THE TRAGIC FLAW …

perfectionism-sign

We only see each other half naked.

One of us is either just getting there or about to leave. And we have that small-talk kind of relationship you develop with regulars at the gym. I’m a writer …he’s a private pilot. We don’t really even know each other’s names. But we swap stories from time to time, in the locker room, while we’re gearing up for our workout or gearing down after.

Recently, he told me about the new plane his employer just bought. State of the art everything. He said it was like flying a space ship. The screens inside are more accurate than looking out the window. That piqued my curiosity. I asked him how much of flight is actually automated, now. His answer was interesting. He said the FAA prefers that most of all flight be as automated as possible. Because the computers make fewer mistakes and can make more precise calculations about mountain ranges and turns and wind variables, etc. And that got me thinking …

We yearn for a type of perfection. There is something innate in us that re-tries once we fail. We are a species built on mistakes and improvements. And we keep trying.

At this point in the human story, we are desperately seeking a type of objectivity in ourselves. We want to believe science is objective or journalism or education …or (the mother of all wished for objectivity) police work. And yet the truth is, none of those things are ever objective. And as long as they are practiced by humans, they never will be.

I have dear friends who are scientists at the highest level. I have dear friends who are journalists at the highest level. Same with educators and law enforcement professionals. And sadly, all of them … every one …are human. None of them are artificial intelligence, incapable of mistakes. If you think there is complete objectivity in any field, you don’t know enough people in it.

But we are trying to get something right. Often, we don’t even know what it is. There is some standard we want to achieve. Why?

I recently did a long road trip with my son. He wanted to sing some songs on one stretch of particularly dark, rural highway. I love my son with all my heart and soul. But he is tone deaf and doesn’t know it. And yet I love to hear his sweet voice bellowing out song lyrics out of tune and out of time.

Part of me wants to tell him crooning isn’t really his thing and he should probably forget his dream of becoming a singing sensation on The Voice. And another part of me wonders why it even matters. Why did we decide western tonality was the standard in the first place? Who’s to say his random, meandering intervals aren’t more life affirming and eternal than my well-worn melodic paths?

These are the things you think about at 1 in the morning, when your 9-year-old is singing his little heart out …badly.

I’m hooked on the new show, West World. Man creates artificial life for his own amusement. And somehow that life starts remembering things and dreaming things and learning things on its own …and acting in ways it shouldn’t. The metaphor of the creation of humanity itself isn’t lost on me.

Somehow, we were formed out of dust or primordial ooze or whatever your belief system tells you. Either way, we got here. And we spend most of our time wondering how and why. This is the basis for every religion on the planet. It’s the basis for why we send our kids to school. It’s the basis for how we organize society.

Then we fight over it …as if any of us really knows. Meanwhile our maker (or makers) are watching us discover one tidbit at a time …getting closer to the truth …and yet still probably a million miles away from it.

We learn something and think we’ve cracked open the universe. We gloat and crow and tell ourselves we’re smart. We lord our knowledge over our “stupid” peers like we posses gold. Then we break out into fights over who’s smarter than whom. We are very much like children in that regard.

As I age, I am less inclined toward certainty. I’m interested in things. I BELIEVE certain things. But in the end, I’m fairly certain we’re probably all wrong about most of it. And our petty arguments get boring.

In some ways I feel like our current state of life (particularly the election) is tearing us apart. We have these new mirrors with which to see ourselves …cameras on our phones …cameras and recording devices everywhere. We are catching ourselves in motion at every turn and we are both obsessed and digested with what we see.

No one can seem to understand how we got our two choices for president. Nobody seems to like either one of them. But they got here by votes. That means we put them here. So, why do we hate them both? For the same reason we would hate whoever we replaced them with. They are us …human …fallible …imperfect. And we despise those things in ourselves. We want our candidates to be something we can’t even be. And it’s driving us mad.

There was a time when human faults and frailties could be masked and hidden. Not anymore. That fruit …the one of the knowledge of good and evil …it has been completely devoured. And now the consequences are fully on display.

For me, the only three things that get us closer to the truth are love, music and Jesus. Everything else is just us operating like those robots in West World; doing what we’re programmed to do, fighting the same fights, falling for the same lies, making the same time-tested mistakes our ancestors made.

The only thing I keep thinking is …maybe there’s beauty in the imperfection. Maybe that’s what makes us an art piece instead of a static operating system. Maybe the frailty is built into our story and it turns us from drones who never veer from the program to something much more interesting, destined to crash and careen out of control.

And maybe that’s the whole point of us in the first place.

R

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