St Andrews needs a dose of perspective

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As we approach the holiday season, all is not calm, all is not bright. Bombs fly in the Middle East, the US faces a fiscal cliff, rebels have taken over Sudan and St Andrews students complain about not having a reading week. On a Thanksgiving a century after the pilgrims, Benjamin Franklin once pleaded that on such an occasion we sit down and ‘take a cool view of the general state of our affairs, and perhaps the prospect will appear less gloomy than has been imagined’. I can see no better time when such thoughts are warranted for mankind.

I have always had a real hope that at some point in my life there will exist a drug that literally gives you a dose of perspective. Imagine. Whenever you could not handle that essay, the images of grieving mothers in Israel and Gaza, the petty hatred amidst the halls of Washington D.C., with a simple dose of this drug – your mind’s eye could witness the big picture.

I wonder how people would use it. If there would be ‘dosers’ that perpetually kept taking the drug. What would this result in? A nihilism where they perceived our obscurity in the cosmic dark? Or perhaps it would lead to an aggressive hedonism, a ‘carpe diem’ complex of sorts. There would undoubtedly be those that thought using such a drug ‘cheated’ the mysterious nature of life. By being able to transcend past our prejudices, our fears, our contexts we would, in a sense, be able to perceive the world as a god must be able to. Man, they would argue, is not meant for such lofty thoughts.

I would like to think that I would use it sporadically (though this must be said is the thought process of all future abusers of a drug). Taking the dose of perspective at times like now, where under the fluorescent lights of the library I need to see that there is more to life than tutorial hours, reading lists and this town. If this drug was available I highly doubt that people would be so caught up in this self-produced ‘bubble’ we so proudly live within. And I think that would be a good thing, because this town and the people within it, take themselves far too seriously.

David Earnshaw’s article on the front page illustrates this. The concept of BNOCs is terrific fun, but ultimately quite sad. Allen Farrington’s article on the death of the constitution is a damning indictment of American politics. Are we really as bad off as he presumes?

This Viewpoint, like many before it and many more to come, is littered with tangible pessimism, anger and frustration with the world. Young people expressing such sentiments is hardly unique. However, I think it is imperative that as we approach the season of love, happiness and family that we recognise that there is still much to be happy with in this crazy, little world we inhabit.

I leave you with words from John Green in ‘The Fault of Our Stars’ that have influenced me in my life, and allows for what Franklin called a ‘cool view’ of our existence. “There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten, and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.” Happy Holidays St Andrews. Take a dose of perspective.

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