AU is about the small stuff, the learning that adds up to a worldview that matches our hearts to our brains. We inhabit strange times that nevertheless have parallels in history: be it fake news or raging pandemics, or new Cold Wars, the idea that many truths abide on the same planet, and that everyone has an angle, an opinion, a way to feel to smart, has been part of reality for eons.
Egos on the rampage are nothing new, just ask the Romans. Wisely we might heed history if at AU we feel that we know more or better than others. During their steep decline, the Romans had thirteen Emperors in the first sixty years of the Fourth Century C.E. Each filled the office few a handful of years at most and was summarily sacked or assassinated. That’s like never having a politician re-elected for multiple generations! Finally, Rome itself was defeated and pillaged in 1476 and, broadly speaking, that was that. We might feel on the precipice of a great collapse, either civilizationally or in our AU studies, or perhaps both, but such an eventuality is likely not the case.
Yet, our times seem to tell a different story of the myriad complexities of human existence. Science teaches, or believes, that we humans are all part of a single species. In fact, we’re basically chimps—and not too far from chipmunks. Yet, when our AU course material enters the discursive fray, our minds can often feel or seem miles away from others. To learn to translate our learning into the vernacular is an invaluable skill right up there with learning the fine art of learning itself.
If It Bleeds, It Leads
Unfortunately, we’re surrounded by sensationalist media that limits complex cognition and the maturing of attention span (including our own). How often do we really read a whole article and truly ponder its significance for all of society and within the framework of history? The most horrific and chilling tales of individual woe and awful behaviour seem almost glorified by media representations.
So why, in the media, does it get to lead if it bleeds? Car wrecks are tragic accidents and forest fires, well, losing your home is terrifying even as trees and ecosystems must regenerate themselves.
A Theorist Named Church With Some Historical Perspective
Ian Church, whose research finds that “the biases and proclivities of human cognition” lead us astray even as relative conditions improve (Church, online), notes that humans have never had it so good by any metrics. Maybe alienation lurks in the weeds, and maybe that’s why some folks are such neurotics about making every little detail in their life perfect, but that facts remain. No human born this millennium has had it better in terms of sheer life and health expectancy.
Church provides us some additional historical perspective:
“Infant mortality is, in most countries, far lower than it was even a hundred years ago. Kids are, on the whole, safer now than they’ve ever been before; and the number of people brought out of abject poverty over the past half a century is truly a triumph and a point of celebration. Amidst all of this, however, the perception of the world as a dark and scary place is on the rise. The number of people who think that the world is so dark and evil that there cannot possibly be a God who would allow for it to be so, is on the rise too, at least in affluent Western nations. You’d think that the problem of evil would seem less problematic as global suffering decreased. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case.” (Church, online).
Keep Calm and Learn On
Despite our best efforts to transcend the human condition, philosophers and students are still human and can be caught up in the times. And these are, to put it charitably, extraordinary times. But that doesn’t mean we have to panic perpetually or go, to use the vulgar phrase, bat shit. Keep calm and learn on! Our critical faculties are a tool no one can take away from us, so let’s put some historical perspective in our Covid mask and smoke it. Metaphorically.
Church adds a final, wry, rejoinder that we may find better life perspective: “if aspirational media commonly tells us that we not only have the right to pursue happiness, but the right to be happy – such that any unhappiness we experience must be an indicator that something is wrong or that someone has wronged us – then we might plausibly wonder if the suffering we endure is especially heinous in the larger scheme of things” (Church, online). Not even our distance education travails are designed, per se, to guarantee our fulfillment. The key is to keep at it and see the big picture. Life can always be worse and, even though our studies or the times may get us down, much of history has probably been more unpleasant than the present.