Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Did the World "Change Forever"?

One of the frustrations for those seeking surety from science is that the observational method of modern science does not tell us how the universe works -- it tells us how the universe appears to work so far, where we happen to be at the moment. Thus, when we say, "According to the law of gravity, two objects are attracted to each other by a force equal to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them" what we actually mean is "Up to this point, in all situations that we've observed, it appears that objects behave that way."

With our ability to deduce patterns, we all fall victim from time to time to false assumptions that what we've observed lately is universally the case, not just in relation to physics, but to everyday life. My cat is convinced that when I come down from putting the kids to bed, he will invariably received canned cat food -- not realizing that if his store of cans in the pantry has run out I simply can't provide him with any. Back during the internet boom, I imagined I could keep my sales job at the web company I worked for until I was ready to move and trade up to something higher paid -- until the day we all arrived for shift and found the door locked.

I recall back, in the days following the 9-11 attacks, various co-workers saying over and over again, "It will never be the same. The world changed for ever on 9-11." This was usually roughly the same people who said, "I could never imagine anything like this would happen."

Well, of course, it could happen. Indeed, Tom Clancy readers and action movie fans had been steeping themselves in even larger terrorist attacks for years. But a great many people didn't bridge the gap from imagining such things to actually thinking they could happen.

Our country has been fortunate enough in the last century that we have built up a lot of "natural laws" in our heads, based on what has been rather than what must be. There hasn't been a major war on US soil for nearly 150 years. Our economy hasn't collapsed in 80 years. We haven't been invaded in 200 years. We've never suffered a military coup. With the exception of 9-11 and the OKC bombing, terrorism has virtually never happened in our country. The list goes on. In a discussion of poverty in the US a while back, someone demanded with rhetorical irony, "What do you want to tell the working poor, that they're better off than people in Haiti?"

Perhaps that's not a helpful thing to tell people struggling to pay the rent and keep the lights on, but at the same time, we forget all to easily that in the history of the world Haiti is more normal than we are.

So while I've moved states and jobs since 2001, and lost track of my old coworkers from that period, I can't help imagining that to a great extent, the world that changed for them back then has mostly changed back. People tend to expect that tomorrow will be like yesterday, and being ever-ready is more work (and perhaps more depressing) than most people are actually up for. So it is in all times...

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