My name is Armchair Anarchist, and I am a cynic. I know, it’s bad; negative thoughts, blah blah blah. I am one of those people who tends to view my fellow man as hopelessly blind and ignorant – following the news, locally and internationally, certainly doesn’t help. (As a vague attempt to redeem myself, I would add that I am also highly cynical about myself and my own inability to learn from the most obvious mistakes.) I don’t *want* to be a cynic, or enjoy it. I just *am* one. It’s a burden. I attempt to deal with it, and to not bombard my friends and co-workers with it (admittedly, with little success, as people who know me in meatspace will know all too well).
It would appear the SF writer David Brin has run into similar problems, and has developed a thought-experiment to dispel these negative vibes. He’s been participating in the big diffuse Intelligent Design debate that is raging across the blogosphere (as well as more ‘conventional’ channels of communication), and hence encountered a number of cynical responses in his comment logs. This is how he describes the exercise:
Go do Brin’s Exercise… I command you! Go to a street corner, preferably one with a very busy four (or twelve!) way stop signage, where people must negotiate traffic rules every second, with little hand-flicks and nods. Do a slow 360. Notice all the things that are working! The quiet and efficient courtesies, the technologies, the tiny acts of honesty and cooperation. The hidden competence of a myriad professionals that make all the switches turn on time and fill the restaurants with food. Do not let a patch of one square degree pass your view without comment, or noticing something that you took for granted before! If you finish the turn having counted less than a thousand miracles, start over!
He’s got a point. The whole post is a well reasoned call-to-arms, and corny as it may sound, it has lightened my mood somewhat. I shall try to keep it in mind for future low moments, especially long days at the library where I am exposed to breathtaking displays of individual ignorance. People aren’t perfect…but we’ve done some pretty amazing stuff as a race, and overall things keep improving incrementally. There is hope for us yet. I believe!