The fetishism of human diminution

I like what I know about the Long Now Foundation (because I read Neal Stephenson’s novel “Anathem” and then read about its background and thought all of that was really cool) and I definitely consider the sense of time imparted by the study of cosmology or geology or evolutionary biology to be wondrous and even potentially useful — if applied in certain ways.

But stripped of their context, as they so often are in tweets like this and in countless other places I’ve seen them, these reminders (about how recent, puny, insignificant, etc., we are) just seem like some kind of masochistic fetish. After all, you can’t live day to day with your insignificance actually sitting there in the forefront of your mind, and there’s also something messed up about how this comes off as an attack on the (also very real) grandeur of human accomplishment and potential.

I could be wrong but I think there’s also a correlation between the types of people who post this kind of stuff and left-wing political ideology. If that’s true, a few explanatory theories suggest themselves, but I’ll hold off for now on pondering them out loud here.


3 thoughts on “The fetishism of human diminution

  1. I think this stuff can also be inspiring. The dinosaurs might have been around longer, but did they go to the moon? We took a long time to make, (and maybe x-risks should be taken more seriously), but while smaller entities may seek to inhabit every drop of water, every breath of air, every scrap of dirt – yes, we are outnumbered by ants – we are certainly quality over quantity, and we may set our sights higher, on things like colonizing other worlds.

    • I agree; that is one instance of giving context to the data. My point was that without context, it comes off in the masochistic way I wrote about.

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