The Terrible

Someone can truly believe it, but not me, not us. And by someone, I mean someone who is not alive, because anyone still breathing is programmed to think The Terrible can’t really happen, especially this iteration of human which has seen little but peace and growth. That “little” offers still further proof against panic: we have been through tough times before and always emerged victorious.

Past results don’t predict future outcomes and all other foreboding clichés have thus lost resonance. We can understand them on an academic level – multiply this probability by that one – but not at a level where we truly grapple with the consequences of numbers that declare a nonzero chance that life forever changes in awful ways. The numbers are, actually, quite beside the point since there aren’t numbers for that which has never happened before.

Once you start to see that, to feel that, you’ll do anything to maintain the status quo. Enter the bargaining phase. You’ll make promises you can’t keep to anyone who could potentially bail us out. And at this moment you’ll be perfect kin with 99.99% of your human ancestors who lived in fear, hunger, uncertainty, sickness, and death. Even with our considerable knowledge advantage over them, there are problems that can’t be solved – certainly not without great loss.

And what if we’ve found one? Just like there are times that that most charismatic teenager can’t talk his way into a better grade despite maximum effort, what if our past mistakes and current blindspots are too much to overcome? It’s been inevitable for all other species, why not us?

Don’t panic equanimous (allegedly) people will still urge, as if panic is any different from any other emotion. The utility of an emotion is directly related to the action it inspires. If paralysis ensues, then, yes, the emotion was largely detrimental. But productive behavior may well follow and expose the fraudulence of Don’t panic purveyors. Should our ancestors have ignored panic upon the entrance of a lion into their peaceful campsite? Should investors have dismissed panic as the market plunged a retrospectively minuscule 5%?

Unfortunately, if hollow voices are eliminated, the lesson necessary to avoid The Terrible remains unlearnable. It’s the grandest possible What I wish I knew when I was younger that no young person can possibly know, because there are some lessons that require experience.

I hope we are special.

I do know that you are special and that today is your special day. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

I, like you, look to elders to see what not to do. Being stuck in my ways ranks high on my list of destructive behaviors worth panicking about; unless you have reached the peak of existence (hint: you haven’t), total stasis must be avoided. But how? One way is continued exposure to that which is uncomfortable, challenging, and/or seems hopelessly wrong, especially when my beliefs/intuitions are strongest.

In this tradition, I offer two books that changed my mind on many things. Additionally, I offer one mind-expanding (basically just as valuable as mind-changing) essay “Good Old Neon.”