by: Michael Shields
Plunged into a late-night conversation between a naysayer and an enlightened optimist, several truths of life are explored….
“That’s bullshit,” I offered, angered by the dodgy response. It’s not that I didn’t believe the struggles that you go through in life shape you in some way, and often build character. It’s just that I was looking for more of a response from my dear friend huddled up to the bar beside me. Tonight I was in the mood for some good old-fashioned back and forth.
“Of course it’s bull-ssshit,” Bill jumped in with an inkling of a slur. The hour was getting late, and the drinks had been steadily flowing. “Whatever doesn’t kill you – breaks you down. It compounds with all the burdens and heartbreaks of life and eventually what didn’t kill you – does!”
“Well, that’s one way to look at it I guess,” I conceded. “The straws add up and then one day you wake up and come across that one that finally does you in. I get that.”
“Why are we even talking about this type of shit, silly drunk at this hour? I thought politics, religion, and all that shit was off the table when it comes to bar banter.” Bill sulked brashly, settling back in his bar stool, resolved to the thought that his disgruntled outburst would put an end to my high horsing. He should’ve known me much better than that.
“Why not!?” I spat with vigor. “And what we are talking about here is far from politics or religion. It’s ideal world shit. What could be! I mean, what do you want to talk about? This shit game on TV here, that racist meat-head Incognito, Beyonce’s surrogate mother? I mean this is the type of stuff we should be waxing poetic about while we punish our liver for no real good reason. I mean, I guess we should be talking about The Philippines, about the unfathomable horror…..”
“I can’t. I really can’t,” Bill interrupted.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. Me either.”
A silence settled between Bill and I as we both took a second to try to imagine the unthinkable, wiping those distressing thoughts away a moment later with another slug of brown liquor. That pain was the kind that you tried to tackle, to understand, during the daylight hours. And even then it would be impossible to grasp the magnitude.
“It’s just,” I continued, trying to reignite the flame of our previous conversation, “the frivolous is what demands our attention all too often, and we, you and I, should be damned if we fall into that trap. It’s embarrassing that our society allows itself to be overcome with the most inconsequential of distractions, and that this keeps us from discussing what really matters.”
“Which is?” Bill asked, throwing me a bone, paving me a path to let it all out. He was a good friend.
“Life. Sustaining it. Protecting it. Increasing the quality of it. I know that is vague, but it’s time to get back to the essence of things, to talk about the bigger picture, to allow reason to be the guiding light as we blaze a path in a new direction.” I proclaimed with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
“Reason, huh? Do you even watch the news? Reason is as absent from society as whiskey is from my glass,” Bill said with an apathetic snarl as he caught the bartender’s eye, motioning for another round. I was going toe-to-toe with him this evening. I didn’t have a choice. We were in this together.
“Everyday!” I countered. “Look, you just need to know where to cast your gaze. Take the war on drugs for instance.”
Bill let out an audible groan as our drinks arrived. I quickly emptied the remainder of my glass to keep pace.
“I’m serious. Analytical minds are beginning to realize the true nature of drug use and regulation and what they are learning is fascinating. It’s becoming more and more obvious that what motivates junkies isn’t simply the high, or the addiction even, it’s the lack of better alternatives. And the drug policy that is cornering these less-fortunate souls is guided by hysteria and misinformation. They are talking decriminalization, not simply legalization. Things have gone too far and reason and truth are the only things that can dig us out of this deep, dark hole. Did you know that the United States has only five percent of the world’s people, but twenty percent of the world’s prison population?
“I did not.” Bill admitted, sounding faintly, and finally, intrigued.
“It’s true. What’s more is that if you take a moment and think about it – the last three presidents all have drug histories. These are men who have contributed immensely, one way or another, to our countries well being, and all have partaken.
“This conversation is making me want to partake right now. You holding?” Bill asked, and from his tone I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. “Look man, none of that is going to change,” Bill continued. “The system is broken. Damaged beyond repair.”
“No, It’s ALL going to change!” I was nearly screaming, but I was excited. The conversation had just steered exactly where I wanted it to. I couldn’t have asked for a better lead in, and a more ardent non-believer to attempt to convert. It was time to take my perch atop the soapbox and go to work. “Although the media glorifies and accentuates the bad, it is actually an amazing time to be alive! If you dig in, I mean really pull out the microscope and take a close look at what is going on around the world, you will see that the quality of life is actually improving for people across the globe. Of course we seem to be culturally disposed to ignore it. Americans, these days, not only pay little attention to history, but they barely take in their surroundings, and what is transpiring around them. So much happens so rapidly that before it can be evaluated, and its meaning deciphered, there is something new to distract us. But we are entering a unique moment in time, a period of radical openness where ideas have never been so plentiful and exciting.” I paused for effect, a breath of air, and a sip of the cocktail before me.
“I know, I know. The singularity is near!” Bill sarcastically stated, taking advantage of the hole I created in my soliloquy to offer some levity. But, nothing could stop my roll.
“Bill,” I continued with a head of steam. “Did you know that more change has occurred in the last hundred years than the last BILLION years. That is so crazy to think about, but it’s true. Exponential change is upon us. For example, and stay with me here, the average smartphone is one million times cheaper, a million times smaller, and a thousand times more powerful than a supercomputer that filled an entire building built just FORTY years ago!”
“Wait,” Bill interrupted. “Where do you get all these wild statistics?”
“I prefer to think of them as numerical facts. And that doesn’t matter, they are true. But what does matter is the more you really learn about what is happening with information technology, with biotechnology, and with artificial intelligence, there is actually a reason to be OPTIMISTIC about the future. And that’s something you don’t hear every day. There are mini-revolutions, and breakthroughs, occurring every day and its funny that we don’t hear a thing about them, because they are going to change the world! I guess the crux of the matter is it’s high-time we humans accept that we have more power than ever before, and it’s time for us to imagine a different world – a better one – and to realize we have the means to achieve it!”
I ceased my diatribe, exhausted and pleased. I am unsure about what got through to Bill, but if nothing it was not for lack of effort, especially considering how much drink we had consumed. I turned to him, excited to gauge his reaction to my call to action and was met with what could only be described as a blank stare.
“You done?” Bill finally volunteered. In all my exuberance I failed to notice that the alcohol had finally taken its toll on my dear friend. He was gently swaying back and forth like a boat rocking in a subtle breeze.
“Yeah, I’m done Bill. Let’s settle up and get out of here. I just wanted to share some thoughts I had, and finally spread some optimism for a change. I just think grown-ups should be having adult conversations is all, discussing the important things in life, logically and intellectually.”
“Welp,” Bill managed as he inhaled his final dose of whiskey for the evening, “ I guess what doesn’t kill ya.”