One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of existence which could easily be misinterpreted as pessimism. It is not.
It is merely a healthy concern for the predicament of modern man. (Modern man is here defined as any person born after Nietzsche's edict that "God is dead," but before Bucks Fizz released 'Making Your Mind Up.'
This 'predicament' can be stated one of two ways, though certain linguistic philosophers prefer to reduce it to a mathematical equation where it can be easily solved and even carried around in a small carrier bag. Put in its simplest form, the problem is: How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world given my shoe and shirt size? This is a very difficult question when we realize that science has failed us.
True, it has conquered many diseases, broken the genetic code, and even placed humans on the moon, and yet when a man of seventy is left in a room with two nineteen-year-old au-pairs nothing happens. Because the real problems never change. After all, can the human soul be glimpsed through a microscope? Maybe - but you'd definitely need one of those very good ones with two eyepieces and everything.
We know that the most advanced computer in the world does not have a brain as sophisticated as that of a particularly daft fish. True, we could say that of many of our friends and relatives but we only have to put up with them at weddings or on special occasions. Science is something we depend on all the time. If I develop a pain in the chest I can get an X-ray. But what if the radiation from the X-ray causes me even more problems? Before I know it, I'm going in for surgery. Naturally, while they're giving me oxygen a trainee decides to spark up a snout and the next thing you know I'm rocketing over St James Park in my PJ's. Is this science?
Science has taught us how to pasteurise cheese. And this can be fun in mixed company - but what of the atomic bomb? Have you ever seen what happens when one of those things rolls out of the boot of your car accidentally? And where is science when we ponder the eternal riddles? How did the cosmos originate? How long has it been around? Did matter begin with an explosion or by the word of God? And if by the latter, could He not have begun it just two weeks earlier to take advantage of some of the warmer weather? Exactly what do we mean when we say, man is mortal? Obviously it's not a compliment! Religion too has unfortunately let us down. I often think how comforting life must have been for early man because he believed in a powerful, benevolent Creator who looked after all things. Imagine his disappointment when he saw his wife putting on weight for the first time?
Contemporary man, of course, has no such peace of mind. He finds himself in the midst of a crisis of faith. He is what we fashionably call 'alienated.' He has seen the ravages of war, he has known natural catastrophes, he has been to singles bars. My good friend Dave 'Fluffy Slippers' Perry in the past has often spoken to me of the randomness of the cosmos. He believed everything in existence occurred by pure chance with the possible exception of his breakfast, which he felt certain was made by his cleaning lady. Naturally belief in a divine intelligence inspires tranquility. But this does not free us from our human responsibilities. Am I my brother's keeper? Yes. Interestingly, in my case I share that honor with the Byker Petting Zoo.
Feeling godless, what we have done is made new technology our God. And yet can technology really be the answer when a Q reg XR2 wound through the window of my local Greggs The Bakers causing hundreds of customers to scatter? My toaster has never worked properly in four years. I follow the instructions and push two slices of bread down in the slots and seconds later they fly upward. Once they broke the nose of a woman I quite liked too. Are we counting on nuts and bolts and electricity to solve our problems? Yes, the telephone is a good thing - and the refrigerator - and the microwave oven. But not every microwave oven. Not my sister's, for instance. Hers makes a loud noise and still will not warm even soup. When the repair man comes over to fix it, it gets worse. Either that or he tells her she needs a new one. When she complains, he says not to bother him. This man is truly alienated. Not only is he alienated but he can't stop smiling. The trouble is, our leaders have not adequately prepared us for a mechanised society. Unfortunately our politicians are either incompetent or corrupt. Sometimes both, and on the same day. The Government is unresponsive to the needs of the little man. If you're under five foot four it is impossible to get your local MP on the phone!
I am not denying that democracy is still the finest form of government. In a democracy at least, civil liberties are upheld. No citizen can be wantonly tortured, imprisoned, or made to sit through certain daytime TV drama programmes. And yet this is a far cry from what goes on in Eastern Europe. Under their form of totalitarianism, a person merely caught whistling can be sentenced to thirty years in a forced labour camp. If, after fifteen years, he still will not stop whistling, they shoot him. Along with this brutal fascism we find its handmaiden, terrorism! At no other tune in history has man been so afraid to cut into his bacon sarnie for fear that it will explode.
Violence breeds more violence and it is predicted that by 2017 kidnapping will be the dominant mode of social interaction. Overpopulation will exacerbate problems to the breaking point. Figures tell us there are already more people on earth than we need to move even the heaviest settee. If we do not call a halt to breeding, by the year 2034 there will be no room to serve dinner unless someone is willing to set the table in a really tight manner where people will bump elbows with strangers while eating. Of course energy will be in short supply and each car owner will be allowed only enough petrol to reverse a few inches.
But instead of facing these challenges we turn instead to distractions like drugs and sex. We live in far too permissive a society. Never before has pornography been this rampant. We are a people who lack defined goals. We have never learned to love. We lack leaders and coherent programs. We have no spiritual center. We are adrift alone in the cosmos wreaking monstrous violence on one another out of frustration and pain. Fortunately, we have not lost our sense of proportion. Summing up, it is clear the future holds great opportunities. It also holds pitfalls. The trick will be to avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities, and get back home by eight o'clock!!