What do you think about quantitative easing? Alright, scratch that. What’s your take on reparations for the descendants of enslaved people? Yeah, ok. Let’s move this in a less contentious direction: a penny, please, for your thoughts on Islam.
Or, hey, how about we kick around a theory or two about climate change? Or talk, instead, about LEFT-WING MEDIA BIAS (all caps seems about right)? No? Then maybe pondering the Fermi paradox is more your jam?
I put it to you, dear reader, that never before in the course of human history has it been easier to flatter ourselves into believing just how terribly smart we are. There is so much complexity in the world: who can even remember how un-evolved we used to be?!
And, sure, it’s really not so hard to think generous thoughts about the human race. Some people, some of the time, do extraordinary and brilliant things. And – probably – most people, most of the time, are kind-of-heart, generous, and likable.
But do you ever catch yourself, in more pensive moments, struggling to reconcile all of this with a very different, nagging thought: maybe, in fact, we’re still incredibly dumb? I do.
Especially troubling for me are the following two photos. First, a couple months’ ago, this:
And then, in today’s Guardian, this:
In the first of these photos, President Obama is in a palace greeting a royal toddler. In the second, a uniformed military aide is carrying one of America’s three ‘nuclear footballs,’ which enable travelling presidents to launch nuclear strikes if circumstances compel him or her to do so.
The institution of monarchy and the destructive force of nuclear weapons… Imagine humanity starting from scratch, identifying these two things as a desirable goal, then ‘working backwards’ toward realizing them. Surely, that would be absolutely fucking nuts.
Here we all are, though, in 2016, just somehow accepting the concept of hereditary monarchs – even if that must also mean putting on a pedestal one random cute kid in a dressing gown and slippers. And just somehow accepting that all our major population centers can, in a flash, be reduced to ash and rubble if one of several nuclear ‘superpowers’ ever seeks to demonstrate how super is their power – which, after all, didn’t come cheap.
And through it all, of course, we say: my country is better than your country. And my god is better than your god… In a way, it’s almost funny. Until, you know, it isn’t.
It’s never been easier to know a little bit about something. But what good is that?