“I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals.”
– Bill Joy
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity”
– W.B. Yeats
Realistically, how much longer do we have as a species? Fifty years? Is that overly optimistic? I don’t believe in the future; I believe in moments.
Life is a magician; her left hand is memory, her right hand is time, and she is shuffling these moments before me with no regard to sequence: sitting in front of my laptop, watching the look of anger and betrayal on the face of Greta Thunberg, as she demands accountability and action from the leaders of the world; eight years-old, sitting on the living room rug, watching black and white images of the first astronaut setting foot on the moon; sitting in a concert hall, listening awestruck as the American soprano Renee Fleming performs “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi; holding the tiny hand of my newborn daughter. All those bright cards, with their luminous illustrations. All depicting moments of friendship, love, and wonder; all the inspiration and warmth that human beings are capable of.
All these moments, though, are no more than matches lit by scared children in a haunted house; a brief flare, and then gone. In the long run, is there anyone who doubts that we are done for? In the end, will our fear not prove to be stronger than our hope? Will our greed not prove to be stronger than our love? How to weigh the worth of the human imagination? For every Shakespearean sonnet, Taj Mahal, and Apollo 11, there is a Manhattan Project, a wall, an act of genocide. For every Albert Einstein or Greta Thunberg, there is a Vladimir Putin and a Donald Trump. For every opera house and every hospital, there is a prison for children and a weaponized drone.
We claim to care about environmental devastation, yet we can barely be bothered to leave our SUVs behind and walk to the store, or use recyclable shopping bags. We claim to want to leave a better world for future generations. But again and again, through some diabolical combination of ignorance, self-interest, avarice, and cowardice, we elect the most foul-breathed, yellow-toothed demagogues and tyrants, allowing them to plunder and rape our present and our future at will. We sit in movie theatres, stuffing our faces with popcorn, entertaining ourselves to death with CGI visions of the apocalypse, in order to escape the reality that is unfolding all about us.
I am an existentialist, not a believer. If there is a soul to the universe, it is the soul of a trickster, a thieving magpie, ever ready to snatch away our bright, shiny wishes. The only thing its beak can’t snatch are our memories and our moments.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the future is much more filled with light and hope than I believe. Maybe we will come to our collective senses, and take actions that will lead us towards a brighter destiny. I am no genius, and I have spent much of my life being wrong about one thing and another. I certainly hope I am wrong. Really, really wrong. But, in the meantime, I plan to keep making moments happen with the ones I most care about, every single day.