And they went and died about it

Winter (last day) and the Imbolc (Wolf) Moon

Sunday gratefuls: Kate’s better couple of days. Rigel, who gets up between 6:30 and 7:00. I get up at 5:30 now, better rested. Resurfacing after 3 plus weeks of difficult days and nights. The Lupercalia. Lycaon. Arcadia. Pan.

How many people have ever lived? Somewhere between 100 and 113 billion. See this wikipedia page for data. Got to thinking about this a few nights ago.

How many people do you know? Probably higher than Dunbar’s number of the 150 with whom we can maintain stable relationships. This article posits a number between 290 and 600. The same article ends by saying most people know only between 10 and 25 people they can trust.

Let’s imagine the number you trust is 25. The high end. Out of all the people that have ever lived you trust only .000000000025 of them and you know fewer than .0000000006 of them.

Why am I belaboring this idea? Good question. What got me going was the idea of how few people, in relation to the historical population of the earth, I know. This thin, wafer thin, slice is the group upon which I base my understanding of our species. Sure, I’ve studied anthropology and psychology, both ways to understand our species considered in aggregations like cultures or personality types, but these are at best reductionist views of exceedingly complex phenomena.

Reading helps. Novels in particular. Even there though we’re viewing characters through the understanding of a novelist whose known slice of humanity is as wafer thin as our own.

In any case we compare our learnings from those methods against the people we know. Who aren’t that many, really. Especially historically. Here’s another issue. We don’t know 600 diverse people probably. Some may. But most of us know people whom we’ve met at school, in our hometowns, in our neighborhoods. Largely people like us.

My point, you might reasonably ask? How little we know about our own species. How little we can know, even if we study the humanities, anthropology, psychology. How small our cohort of known persons is, how really small our cohort of trusted persons is. Given this reality is it any wonder that the 331,000,000 US citizens break into so many small and self-interested groups?

And yet. We have this from Our Town.* Notions, ideas, beliefs. These are the trail markers on the ancientrail of human life. We use them to guide our actions because we can’t use our exhaustive knowledge of life as a human. We don’t have it. Can’t have it.

And we go and die about those notions, ideas, beliefs, or, as General Patton memorably said, “We make some other poor sonofabitch die for his country.”

Humility. That’s what all this means. Provisional, what we believe. What we know. What guides us. Based on so small a sample of other’s lives that it might as well be considered nothing. But of course it’s not. It’s our life, our way of being as part of this hundred billion mass of humanity that has lived and died upon this spaceship Earth.

The things a guy thinks about. Geez.


*Our Town, Act 3, spoken by the play’s narrator, the Stage Manager, as he gives the audience a tour of the town cemetery, pointing out meaningful landmarks:

“Over there are some Civil War veterans,” the Stage Manager says. “Iron flags on their graves . . . New Hampshire boys . . . had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends — the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went and died about it.”