Oh, 2020. So young, and yet you’ve already dumped on us heaps of human dumbassery. No, I apologize, arbitrary number on a calendar, you didn’t do this. We’ve dumped it on ourselves. It’s so tempting to throw up one’s hands and concede that while homo sapiens sapiens are persistent, loud, and creatively destructive, we’re really not that smart, or that nice. Each new year seems to bring new reasons to lose faith in human nature and our supposed intelligence. We fumble our way into misinformation, unnecessary power struggles, wanton destruction of the very things that sustain us…ugh. Throwing up in my mouth a little as I write this.
Fun facts: humans have the largest brains of any vertebrate, relative to size. Over the millennia, Mother Nature has knit us a toque of trillions of synapses. We’ve got the grey, squishy goods to write symphonies, to explore other parts of the galaxy, to craft poetry, to fawn over sunsets, to restart someone’s heart. For the love of Pete, we were smart enough to invent butter tarts. And, even on a good day, all of this is grossly overshadowed by many, many instances of people repeatedly playing a worldwide, championship game of “You’re Hitting Yourself. Stop Hitting Yourself.”
Nope. We can do better. And when I say we can do better, I’m not saying that we should do better. Of course we should, but we really are able to do better. We’re waaaaaay smarter than this. Sometimes, it’s because we underestimate ourselves, our own intelligence, just like we underestimate the incredible smarts of kids, or animals. Sometimes we get flustered at the effort it takes to act like a clever species. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed at the amount of responsibility that comes with brain power. If you know better, you should be doing better, and you kind of can’t just excuse yourself from it. Regardless of our motivations, we are not living up to our potential. Not even close.
Remember this quote?
John and Yoko were really onto something, and I think you could easily replace”war” with “stupidity”, “foolishness” or “irrationality”. Even if the movie Idiocracy is slightly less than fictional, and we are, in fact, shrinking in our intellectually capacities, we still have a ways to go before we lose it entirely. For the time being at least, we are smart, and we are savvy, and we have the equipment necessary to not think like moldy kitchen sponges. It’s right there, people.
Do I think we’ll see an improvement in human behaviour in 2020, or 2011, or 2030? Probably not. You see, I’m a bit of a pessimist. It disappoints, but does not surprise me when my fellow humans make a circus act of their very worst actions. When I turn on my phone every morning, this is pretty much what I expect to see.
But there’s an optimist that lives in my head as well, and although she’s tiny, she “wears heavy boots, and is loud” (Henry Rollins). I know what we’re like most of the time, but I also know what’s available to us, all the resources and talents we have tucked away. I’ve seen it in the kids I work with, who celebrate their sparking, overloaded minds and hammer their elders with questions. I’ve seen it in my students, who manage to find really good ideas in the midst of the heavy task of finding themselves in the world. I’ve seen it in random strangers I meet at community events, when I get a glimpse of some nugget of wisdom they’ve been hanging onto for years. I hear it in a comedian’s punchlines, on the pages of my kid’s graphic novels, in song lyrics, and in protest movements. This tiny optimist is why I bother to do what I do, both professionally and personally. She won’t stop pointing out these possibilities to me. She’s why I brace myself for the worst in people, but still squint to see what’s hiding underneath the ick.
So we still have another 11 months left this year to redeem ourselves as thinking beings, and yeah, if we don’t screw things up too badly, we’ll have a lot longer than that. Let’s not blame the year itself, or the stars, or each other. Let’s just use what we’ve been given, and think.