Well, it’s Monday morning again, now the 19th of September in 2022, and I’m again at the train station waiting for the train to bring me to work…though before I’m done with this post, I’m sure I’ll already be on the train. I write pretty fast, but it’s rare that I finish the first draft of any blog post before the train arrives, unless it’s running quite late.
This is the last Monday of summer in 2022, for whatever that’s worth. It’s still irritatingly hot here in south Florida, and more importantly, it’s muggy and has rained every day. Yesterday morning there was an absolute torrent for a bit, then it slacked off for a while before sputtering on and off throughout the rest of the day and night.
Yes, I am writing about the weather. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than talking to someone about the weather. I’m not much good at small talk, so maybe writing about the weather is better. It doesn’t make me feel stressed, at least. Possibly there are people out there who wish that it did, so I wouldn’t write such things. But, then again, unlike the case with small talk, there is no social pressure for anyone to have to read what I write, so it’s better, ethically, to write nonsense than to talk trivialities, because there’s no pressure on anyone else to go along with it or to respond in kind.
That is one of the issues with small talk, after all. When someone starts talking to you about something in which you have no interest, or which you find irritating, there’s this weird social impetus at least to give a cursory listen to what they’re saying. That’s a puzzling social dynamic, when you think about it. Why do people feel pressure to interact with someone when that other person is not saying anything of interest?
But of course, people do feel that pressure, and so small talkers can impose themselves upon their…well, let’s call them their “victims” for lack of a better word, knowing that the victims will feel the urge to interact politely, even if they have no interest in the conversation. The only people who would feel comfortable just ignoring the small talker are those who feel no moral or social obligations, who can just go off and ignore the first person with internal impunity, perhaps sadistically to initiate small talk with someone else, solely for the purpose of tormenting them, knowing that others feel the pressure to go along with it.
In other words, small talk rewards sociopaths.
For this, and for many other reasons, we should abolish it. Also, it makes people like me feel ridiculously awkward, because for me, conversation is something that generally serves a purpose, one related to the subject of the conversation, so engaging in small talk is rather like watching an old-school television tuned to an empty channel and trying to discern what the meaning behind the static might be.
At least a percent or so of that crackling and hissing and “snow” comes from the cosmic microwave background, the leftover heat from the early universe, last propagated when the current cosmos was about 300,000 years old and it finally got cool enough for electrons and protons to bond into atoms, so photons could finally fly freely through space without hitting a stray charged particle every few instants and being scattered. That’s an interesting fact, unlike most things to do with small talk.
Although, in a sense, the cosmic microwave background and what it implies or that of which it records the evidence, is not much more significant than the weather is. In fact, on any given day, it’s probably far less crucial than the weather. It can be useful to know whether to bring an umbrella with one (I always do, anyway), or whether one should bring a jacket (rarely necessary in south Florida in September), or if there’s a hurricane threatening*.
So, if small talk is a way of spreading seemingly trivial, but potentially consequential, bits of information from one person to another, to try to keep the whole group, or “flange”, in a state of preparedness, I guess that could be a good thing. That is, it would be a good thing if you think it’s a good thing for groups of humans to be mutually connected and better prepared to protect themselves and each other from the elements.
Most days, there are at least a few moments when I would much prefer for a massive storm to come up and blow them all away. But don’t be misled into thinking that I’m just a misanthrope. I don’t think other animals, or plants, or fungi (or microbes) are any finer or more innocent or sweet or lovable than humans. They aren’t. Indeed, nature does not select for sweetness except as a means to an end. A baby is sweet and cute because that fact manipulates the nervous system of adults to protect it and care for it.
All life manipulates and exploits and preys on other life in one way or another. Even photosynthetic organisms compete with other such organisms for light, trying to out-produce and out-reproduce the organisms around them. Nature, red in tooth and claw has been said to unnecessarily focus on violence as a description of the world, but in fact, it’s overly narrow. Nature could be accurately described as red in tooth and claw and leaf and branch and fur and feather and shell and stem, and so on.
Even cooperation strategies are mainly ways of forming gangs to outcompete other gangs. What’s more, they are all vulnerable to the defection of any member of their group—thus the horror of cancer, as individual cells in a body lose their inhibitions and start to reproduce without check, temporarily succeeding but eventually destroying the organism.
So, though there’s nothing inherently evil or wrong with life, from some moral point of view—since morality doesn’t have any meaning without life in the first place—there’s nothing particularly moral or good about life, either. Life likes life, as a general tendency, and tends to make excuses for itself, which it would, and fair play to it, but it’s just a highly localized, complex epiphenomenon (or set of epiphenomena) that for all we know exists only on the surface of the Earth.
It may legitimately be true that we cannot rule out life existing elsewhere in the cosmos, and it may seem terribly unlikely that the only life in the universe is on Earth, but it’s very tricky to try to extrapolate probability from one solitary instance of a phenomenon. It’s a pretty undisputable fact that nearly everything we can see in the universe is not hospitable to life as we know it.
Maybe the answer to the Fermi problem is that there is no sign of life outside of Earth because there is no life outside the Earth, and all that one would ever hear, if one were to listen to the cosmos forever, is static. Not even small talk. Life on Earth could be the true aberration, an abomination of sorts…except, of course, nature doesn’t do abominations, nature just does whatever it does.
I don’t know what point I’m trying to make with all this. Maybe there is no point. Maybe that, in fact, is the point. Maybe I shouldn’t lament or bemoan small talk, because all talk is small talk when you get right down to it, and every fact is trivia, and all of history is just a “poof” of a random sound taking place in a wasteland…a pebble dislodged by the wind and rolling down a sand dune to rest a little lower than it had been, but without any purpose, without any goal, without any inherent or external meaning.
Anyway, what I’m really trying to get at is, the weather sure has been crappy lately, hasn’t it?
*As far as I know, there isn’t. Not in the Atlantic, at least, not one that’s going to head toward Florida. But I haven’t checked the hurricane center since Friday or Saturday, when there was just a tropical storm that was never going to hit us here unless something truly weird happened.