This entry is a rant. You have been warned.
Twice yesterday I found myself in discussions with people who were seeing the world as a very dark place. First I got e-mail from my friend John -- his writing isn't going well; his kid is sick; his house is a mess and his wife is stressed. He was feeli ng pretty bleak and hopeless -- felt that there was just too much to do and not enough time to do it in...and that even if there had been enough time, he wasn't quite good enough to do everything he wanted to do. Fair enough -- I've certainly felt that w ay at times, though I do tend to be a pretty optimistic person overall. But I could understand (and remember) that nothing-will-ever-really-work-right feeling. So I sent him back some mail, reminding him that such feelings do pass, and that even though we can't fix everything at once, we can generally at least do the dishes or play with the baby for a while. Doing our little bit in the fight against entropy. It helped some, he said, and after a few more e-mails back and forth he was at least sounding better.
Well and good. The day rolled by, and eventually it' s 10 o'clock and I'm hanging with David, talking about wherever our minds wander today. Somehow we got onto affirmative action and argued that one for a while, even coming to some sort of agreement on temporary policy. But then he metaphorically shrugged his shoulders and claimed it was useless in any case -- that any solution to the problem of race relations in America was at best a palliative -- sticking a tiny bandage on a huge gaping wound. Fair enough again -- one bandage isn't going to make much of a difference to such a big problem. But I argued (and still do argue) that a lot of little bandages (some bigger than others) might eventually bridge the wound, and hold it shut long enough to heal . (Not entirely my own metaphor -- see McCoy's argument in Spock's World). He disagreed (though I may have misunderstood him on all this, that's not really the point of this rant), and we quickly disintegrated into an argument we'd had once bef ore. Dave comes down pretty firmly on the side of 'the world is so totally fucked-up that it's just hopeless, and it's just a waste of time doing any activist work or trying to fix any of the large problems -- just try to enjoy your life as best you can until you die.' (I don't want to give you the wrong impression of him -- he's certainly helpful to people he knows; he just doesn't see much point to trying to solve social problems or reaching out past his own community). And I'm on the side of 'well, we may not really fix anything, but I think things are slowly getting better (with a lot of backsliding), and if you can't fix the problem for everyone, you can at least make someone's life (and maybe many someones) a little easier....and if there are eno ugh people trying to do that, then maybe we really will fix some of those big problems.' We came to no resolution; our attitudes are just too fundamentally different. Maybe we will someday.
In the meantime, though, I wanted to talk about it. Partly because I'm thinking about it, partly because I've heard a lot of people lately pretty upset about the Communications Decency Act. There's a big temptation to think that we're so small and helpl ess that the narrow-minded and the scared and the wheels of bureaucracy can crush us in the course of their stampede. And it's true -- I won't deny it -- that some us probably will get crushed. And the natural, first human reaction to that is survival i nstinct -- duck! Stop posting, pull your web page, stop carrying those dangerous sites, or maybe it's you they'll crush. But stop and think a long moment before you do any of that. Because the survival and growth of the race depends on getting past tha t first basic instinct -- to the second basic instinct. Protect your own. Like the woman who jumps overboard to save a drowning stranger, or the father with sudden superhuman strength when his children are in danger, there's something that urges us to g o beyond ourselves to help others. And in this case, protecting your own isn't just a matter of your children or your friends or your company. Because the global community is global, and becoming more so, and we need to protect not just civil r ights and freedoms in America but in the world -- we even need to protect people who aren't on the net. While I'm not religious, there's one rule that seems pretty universal across religions and makes a lot of sense -- "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Or another paraphrasing I've seen, "The spear in the Other's heart is the spear in your own; you are he."
So think about it. And if you find yourself agreeing with me, stop by the various crusaders and lend some support -- financial or letter-writing or voting or e-mail or just your common sense and good ideas. And if fighting for the freedom of the net isn 't your cause, find one that is. It may even be one on which we disagree, and that's okay. Because one of the greatest dangers comes not from opposing viewpoints, but from apathy and despair. Maybe we'll lose the battle against entropy someday (and I h aven't even given that one up yet -- physicists don't know quite everything), but we can hold off the dark for a while if we try, and dance a little longer.