beware, there be spoilers: God Bless You, Mr Rosewater

I had an interesting and mildly revelatory experience while reading this bit of Vonnegut.  And looking around at the news and the world around me, it’s not an experience that’s unique to me, and it’s an experience that’s becoming more common.  It also ties into some of the other things I’m thinking about, and that I’ve written about here from time to time.

Vonnegut has a recurring theme, sometimes directly expressed and other times less so, that the world would be a better place if only people were nicer to each other.  This is view of the world taken by Eliot Rosewater.  At first glance, it’s perhaps a naive idea but I would like to try and explain a bit why I don’t think it’s naive at all.

I remember an old science fiction story, title and author long forgotten, about first contact with an alien race and they take us into their houses.  Their children treat us like toys or pets, treating us not particularly well, until there comes a point when the human protagonist has the revelation that signals they are ready to be educated, alongside the alien children.

This is a story that’s stayed with me and comes to mind every time I wonder, why do people behave the way we do?  And I think that ultimately, it’s because we have decided to behave the way we behave.  Our tolerance of the hoarding of great wealth while our fellow human beings, independent of their nationality or religion, suffer want or war.

More than once, I’ve read a story, the basic principle of which is that we as humans are not yet mature enough to join the community of worlds, because we do not treat each other well.  We do not yet treat each other as we ourselves would like to be treated.  And this principle is also core to many of the major religions of the world.

We have reached the point in our development that we have turned the machinery of science on ourselves, and we are beginning to understand how we as humans think.  And how very different the way we actually think is, from the way that our internal view fools us into thinking how we think.

And so where to take this experience?  I’m not entirely sure.  This battle, to persuade people to behave well to one another, is one that we’ve been having with ourselves for millenia.  What’s changed is that we now have science on our side, should we choose to use it.

However, there is another riptide that we need to swim against, which is that actively using the science we have to understand ourselves is also drifting out of favor among many.  We carry beliefs about ourselves as humans and about the world, that are not based in science.

I believe strongly in the power of science to provide us with an explanation of how the world works, and that we need to make use of the understanding of ourselves and how we work that comes from science.  I also believe strongly in the power of the stories we tell each other, and have told each other since we were huddled together around a weak flickering fire against the beasts that prowled in the night.

~ by Jim Anderson on 15 July 2018.

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