By Jeff Boone
I love science written at the eighth-grade reading level (so I can understand it). I don’t like it when my science is politicized, but that is a topic for another day. I love history too. Were I not perpetually curious, business-minded and action-oriented (thanks to my maternal-side genetics), I would likely degrade into an amoeba-like creature glued to the TV watching only the Science Channel and the History Channel… maybe with a bit of NPR.
I also like to read. The problem with reading is my mind starts to pop with my own ideas and I run to the computer to start writing my next business plan.
If only I had more time…
“Time,” as it happens, is one of my favorite science topics only second to astrophysics (“space-time”); and all of it really gets me thinking about the length, purpose and meaning of life. How long are we here? Why are we here? How are we here? Are we just lucky, or is there some deeper metaphysical explanation of our existence? For example, are we the product of the miracle of God’s creation, or are we the product of the miracle of some elements happening to coalesce within a primordial goop and then fantastically springs into a life that would grow opposable thumbs and start asking questions about the meaning of life? And related to those questions, what are we supposed to do while we are here?
Growing up I did a lot of “meaning of life” ruminating. As a little tyke living in southern Florida, on those hot and humid summer nights, my friends and I used to lay on the cool hood of our family station wagon (back when the hoods were not made out of tin-foil-thin material), and stare out into the star-filled night sky. We would exchange thoughts about what we were seeing, but mostly we would silently watch the slow-moving show and try to grasp the relative meaning of it all. We also wondered about those other “people” living on Mars and Venus… what did they look like and were they too laying on the hood of their vehicles looking into the cosmos thinking the same about us?
Of course we have progressed in space exploration and have confirmed no human-like higher life forms exist on Mars or Venus; however, I still like watching the night-sky show… and I still wonder about it and my relationship with it and my relationship with space-time.
Thankfully, in my advanced years I have at least decided what I will do with my own time. That is a good thing too, because I concluded at a very young age is that a human life does not really last that long. I like to say that God (or Darwin) gives us four twenties and bit of change. So how much have you already spent and what do you have to show for it?
The scientific “Big Bang” theory explains that every element, and the stuff that holds it all together, was formed within the first fractions of a second about 13.5 or so billion years ago. That stuff (mainly particles) doubled in size every 10-34 seconds. Then all of this super-hot mess of quickly-expanding particles started to cool down and form into heavenly bodies. About 4.5 billion years ago our planet came into being. Earth won the lottery for supporting life… everything was just right… except it was still too hot. It took about a billion years to cool down enough to show signs of life… and soon after the miracle of life sprung in the form of wiggly bugs. About 250 million years ago the wiggly bugs had evolved into dinosaurs. The best we can tell at this point from the fossils we dig up, human-like creatures didn’t show up until about 2.5 million years ago. Our high-functioning language capability did not show up until around 5000 years ago.
Get the picture here? In the scale of space-time and the age of the universe, we are less than a flicker. So really, why do we feel so entitled and important?
Bill Byrson – one my favorite authors next to our very own New York Times best-selling novelist John Lescroart (note: shameless pitch for my friend), does a very good eighth-grade-reading-comprehension job summing up the science of time and human life in his book “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”
Mr. Bryson writes:
Survival on Earth is a surprisingly tricky business. Of the billions and billions of species of living things that have existed since the dawn of time, most-99.99 percent-are no longer around. Life on Earth, you see, is not only brief but dismayingly tenuous. It is a curious feature of our existence that we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.
Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely – make that miraculously – fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result-eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly-in you.
So it is understandable from a scientific perspective in this astrophysical-related-atom-width-short span of a lottery-winning human life that we humans pursue our own self-interest. We are so damn lucky to get to enjoy this brief and fantastic experience that we don’t want to waste a minute doing anything we don’t want to do.
The problem though is that our own self-interest can be in conflict with someone else’s self-interest. In fact, it is this tendency for humans to give weight to their own self-interest that causes a need for various systems of governance. Anarchy is terrible and the people contained within it are generally miserable in their much shorter life expectancy. The tendency for people to pursue their own self-interest is also why a system of direct democracy fails and fails miserably. Tyranny of the majority can occur when enough people team together to promote their self-interest at the expense of others. That tendency needs to be checked and balanced. Conversely, governance by central control also fails and fails miserably as the powerful pursue their self-interest at the expense of the many. This is why our country’s founders settled on a representative form of democracy with executive, legislative and judicial branches. They sought a system that provided checks and balances. It was and still is an imperfect system; but it is arguably the best ever devised.
Because communities would otherwise devolve into destructive anarchy, they also need good systems of governance. However, even with a community system of governance, communities generally don’t have a chance to survive unless they bring something else to the table to help manage and moderate the battles over competing self-interests.
We have systems of governance designed to help mitigate and balance conflicts. We have laws, law enforcement and a judicial system to help prevent and resolve conflicts.
But lastly, and arguably most importantly, we have a community moral code to live by. This is that final ingredient to help a community survive and thrive.
Morality is the ying to our pursuit of self-interest yang. Ideally they both live together in relative harmony. For example, it is in our self-interest to take our neighbor’s property. Laws and law enforcement help prevent this; but laws and law enforcement is only needed if we fail to adopt a community moral code that says it is wrong to steal and then we conform to that code. Because perfection in rules and enforcement is impossible, morality is the real controlling mechanism that keeps each of us reasonably satisfied in life, but in a way that is least harmful to the lives of others.
Some will argue this point and oppose the idea of community moral code and instead demand more central control. But these people would fail to identify a working system of a strong central control model either historical or present.
This brings me to my final point: balance. More specifically I am talking about the balance of pursuit of self-interest over a principled moral consideration for the same for others… especially those younger others.
Life is a fast-burning, lottery-winning, miracle and blessing. But to extract the most value out of this short stint, we need to have a good launch. We need copious opportunity of experience to answer our own questions about meaning and purpose, and then pursue our self-interests. Given affordable rents and a good enough job, we will have time to experience and time to read. And then ideas will pop and we will write our life plan and our business plan. And we will seek out collaborative love, talent, financing and space to fulfill our passions and to do great things before we are done living.
It would seem it is our community’s moral responsibility to support this proviso of youthful opportunity. Without it we would be unbalanced. Without it we would be… immoral.
I am always thinking about that balance. I ask myself what can I do to help myself have a good life while also supporting the same for others? What is the right thing to do? What is the right position to take?
I had opportunity growing up. I found myself. I was allowed to try a lot of things… to find out what I liked to do, what I wanted to do, and what I was good at (and not so good at… like being a scientist).
We will all have a vote on Measure A this June. From my perspective even though city growth is not in my best interest as an older resident desiring less traffic congestion and more peace and quiet, in seeking that community moral code balance I am absolutely supportive of the Nishi project. Nishi will bring needed housing and needed jobs to the community. It will bring in needed tax revenue and help prevent a need for tax increases that, although I can afford, many cannot afford… especially the younger residents. The local jobs will help others in our community pursue their self-interest and have a better opportunity to launch a good life.
I wish I had more time in this life. But with the little I do have, I want to be successful always hitting the sweet spot in balance for the right things. When I am lucky, I get to choose what is good for me at the same time I get to support what is good for my neighbor. The hardest choices are those where I see some loss in my own interests in concession to help others. But, I see my choice as being largely governed by my understanding of what a good community moral code should be… and when it comes to our younger neighbors, I am willing to give up the most.
Vote YES on Measure A this June in honor of a community moral code that seeks balance for what is good for the younger members of our community. They deserve opportunity like we older residents have been blessed with… to find and pursue their interests and to achieve a good life.