Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Great Disconnect!
It's now the next morning, and a bit after 10, but I think I have my thoughts straight on a difficult subject. The opening photograph is a combination of the thoughts and skills of me and my friend Chris Bolton of spudgrafix. The photo has no direct relation to my topic, but is meant to provide a little levity to offset the seriousness of the topic. Scroll back to the photo whenever you need to.
A quote I've been saving from the late William James, Harvard professor in the late 1800's, will set the tone: "The chief characteristic of civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present."
These past few days there has been a collision in my mind of thoughts about our use of fossil fuels and about reactions to the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. This collision led to my reading the article in Wikipedia on "Willful ignorance." The gentle author reminds us that ignorance itself has gotten a bad rap. It's meant to refer to a kid of ignoring, not necessarily purposeful, or an unawareness. For example, if you were unaware of a tragedy happening in a remote part of the Earth you can't be blamed for not having a reaction to it. Willful ignorance, on the other hand, is when you ignore any sense data the contradict your already established and preferred world view. Some people who habitually do this sort of thing actually don't trust the senses as our primary source of information about the world. Science, of course, is based on data gathered by the senses. Knowing the senses are not perfect, science has other practices such as peer review and reason so that errors are found out and corrected as much as humanly possible. Faith, on the other hand, as Mark Twain once said, is 'belief in what you know ain't so."
In the Wikipedia article, the second paragraph, titled "Examples," lists Creationism, Conservapedia, and Expelled: Leader's Guide, among other things. I got a charge out of that. Toward the end of the article there's a section titled "See Also" under which are listed Cognitive Dissonance and Faith. Another chuckle. At this point, some of my readers might want to scroll back to the opening photo for a few minutes.
Years ago I lived in an extremely remote area next door to a family that had some sort of hound dog. Or maybe a Lab. I don't know if it was one of those breeds that is trained to chase things, or if it was a breed genetically predisposed to chase things, or maybe a combination. One evening this hound came yelping home from the woods with a face full of porcupine quills. A painful trip to the vet, 45 minutes away, was followed by a few day's rest in the house on a diet laced with pain killers.
The moment the dog was allowed to go back outside, it took off for the woods and a short while later returned yelping with a more serious face full of quills. Another trip to the vet and another painful recovery. The next time the dog was allowed out of the house it headed for the woods again, this time more animated and barking louder. This time the dog returned with an inoperable face full of quills and it was agreed by the vet and family that the dog needed to be put down.
This dog's behavior reminded me of the philosopher Santayana's definition of a fanatic: One who upon forgetting his original purpose redoubles his effort.
So, this brings me to my recent observations:
1. the continuing popularity of leaf blowers - using fossil fuels to blow leaves around rather than use rakes. To further support this practice, it's hard to find a high quality rake any more.
2. The popular seasonal practice of leaving one's car running while shopping. If the world's going to end from global climate change, might as well keep that tush warm until then.
3. The continuing popularity of stock car races. When the inevitable switch to electric or other silent cars arrives, I imagine 'stock' cars being equipped with speakers that play recordings of the roar of internal combustion engines without mufflers. Young drivers would buy these from a J C Whitney catalog, or online they could order the particular roar that appealed to them. Otherwise, can you imagine people attending silent stock car races?
Then I imagined football helmets with built-in sound systems that could broadcast roars of the players' choice - lions, wolves, hyenas, so the menacing roars could be heard above the roar of the crowd.
4. Dry land snowmobile races.
5. Saving the most ludicrous for last: require teachers to carry guns. How else can schools be made safe? The more guns we have, the safer we'll be, right? If a high school prankster ordered a pizza to be delivered to his math class, the poor delivery guy would probably be shot on sight.
As a life-long student of natural history, I have tried to notice features of plants and animals that work. that is, enhance their chances of survival in given environments, versus features that tend to lead to maladaptive traits and extinction. Over the course of life on Earth, at least 3.5 billion years, extinction is the rule, not the exception. Seems like we're well on our way.