Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tales of a Tired Road Warrior

Every time I drive my car, I notice that people are getting stupider. We are devolving, which seems the opposite of how our human journey should be going. I have witnessed automotive maneuvers which indicate either a collective false sense of security or a massive death wish. They all share delusions of invincibility which could only be attributed to the widespread wearing of superhero cloaks.

I have a theory. We no longer need the survival skills of our forebears, mainly because theirs were so acute. They had to be extremely clever and work hard every day to provide themselves and their families with things we take for granted: shelter, food and clothing. They had no time or energy for entertainment so it wasn't a big issue. As time went by, they invented machines to do the work of men and large animals, and eventually, stores to buy everything they needed so they would not have to labor to acquire them anymore.

When the wheel came along, life got much easier. It became the basis for vehicles that would be pulled by oxen or men, until finally engines were invented. The wheel had become the cornerstone of life in so-called "civilized" nations.

This was Progress.

Unfortunately, the less we were forced to exercise our brains, the more they atrophied. Most jobs could be performed by machines that were faster and more accurate than we were, which left us with huge blocks of time to fill with more pleasurable pursuits. Soon, we began to show signs of helplessness and confusion, traits which would have consigned our ancestors to abandonment by their clans since they could not contribute their share. While I would never advocate letting our helpless fend for themselves, I wish that we could have a wholesale reawakening of the magnificent powers that must still lie within us, our cellular memory of when using our brains was a life-or-death matter.

I wonder if there are spiritual consequences to not fully utilizing our excellent brains and extraordinary bodies. We go to gyms to work muscles that used to be active in the daily course of fighting off physical threats -- large, hungry animals, warriors from other tribes who wanted our share of the scant provisions offered by the environment, exposure to the elements, and to build shelters with our own hands, hunt and gather food, spin and weave fabric to make protective clothing, natural medicines... there was no leisure. There was only self-reliance and constant improvisation.

Perhaps the saddest loss of all in modern life is that so few people think for themselves but judge the merits of a thing by how popular it is, which is the kind of mob rule that should have been left behind in high school. Such prefabricated thought processes are junk food for the brain, readily digestible and so little effort that we barely notice how un-fulfilling they are.

We tend to believe that we are the pinnacle of Creation, the most powerful race of humans to ever walk the earth. We treat each other badly, and in every situation assume that we have the right of way. We have forgotten any semblance of fair play, of how to share the world with others. In our mindless arrogance, we see only our own objectives, regardless of who is standing in the way. Worst of all, we take our immense good fortune to be living in a time of such limitless possibility for granted. Instead of giving thanks for all those who worked themselves to death over many centuries so that we wouldn't have to, we feel entitled. When we could be using our excellent brains to develop ourselves further, most of us are content to do nothing but rest on laurels which are not even our own.

I think a little humility is in order. And a lot of driving lessons.


thailandchani said...

I agree with every word you've said here. People have become weak which is really unfortunate because this is a time in history when we need everyone's best brain power. Instead, we've allowed ourselves to become intellectually lazy and have refused to be accountable for the kind of society we've created.

I'll be writing a post about this very thing in another application very soon.


Pam said...

Apathy is not a good thing - these instances that you've highlighted have often made me think, why do we let people get away with this. The response is often a shrug, and a "what can you do" This is the intellectual laziness mentioned.We are reaping the results of this.Your driving observations remind me of a joke. The old woman who rings her husband, who's travelling on the freeway.."George" she panicks over his phone,"Be careful!I've just heard on the radio, that there's an idiot travelling the wrong way down the freeway." "One idiot" he yells back "there's hundreds of 'em!".

yinyang said...

Eh, I actually disagree with most of this. I don't think human intelligence has changed much in tens of thousands of years, if not more. And I think in some ways we're more knowledgeable than the people who have come before us - we know lightning isn't Zeus but electricity, and about antibiotics instead of blood letting, etc.

Plus, generally people in hunter-gather societies have been found to have more leisure time than people like you and me, and they definitely had time for entertainment. Any claims to the contrary are revisionist history.

But, yes, people have an amazing capacity for stupidity, arrogance, and selfishness. Which we have inherited from our ancestors.

nick said...

Something odd happens to a lot of people when they get into a car. They think this mighty machine is indestructible and they forget it depends entirely on the person driving it. So they hurtle along recklessly as if nothing can possibly happen to them. Absurd over-confidence.

I tend to agree with yinyang, I think you're being a bit too pessimistic. There have always been intelligent people and gormless people and the gormless will always screw things up regardless. We can only nurture our own little gardens and let a few flowers bloom.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Excellent thoughts, well presented!

Bill Cosby once said something like this: "All humans are born stupid and get progressively more stupid at least until they are 30 years old. Then some start getting smarter, but not all of them."

Cecilieaux said...

I agree wholeheartedly, then I wonder whether it's actually true.

There was no leisure? Then how to explain those magnificent prehistoric paintings in the caves of Altamira?

But, sure, there were many pressing questions -- among them survival.

There are many such questions now. Easily 20 to 30 percent of our population (the 14% already poor when the recession started, plus a similar contingent added by unemployment and foreclosure) -- in the richest country in the world -- are fighting for their survival.

They are being eaten alive by the scammer who got them there and the new scammers who promise to get them out. Scamming, depressing as it is, would seem to be evidence of some people thinking for themselves and figuring out how to take advantage of the many who do not.

The thing is, this not thinking for oneself, does exist. Is it worse now than in the 1930s, when half of Europe was willing to put on foolish uniforms and make even more foolish public gestures in unison, all at the command of the megalomaniacs who were orchestrating everything?

Frankly, I don't know. I do know that it is not entirely new. In my own youth, I found the level of discussion at the average peace rally depressingly shallow. My parents' generation? Ah, the deep thinking of the martini! Their parents? Ah, the collections of ageless sayings.

But, yes, there is a terrible, terrible absence of thinking for oneself and I have no idea what to do about it. Other than kvetch with you.

The Fool said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Fool said...

Fortunately, I live in a part of the world where more people will go fishing on a given day, than drive a car. I can't imagine what a traffic jam is anymore. I see pictures of the highways of "Outside," and shiver.

There is this one yellow Hummer locally that I'd like to detonate though...

Still, you make many excellent points about how and where we have driven our collective selves. It's a "Highway to Hell," and road rage is vogue.

Wonderful writing, Heart. Thanks for sharing.

(sorry for the deletey...I'll fess to the edit-itis). :)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Wow. I'm not sure even I agree with every word I said. Today was harrowing, and blogging is better than flogging, (maybe.) I do believe that as a culture, we could do a lot better in many ways than we do, and it would be nice to see basic consideration the law of the land, which by no stretch it is now.


That's a funny story. It had to be in San Francisco where bad driving is an art form.


I don't think that raw human intelligence has changed over eons either, but I believe that disuse has caused many people to function at a lower level than they should, considering the vast information available to them. Stupid is as stupid does.

I am disturbed by your pronouncement that Zeus does not cause lightning, though. Are you sure? This changes everything.


The Invincible Car Syndrome is quite apparent when most people are driving giant vehicles. I suspect you are right about the intelligent and gormless always being with us. Yesterday, I had several near-encounters with Eternity and I also have a wicked cold/flu today, which was coming on last night. The pessimism is a departure from my usual cloying clinginess when I'm sick.

St. Nick,

I adore Bill Cosby! Your invoking Dr. Huxtable makes me feel better already.


Good point about the cave paintings. Your comment about the 60's peace rallies made me laugh as many people had heard promises of "free love" and were really there to find some.

I deplore the herd mentality, which does seem prevalent. Of course there have always been thinkers, but it seems that there are fewer of them than there were in my parent's and grandparent's days. Needless to say, this is speculation. As for Hitler and his goose-stepping followers, that subject is much too weighty for a comment response as it involved a lot more than the issue of thinking vs following.

Your kvetches are always welcome here.

No fool,

I must admit, the image of a traffic jam in Alaska made me giggle. If there is anyplace having a Hummer makes sense, it would be there. I have no earthly clue why people think they need them in San Francisco, a tiny city of congested narrow streets and unbelievably steep hills.

Could you send me some do-it-yourself detonators?

The CEO said...

I liked your post and found it pretty interesting. A reporter at the Univ. of Michegan wrote a piece complaining about the lousy playing of the University's baseball team, even though the team was accorded royalty status on campus. He woke and found a dead deer, dead goat, and various sundry other 'things' on his front porch. I saw it on Yahoo, then again at James Burnett's blog. I didn't expect that kind of behavior from college students. I still don't.

I work with people who have to think, I have to think. I just hate to drive to work, or home from work with them. I attribute a lot to over-crowding.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I'm happy to say I have not found any dead deer or goats on my doorstep, nor even a horse's head in my bed.

I just don't get many comments to an unpopular post. :)

seventh sister said...

You rant better than anybody I know.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Hey, J, you're supposed to be packing up that dog sled for Lani to pull over the mountains.

On a limb with Claudia said...

"We treat each other badly, and in every situation assume that we have the right of way."

Isn't that odd? It's almost as if the more we have the more we hate each other.

"In our mindless arrogance, we see only our own objectives, regardless of who is standing in the way."
It's like the narcissists have taken over! Did you see the Slate article on how narcissism created this economic downfall? (www.slate.com/id/2213740/)

"Worst of all, we take our immense good fortune to be living in a time of such limitless possibility for granted. Instead of giving thanks for all those who worked themselves to death over many centuries so that we wouldn't have to, we feel entitled. When we could be using our excellent brains to develop ourselves further, most of us are content to do nothing but rest on laurels which are not even our own."

Bless you for not being one to rest - on your laurels or otherwise.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I would be happy to rest on my laurels if I had any.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Mr. Black and I were just discussing this, in light of our recent sojourn. It made the difference between past cultures and current culture glaringly divergent, and the current is extremely pathetic, sadly wasteful and unproductive.

So many things to soapbox about with this topic. OY.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Mariposa said...

This is the reason why I stopped driving...or only drives within few meters from my house! I've had terrbile experiences on the road...and can't fathom how people could be so careless and insensitive!

My friend was on a wheelchair for 2 months when we were hit my a big truck. I also lost a loved on a car accident.

You have nailed it so well here. With the onset of technology advancement, we humans have become too lazy and selfish and have neglected the fact that brains are located in the top most part of the body because it is supposed to rule!

Ah, common sense is not just so common I guess...

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Between us, we have quite a lot of soapboxes, actually.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to attach little wheels to mine so I can race it.


I'm so sorry about your friend and other loved one, and your own close calls. It's a chilling reality that one can be in an accident through no fault of ones own.

You're right that common sense is really not very common anymore, sadly.