Umair Haque got me thinking. Again. It’s getting to be very disconcerting.
I seriously need to either stop reading his stuff or start writing more in response to his articles. I’m not out of the woods on that one yet. The trigger article this time? His article on how to fix your soul. It dates from May 2011 but I had failed to read it before.
Read it here. Then come back, if you’d be so kind. You and I, we need to talk about our obligations.
The end of the affair
As some of you know, I am quite a positive thinker. So let’s try a little thought experiment. Here goes:
Imagine the world being hit by an asteroid today. A real extinction level event. Earth gone, or at least all of humanity gone. Everything you cared about, anyone ever cared about, gone.
Care to consider how important that would be?
The relevance of our irrelevance
In the whole of the universe, it would be as important and as relevant as the bursting of one little tiny air bubble in the enormity of Niagara Falls. Not just Niagara Falls right at this moment. No, Niagara Falls over its entire existence.
We are irrelevant. We are nothing. We don’t matter at all. All the beauty we have ever created, all the knowledge we have discovered does not mean a thing. It does not matter. Not really. Or does it?
The humanity of the taxi driver
On occasion, I get to go to Paris. To attend a meeting at the OECD. I usually get a taxi to go there. It’s quite probably the slowest means of transport available in Paris, but I like to talk to the taxi drivers. They ground you. They are like most people. They are really like you and me.
Every day, most people struggle to make something, to create something. It may be because they want to leave something behind. It may be because they have to, to feed their loved ones. It may be because they cannot but create, sing, dance, act, write, … We do care, despite its ultimate irrelevance.
A taxi driver takes pride in what his children have achieved, or are achieving. A daughter going to medical school. A son in the armed forces. A wife dearly loved, achieving greatness every single day, either at home or in a menial job. Struggling but alive, working towards something. Working for something.
I admire the enormous strength it takes to do this everyday simple yet essential act of creation, despite the realization it only matters for a very short time. That is courage.
The betrayal of our inheritance
Most of us are taxi drivers, or are at most two or three generations away from being a taxi driver. My grandfather was a blue collar public servant. My grandmother ironed shirts for a living. Both of them did their work with enormous pride. They achieved sustainability for their grandchildren.
The consumerist generation has betrayed that inheritance. They choose opulence instead of eudaimonia, as Haque refers to it.
I despise the acts of selfless egoism of some people, most often those who deem themselves better than others, because of their skin, their beliefs or lack thereof, their sexual orientation,the amount of money on their bank account …
Their acts are not acts of intentional creation. Their acts are acts of destruction. They do not respect their ancestors.
A duty to oppose opulence
Even if in the end their betrayal is as irrelevant as the quiet acts of heroism we see around us every day, it should be part of our duty, our obligation to fight them. Every. single. day.
Because if we do not fight them, we are no better than they are. A failure to fight intentional, short sighted destruction is a refusal to create long term identity, lasting value …it is as if on the road to oblivion, we are no longer bound by what makes us human and humane. Our values.
If there is any redemption to be found for a race that is to die, all alone, far from any other intelligence and unbeknownst to them, on the outskirts of a lesser Milky Way, it is that we took the opportunity to create on the edge of the abyss, filled with endless depths of nothingness.
It should be the testament of our generation and those that come after us that we looked into the abyss, saw the monsters, recognized them as some of our own, yet never became monsters ourselves.
Umair Haque believes we are on our way to just that. I want to believe him, and deep in my heart I know we are heading there. Because sometimes, as Steven Johnson put it in his book “Future Perfect”, all of a sudden people moving together in the same direction will become a wave.