Sunday, November 28, 2010


Back when I was in college, a bunch of us would occasionally sit around and waste time on various incarnations of "what if?" It took many forms, but would sometimes actually be simply "What if this happened? What would you do?" Depending on who was present, the overall themes would vary; one day, it was very science-fiction laden and the following question was posed:

Aliens are attacking the Earth, and have made it clear that they plan to exterminate the whole of the human species. You have the ability to communicate with them. What would you do?
I was feeling somewhat cranky that evening, and so my answer was simply: "Ask if they're still accepting applications." It was good for a laugh.

The impulse to see the entire human race wiped out is, I think, what happens in those rare moments when one is, for better or (likely) worse, cynical enough to keep up. In a lot of ways, it's the dark side of serenity - resignation mixed with more than a little contempt. The difficult thing about it is that people feed it without knowing it - I'm sure that I've done more than my share of pushing people into wishing for the destruction of the species, even if I couldn't actually tell you about a single episode.

Being okay with who we are as individuals is work enough on its own - being okay with who we are as the entire mass of humanity usually requires living under one of the few rocks that still lacks cable and high-speed Internet access. (I heard a Buddhist remark that he's heartened by the fact the news is so dominated by the nasty things we do unto each other, as the fact that we considered them newsworthy meant that we considered them unusual. I gave him top marks for creativity.) But that, of course, is something of a cop-out. Which brings me back to the dark side of serenity. Understanding that there are things you can't change can bring wonderful peace of mind. But it can also become a convenient cover for apathy - or, perhaps more accurately, learned helplessness.

Setting out to change the world is, to be blunt, a fool's errand. But if dreams come true, then one might as well dream big. And it beats signing on with an alien armada.

No comments: