Homo Stultis

Ascent

In his book The Art of Thinking Clearly, author Rolf Dobelli states that we are not that different from the earliest examples of homo sapiens; that if you could transport an individual from his cave-dwelling, hunter-gatherer existence to our modern era, put him in a Brooks Brothers suit and teach him to use an iPhone, he would not appear to be very much out of place. Dobelli’s point is that our brains have not evolved that much since that time several hundred thousand years ago, when rapid fight-or-flight responses, adherence to a social hierarchy, fear of outsiders, and many other responses to the environment were necessary for survival. While our brains have changed little, our environment is dramatically different today. It is an environment that we have created for ourselves with our superior brains, and one that is now in many ways outstripping our ability to cope with it. A few cases in point from recent weeks:

Asiana Flight 214, landing in San Francisco under the control of a pilot who, although experienced, was a trainee on this Boeing 777. Neither he, nor the pilot in charge of supervising him, noticed that the airplane’s speed had dropped well below the recommended minimum, and the craft slammed into the seawall ahead of the runway. Most passengers survived, but not one unfortunate teenager who was pulled from the wreckage by a rescuer, who then left her unattended near the wing where she was run over and killed by a late-arriving fire truck.

A few miles uphill from Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the engineer of a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway freight train pulling 72 tankers of crude oil finished his shift and parked his train for the night. Setting a few handbrakes and leaving an engine running to keep the main brakes pressurized, he checked into a nearby hotel. A fire broke out on the engine; the volunteer fire brigade arrived, shut off the engine, put out the fire and left after notifying the MMA dispatcher. It is unclear what action, if any, the dispatcher took. A short time later the train’s brake pressure dropped and the train rolled downhill into Lac-Megantic and derailed, causing several cars to explode and killing 47 people. In an astounding display of Not Getting the Picture, a later report said MMA was clarifying the procedures to follow when leaving a train loaded with hazardous materials unattended. Which apparently is still OK.

Finally, in northwestern Spain, a high-speed passenger train rounded a curve too fast and derailed, killing 79 people. “I should’ve been going 80 [49 mph] and I was doing 190 [118 mph],” said engineer José Garzón Amo. Apparently Mr. Amo was talking to another railway employee on the telephone and perusing a document when the wheels of the train were leaving the rails.

It is easy to point at these stupidly fatal mistakes, and those of all the other Darwin Award winners, and assume that these individuals are not like us; we could never do something so dumb. No doubt these pilots and engineers felt the same way until circumstances proved otherwise. Perhaps what we are seeing is not Darwin in action, but the failure of our brains to evolve quickly enough to keep up with our ever more complicated world. We were named homo sapiens because we were smarter than our kindred hominids, particularly the Neanderthals, with which we coexisted in our early history, and which were not that different from us. Can we still be called “wise man” in light of the incredibly stupid ways we often respond to the challenges of modern life?

I Don’t Have Twitter

You know what I like? Mushrooms. They’re delicious!

Avenger in Denver

I don’t usually do politics, but everyone was so surprised by Obama’s poor performance in the first debate that I have to point out something that you all may be overlooking. Yes, he was pathetic: He seldom looked Romney in the eye; he failed to bring up Romney’s gaffes such as the “47% are losers” debacle (Romney’s estimate was low); he kept repeating the same weak arguments despite Romney’s effective refutations. What was going on? I can explain it in one simple term:

Rope-a-dope.

The President’s brilliant strategy, taken right from the Mohammad Ali playbook, was instantly clear to me. If I’m right, he will be equally hapless in the next debate, focusing on foreign policy. He will be unable to find Iran on a map. He won’t know the president of Uzbekistan. He will identify Israel and Canada as members of the Axis of Evil. The Democrats and the media will be even more shocked and dismayed. Chris Matthews will be placed on suicide watch. And of course, Romney and his supporters will rejoice, and will confidently begin picking out curtains for the Oval Office.

Then will come the third debate.

The topic doesn’t matter. A different Barack Obama will arrive. He will be cool and relaxed. Perhaps he will wear his golf slacks, or will walk up dribbling a basketball. He’ll place his Nobel Prize for Being Barack Obama on the podium. The questions won’t phase him; he will answer every one by singing his response like Al Green. He will smile and wink at the swooning women in the audience. Romney will be thrown off his stride; he will babble and stutter like Porky Pig in the face of Obama’s overwhelming hope-inspiring charm, and will repeatedly fail to bring the debate back to the important issues . Perhaps Obama will even say, “There you go again, Mitt!” Moderator Bob Schieffer will frequently tell Romney to “Shut up and listen to the President!”

Romney will be devastated. He might even drop out of the race. On November 6, Obama will not only win the election in a landslide, he will also win American Idol, The Voice, and a second Nobel Prize (for being the Coolest Barack Obama Ever.) Our downward spiral to third world mediocrity will continue for four more years. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Enjoy the ride.