Life's Biggest Joke On Us

Uncle Harry used to give me a little wink: “Essere intelligente…! Be smart, kid, and learn it now. You gotta live life forwards, but really you can only understand it backwards.” And yet I ask you, who’s smart enough at 13 to understand one of life’s biggest jokes? The Uncle Harry’s of the world can warn us, but to get it we gotta live it. And somehow we all do, don’t we.

Love…? Looking backwards, when she married him he was a time-bomb; now with him ticking even faster but with four kids still in school, she can’t really undo what’s been done!

Lifestyle…? Looking backwards, why didn’t he eat more vegetables and smoke less cigarettes like mom always said; now, fat with emphysema, time’s run out!

Career…? Looking backwards, she should have gone to med school even though women back then weren’t welcome; now with a dead-end job, it’s too late to start all over!

War…? Looking backwards, invading Iraq was like breaking something in the store you now have to own; what was I thinking!

Margaret Mead observed: “It’s cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.” Like Uncle Harry told me, if only we could be smarter sooner. And yet here’s the thing. They say we only use 5 to 10% of our brain’s capacities. So why can’t we do better.

A few recommendations. More and better education for children…more and better psycho-therapy for adults….more and better respect for the wisdom of elders. Unlike ages past where humanity dwelled in ill-informed ignorance, today there’s no excuse. We have instant, fingertip access to a hundred million information sources from Astronomy to Zeitgeist. No excuse for not better transforming humanity’s past regrets into present progress.

Oh wait. A warning!

Too much information can be just as counterproductive as too little. How many different reports are we going to keep getting about coffee and chocolate, vitamin B and vitamin E, good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, PSA and no PSA, inoculations and no inoculations, having children and not having children. With our new Information Age has come a whole new species: The Expert. Generating expert information by the bazillion bytes every day.

Here’s a counte-intutiive thought. Instead of giving up coffee and chocolate, maybe it’s time to give up reading. At least until the experts can remember: “Essere Intelligente!”

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  • We always know too much until we realize that we know not enough.

    War: Colin Powell said this at the beginning, but also provided the "evidence" to justify the war.

    And for the too much information point, there is the point that some of it isn't really information, in the sense of verifiable fact. Wikipedia completely falls into this category, but the ill informed think that it is actually an encyclopedia. As Tribune comment boards demonstrate on a minute by minute basis, "humanity dwel[s] in ill-informed ignorance," but now has no shame about posting that on the Internet.

    To be smart, one still has to do the research to find a verifiable source.

  • In reply to jack:

    Without a doubt!! We have free speech, but there's little excuse fr carefree speech. And yet it is obviously in the majority out there...

  • In reply to Jack Spatafora:

    I've referred elsewhere to First Amendment rights, including to post anonymously on the Internet, and then on the First Amendment right to be stupid. Latest time was on the most recent Chicago Political Commentary.

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