Sunday, January 3, 2010

Getting a Grip

"What a piece of work is man," wrote William Shakespeare in Hamlet. "How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties..."

Unfortunately, Shakespeare was exaggerating. Either that, or the human race has gone markedly downhill since Elizabethan days in jolly old England. And as this article by Denis Duton in the New York Times demonstrates, we have a tendency to go off the deep end with alarming regularity. The end of the world, it seems, is always upon us.

Early predictions, based on the estimated size of Noah's ark, had the end of the world coming in 500 AD.

Sometimes, these events were heralded by obvious signs of looming disaster --- like Haley's Comet in 989 or 1910, or the year 1666 (which not only ended in the "Beast's number" of 666, but was also the year that London played host to both the Bubonic Plague and the Great Fire of London...kind of a disaster-scenario equivalent of the same city winning both the Super Bowl and World Series in the same year).

But lest we scoff at these visions of the world ending as superstitious musings by the deluded, we have our own modern versions of doomsday. The western world (except for the Italians, whose view on most issues appears to be que sera sera) was gripped by Y2K frenzy for much of the late 1990s...only to be disappointed when the computers of the many countries (mostly in Asia) who believed the "Y2K deniers" like Bill Gates carried on just as smoothly as those in countries (like Britain, Germany and the US) who had swallowed the disaster scenario hook, line, and sinker. And today, we're confronted with the specter of Climate Change destroying us.

One common thread in all these manias is that we're all doomed...unless we repent our wicked ways and follow the "correct" creed. Another is that time and reality tend to prove them false.

In hindsight, the Y2K panic seems silly and unnecessary.

But in hindsight, most fears seem overblown. And our tendency to overdo things tends to distract us from the things that we really need to fear: Hitler in the 1930s, for instance; or Islamic extremism today.

Shakespeare was right, though: we are "a piece of work." It would be nice if Man really were "noble in reason" and "infinite in faculties." I guess we're simply a work in progress.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

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