The human race has a wonderful capacity to produce individuals who are both endearing and exasperating at the same time. We all have at least one family member who is highly intelligent and does amusingly foolish things; the absent-minded professor is stereotypical. And we also have the cousin who never learned to tie a shoelace or button his fly without a reminder, but who can take one look at a stranger, read his personality and tell you infallibly whether or not that stranger can be trusted with your money, your life or your darkest secrets.
Some foolishness is quite deliberate, intended to amuse. The Victorian Age bred a group of wealthy men who built ruins, even naming them as follies, for no purpose but display. What a waste of resources, but what a declaration of the value of idiosyncracy! Some stories of deliberate foolishness have passed down the ages and become legendary. There is one about King Canute in England, really quite intelligent for a king, who had a throne set up on a beach so that he could sit publicly and show his power by commanding the tide to leave his feet dry. The waves ignored him, people stifled their laughter with hands over their mouths, but he talked himself out of it. Most of us read this as an example of foolishness, and it probably was; but some Royalists claim that the king was warning flattering courtiers that he saw through their wiles. Maybe.
Foolishness perpetrated by fools is endemic, and little can be done about it. Deliberate, premeditated foolishness by non-fools can be amusing, sometimes even educational. But the dangerous species of foolishness is that self-inflicted on all of us by intelligent people who choose to deny known facts. Examples abound. World War 1 Generals who poured tens of thousands of men into hopeless suicidal attacks against barbed wire and massed machine guns and artillery. Stock market bubbles led by bankers and industrialists who know their products are worthless except as fantasies. These are not amusing, even in retrospect. And in retrospect, they were clearly avoidable disasters.
In a previous piece, E … Errors, I remarked that human intelligence evolved by being able to sense that a rustle in the bushes might indicate that there was a tiger ready to pounce. Maybe not, but there is a choice of safe and unsafe reactions, and those who choose safety tend to survive. Today, there is a rustling in the bushes on a global scale. It’s called global warming, and the facts are indisputable to all who can bring themselves out of denial. The causes may be disputable, or not, but the causes no longer matter, the reaction does. The outcome is certainly disputable, since the future is unknown. Perhaps mankind can survive in a noticeably warmer world, by adapting and adopting new technologies. But on the other hand there is the possibility that the warming, if not checked, may be become runaway, out of control, to the point where human life cannot survive.
At a certain level of temperature and humidity, close to 95 degrees and 95 %, a human being cannot survive because the body cannot keep its own temperature down. You die within minutes, not hours. These conditions have occurred, rarely, in the Persian Gulf for a short time; the occurrences are becoming less rare. These conditions have been approached, close but not quite, in Chicago in a prolonged heat emergency. Death rates rose despite people seeking air-conditioned shelters. Data-based projections suggest that in the next fifty years, less than two generations, these conditions will become frequent [perhaps every five to ten years], for weeks or months at a time, throughout the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. And if the warming becomes runaway, more often, more severe and in more places.
Denying known facts is folly. Refusing to take action when the bushes rustle is also folly. Folly can be fatal.
Copyright 2017 Flight of Eagles