“The longer you live, the more you realize that nothing is fixed. Everyone will become a refugee if they live long enough. Everyone would realize their nationality means little in the long run. Everyone would see their worldviews challenged and disproved. Everyone would realize that the thing that defines a human being is being a human. Turtles don’t have nations. Or flags. Or strategic nuclear weapons. They don’t have terrorism or referendums or trade wars with China. They don’t have Spotify playlists for their workouts. They don’t have books on the decline and fall of turtle empires. They don’t have internet shopping or self-service checkouts. Other animals don’t have progress, they say. But the human mind itself doesn’t progress. We stay the same glorified chimpanzees, just with bigger weapons. We have the knowledge to realize we are just a mass of quanta and particles, like everything else is, and yet we keep trying to separate ourselves from the universe we live in, to give ourselves a meaning above that of a tree or a rock or a cat or a turtle.Matt Haig, How to Stop Time
So here I am, with my head full of human fears and pains, my chest tight with anxiety, thinking about how much future I have in front of me.”
I think about how much time I spend on worry about mattering; about doing something that matters, about being someone who matters, about making things that matter. Perhaps it’s all just an unconscious, egocentric, delusional desire for separateness. A desire to not only be separate from the universe but to be separate from my own kind; to be different, better, and more meaningful than not only every species but to even my own species.
We think it’s possible because we believe in ‘human progress’. Because we still talk about Socrates, and the Buddha, and Jesus, and Marcus Aurelius, and Shakespeare, and Thomas Edison, and on and on. But even the level of “mattering” we give to these figures is illusory. They only matter to us. To our species. To our closed off, claustrophobic, infinitesimal corner of the cosmos. But, we’ve only been around for 300,000 years and I’m not convinced that our species is likely to go for much longer.
Sharks have existed for 450 million years. Trees appeared over 370 million years go. Turtles have been around for 230 million years. And somehow we have the arrogance and audacity to think we are more meaningful than they are. That our lightbulbs, and buildings, and steam engines, and microchips, and nuclear bombs actually matter.
John Green says that “there’s no level of fame or genius that allows you to transcend oblivion. The infinite future makes that kind of mattering impossible.”
Sharks have perfected being their best selves. Trees don’t even have to try hard to be trees. Turtles are amazing at being turtles. And yet, we, most haughty and conceited of chimpanzees, don’t even know how to be human, much less how to be in the world.
Human progress?…We have so much to learn and so little time…