Finding My Nietzsche

I take comfort in geology.

It wasn’t a science in which I excelled. Let’s face it, there is no science in which I excel. However, among the handful of science-like subjects I studied in college, only geology spoke to me. And what it said was: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Actually, what it said was more like, “There’s no point in worrying about the future of mankind, Con, because in another million years or so humanity will be gone, the only evidence of its brief existence a slim stratum of compacted plastic and radioactive waste in the layer cake of geologic sediment.” Yum.

My geology professor said that humans were a “niche species,” likely only to be around for a million years or so, the blink of an eye, geologically speaking. In the 80’s, I found this idea strangely liberating. Back then there were plenty of experts predicting the end of life as we know it (though none of them seemed to see the internet coming, or reality TV, so, once again, we find that the world is full of experts, whose sound and fury don’t necessarily count for much). Yet in spite of the gloom sayers, the greater number of Americans were blithely consuming non-renewable resources as if they were serenely confident that, when the time comes that we actually do run out of petroleum, clean water, air, etc., there will be another planet coming on the market in our price range, fully furnished, with cable.

Yeah. The Reagan years. Good times for some.

But though I, too, am a hopelessly deluded escapist, even I know that a Battlestar Galactica finale isn’t likely.

Nope. I’m all about acceptance now. President Obama recently compared the task of trying to change the direction of the economy to trying to turn an ocean liner—a slightly more complex maneuver than reversing a rowboat. But, even if that were true, it’s impossible to turn anything around if the people holding the steering wheel won’t cooperate. And, in our current financial and social mess, an unholy alliance of corporate and congressional “experts” have driven our ship of state into pirate-infested waters and the prospects for a happy ending look slim.

I love humanity. Really. I’m just enough of a sap to feel a shiver of hope and courage whenever William Shatner, as Captain James T. Kirk of the original Star Trek, launches into one of his trademark, “what makes humans great is that they thrive on challenge” speeches. I believe it’s true often enough to make it worth holding onto—the idea that when the going gets tough, the tough get going and all. But, I also think that when the going gets tough, the tough damn well ought to lend a hand to the ones who aren’t quite tough enough to stand on their own yet.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when we put our minds to it we humans can accomplish great things. But unfortunately our best intentions don’t protect us from making catastrophic errors. Sure, we put a man on the moon. That was pretty neat. But meanwhile, back on Earth, in our efforts to “improve” the food supply, our corporate farming policies in the last forty years have driven almost all of America’s family farms off the land. And our new “improved” food supply hasn’t solved the problem of hunger in America, although it has led to making us more obese and increased the risk of food-borne diseases.

Still, I guess it doesn’t matter, since in the long run, geologically speaking, we may be on our last legs. I never studied Nietzsche in college, when the phrase “God is dead” got a lot of lip service. These days more people seem to be calling on the god or gods of their choice to help us find our way back to the glory days of peace and prosperity that some like to think of as America the Beautiful. I don’t know if God is dead, but He sure doesn’t seem to be returning His calls these days, so I think it might be up to us to sort this mess out ourselves.

Yeah. It looks pretty bad in places. But, you know, we humans, we do our best work when the stakes are high. Sure, one person alone can’t do it. But if we all push really, really hard, maybe we can turn this beast around and ride it into the sunset. Now that’s a finale William Shatner would pay to see.

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