2013-01-28

Beauty And The Beast

On his Facebook page, Jeffrey Tucker states:
The myth of the great inventor, the singular mind who shatters all prevailing belief by coming up with something entirely new, takes another hit.
This refers to a recent article suggesting that Albert Einstein might not be solely responsible for his world-famous, ground-breaking equation.

Let us set aside for the moment that Tucker probably means "takes another blow," not "takes another hit." I am fairly certain that myths are incapable of doing drugs. Apparently - and this may shock those of you who regard science as a legitimate pursuit - many brilliant physicists paved the way for the scientific developments that occurred after them! Shocking, I know...

Doesn't it just completely invalidate the idea that a single person could ever be responsible for something amazing? Isn't that a great message for your kids? "Sorry, Junior. Even Einstein was nothing more than a media concoction used to popularize physics. No one person could ever be that smart or talented."

Meanwhile, The Atlantic decides to write a screed exposing Lance Armstrong as a mentally ill aggressive narcissist whose most profound lie was the one he told himself.

Beauty And The Beast
In the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast (the real story, the way it was before falling into the sanitizing hands of the Walt Disney Company), a kind but naive young girl named Belle agrees to live almost as a captive in a beautiful palace ruled by a terrifying beast so that she can spare her father the same fate. Each day, Belle is treated to the Beast's unbelievably kind generosity and hospitality. Each evening, the Beast offers a marriage proposal to Belle. Each evening she refuses.

Each night, Belle dreams of a handsome prince, with whom she falls in love. In Belle's dreams, the prince wants to know why she refuses the Beast's proposals, to which Belle gives the classic female response: "I don't like him like that." Basically, Belle confines the Beast to the Friend Zone.

After a while, though, Belle begins to suspect that the Beast has imprisoned the handsome prince somewhere in his luxurious castle. Despite the Beast's lavishing her with kindness and every possible amenity, Belle comes to believe that the Beast is a fundamentally bad person, who has taken her dream guy as his prisoner.

What follows is classic human nature. Belle decides she wants to go stay with her family for a while. Her family is a bit greedy and can recognize a good thing when they see one, so they conspire to sabotage Belle's relationship with the Beast. They convince her to break her promise to return to the Beast within a week. When the Beast learns of this, he nearly dies of heartbreak. Wracked by guilt and the impending end of her gravy-train relationship with the Beast, she sobs and declares her realization that - gee, whiz! - she actually loves him, after all!

The spell is broken. The love and the tears were all the Beast needed. Poof! He turns into the prince that Belle always wanted.

Normal And The Hero
This story plays itself out in front of us every day, day after day. Only, instead of calling it "Beauty and the Beast," we call it "Normal and the Hero."

In our story, we all play the role of Belle, being the naive, but basically nice and well-intentioned folks that we are. Most of us are born into a simple existence, in which we play a very minor role. While we observe the greedy nastiness of some people, just as Belle observed such traits in her own sisters, most of us just want to be simple, good people. I think. We live the grand designs and great aspirations to those who care for us, just as Belle left such things to her father.

All the time, though, we are basking in the generosity and hospitality of those few among us who have managed to produce important things, achieve heroic things, go beyond the humdrum of life and push for something new, something different.

I say "generosity and hospitality" because these people have produced things like automobiles and iPads, technology old and new. They have produced art, food, music, stories, and so forth. They have managed to produce our every convenience and respite from that harsh, unyielding law of life on Earth: that living is hard as hell.

We can fry our brains on drugs and TV only because other people are out there producing the things we need to keep life going the way we know it. And not only do they manage to do that - fabulously so - but they manage to keep humanity on a basically upward trajectory. Every year, we as a species get a little richer, a little better-fed, a little better-entertained. As time goes on, things improve.

Of course we love the people who do these things for us! We love them as a friend, just as Belle loved the Beast as a friend. Sort of like, "Thanks, pal, I really appreciate that your technology provides enough food to allow me to stay alive and even over-eat if I want to. Thanks for the pace-maker. Thanks for the Nobel-Prize-winning advance in medicine that may save my life one day...

"...but I don't want to marry you!"

Hang In There, I'm Getting To The Point
Meanwhile, as we bask in our luxurious world, we start to dream of imaginary princes. These princes are beautiful people, rich, powerful, just, and kind. They are everything we want our society to be, but we see them only in our dreams. Worse yet, we start to imagine that all these folks who are producing the things that keep our lives as wonderful as they are have imprisoned our imaginary princes!

What I mean is, we have come to believe that our society is capable of great things. Yet, somehow, we feel that our society has not managed to achieve these "great things" because there are evil people out there - corporate bogey-men, bad illegal immigrants, evil pharmaceutical producers, polluting farmers, and so forth - all conspiring to keep our society away from its princely potential.

The truth is right in front of our eyes, but we can't seem to see it. The handsome prince and the ugly beast are one in the same person.

That is, all these people out there who are producing plenty and achieving wonderful things, all these people that we demonize whenever we pause to think about it, are not keeping us from our prince. They are the prince. You dolt.

The Plot Thickens
This would be bad enough, if it weren't also so sad. Why sad? Because all those great people achieving brilliance and producing plenty are us. We are the beasts, and we are the handsome princes. And, yes, we hold the key to society's potential.

And, like Belle, all we have to do is learn to recognize this truth and we can avail ourselves of it. Instead, we're too busy tearing down our heroes, and tearing down ourselves, all in the name of some absurd fantasy that everything we love about life exists without its ugly side.

There is always room for improvement in life. I know that better than anyone. It's important to stay restless so that you can achieve more. But that doesn't mean that there are hideous beasts standing in our way to progress. The only "beasts" out there are us. We see ourselves every day, so we know full well that we're not standing in anyone's way. We're just living.

But maybe - just maybe - we'd all be a little happier if we learned to recognize that perfection exists in hypothesis only. Kiss the beast, so that you can recognize that the person who is making your life so good is you, and people like you. Get happy about it.

Then, stop tearing down the beasts.