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Failure • Posted: Mar 30, 2008 14:19:49Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

All living entities toil against the crush of physics. Imagine a newborn struggling to right itself, then take its first steps, developing muscles and coordination, progressing to imagine a life for itself, battling to fulfill that dream, and then finally collapsing in a dead heap and reverting to dust. The course is somewhat different for each individual species, but the overall pattern is always the same. Life pushes one direction, physics the opposite. There is drama to the struggle, heroism, and very often tragedy. Failure affects us all. No one is immune. We all are vulnerable.

Culture cannot protect us from failure, from being crushed by physics, but it can shield us. Culture represents the sum of shared ideas we use to manage and negotiate the battle we wage against physics. Conservatives believe traditional ideas are the best. Progressives insist newer ideas are better. Pragmatists and realists counter that any idea that works is fine, that the consequences are what matters. (And that isn't the same as saying the ends justify the means, because clearly all consequences are consequences.)

Cultural wisdom is an imperfect match for the evolving inevitability of physics. Physics favors no one. Nearly all ideas fail. Failure is the test of all ideas. Incrementally they either extend our successes in fulfilling our dreams, or they don't. New ideas are the life's blood of any culture's struggle against the grinding crush of physics. Conservatives may not believe in newer ideas, but they are hard pressed to deny superior results when they see them.

Why then cannot culture as a whole develop reverence for and easy accommodation with its own generative essence? Nearly all sections of contemporary society regard new ideas based on new insights with suspicion, fear, ridicule, and just plain bafflement. Why? New ideas provide the means by which this or any culture adapts to the developing conditions within which it must exist. While it is true most ideas fail at some point, there is substantial footing to be had on the overlap between newer notions and fading but still useful traditions. We guarantee our own demise by denying the inevitable failure of the status quo.

Who among us will write the narrative by which we all learn to see and negotiate the evolving path toward a healthy and fulfilling future? Who among us will research and develop the ideas that will pave that path? Who among us will sadly insist on maintaining the status quo unto oblivion?

Friday, February 23rd, 2007
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