Monday, April 13, 2020

First, There Was

There is a saying from Mark Twain: "Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first."

To be sure, I haven't read whatever book or collection that this is from, and so I have no idea of the broader context behind it. Still, it speaks to me. Having expectations of life, and how things "should" be is easy. Effectively holding the world responsible when it doesn't do as desired, however, is impossible. And if we think of the world as a thing, rather than a collection of people, it can't owe us anything. It has no capacity to recognize, or repay, anything that may be given to it. Its various and sundry systems and processes are simply out of anyone's control. People need things from the world in a way that the world, whether that be planet Earth or the whole of the population that lives on it, do not not need things from any given individual. True, if we are speaking of people, it is possible for any given individual to structure their lives so that they need nothing from the greater collective. But the greater collective is always independent of any given individual.

When there is need, the understanding that such a need creates an entitlement is not uncommon. I am told that the philosopher Thomas Nagel said: "We all think that when we suffer it is not just bad for us, but bad, period." While I am inclined to disagree with the inclusion of "all" in that statement, I do think that it's somewhat pervasive. And presuming that Mr. Nagel's statement is true for even a sizeable minority of people, the idea that the world should be invested in our outcomes would be widespread.

But in the grand scheme of things, the world is effectively random. Things happen. In much the same way that they did before we arrived on the scene. I'm not going to say that people should simply make piece with that, because it's easier said than done. But I do think that it's often better than the alternative.

No comments: