I read somewhere that Neitzsche went insane after he saw a man flogging a horse (apocryphal?). I know something of what he must have felt. It’s well after midnight. It’s finally getting cool. Should be getting quiet too. But it’s not. I can accept the mechanical sounds of the ceiling fan, the fridge, the tick-tock, the neighbour’s heat pump. I can live with the traffic. It’s the bug zapper that’s getting to me. Every zap is a flying insect–maybe a mosquito–dying, being electrocuted. It’s not just that another animal is being callously killed, though you gotta admit, electrocution is pretty nasty. It’s not that so much, but that we presume it’s okay to zap others–mosquitoes, horses, Iranians. Come to think of it, if things are connected, it’s not really a big step from a bug zapper to the Holocaust, is it? To add to the callousness, my neighbours have gone to bed and left the death machine on.
I know that this is a very teeny tiny point-of-view, and that it seems extreme, and I worry about, well, my sanity. But I also know some big things, like the proletarian revolution was theoretically supposed to start in the most technically advanced nation, the one with labour unions, Germany. However, when things boiled over in 1914, the proles marched off to war to defend Kaiser and capitalism. The revolution came instead, untheoretically, in near-feudal Russia. A generation later, things boiled over again and Jews–musicians, shopkeepers, lovers, children–were ghettoized, then loaded into cattle cars and taken to concentration camps. You never know when or with whom or what things will boil over. So start now with compassion in your backyard. Turn off the bug zapper, for now, for good.
Besides, I don’t think I’m that extreme. Remember spraying dandelions? Remember inhaling second-hand smoke? Those were extreme. And our mosquitoes don’t even carry the malaria parasite. They’re just a nuisance, to us, but they’re food to others. If you mess with the food web to zap mosquitoes, then birds or bats and their offspring may starve. That’s extreme too. Plus a bug zapper costs electricity to run, oil to make, and eventually landfill to dispose of.
But why listen to me? Why trust me? Actually, I hope I’m wrong about the future (which would be consistent generally with my present and my past). In the meantime, until the future arrives (oh, it’s here?), part of me wants to lay this burden down; part of me, however, feels this thing, this ‘blessed unrest’, is not a burden but a great boon, a great joy. Within this duality of burden/joy, pessimist/optimist, doom/boom, dark/light, black/white, right/wrong, good/evil, god/devil, mind/body, man/woman, human/nature (you get the idea, though on second thought, perhaps this duality is unreal, like the Ptolemaic system was unreal), I think I may be a pessimist, but (as somebody quipped) ‘that’s nothing to be gloomy about.’ More seriously, Wade Davis says that ‘pessimism is an indulgence. If you’re a father, you can’t be pessimistic.’ I’m a father. What I’m struggling not to be pessimistic about is the whole human adventure. Physicist Neil Turok (pictured), the 2012 Massey Lecturer, says we humans are reaching the limits of our technologies. More dangerously he says we are running out of optimism. ‘Who are we, afterall? Are we just the product of a random process of genetic mutation and natural selection now reaching its terminus, or are we potentially the initiators of a whole new evolutionary stage in which life may rise to a new level?’ In the excerpt he doesn’t say. image from the cbc
He acknowledges the challenges–‘financial instability, over-consumption and pollution, energy and resource shortages, climate change, and growing inequality’–but perhaps paramount is that we ‘seem to be locked in a culture of short-term thinking, of the quick fix and the fast buck, whereas what each of these problems really needs for its solution is consistent, principled, far-sighted actions extended over many years.’ Born in South Africa to anti-apartheid activists, he lives in Cambridge and is head of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Although he’s not sure about the future, as a scientist he must have some faith in science and technology. (I bet he’s a father too. Are those his kids?) I have some faith in science and technology too, but I’m wary that technology may be a trap–zap! That’s why I hope I’m wrong. I want so much to be optimistic.
Perhaps it’s not either but both, in true quantum fashion, both doom and boom. Well, at least until it’s measured :)–and the dance goes on. Excuse me while I trip the light fantastic!