Scarier Than Covid

Humans are built to worry.  It’s in our DNA.  It’s why we became the dominant species on this planet — and not lunch.  When you’re the slowest, skinniest, weakest predator in the food chain, you need to develop some skills. One of the most important is anticipating danger.  It’s looking into the nice, warm cave and imagining the badass beastie who might be in there, just waiting for an unsuspecting Cro-Magnon Happy Meal to come along.  To be wary of the unknown is to be human.  So when an invisible little bug comes wheelin’ out of (dare I say it?) China and starts killing people, our natural tendency is to say “OMG!  Is it going to get me?”  Good question, but remember: as terrible as Covid is, it’s a temporary pain in the ass.  There are other things in this world that are a lot more permanent — and a lot scarier.  And if we don’t watch out, they WILL get us.  Here are just a few examples.

1 — Record Keeping – Back in the day, when anyone wanted to preserve knowledge, they carved it into a stone.  We literally have tons of examples that are thousands of years old: Hammurabi’s Code, the Rosetta Stone, the Pyramids.  They are all still there for anyone to see.  These days, however, when we want to keep important stuff safe, we rely on digital dots that head off into … I don’t know where.  However, I do know (wherever they go) some adolescent hacker with a grievance can go get them.  Not only that, but if he’s pissed off enough, he can do terrible things to them – with his telephone.  Personally, I’m scared stupid that my medical records, criminal records, bank history, driving history, Amazon account, credit cards, PIN number and library card are all at the mercy of a teenager with a grudge.  Swear at some kid on the subway and you could end up a bankrupt sex offender with a scheduled colonoscopy, outstanding warrants and overdue books.

2 — Lawyers – I can’t even write anything here because I’m scared some bloodsucking lawyer will take offence and sue the pants off me.  (Disclaimer: This is a general comment and not directed at any particular bloodsucking lawyer, living or dead.)

3 — Fraidy-cat Feminism – Nope, I’m not going to go there, either.

4 — The Cyber Mob – There’s a social media lynch mob out there just waiting for somebody – anybody — to step out of line, and there’s no law against them coming after me.

5 — University Students – Young people are supposed to be outrageous.  They’re supposed to say and do things that rankle the rest of us.  They’re supposed to talk about stuff that stodgy old buggers like me shy away from.  It’s their job because that’s where new ideas come from.  So, it scares the hell out of me when I hear undergrads demanding “trigger warnings” to alert them to the imminent danger of — words.  That’s right: we’ve raised an entire generation who are afraid of words.  “Careful, kids — or the nouns’ll get ya!”  It’s impossible to overestimate how dangerous this is.  University students should be on the frontline of our war against ignorance.  They’re supposed to take intellectual risks, not cower in a “safe space,” clutching their “anxiety puppies.”  These are the folks who are destined to deal with the problems of the 21st century.  How?  They can’t even hear the names without getting PTSD.  And BTW, calling them “snowflakes” is demeaning to the survival skills of snow.

And finally, the root of all anxiety in the world:

6 — Politically Correct – This new religion of the intellectually lazy has evangelized the entire world, and those who refused to convert have been slapped into silence. (See item #4.)  It has created so many sacred cows that our conversations are starving to death.  Think about it!  How many topics do you avoid just because it’s easier that way?  How many subjects are verboten?  How many times have you thought twice about expressing an opinion?  It’s getting to the point where we can’t even talk about the weather without some “woke warrior” lecturing us on the evils of climate change.  And the scariest thing about it is there’s never going to be a vaccine available to kill this viral stupidity.

 Now, that’s frightening!

Paris: The Internet

Last week, I discovered a place where the Internet wasn’t alive.  It still existed, though.  After all, I was just outside Paris, not roaming the orangutan valleys of Borneo.  However, when I looked around, I found the www dot world didn’t breathe, pulse or walk on two legs.  It was just a machine.  It was convenient and smart and autocorrected my spelling, but like the ancient rotisserie toaster in my breakfast-included hotel, it didn’t change my life.  It just did as it was told.   That’s not strictly true.  I never figured out WiFi, for example, but that wasn’t the machine’s fault.  I don’t speak technologese in any language.  Regardless, it surprised me that within church bell distance of one of the most connected capitals on the planet, young people had unmasked the omnipotent Internet for what it is – a tool.

I love the internet.  It’s the greatest thing to happen to humanity since Gutenberg decided that the big money was in Bibles.  And like Gutenberg, the Internet has gone from changing history to shaping it — in just a couple of decades.  Of course, most of the big-gun commentators point out that this is because we’re all connected blah, blah, blah.  While that’s true, it’s not the only reason.  In fact, a lot of this new-found connectivity has simply trivialized much of our communication.  Texting, by its very nature, is not serious.  Don’t believe me?  Try double-thumbing your way through a complicated conversation sometime.  It can’t be done!  Personally, I prefer Graham Bell’s 19th century technology when I want to argue a point, if for no other reason than there are no passive aggressive LOLs or LMAOs to get in my way.  Of course, as in poker, if you’re going to be serious, you need to see the other person’s eyes.

That’s what the French kids were doing in a couple of cafes just outside Paris.  The national election was over and they were talking politics the way their grandparents did (just short of the other fellow’s nose) but with an extra kick.  Every once in a while an animated face would drop back and, with a few finger strokes, reach into cyberspace and haul out a fact.  The Smart Phones then became part of the argument presented like evidence in a court of law.  “Hollande said this.  Look!  It’s right here!”

This is what the Internet really is: a democracy of information.  It gives each of us the same opportunity to be just as smart as the rest of us — or the best of us.  We are no longer ignorant savages.  We have the world’s mightiest tool at our disposal: knowledge.  It doesn’t matter whether we want to know how to tie a Windsor knot or build a flying buttress, the Internet can show us how.  Those French students were going through encyclopedias of information at warp speed so they could wade back into the discussion like political fencers armed with sharpened epees.  They were using the Internet for its primary purpose: a vast depository of the world’s knowledge – everything from Herodotus to Sam Huntington — delivered to the palms of their hands by a digital Prometheus.

But remember: Prometheus was punished for giving gifts to humans and fire unleashed can be destructive.  For the most part, the Internet has been hijacked by social media — Facebook friends “Liking” everything under the sun and telling each other what they had for breakfast.  Serious debate has been overshadowed by Angry Birds™ (a great game, I might add.)  However, for a couple of days, I saw what the Internet was supposed to be: a really, really smart intuitive machine.  Like a paintbrush or a chisel, capable of greatness in the right hand and practically useless without a hand to guide it.