If you Google the phrase, “SMARTEST MAN ON EARTH“, my browser at least plasters the photo of one man across the Google Images return. It’s the man Dr. Sheldon Cooper threw a game of Scrabble to on the popular series, “Big Bang Theory”. None other the acclaimed Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
I was thinking about Dr. Hawking today after a conversation regarding the gun control debate in America. Someone I care about described how concerned they were about recent mass murders, and expressed an inward angst that something must be done. It’s weird, admittedly, to bring a guy who can’t put his own pants on, let alone pick up – aim – and fire a gun, into the conversation.
Dr. Hawking believes we have about one hundred years left to get the hell off of Earth. He doesn’t ascribe his admonition to global climate change. Nor does he point the finger at some looming inevitable pandemic. The source of the scourge, is none other than the very same “virus” Agent Smith identified in the popular cult film, “The Matrix”…none other than Humanity. Yuppers – you and me.
According to an online article in “Bigthink.com”,
“Hawking says he is an optimist, but his outlook for the future of man’s existence is fairly bleak. In the recent past, humankind’s survival has been nothing short of “a question of touch and go…..with, ‘the frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future,’ ”
What caught me off guard about this quote – is that the world’s smartest man didn’t cite meteors, cosmic radiation, a dying sun, or a black hole as the source of our demise. He cited our inevitable need to destroy each other in a tale-as-old-as-time-not-like-Beauty-And-The-Beast game of last man standing. We’re right back to Luke Skywalker being told that his “face” isn’t likable by an alien in the Tatooine Cantina, before he gets shot for no reason.
In the past 5 years – popular mainstream authors and screenplay writers have their fingers on the same pulse as the BigThink.com editors. We’ve seen movies like “The Hunger Games” and “The Maze Runner” top box office charts. My daughter has read the books, “Divergent” and “Insurgent”. Even movies like “Mad Max” have made a reappearance….why?
Intrinsically – we all know what happens when you give a few people a lot of power. They lose their freaking minds. They become that guy you drive with on the highway – you know the one…the guy whose thinking, “the rules of the road don’t apply to me”. The guy who cuts you off, with just enough room for his car in-between yours and his. He doesn’t care about your safety, feelings – or well being. He’s going to do what he’s going to do, no matter what. In spite of “what”.
We are lost in an ever rising tide…an ancient ebb of flow of good, and evil. And nature self corrects the cycle when one side swells past the natural balance point – inevitably leading to bloodied battle fields when people lose their minds. They take what they want, at all costs – even if that cost involves a human life. This story is as old as Cain and Able…just a few pages into the holiest of religious canons.
Famed journalist Malcolm Muggeridge had this to say about the most recent cycle of “man vs. man” ,
“We look back upon history and what do we see?
Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counterrevolutions, wealth accumulating and and then disbursed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of the “rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.”
In one lifetime I have seen my own countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that “God who’s made them mighty would make them mightier yet.”
I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last for a thousand years; an Italian clown announce he would restart the calendar to begin with his own assumption of power; a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the western world as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Asoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius.
I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of military weaponry more powerful than all the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.
All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind.
England now part of an island off the coast of Europe and threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy.
Hitler and Mussolini dead and remembered only in infamy.
Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped to found and dominate for some three decades.
America haunted by fears of running out of the precious fluid that keeps the motorways roaring and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam and of the great victories of the Don Quixotes of the media when they charged the windmills of Watergate. All in one lifetime, all in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.”
Even further back beyond Muggeridge, we have King Solomon…parenthetically also known as one of the wisest men who ever lived saying,
“Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9)
We, as a species generally don’t do good at remembering what has just happened to us. We’re like “Ten Second Tom” from the popular cult movie, “50 First Dates” with Adam Sandler, forgetting someone introduced themselves to us just ten or fifteen seconds ago. Professor Michael Roberto of Bryant University has this to say about humans:
“The lesson is that humans are incredibly vulnerable to what psychologists call the recency effect. WE have a strong tendency to place too much emphasis on information and evidence that is readily available, such as recent events….We are incredibly myopic“.
Thomas Jefferson – one of the primary founding fathers of the United States, was a student of Roberto, Muggeridge, and Solomon. He understood that power inevitably consolidates in the hands of a powerful few that ultimately do not have the populace’s best interests at heart – He knew firsthand that there was a vicious historical cycle…
People get together and try to survive
People get lazy, and want someone to protect them
People let one or more other people take care of them
People have less and less power
People get abused by the people that were supposed to take care of them
People reach a breaking point, and rise up violently against their oppressors
The Library of Congress had this to say about Jefferson:
“….Recognized in Europe as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson quickly became a focal point or lightning rod for revolutionaries in Europe and the Americas. As United States minister to France when revolutionary fervor was rising toward the storming of the Bastille in 1789, Jefferson became an ardent supporter of the French Revolution, even allowing his residence to be used as a meeting place for the rebels led by Lafayette….”
Jefferson understood that you ask nicely for your Opressor to stand aside. Then you don’t ask nicely anymore, and use your gun as a student of in the flow of, history:
“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787
“The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes…. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Commonplace Book (quoting 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria), 1774-1776
“A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785
“The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to to John Cartwright, 5 June 1824
Jefferson saw this happen in the Colonies. He saw it happening in France….he believed – executing his life accordingly – that freedom often came at the end of the barrel of the oppressed. He saw firsthand what Stephen Hawking sees now. Inevitably – we just don’t get along. There are people in the world whose line in the sand extends well beyond cutting your family off in traffic with three inches to spare between you and them and the car in front. There are people among us who see the chinks in the armor between us all, and slide down in-between our plates like some water on a hillside between two rocks. They freeze and expand, freeze and expand – splitting societies until their personal and selfish objectives have been met in their pursuit of more and more power. Because they can.
Jefferson’s contemporary believed like Jefferson – that the people of a land must be better armed than its caretakers to protect against those who push until pushed back. That the rulers must always remember who put them there, and who could take them away:
“If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state. In a single state, if the persons intrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.”
– Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 28
These guys knew human nature – as well as or better than Stephen Hawking. At one point, the guys in charge lose their minds. And when they do, the people had better have planned for it, and have accumulated more of/better weapons than the people who lose their minds. At one point or another, all the strong buffalo circle up, horns out and asses in.
And so we have “The Hunger Games”. And “The Maze Runner”. And “Divergent”. This greenest of generations – our kids and young adults are starting to feel and articulate the same pangs a young Jefferson felt watching the respective “mind losers” of his generation. In every single one of those books – the author is communicating the same message. Democracies turn into regimes every generation. It can happen hear. It will probably happen here, in fact. And when it does – we all better have, or know someone who has, a lot of guns. These books are as prophetic as Orwell’s 1984, the novel I was forced to read in High School…which warned of a government that spied on it’s people – could see and hear what you were doing in your private homes – and did the opposite of what it told you to do. If these next books are as prophetic as Orwell’s was in our generation – well….
But isn’t mankind getting better? Aren’t there any books to the contrary? Not really.
There’s no vision of the future – that I can recall – in any book I’ve read, or any screenplay I’ve read, or film I’ve watched – where someone isn’t trying to conquer or enslave someone…hell, everyone else. There is always a Cain or a Khan. Always Klingons and Romulans. Always an Agent Smith or Architect content to put our freedoms in a pink gooey pod and suck the metaphorical life out of an entire generation. The books that talk about Artificial Intelligence all warn equally – if we make robots and give them sentience – they’ll kill us in return, with bigger sticks and faster guns.
Hawking. Jefferson. Solomon – they all knew and understood the same thing the Prophet Jeremiah knew:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)
For Christians- there’s an exit strategy (it’s a crazy one, and if your’e not a Christian – it will only make me sound weirder to you which IS possible) . For Hawking though – an atheist – it’s a rocket ship filled with people who will probably seed the universe with more people who will eventually enslave and oppress their constituents. There’s nothing new under the sun, even if that sun is in a different universe (Sorry, Stephen).