Wild world

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Editor Brandon is currently vacationing Brandon, so I have been allowed back for this issue, with appropriate warnings to behave myself. With that in mind, let me ask you: hasn’t the world gone completely insane? Tornadoes hitting Ottawa, high temperatures everywhere, wildfires in Quebec spreading smoke as far away as New York City, wildfires above the Arctic Circle! Glaciers melting and exposing long-lost corpses and sunken ships, and dire warnings for the future of the planet. Think about it: the eight hottest years on record all occurring since 2015, eight years ago. The hottest year was 2016. The ten hottest years on record have occurred since 2010.

And still we have the naysayers, the ones who are convinced that climate change is a hoax, the word used by US Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy during the first GOP presidential primary debate. He said, and I have to quote him or you may not believe me, “The climate change agenda is a hoax  The reality is more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.” No doubt he believes that COVID was a hoax too, as so many still claim in spite of the millions of deaths worldwide. Who is staging these hoaxes, and why? What is being gained?

I always come back to one question when it comes to the many and increasingly common conspiracy theories going around: why do people believe a few online posters instead of the vast majority of people who know something about the subject? Why do we want to believe in deep states and Illuminati and DaVinci Codes? This is not to say that I think “experts” are always to be believed, or that there isn’t often a time gap between what experts know and what the public believes at times. And it is always salutary to remember that the experts used to assure us that allowing leeches to drain blood from sick people was the way to cure them, or that smoking was good for our health.

We do tend to believe what we want to, regardless of the evidence for or against the thing believed. We like to be tolerant of ideas, to the extent of accepting the completely false notion that “all religions are the same and teach basically the same thing”, or that “people are basically good”, in spite of the facts of history demonstrating that we really aren’t, given the opportunity to behave without restrictions.

Now, people will disagree with both of those statements, which is perfectly ok, as long as there are reasons for doing so, other than an automatic denial based on finding them disagreeable. So how do we find our way in this confused and confusing world? Our problem is exacerbated by the gradual development over the past couple of centuries of the idea that there are no absolutes: no ultimate standards applicable to all. Relativism, “doing your own thing”, “what is true for you isn’t necessarily true for me”, all have had their effect on how we judge things now. And yet, at the same time, 1+1 still equals 2, oxygen is essential for breathing, everyone dies at some point, and you can’t walk through a solid wall. Basic facts we all accept, so why the vagueness about what should be clear in other areas?

The fact is that we, as the human race, is losing its way, losing its battle to save the planet and ourselves, losing faith in each other, and losing any sense of shame. By shame, I mean the growing willingness of people, like politicians for example, to openly lie, knowing it’s a lie, knowing that we know it’s a lie, so as not to alienate their supporters. How did we get to this? It wasn’t just Trump, though his arrival on the scene has certainly accelerated the process. We accept this behaviour, we accept that people can believe completely contradictory things and never think it’s odd to do so. It is as though we are being slowly brainwashed, gradually coming to believe impossible things to be normal, opposite things to be complementary. We believe that all points of view are equally valid, no matter how much they conflict with each other, or with reality. What’s happening here?

Socrates, a very wise man indeed, said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That is a warning to our times. We are accepting too much without examining it. We are living our lives without thinking about what we believe, what we do, and why we do it. People may counter that we have no right to judge others or their beliefs. I agree, if that means not condemning them for their opinions. But if by judging we mean evaluating, then I think Socrates has a point. It may have always been the case that the majority accepted uncritically whatever authority told them was true, and that has probably caused more tragedy than anything else. That phenomenon hasn’t changed, really. It’s just that now, the identity of the authority has changed, fragmented, assumed by everyone from politicians, religious leaders, and even the single nutcase tapping away on his home computer, giving his unique take on life, the universe and everything. Like me, I suppose. We definitely need to start examining, evaluating, thinking. The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is not 42! (For the uninitiated, see “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”).

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