Friday, October 10, 2003

A Pointless Freakout for Your Enjoyment

I get a little freaked out at times, thinking about how tenuous and arbitrary everything is.

Consider: Earlier this summer, I was driving around Minneapolis on a really warm, beautiful evening. I had the windows down and Springsteen's Born in the USA on the stereo, and I watched the sun go down behind the downtown skyline and thought that the moment felt so perfect, so natural, that I had to be feeling some connection to the very essence of what it means to be human. We were born to drive around in mid-sized Midwestern cities and listen to populist rock.

Then it occurred to me that, um, no, what I was doing was actually a huge aberration in terms of human history. Think about it- we've been around as a species for millions of years. We've been on this continent (in one group or another) for tens of thousands. But if I went back even a hundred years, the vast majority of what felt so natural right then would have been looked at as pretty freakish- sure they would have had cars (albeit pretty different from mine) and a Minneapolis skyline (ditto), but I imagine Mr. Springsteen would have horrified a 1903 audience. Go back another 100 years and pretty much everything about the situation would have been beyond outlandish.

Everything around us feels completely natural and normal, but the truth is that we've only been able to live like this for the tiniest sliver of human existence. And I don't mean to make it sound like I think we're bad or evil or living in abomination, just that we should be aware of just how unique this is. It even changes my perspective on pollution a little- I hate it that we're shitting so messily in our own bed, so to speak; but man, we've really changed the terms of human life on this planet, at least for those of us lucky enough to live in a reasonably stable and prosperous area.

I also get freaked out at how many of the "common sense" ideas that we take for granted are just recently-concocted and fairly arbitrary concepts. For example: I take it on faith that reading is good for you, and that it's inherently better than watching TV. But literacy as a concept has been around, what, five or six thousand years? That sounds fairly impressive at first, but it's still pissing in the bucket when you stack it up against millions of years of existence. And for the vast majority of those five or six thousand years, reading was confined to a very small subset of society. Taken in the context of all the people who've ever lived, I'm kind of a freak for waking up on Sunday mornings and sitting on the sun porch with some coffee, a couple of cats, and a book.

I'm not even sure where I'm going with this. Nowhere, I guess. But I'm still freaked out.

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