Pseudo raised some interesting points in his article, “The Hope That Fools Bring,” in the previous issue of Ars Heroica. I’d like to address some of Pseudo’s points and “hope” I can bring some light to the discussion.
We Might Be Giants
Pseudo began by talking about the rate of change in the world and the power of the Web. But how much of that power is real? Have we become gods, or even giants? I think we still have a way to go.
The Famous Adventurer noted in his assignment comments, “I wouldn’t overestimate the power of the Web. Yes, you can communicate something to a lot of people. But most of your target audience will never see it. Most of the people who read your words will remain unchanged by them. Perhaps affordable nanomachine factories that can be used by anyone will change the world in the way you describe, but the Web is just a glorified newspaper dominated by advertisements. This site could have been handled by mail 100 years ago. And how much real world change really happens from Facebook or Twitter posts?” I tend to agree with FA.
The Internet is a great medium for sharing information and ideas, but it is not really a great leap of technological invention. The real work is still being done by individuals and teams in laboratories, businesses, and occasionally garages. Advances in cellular biology, materials, and agriculture seem to me more important in the long run than the Internet. And yes, all of these fields are changing much more rapidly than 100 years ago. We deal with a lot of changes, but they don’t really change the fundamentals of living life. We work, we play, we eat, we sleep, we make love. The details change, but the fundamentals stay the same.
So, can an invention improve the world? I guess that depends on your definition of “the world,” but I’d have to say the answer is, “Yes.” The world as it matters to our selfish species is the environment in which we live. If inventions help us to live longer, feel better, accomplish more, or be happier, then I’d have to say they’ve improved the world. And we do live longer and accomplish more. Happier? Hard to say, but we certainly live more comfortably than the majority of people in the past. Why is the rate of invention and change accelerating? It’s because we’re “standing on the shoulders of giants” and using our advantages to create more new things faster.
End of the World
“The world is doomed, the individual can be saved,” says Pseudo. He’s at least half right – The world is doomed. The question is, “When?” Or perhaps, “How badly doomed is it?” Actually, the individuals will be gone even sooner – a lot sooner. There’s pretty much no question that someday our world will no longer be able to sustain life as we now know it. The long-term prognosis is grim. But what about the short term? What are we to make of our lives when, ultimately, they may have no meaning? After all, I doubt my name will be remembered 1,000 years from now, and certainly not in a million.
What was it Gandalf said in Fellowship of the Ring? “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” We live in the here and now, with some branches reaching out into the near future, and little tendrils extending a bit farther. Most of our influence is limited to ourselves, the people around us, and a few others whom they may, in turn, influence. But does that make our lives, our actions, or our dreams meaningless? I think not.
“It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” – variously attributed. There are a lot of things wrong in the world, and it’s all eventually going to end, but that doesn’t mean we can’t live lives with meaning today. Pseudo points in that direction when he talks about the importance of the individual and how you can be a hero to one person at a time.
Hope and faith, when applied without action, are just excuses. That might be the sort of “hope that fools bring”. But when it is used to inspire us to accomplish challenging tasks, hope is a powerful force. We can look at a seemingly-insoluble problem such as poverty or pollution, and it’s easy to just give up. Or we can apply a little hope and ask, “What little piece of that problem can I solve?” then go and do it. These little hopes and small actions are the building blocks from which a better world can be made. It won’t happen overnight, and no one or few of us can do it by ourselves, but piece by piece, we build structures that may stand for a long time.
Foolish? Maybe. But it’s the sort of foolishness that gets things done, and that gives our lives purpose right here and right now. And that’s the only place and time where we can act.