The Human Condition

I wrote this speech for the 2014 Bay area secular solstice. It was given after many other songs and speeches, and the immediately preceding piece was an adaptation of this.


So what do we do when the darkness surrounds us? What do we do, when the warmth around us recedes, and no longer supports our well-being?

Part of the human condition is that we can imagine far beyond that which is, and beyond that which could be. We can imagine this hall, instead of warm, filled with snow. Or a world populated with giants, who stride over hills. Or sprawling cities under the ocean. These things are trivial for us. A child, when reading a fairy tale, may not even know what elements of the story can or cannot be; it is all there, in their mind. This is simply what it is like to be a human; to know things unreal.

With that vision comes the ability to suffer from what could have been, or from what can never be. Our counterfactual losses. The books we did not write. The relationships we never forged. The children we did not create.

And because we can see what could be great, we can choose to make it.

Imagine we are with our ancestors in a prehistoric age. In a dark forest, all alone with nothing in sight but the dirt at our feet, we can see more. The rocks strewn about, hard as they are, can break. We have seen it before, and we will see it again. And broken rocks have endless potential. We will turn them into knives, and axes, arrowheads and art. That which could be, from mere broken rocks, served us better than any claw. The animals we kill can be skinned for warmth and protection. The trees around us will fall, and bind together into a shelter.

This is the power of our ability to imagine.

And it is no different today. From our vantage point, we can see so much higher. Though it still gets dark, we use what our ancestors conceived, and we look ever further.

The universe, exactly because of its indifference, will not try to stop us. Though it is cold and amoral, it is not a monster, but a machine. And machines don’t mind when you try to improve them. Just as there is no god to enforce a limit on suffering, there is no one to limit the good. There is only us.

So what do we do, when the darkness settles in around us? When things change, and the world is no longer welcoming? We let there be light.

We turn toward reason, and the products of our mind. We turn toward the world, and open up our minds to its nature. We conceive, we experiment, we perceive, we iterate. We question and we answer. And there is light.

We who turn rock into river, who thrust ourselves into the sky for convenience, who have seen beyond light and stepped beyond terra firma; we who have turned the unthinkable into the mundane; when we decide to do something, it will only be a matter of time.

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