Thursday, February 22, 2007

This one goes out to the dog I love

The world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. . . . Most of these long-haired belittlers can't drive a nail or use a slide rule, I'd like to . . . ship them back to the twelfth century--then let them enjoy it.
--Robert Heinlein, The Door Into Summer

I had a college roomie--other than Anthropapa--who was a computer science/drama double-major. This was back in the late 80s, and when he said "computer science," everyone said, "Wow. That's cool."

He always replied, "Cool, sure. But when the lights go out, it's useless."

It was a good reminder that what's really important hasn't changed: food and protection from the elements. We've just become accustomed to those services being so reliable that we take them for granted. As Gulf Coast residents found out, however, food and protection from the elements are not a right and they're not a given. And they found out that all of those computerized and electronic devices like computers and cell phones and GPSs don't work when the lights go out.

But I don't think that we should live as electrical existentialists, as though today were our last day with electricity. I'm with Heinlein; progress does make the world a better place, even if it does lead some of us to forget how to take care of basic needs, like growing food and building shelter and creating clothing.

My hope is that those who don't need to spend time on providing basic needs will spend their time trying to resolve larger problems, such as how to better predict the weather for farmers, how to build structures that we can rely on, and how to design clothes that will make any vapid billionaire look like a five-dollar hooker.

OK, not that last one, but you get the point.

History proves that this system pretty much works that way and that, in addition to solving problems revolving around our basic needs, those with more spare time also devote themselves to exploring and finding solutions to other problems, such as retention of knowledge and education, preventing needless suffering and death through disease prevention and eradication, and the advancement of our collective morality so that we all continually develop into more compassionate people, kinder people, happier people.

If you don't believe me, take a look at how society dealt with stray dogs in the 1870s:
The dog pound had two sections--one divided into individual compartments for "the better class of dogs" and the other a large pen for "curs of low degree." Owners had 48 hours to rescue their dogs and pay a $3 fine. The unclaimed dogs, up to 100 at a time, were put in a large iron cage and lowered into the East River by a derrick. After six minutes, the cage was hoisted up again.

Three years later, in 1880, more than 8,000 dogs were put to death in New York. "And there," opined one editor, "was thus destroyed more intelligence, more faithfulness and more common sense than ever bothered some of their persecutors.
Reading that makes my stomach flip-flop as if it were John McCain running for president, maybe because Barky was stuck in a shelter for six months and then had to be taken in by a beagle rescue league so he wouldn't be killed. So just because I bitch and whine about modern conveniences like plastics, I'm certainly not opposed to progress, especially the kind that brings us pet rescue organizations. And, for the record, just because I bitch and whine about skanky, callow billionaires, I'm certainly not opposed to them--they guarantee that web editors won't be the most useless members of society when the lights go out, which might save my ass for a few days.

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  1. Anonymous8:50 PM

    Okay, can you insert a WARNING before you lunge into the whole 'dunking mass quanities of dogs in the river' thing?

    Because now I feel sick. Thanks for that. No, really. I mean it.

  2. Did your college roomie also think that when the lights went out his drama major would be useful?? I suppose with no computers, cell phones, TV's, etc. we would need some live entertainment...