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Category: Humans

Some Kind of Genius
Well, another year has gone by, and another bucketful of MacArthur Fellowships have been handed out. It did not escape my attention that I was once again passed over for these so-called “genius grants.”

I don’t begrudge this year’s recipients the recognition, the money, the endorsement deals, the powerful new friends, the primo reserved parking, or the armies of groupies that will come their way as a result of this award. I don’t care about that stuff. I assume they are all intelligent, chock full of humanitarian fervor, and mostly deserving of their good fortune. No doubt they have accomplished great things (though not great enough, it should be noted, to be famous already). And none has a criminal record or a history of unkindness toward the weak, including helpless little newborn puppies. That we know of.

Let me declare for the record that I am not trying to claim that I am a genius (though everyone knows the SATs are rigged). I’ll bet, however, that none of this year’s recipients is either. The word genius is thrown around so much these days simply as a generic term meaning very smart, or possibly very very smart. But genius? Not unless it means “kind of bright with a really good press agent.”

Again, I am not bitter. A little tart, maybe, but that taste is located on a totally separate part of the tongue. In any case, I am not pitching myself as a potential MacArthur Fellow. Believe me, that is the furthest thing from my mind. I prefer to occupy my thoughts with things like finding a cure for cancer or crafting a solution to global warming. Whenever, that is, I’m not actually saving newborn puppies instead of doing who-knows-what to the poor little buggers…as some people who will remain unnamed like to do.

If any members of the grant program selection committee were to be curious about my ability to make any headway against these problems, I would like to direct their attention to my backyard. I am particularly proud of the repair job I did on our wheelbarrow. The use of screws, wire, glue, beeswax, and glitter is certainly unique. Some people have even called it ingenious, and that is a word that does sound very much like “genius.” Also, the way I have brought order to our kitchen storage situation has been recognized as a marvel of efficiency by everyone who has carefully inspected my cupboards. It shows, I think, a kind of anal retentiveness that borders on brilliance.

But never mind. I wish nothing but (more) good luck to this year’s MacArthur Fellows — even the ones who are not technically fellows but, you know, women. I don’t envy them, nor am I jealous, nor do I know the difference between those two things. So let them have their precious grants. I understand that sometimes injustices do occur and that life is essentially unfair.

You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out. Although it helps tremendously, believe me.
Goodbye and Good Luck
At this point, I think it’s obvious to everyone that the human race has become obsolete.

I want to be clear. I like humans. I wish for nothing but the best for the human race. Full disclosure: I am a human being myself. But that does not blind me to the truth that we have outlived our usefulness.

Come to think of it, I’m not exactly sure what our usefulness was in the first place. Did we do something special for the planet? Is there something in particular that we’ve done to contribute to the balance of nature? You know…to help keep our world in a state of harmony? It seems as though we spend most of our time poisoning our nest. What greater good does that serve?

On the other hand, maybe this so-called balance is a myth, and nature is really a dynamic system subject to the wild uncertainties of evolution. If this is the case, then what is there on our resumé that recommends us as a continuing employee of Planet Earth? Our scientific advances are impressive, to be sure, and the technologies that have flown from them are pretty nifty. In some ways, though, our smartness seems to be devouring itself. Our love of labor-saving devices has gone so far that we may soon be left with nothing to do. We’ve been so smart that we don’t have to be smart anymore. We can just kick back and have fun for all eternity.

Which sounds great, but how would the forces of evolution respond to such a situation? Wouldn’t a world whose sole purpose is to support our leisure time activities be ripe for evolutionary change? What would keep a bunch of very clever rats or highly organized cockroaches from stepping up to snatch our little dream world away from us?

If that did happen, our usefulness might turn out to be what we leave behind for our replacements. I’m sure they’d find the buildings helpful, if only as a place to flop until they could make their own. The Panama Canal should be a plus, too, once they figure out how to work the locks and all. The other stuff, like satellites and computers and really complicated technologies, would probably just rot in place before the new species can figure them out.

Unless, that is, our replacement “species” turned out to be the labor-saving devices themselves. Is it so hard to imagine our machines simply taking over once we all went off on our permanent vacations? With just a tiny bit more artificial intelligence, I’ll bet they’d know exactly how to use all the stuff we left behind.

So maybe, once we get over the initial sadness about our impending extinction, we might let ourselves feel a little pride. Whether it’s rats or roaches or robots that replace us, it’s good to know that everything we have worked for and accomplished will not go to waste. Perhaps our greatest contribution to the greater good will simply be going away.
Half and Half
I read an alarming story in the paper yesterday. 900,000 gallons of partially treated sewage was accidentally released into the bay. My concern was relieved, however, by the fact that the 900,000 gallons of sewage was partially treated.

This situation is not quite the same as the classic example of optimism vs. pessimism where one person sees the glass is half full, while someone else sees it as half empty. That is a difference of perception. Here the perceptions are identical: the spilled sewage was partially treated. Optimism is not required. The upside is exactly the same as the downside.

Perhaps this scenario has a particular appeal to me because I try to be a “positive realist,” and a story like this hits me right in that sweet spot.

Yes, a positive realist. In case you don’t know, that’s someone who sees the glass as half full…of partially treated sewage.
Either Way
I’m optimistic about the future. I’m optimistic that the world will get better. I’m even optimistic about the human race.

In fact, I’m optimistic about optimism. I prefer it over pessimism not just because it feels better, but because it allows you to seize opportunities without hesitation. Optimism is like the fearless little sister of Hope, and who wouldn’t want to hang out with that cheerful clan? Pessimism, conversely, tends to choke you up at decision time. Pessimism, sadly, must spend his Christmas holidays with Uncle Downer and the whole dysfunctional Fear family.

That said, both outlooks are workable approaches to dealing with life. It is when human stupidity is introduced into the equation that things go wrong. In the case of pessimism, the result is paranoia. When you’re an optimist, stupidity will fill your mind with wishful thinking, leading you to seize opportunities that don’t exist.

Take, for example, chocolate. Can we all just admit that chocolate is candy? We eat it because it tastes so sweet and rich, not because it’s good for us. We know that. However, we also know that, if researchers tried hard enough, they could find health benefits from eating chocolate. Wishful thinking is a powerful force. There had to be something good about it, and when they found it, that was the only excuse the optimists would need to start whuffing down the bon-bons.

They’ve also “discovered” that drinking red wine will keep you fit. It helps the heart, the lungs, and protects against no less an enemy than cancer. And, let’s not forget, it makes us feel good — thereby enhancing our mental health. Beer offers that feature as well — the more of it you drink, the happier you get. Beyond that, it lowers cholesterol, provides fiber, strengthen bones, and cures insomnia. Remember all those times you passed out drunk? Of course you don’t, but the point is you slept like a baby.

There was even a time, before people started keeling over in droves from cancer of the lungs, mouth, and throat, that the health benefits of cigarettes were touted with a straight face. Relief from asthma, hay fever, bad breath, sore throats (to say nothing of the mental health benefits of feeling good) were among the many upsides of smoking. The more you inhaled the better!

This is all bullshit, of course. It’s candy, it’s booze, it’s burning vegetation, and it’s bad for us. In large amounts, they will kill us. Still, I can feel the wishful thinking struggling for attention. Any excuse, right? It wants to focus on the good news — and keep on doing what feels good.

We are led, I’m afraid, to some unpleasant conclusions. It is my belief that stupidity is an integral part of the human condition, including mine. Stupidity, when mixed with optimism, can have unhealthy, even deadly consequences. Optimism, therefore, is lethal. Q.E.D.

Pessimism is deadly too, of course, because we’re screwed no matter what we do. That’s what Uncle Downer always says, anyway.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon