Big Questions? Strange Answers

The Atlantic (formerly The Atlantic Monthly) has a feature “The Big Question” where it solicits answers from academics, purported experts, and its readers. Those questions have included recently “What Was the Greatest Movie Quote of All Time?” (September 2019); “What Lost Treasure Would You Most Like to Find?” (August 2019);  “What was the Coldest Act if Revenge of All time?” (January/February 2019); “Whose Untimely Death Would You Undo?” (September 2018); and others going back several years. These questions run across the spectrum from the trivial to the important.

The November 2019 “Big Question” asks “If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? Some of the answers, especially reveal the mindset of our southpaw friends. Here are a few:

Anna Della Subin, author of Not Dead but Sleeping (haven’t read it and probably will not, unless I’m in a prison cell with nothing else to read): “In 1937, a British colonialist in Kuwait was said to have dreamed of a gnarled, uprooted tree. A dream interpreter recognized the tree and told him that the dream meant oil would be found at the site — leading to the discovery of one of the Earth’s largest oil reserves. One wishes he’d had insomnia instead!

Not sure of Ms. Subin’s point. Does she think that failing to discover oil in Kuwait would have foreclosed subsequent Middle Eastern conflict? Or, does she believe that the discovery of massive oil reserves would have prevented or mitigated the alleged present climate change? My guess is the latter.

Samantha Kelly, history professor, Rutgers: “The invention of agriculture. Imagine far less environmental degradation and income inequality, a shorter workday for all, a varied diet and possible better health outcomes for certain communities, and a profound confidence that the future would provide. A world without industrial agriculture would pretty much be the Eden of the Bible. Hunter-gatherer life isn’t sounding so bad.”

Really? Is this an attempt at refutation of Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature where life was nasty, brutish, and short? And from history professor at a first-tier institution, no less. Maybe Professor Kelly needs to go back to studying history herself. Hunter-gatherer life was authoritarian, hierarchical, and anything but equal, especially for the sexes. The hunters, nearly all male, were the elite. Gatherers were mostly female and subservient. Eden? Give me a break.

Several others from readers, who I will not name, but will identify by their location.

Ann Arbor, Michigan:

The inception of the Eastern Gas Shales Program … The U.S. would be more likely to pursue renewable-energy sources and work to combat climate change if we didn’t have a commercially successful oil and gas industry.”

This reader is certainly a soul-mate of Professor Kelly. Would he be a hunter or a gatherer?

Two of the readers, Los Angeles, and Etowah, North Carolina, would have changed the assassinations of presidents Kennedy and Lincoln, respectively. I could agree with that; though counter-factual historical speculation is in the same class as parlor games.

Another reader, from upstate New York, opined that

“I’d let Rocky Balboa beat Apollo Creed during their first match, thereby saving humanity from 43 years of sequels and spinoffs.”

Now is that profound and astute?  I can’t answer. The only Rocky movie I ever saw was when I was in a captive audience on a flight across the pond. It wasn’t memorable.

 

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