Have any of you read the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? Christina had come upon the book in Guinee, and had suggested that we also read it so that we could talk about it. It is a fascinating book, with a neat premise, but it does take some discipline to get through. Anyway, why did I bring this up? It was because my mind wandered into the realm of the absurdness of what our civilization is all about while I was on the trail this morning. I am not going to get into the book any more, except to say that it explores the concept of takers and leavers. If you have not read the book and the subject intrigues you, please do give it a read and give me your impression..But why have I opened up this subject? Fortunately or unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that happens to me on the trail. After my body adjusted itself to the the freezing cold of the morning, the mind essentially wandered into this topic. The initial phase of mental activity is usually a cleansing of all the bad things that happened during the week, during which I allow myself to literally scream at the emptiness around me, where nobody can hear me.Getting past this phase can take varying amounts of time depending on what actually happened during the week, and then this is replaced by an emptiness of the mind that allows it to wander wherever else it chooses to do so. So here I am, a mad mind let loose.Onto the subject of this random monologue… To start with, I think there is no counter-argument to the fact that over the centuries human beings have made significant advancements in many different areas and facets of life. We have a gained immense knowledge about things around us and even within us. We are capable of exploration everywhere, from the smallest scale of things, right down to subatomic particles, all the way to the largeness of the universe and the cosmos around us, with limitations placed only by the current technology and the costs of indulging in such explorations. As humans, we are also capable today doing a lot of things, some of which would have been considered unthinkable even a few years ago. We tend to take a lot of this for granted today. For example, flying through the air at great speeds in extremely complicated machines would have been unimaginable even a century ago. We have instant communications today literally in the palm of our hands, by transmitting invisible waveforms through the air and by even connecting everybody and everything through the Internet. We explore space using powerful machines and clever technologies that allows devices to operate by themselves on far away planets. Interventions to extend human life that include fixing of all kinds of internal plumbing and even mechanical replacements are commonplace today. Improvements to our capabilities to provide food and nourish human growth have resulted in major extensions to human life. It is all like magic!
So what happens as a result of all this wonderful capability. While there is much more to learn and become more aware of of the world around us today, more of the people who have access to all kinds of resources have stopped thinking. You have the mindlessness of the societies that are supposedly doing well, that are completely self-absorbed, that are immersed in entertainment based pastimes using the new “toys” that the technical advancements have brought, and I will say that people have become dumber and less capable of learning and understanding things, and thinking and surviving. I was reading the news about the “suffering” of the folks who were on a cruise last week when the they lost power on the ship and the engines gave up, and they had to survive for a few days in this condition before they reached shore. Oh, the horror! And I was thinking about the living conditions in a country like Guinee and how those folks (including the Peace Corp Volunteers) would probably look at the complaints of the the well-to-do Americans and laugh. Who is the better off, who is the happier, who is the person closer to reality?
We have made so many medical and nutritional advancements on earth that life expectancy has increased over time. But are we going overboard by keeping people alive regardless of circumstances just because the technology allows us to do so? At what cost do we do this? Are the people affected really happy about this? Under what conditions do they live their extended lives? Populations are also increasing and we are using more and more of the resources around us to keep this up. We have introduced genetics into the process of food consumption so that we can be more efficient, and pretty soon we will be using this kind of capability in various other ways to extend our lives even further. We will even mess with our DNA. At the same time there is immense waste of food on a massive scale, and there is so much inequality that while we are growing stupid super-humans in one part of the world, people are still starving in other parts of it and living by the seat of their pants. And we are slowly destroying the world we live in while we are about it. Are we even stopping to think about where we are heading? We talk about progress, but there are consequences for the kind of progress that we are making that are too inconvenient and perhaps even difficult to grasp.
And then when we do not understand things, or we need some sort of justification for what we do, we can look to the supernatural to try and answer our questions and give things “purpose”. Yes, there has to be a meaning to everything that exists, and everything has been put into place for a reason, and we are the focus for everything that goes on in the cosmos. Is this not some form of arrogance?
This is all too absurd!
Who are we – takers and leavers? My hats off to those of you who are actually trying to make a difference in other people’s lives in very direct ways. To me that is what life should be all about.