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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 09/15/2003
Volume 2, #94

Beware of Pushing Buttons with Untrained Hands

There's an old Jewish joke whose punch line is--"You see? From a foolish question gives a foolish answer?" In the case of the joke, the answer was a correct one, but so far out that it seemed foolish to the hearer. That's why it was funny.

On my round table this week, I was asked a "foolish" question. Even the one asking knew that. But he also had something serious in mind. I'll reproduce the whole thing here because I think it's worth further comment.

"Ok Alvin try this one out...
: If you could, at this very second, push a button, blink,
: wriggle your nose,...whatever you want, and all the
: people in the world would be cured of all their
: diseases and sicknesses.
: "Everyone would get up out of their hospital beds, homes,
: or where ever and move on with their lives. Granted
: accidents will still happen, but no more cancer, HIV,
: bipolar disorder, ...disease
: NOW..would you do it???"
No--no--I think the question has been posed incorrectly. It really should be-- "Why don't we do it?" I'm referring to that pushing of a button that would effectively resolve all problems. You push your button and all the diseases are gone. But how much smarter or better are we--and how much more of the same will not come back to grab us again? Because what do we learn from pushing buttons? Anything about what causes disease in the first place? You must also understand that people who have been cured of major diseases very often relapse, not into the same disease, but another one. In the deepest sense, I would say that we choose our lives and the pains that go with it.

I would say that we decide which things are negative and which not.

I would say that if something negative hadn't happened, there would have been an important life lesson missed--in learning of love, in developing consciousness... in self-understanding under more than bland conditions.

I would also suggest that we have had such push buttons already, having eliminated specific diseases like polio, the "red death", bubonic plague, syphilis--and so, we get aids, Sars, atomic weapons, a US President on whose back was also a button which a biased Court pushed before reading: "Will self destruct and take the whole country with me after I'm elected." --in short-- we switch diseases, but we don't change anything by just pushing buttons. And worse yet, if we could push buttons for everything, we'd probably be in a worse state than before.

By the way, this is an interesting topic. It's been discussed before, in other cultures--even in our own--as for example a recent NY Times article describing research on happiness--that is, how happy would we really be if we got the things we think would make us tremendously happy. Not nearly what we anticipate, the Times reports.

Anyway, I figured the idea was interesting enough to do a whole column on. For one thing, I recalled somebody with a great reputation for wisdom remarking somewhere: "If I could teach a man in one hour all that he might come to learn about leading a good life--it would probably kill him." You see, pushing a button leaves out too many steps necessary for adjustment to new ideas. Like heroin--it's a great high, but not if you overdose.

Sudden life changes are dangerous. Our thought passages have to readjust; our bodies must make preparations; the earth itself cannot sustain great sudden changes without disastrous after-effects. In a certain sense, we live by a kind of feedback law. Every person tries to remain in a state of homeostasis, balancing the various energic shifts that constitute our lives and experience, all of which is far from equilibrium.

First, if we get too close to equilibrium, we die. If we get too far, we also die. So the right balance between forces always needs to be attained. This is life, in its essence--a constant balancing and shifting of energies within each living system. It's life, and it's politics and it's learning and growth.

Normally, we live by a kind of feedback, adjusting our oarstroke, let's say, for each shift of the prow, so we can maintain a straight line and go forward. Positive feedback builds up if we overadjust--and start going around in circles. If we underadjust--by pushing a button, we'll smash up on a reef. Get the picture?

Now sometimes, because we're poetic and imaginative creatures, we can play with the possibilities of positive and negative feedback vicariously. We invent comics, for example, and superheroes--who do all the unbalancing, impossible things that would destroy us if we did them on our own. We play with these beings, dream of their possibilities--in fact, they're like big toy buttons we can push without suffering any ill-effects. In the real world, that doesn't work. When you move too far from cooperating with other people, other nations, other parts of yourself--when you're a unilateralist, let's say--or acting as if you're the superman on the block and can move as you please--watch out. You're headed for disaster.

Ask yourselves--isn't that what seems to be happening right now?


<< 09/08/2003 | 09/15/2003 | 09/22/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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