I’ve been away from blogging for a little while as work became quite busy and stressful as I was given a project that normally would take several months to prepare for and was given two and half weeks. I’m not complaining though, I am still very fortunate to have the job that I do, and in the end it was a very rewarding outcome. I had to organize a Science Olympiad tournament for 40 regional high schools and middle schools and it ended up going very well. I didn’t actually have to do this task, but if I didn’t a lot of kids would have been hurt, and a lot of teachers very angry and so it really wasn’t something that I took any time to consider, I just knew it had to be done, and I did it because it was the right thing to do.
It got me thinking a lot about stress on how much it affects our behavior. It cost me my spring break and I was bitter about that. In that time I was also certainly less attentive to others in my life. I was more moody, snapped a little more than I probably should have at people that I care about and had a lot of trouble sleeping. The guilt of snapping at people at being less attentive to others, and lack of sleep are positive feedbacks which worsen your condition. I am fortunate that it was only a rough few weeks. I am fortunate to even have a spring break. I am fortunate that even though the semester still has lots of work left in it, there will be summer holidays starting in early May. There are people who face what I face, every single day of the year, with additional stresses associated with finances that I do not face. When I reflect on how irrational I might be in times of stress I think about the cumulative effect such things must have some people. How hard they might struggle to find a way out, who they might time to blame their stress on, and wonder what things they might rely on to find peace. It makes a lot of irrationality in the world understandable.
At the same time it makes you really question why it has to be that way. We have the resources to feed everybody, we have the knowledge and ability to give good health care to everyone. We know a lot about the universe and how to give people quality education, and we know the things that make people truly fulfilled and happy. We know a lot about our own imperfections and biases so that we can avoid the pitfalls of our flaws. We know better ways to correct deviant behavior, we know better ways to reduce the possibility of criminal and violent behavior, and we know better ways to raise. We may not know everything, but we know better. “Civilized” society seems so counter to how we operate as humans that somedays I really question whether or not it is all worth it. Even though we might live longer on average than our hunter gatherer predecessors, and can avoid many of the deaths from natural disasters that our predecessors could not, sometimes I do wonder whether or not it was all worth it, and whether or not we shouldn’t all still be climbing trees to pick fruit. And yeah maybe it would be sad to lose a few people to drought, or malaria, but so much death nowadays seems to be preventable and avoidable. The destruction in Belgium and Turkey recently really makes one question whether all this is worth it. Has any of this civilization experiment increased happiness? Benefitted the home we call Earth? Given our evolution as a species perhaps this trajectory was unavoidable, but it feels so much easier to accept deaths caused by the pitfalls of living in the wild over seeing death occur from senseless acts of violence that will never lead to any gain, or seeing children die from hunger while not very far away somebody sits on a fortune of money and resources they do not even need.
Alright, I know this is not very cheery and I am not helping much to increase human happiness either, but I think many people share these thoughts. I of course do believe that this trajectory of civilization was to avoid human suffering and nobody really imagined the consequences we are facing now. Maybe these are the growing pains we must go through. I hope that our intelligence is great enough to get us out in the end. Perhaps the real shame is that our lifetimes are still too short to be able to see the end result of all this suffering. I wonder if a 13th century scholar who watched people die from plague after plague, and endless crusades and wars, could visit us now if he would actually be impressed with our moral progress. Maybe what we have now is further than he or she ever dreamed. Maybe they would remind me to consider myself lucky that I live in such times and that now that they have seen the change possible over the long march of time that there was every reason to continue to have hope and strive for more. And if there is one thing that I know for sure is that nothing has ever been made better by despair. And if I want a world in which people do not live in despair and have reason to be hopeful then I must lead by example, even if I only touch a handful of people in my world. Who knows how far the ripples of our impact will travel through time.