conquer the continent to have it reflect their racial ideals. 

In fact, history is far more full of fighting, hatred, and death than was the opposite. By contrast, we're all BFF's.  Sure, Glenn Beck inciting hatred against an elderly sociologist for what she wrote over forty years ago is deplorable, but relatively recently, she might have been burned as a witch merely for owning cats or expressing opinions or for no reason at all. 

While modern Christians gripe endlessly about not being able to display the Ten Commandments everywhere, for much of history, such differences were a death sentence. 

Getting Better All the Time

And so we've seen thousands upon thousands of years where violence was the norm around the globe.  These days, we've got maybe 10% in our country wanting to fight, where "fighting" means insults and death threats.  And every once in awhile, some total loon goes bonkers and actually does something about it, and you can only find a handful of people willing to defend that; and even fewer willing to join them.  What was once the norm for thousands of years is now a freak event that 99.9% of people abhor.

And the point is that as bad as things seem, we're definitely heading in the right direction.  Sure, there are some people outraged at having a black president and threaten violence at what he's doing. But sixty years ago, Obama could have been a shoe shiner hung from a tree for talking to a white girl or jailed for sitting in the wrong seat. And two hundred years ago, he would have been a possession to be purchased on the free-market. This is real progress.

And really, we need these people. We need dissent. It's not good to go too far, too fast. As a species it's best to have variety, and the herd instinct can be even more dangerous than the war instinct. And at the bottom, we're all just dumb animals trying our best to make the best of what we've got, and we're struggling against millions of years of impulses that we don't understand.

But all the same, we're moving in the right direction. And the secret is to stay positive and keep our eyes on the big picture. 

Not the End of the World

Even with Global Warming, the Powers-That-Be will eventually have to work with us, as they'll see how they have more at risk than we do.  Because there is no nefarious force who wants the world destroyed.  Rather, all their actions can be explained by their short-term focus on quarterly profits; which not only causes them to oppose necessary policies, but also to hurt their own long-term profits.  Like it or not, shallow people find it easier to become Masters of the Universe than us nice people, and our system allows them to have far more power than their abilities can handle.

But eventually, even they'll be on-board with this, and the only people who will continue to oppose it will be mouth-breathing bozos who always have to be on the wrong side of everything.  But again, this is good.  It's good to have dissent.  It's necessary to have contrarians who say the opposite of everyone else, and they don't even understand the function they play for us.  If they knew they were contrarians who served as ballast for the human race, they wouldn't be effective. 

And the only issue is whether or not the bozo contrarians can wield the power necessary to hold us back from doing what we must.  They can't.  Exxon can buy senators and Glenn Beck can pimp unintelligent conspiracies to the masses; but that's just for the cash.  They don't really mean it.  And at some point, they'll let us do the right thing and move on.  And I'm tremendously impressed with our ability to get shit done and don't fear for the future.

We need to stay vigilant, but not distress.  After all, not only does worrying not solve anything, but it's counter-productive, as it acts as a substitute for action in our silly monkey brains.  And right now, we've got less to worry about than any generation ever.  It might not seem that way, but that's just because you weren't paying attention before.  I'll take someone denouncing our black president over someone owning him.


Betsy said...

As usual, you make me feel better. I know and agree with all you said, and my only caveat is---can we grow up soon enough (or far enough) to get over our stupidity enough to survive? I often point out the progress we have made to members of my family, but I always have a feeling that we could slip back to near the beginning if we aren't careful. Maybe I AM wrong--your point is well taken. I hate to seem like a pessimist, I am really not at all like that. Oh, well, we won't know, but I hope it all works out for humanity. As I said, at least we KNOW what we should be, and maybe that knowledge of our goal will be our saving grace finally.

PS your kind compliment made my year.

Betsy said...

I just had an added thought. You are so right about the "intimacy of modern life". Until I started reading blogs in the Bush era, and listening to Keith and the rest, I really was not aware of the insanity of most of our elected officials--and many other things of that sort. I have been aware for some time, that though we all need to know what is going on in order to be good citizens, knowing so many details of what may be very unimportant (what Sarah Palin said yesterday----eeeek!) can skew your vision badly. I do not know the cure for this---finding out what is important vs what is trivial and infuriating..besides using simple common sense to figure it all out.Any ideas on that?????

Doctor Biobrain said...

Wow, I'm glad the intent of my intimacy line made sense, as I felt like I should have explained that better. But you got it exactly.

And the answer is ignorance. There isn't a time of your life that you wouldn't have been freaked out by the horrible things that were going on in this country. Grave injustice is happening as you read this, including rapes, kidnappings, and dismemberment.

The world is a horrible place, when you think about it. And the answer is to focus on the things we can change and ignore the things we can't. To do otherwise leads to madness.

Betsy said...

Seems like good sense to me. My husband and I sometimes discuss how lucky we are. We were born in a superb time, in a superb place, the proper color and in the proper rank of the upper middle, well educated class. Although our country has seen all kinds of bad things starting with the war we were born in the midst of (I can remember even now, running madly around nursery school screaming "bombs over Tokyo" and of course having no idea what it meant). However we were born exactly at the perfect time to benefit from all the good things and not suffer from the bad ones at the end of the 20th century. It is a good idea to realize how really lucky you are sometimes and to try to follow your advice above, and do whatever you can as one person to make things better for everyone else.
The future after all, will take care of itself............

Doctor Biobrain said...

The perfect time?? Hardly. That'd be my generation, as I barely had to exist in an age before remote controls, video games, and 24-hour restaurants and grocery stores. Hell, I'm barely old enough to remember back when TV went off the air every night. How dreadful.

And best of all, I get to sit back and watch as you oldies find the cure to old age. That way, I'll be part of the first generation of people who get to live forever; putting my group in charge of all the poor suckers who come after us.

And as for the bad things you were referring to, 80's music really wasn't that bad.

Betsy said...

First of all, you know the only reason you had children after the early 50's was to use them as TV remote controls...

Secondly---there was music after the 60's????? Who knew?

Doctor Biobrain said...

Ya know, Betsy, there was plenty of excellent music that came out in the 70's. You should give it a try some time. In fact, I'll listen to pretty much anything that came out before 1980.

And if you listen to Stereolab, you can't go wrong. I'm quite convinced that that's the music that will come out in the 2060's, and we just got lucky that someone went ahead and created it early.

Greatest music ever.

Oh, and another advantage to being young: We didn't have to wait for all the Beatles albums to come out. We could get them all at once, including the demos and alternate versions; and we can carry every song they recorded on a phone in our pocket; as I have right now. And if you're as unscrupulous as myself, you wouldn't have to pay for them.

Sorry, but you were born too soon.

Betsy said...

Nyaaaaa.. (imagine thumb to nose)