Strange Brouhaha

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Stephen Hawking's question

(As Gwar said, "Follow the herd, just another cow.")

As has been mentioned all over the place, Yahoo! Answers posted a question from Stephen Hawking: "In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?" It's gotten nearly 20,000 answers as of a few minutes ago, answers ranging from the really stupid to the considered and thoughtful.

Mine will probably be right in the middle of that range. Here goes.

Is the question "how can the human race possibly survive?" or is it "what ways will the human race find to survive?" The world has been in political, social and environmental chaos for centuries, after all. There was certainly a great deal of chaos at this time in the twentieth century, with more to come. And the human race survived.

I don't think that chaos is necessarily the problem; on the macro and micro levels, chaos is a part of life. The problem is *crisis*. I realize that I'm nitpicking terms, but when kooks like Kim Jong Il and George W. Bush have access to nuclear weapons, that's not chaos; when the ice caps are melting and the Earth is warming up more and faster, that's not chaos; when genocidal maniacs like the Sudanese gang or Donald Rumsfeld are allowed to run rampant, that's not chaos.

Anyway, we've got two separate questions to answer. "How can the human race possibly survive?" just will. It's what we do. It's what we're built for. It's why we have big brains. We create order out of that chaos and we call it civilization. You can't get all weighty and philosophical about it: it just is what we are.

The more interesting question, then, becomes "Well, how are we going to accomplish that?" There are a lot of answers to that one. It would be nice to give some pie-in-the-sky answer like "Well, once we realize that there's a problem, everyone will pull together and get the world fed, clothed and educated," but I doubt that would happen. It would also be nice to be able to say, "One critical invention will change life as we know it," but I don't think that's the answer either. It's an interesting question...but I don't know the answer.

I know, a lot of words to say "I dunno, we just will." But that's the nature of interesting questions: sometimes they don't really have answers. Yahoo! Answers really the place to ask this kind of thing? I mean, it's a bunch of ungrammatical crap, as far as I can tell, with people either asking stupid questions, insulting questions, or stupidly insulting questions. In short, since it itself is so chaotic, it's not really the venue to say "all this chaos is BAD."


  • (Savannah) Honey--you had a typo up there. It's "rampant."

    Anyhow--the *real* question is not "how will we survive," because survival is one thing (as any African or Latin American existing on less than $1 a day in a garbage dump can attest) but *living* is quite another. I think Monsieur Hawking meant, how will we get through this with anything that makes life worthwhile.

    In our collective history, We Always Just Have. But there are pockets, like Easter Island after they chopped down the last tree and like much of the African continent today, which give pause. Overall, we've done all right, but there have been many unhappy endings within the larger narratives. So the specter of an unhappy ending for the whole damn book does loom overhead.

    The crises we're facing now come from bad leaders: plutocrats and autocrats who are willing to loot public treasuries, let the poor and middle classes fend for themselves, throw wars like parties, sow chaos for fun, and blithely ignore climate change. Thus there is relatively little "we" can do, because the George Bushes, Kim Jong Ils and Osama bin Ladens of the world aren't playing by the same rules.

    So, my answer is: hold on really tight, squeeze your eyes shut and hope for the best while expecting the worst. And possibly move to Switzerland. Because after the nuclear war, it'll be cockroaches, Keith Richards, and Switzerland.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:44 AM  

  • Of course it's "rampant." I wander haw thot hoppened; it's nat like the a is right next ta the o ar onything.

    By Anonymous Robert, at 8:04 AM  

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