Big Questions and Stupid People

“Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

–Albert Einstein

“Remember Kyle, there are no stupid questions, only stupid people.”

–Mr. Garrison, South Park

Ever since I was a kid, I have pondered the “big questions”: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Why are there so many stupid people around? OK, maybe I didn’t ask that last question until I got a little older. But it certainly muddies the waters in which I contemplate the first two.

Another way to look at this is, are there really stupid people, or just people who do stupid things? Well, I know for sure the latter is true. I have even witnessed people I would not consider to be stupid doing stupid things, so definitely there are people who do stupid things. Perhaps whether or not anyone actually is “stupid” is irrelevant. But I digress.

It seems to me that any comprehensive worldview, any theory that attempts to “explain it all,” needs to take into account the infinite human capacity for stupidity. Though many of us like to raise our heads and lift our hearts with visions of the noblest acts of humanity, this is really just the equivalent of spraying air freshener in a befouled bathroom… no matter how advanced we become as a society, some of what we do still stinks.

So we are left with somewhat more complicated questions: Why are we here — in an overcrowded world with a bunch of people who hate each other for no good reason? What is the meaning — of all of the stupid, mindless actions that clutter our striving for a complete and satisfying life? What kind of God would create such a beautiful world and then fill it with creatures who seem hell-bent on ruining it?

The televangelists are starting to make sense to me now.

Freeway to Hell

As a resident of a major metropolitan area (presently it’s Atlanta, although in the past I’ve called both Los Angeles and Minneapolis home as well), I naturally spend a more-than-desirable amount of time dealing with less-than-desirable circumstances of living in close proximity to millions other people. Granted, the daily frustrations of urban life are an easy target for a rant, and I am striving for creativity here. Consider this a purging of the system so I don’t have to bring this up ever again.

The most obvious nuisance of life in a large city, particularly if it’s a city whose population grew significantly after the advent of freeways is, of course, traffic. I could veer off into a dry and potentially-controversial, were it not so mind-meltingly boring, treatise on the ills of our society that have led us into such a situation, but I believe a rant is not really a rant if it carries a relevant (or for that matter, even a merely coherent) message. So on to traffic.

I have ridden in cars before with drivers who, as incomprehensible as it is to me, do not seem to care about getting to their destination in absolutely as short a time as possible. I always suspect they are newcomers to “big city” life, but chances are they just possess greater control over their emotions than I do. At any rate, the time I spend nervously twitching in their passenger seats is split in roughly equal proportions between a somewhat ironic jealously over their apparent zen-like state, which I by my very nature seem destined never to attain, and a deep, visceral compulsion to lunge across the parking brake and push the accelerator to the floor with my bare hand.

Anyway, since I (naturally) have little patience for riding with people who have more patience than I do, my encounters with these parkway pacifists usually come when I am behind the wheel, in the form of my rapid approach to their rear bumpers. This is my real frustration with traffic… there are just some people on the road who don’t care about keeping pace, no matter how much those of us behind them tailgate, flash our lights, blast our horns, raise certain fingers in colorful gestures, or turn on our cruise control, climb out our driver-side windows, jump onto their trunks, climb in their passenger-side windows, and indulge our deep, visceral compulsions to lunge across the parking brake and push their accelerators to the floor with our bare hands.

All of this staring at rear bumpers during rush hour seems to have a secondary, interesting effect, at least on me. I have developed a completely relative sense of speed. I really, honestly, have no sense of how fast I am driving anymore, except in terms of my speed relative to the other cars on the road. And I have one simple goal: I need to be going just a little bit faster than any other car I see around me. This can become truly dangerous at times of lighter traffic, such as this past Saturday morning, when, headed southbound on I-285, I looked down at my speedometer in utter amazement to discover myself driving 92 MPH. (Did I mention the 55 MPH speed limit on that road?)

Alas, I’m learning too late that one small rant cannot possibly contain all of my obvious, clichéd frustrations with the transportation woes of modern urban life. I’ve barely even scratched the surface of my own mild affliction with terminal road rage. Once the boiling blood in my brain and sour bile in my throat have receded enough for me to be able to see and comprehend the computer keyboard again, I will file another installment.