No-one is more guilty than I am of getting so wrapped up in their own problems, that the bigger picture gets lost. I’m not alone of course. It happens to all of us some of the time, and to some of us all of the time. Far more often than is healthy I have hammered away at my keyboard, moaning about my life; about broken bones & kidney stones; the film I made that no-one wants to see; the blog post I wrote that no-one wants to read; the percentage of a bag of Walkers crisps which is just air, or that Cadbury’s Creme Eggs used to cost 13p… that fly that kept me awake… the list goes on.
These kinds of things, along with more serious concerns, occupy my thoughts, the thoughts of friends and family, and the thoughts of people (and Creme Eggs, for all we know) the world over, day-to-day, and will continue to do so, long after my blog, my keyboard, and my fingers, have ceased to exist. Nowadays it is easier than ever to find a public forum, in which to complain about how unfairly the world has treated you. But it is also trendier than it has ever been to look down on people for doing just that. We’ve all heard it, some of us have done it: “How can you sit there, whining about the price of Creme Eggs, when humanity is stripping the rainforest, choking the atmosphere, catching dolphins in tuna nets, killing thousands, in pointless, armed conflicts, losing touch with the written word, and destroying language with text messaging?” But even these concerns, it seems to me, are missing the really big picture, and the one which most often fails to see the flaw in its own logic is this one “Mankind is evil, and we’re making the planet uninhabitable!”
Okay… well… that being the case, is that surely not a problem which will resolve itself?
Now, before you go and burn an effigy of me in the streets (check out my videos if you really want to capture my likeness in a flame-friendly mannequin), I would like to explain in more detail.
I have a friend who frets, worries, shouts, and experiences depression as a result of the evils of humanity, and the desperate fear that the whole thing is pointless. She is quite simply one of the very best, most beautiful people it has ever been my privilege to know, and it genuinely upsets me to see her that way. I mean, I am in complete agreement that mankind is doing some really evil shit, and has done for quite some time. You are quite right that we are poisoning the planet and feeling way too comfortable at the top of the food chain. But, consider this…
Space, as a man much cleverer than myself once said, is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is… and so on. This man, whom I have respected, admired, and lately missed terribly, put a humorous spin on something I think it is difficult to look too closely at without humour. He wrote of strange worlds, weird statistics, and bureaucratic beings destroying the Earth for the sake of more convenient interstellar travel. And I tend to look at that last part, as Douglas Adams’s way of saying something I think more people should keep in mind: We have not upset the balance of nature. We are incapable of doing such a thing on anything but the smallest scale. People look outside their window at storms, animal and plant life, grass, trees, land and water… and think that is nature. When the truth is that nature is much, much, much, much more than simply these. It is all things, from the tiniest unobservable part of the tiniest fraction of the tiniest nucleus of an atom, to the unthinkable vastness of the unobservable universe, and we have absolutely no chance of affecting it in any serious way. Sure, we can kill plant life, animal life and our own lives. We can choke the atmosphere and clutter the Earth’s orbit with space junk. We can smile and laugh (evil laugh of course) at how marvellous it is that we are on top of it all… but we are not!
For hundreds of thousands of years humans have been making their mark on this planet. Archives full of written, photographed, videoed, and even fossilised records stand as testament to the triumphs and tragedies of our race. We have survived plagues, floods, fires, hurricanes, wars, famine, volcanoes, earthquakes and more. We have struggled through a process of evolution, from the smallest organisms to the huge, fat, fast-food-eating, greedy, social-media-hungry mammals that we are today; battling disease, disaster and starvation, and living to fight another day. We stood upright, turned our opposable thumbs down at all “lower” life-forms and built huge cities where forests used to thrive… and do you know what?
The Universe doesn’t give a shit! Just like it didn’t give a shit what the dinosaurs had been through. These huge creatures were at the top of the food chain, gobbling up, stamping on, and getting in the way of the evolution of “lower” life-forms for 150 million years! That’s a hell of a lot longer than we’ve managed, or probably ever will manage. 150 million years of ruling the planet, and The Universe just dropped a big steaming pile of “I don’t care” right on their heads. It could do the same thing to us at any moment.
The universe is a very big girl, and is quite capable of taking care of herself thank you very much. It has probably never even heard of us. And, while this might make for awkward silences when running into it at parties, it is just one of a billion examples of just how much of a damn it consistently fails to give about our existence! If you doubt this, think back to February of this year, when the Universe gave us (or at least the people of Chelyabinsk) a big, fat exploding reminder that it neither knows nor cares about the struggles of a few million species, living on a ball of rock in the backward-ass end of one of it’s billions of galaxies.
If I might speculate for a moment… I honestly believe that as we go out into the stars (assuming we ever make it that far without screwing the whole thing up for ourselves), the words of a slick, leather-jacketed mathematician, from the typewriter of Michael Crichton, will ring in the ears of a generation of humans, as we discover we aren’t quite so special after all: “Life finds a way!” Some form of living organism will find a way to exist, in the deepest hole, of the coldest crevice, of a planet so far away, that it would take an explosion the size of The Big Bang itself to open our minds wide enough to conceive of mere distances involved… and it will do all of this without our help. We know this because life right here on our own planet managed to thrive and survive for a very long time before we came along, and will continue to do so for a very long time after we are gone.
Or… A solar mass ejection will spray out in our direction tomorrow afternoon, destroying the Earth’s magnetic field, and allowing our fragile atmosphere to boil off into space.
In spite of the mind-meltingly incorrect conclusions you may have drawn about my character from reading this post, I actually really do care about my planet, and all the creatures that live upon it – with the exception of rats, which are the undisputed minions of the most heinous extraterrestrial demon I can imagine, and should all burn in the deepest, acid-flooded hole of Medusa’s rectum for eternity and a week! I switch off lights when I leave a room I’m not planning to return to within the next 3 minutes. I recycle whenever possible, and encourage my children to do the same. I don’t litter. I sign petitions I honestly believe will make a difference rather than simply salving someone’s conscience. I buy dolphin-safe tuna, have saved drowning bees from little pools of water in the garden, try not to step on ants, and once cried when I accidentally hit a baby rabbit with my car… I want the human race to thrive and endure, and I want them to grow the fuck up and do it without killing everything else in the process. But, I am not going to sit biting my fingernails and making myself miserable, because of the percentage of the world who don’t do these things, and are beyond my control. I am not going to spend my precious minutes on this Earth sending hate-memes (Is that a thing? It is now) to everyone with access to a computer, because they don’t grow their own Goji berries (yes I had to ask what they were). I refuse to make others feel like the plaque on Hitler’s teeth, just because they buy ice-cream from a company owned by Unilever. Because when all the effigies have been burned, and the paint has dried on the banners, with their poorly written slogans… If a 12 mile wide rock drops out of the sky, scorching the lungs, and blowing apart the molecules of everything that walks, crawls, slithers or grows on the face of the Earth, I am not going to be protected from the 200 million megaton explosion by an impenetrable bubble of wholesome goodness, just because I buy energy-saving lightbulbs.
The point I am trying to make here is, that if it sometimes seems like nothing you do matters… it’s probably because NOTHING YOU DO MATTERS! Nothing any of us do makes the slightest difference to the universe.
Deity enthusiasts will say that this view of the universe is rather sad, and that Atheists must lead a very lonely and depressing existence… nonsense! Knowing that I am doomed to a limited existence does not now, nor has it ever, put me off my morning tea. Sometimes, like everyone else (religious or not) I have moments of depression when there doesn’t seem to be any point to anything. But then I remember to stop being such a dick about the whole business and enjoy the beauty and wonder of it all while it lasts. If you have the same problem from time to time, remember (as Eric Idle once suggested we might do) that even when you feel as though you are sitting still and not making any progress… you are actually clinging to the surface of a large wet rock, hurtling at 67,000 mph, around a giant nuclear reactor, which is itself moving at roughly 420,000 mph, around the core of a galaxy, which contains something like 100 billion other stars; all flying together in a huge spiral lump, which is moving through the universe – along with billions of other galaxies – at a speed of over 2,000,000 mph!
Not only that, but there’s a universe on the inside of you as well. Take a look at this handy little tool, if you’re getting a little light-headed thinking about all that.
As usual, I have taken a very, very long time to send a very simple message, but if you were looking for a man of few words and somehow landed on this page… I would seriously think about filing a complaint with WordPress about the efficacy of their search engine. I am not a man of few words, but I’ll leave you with someone who is a little better at it than I am. He isn’t always a master of brevity, and sometimes he gets on my nerves a little, but listen to what astronomer, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has to say in the video below, and if you are not moved and amazed by it… think about going to see someone you love and respect, having a quiet drink with them, and letting them open your mind a little to just how incredibly awesome life, the universe and everything really is, if you just stop and smell the flowers. If everything is still not OK, then click this link to fix the things that are still not ok.
I will leave you, instead of my customary farewell, with a few light-hearted words of wisdom from yet another man much more talented than myself: Enjoy yourself… it’s later than you think.