So you don’t live in a utopian future. You don’t have anything to be embarrassed by there. Over eight percent fewer of us do than you’d imagined. There are many ways that the world is pretty good, despite everything we’ve been through. The world has capybaras, for example. And if that weren’t enough, we keep inventing new social media by which other people will send us pictures of capybaras. So that’s the baseline; as long as we have that, the world isn’t beyond hope.
But any of us can see ways the world might be better. It might be a little harder to spill things on shirts, for example. Or we might think of some quasi-verbal utterance other than “uh” and “uhm” to mark time while we’re speaking. For the variety. Maybe we could arrange for the first coffee mugs we drop and break to be the ugly ones with only-ever-funny-once jokes on them, instead of the souvenir ones from places that are gone. There are probably other things that would make life better, but those would see the most dramatic improvements.
It’s natural then to want to make the world a better place. It’s a dangerous pastime. You should think hard before you continue on in it. Consider: to make the world better, there has to be something wrong with it. If it would make the world better to have a more interesting variety of cupcakes available, that implies there aren’t enough interesting cupcakes already. Don’t go telling me there’s already plenty of interesting variety in vegan cookies, because while there may be, they’re still not cupcakes. And even if we have got the best imaginable state of one thing that doesn’t say anything about other things. Again, imagine we had our full complement of capybara photo access, but we never got to hear the theme to Secret Agent Man on the radio at the bagel shop ever again. Even happiness would be forever tainted by the thought of what was lost.
So fine if you figure something can be made better. The danger is there’s something already around that keeps it from being as good as it could be. Maybe that thing is already someone’s responsibility. Then trying to fix it means you’re telling that person they’ve screwed up so badly that someone has to come in and try fixing their mistakes. I don’t blame them wanting to slug you for that. How would you feel if someone pulled that on you? Exactly. Having to get within slugging range of someone to fix them has historically tempered the activity of people trying to fix up stuff, and made people think hard about what’s really worth improving. Advances in stick and other long-range poking and hitting technologies would have moved the balance of power to the status quo advocates. Or they would have, if the poking-and-hitting technologists didn’t see why they needed to make any advances in their product line, thank you. Internet activism makes it possible to try doing something about stuff that’s wholly outside of slugging range, which is why it’s so controversial and the results so mixed. On the one hand, people can be made instantly aware of what their state legislature is planning to do. On the other hand, what we mostly react to is a sassy put-down by the Instagram account of Jo-Ann’s Fabric.
And then there are things that could be better but that nobody’s actually responsible for. This is even more dangerous to try improving. If a particular person’s responsible for a thing, at least trying to improve it is only an attack on that person. If nobody’s responsible, then trying to improve it is an implicit declaration that everybody has failed to address the shortcoming. Everybody has reason to feel attacked by you. And you can’t stay outside of slugging range of everybody forever. They can catch you when you try to pick up your mail at least.
If you enjoy the life of danger, then, go ahead. It can be thrilling stuff and maybe you will make something better. But it’s going to cost you some happiness too. And this is the great thing about living in a non-utopian society. You can be sad about the thing that’s not right, or be sad about trying to make it right. It’s up to you how you break your heart.
Now that I’ve explained it, do I hope that’s made anything better?