12 rules, pages 169-172

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  1. Wealthy as we are (increasingly, everywhere) we still only live decades that can be counted on our fingers. Even at present, it is the rare and fortunate family that does not contain at least one member with a serious illness—and all will face that problem eventually. We do what we can to make the best of things, in our vulnerability and fragility, and the planet is harder on us than we are on it. We could cut ourselves some slack.
  2.       Human beings are, after all, seriously remarkable creatures. We have no peers, and it’s not clear that we have any real limits. Things happen now that appeared humanly impossible even at the same time in the recent past when we began to wake up to our planet-​sized responsibilities. A few weeks before writing this I happened across two videos juxtaposed on YouTube. One showed the Olympic gold medal vault from 1956; the other, the Olympic silver medal vault from 2012. It didn’t even look like the same sport—or the same animal. What McKayla Maroney did in 2012 would have been considered superhuman in the fifties. Parkour, a sport derived from French military obstacle course training, is amazing, as is free running. I watch compilations of such performances with unabashed admiration. Some of the kids jump off three-​storey buildings without injury. It’s dangerous—and amazing. Crane climbers are so brave it rattles the mind. The same goes for extreme mountain bikers, freestyle snowboarders, surfers of fifty-​foot waves, and skateboarders.
  3.       The boys who shot up Columbine High School, whom we discussed earlier, had appointed themselves judges of the human race—like the TEDx professor, although much more extreme; like Chris, my doomed friend. For Eric Harris, the more literate of the two killers, human beings were a failed and corrupt species. Once a presupposition such as that is accepted, its inner logic will inevitably manifest itself. If something is a plague, as David Attenborough has it, or a can­cer, as the Club of Rome claimed, the per­son who erad­icates it is a hero—a ver­ita­ble plan­etary saviour, in this case. A re­al mes­si­ah might fol­low through with his rig­or­ous moral log­ic, and elim­inate him­self, as well. This is what mass mur­der­ers, driv­en by near-​in­fi­nite re­sent­ment, typ­ical­ly do. Even their own Be­ing does not jus­ti­fy the ex­is­tence of hu­man­ity. In fact, they kill them­selves pre­cise­ly to demon­strate the pu­ri­ty of their com­mit­ment to an­ni­hi­la­tion. No one in the mod­ern world may with­out ob­jec­tion ex­press the opin­ion that ex­is­tence would be bet­tered by the ab­sence of Jews, blacks, Mus­lims, or En­glish­men. Why, then, is it vir­tu­ous to pro­pose that the plan­et might be bet­ter off, if there were few­er peo­ple on it? I can’t help but see a skele­tal, grin­ning face, glee­ful at the pos­si­bil­ity of the apoc­alypse, hid­ing not so very far be­hind such state­ments. And why does it so of­ten seem to be the very peo­ple stand­ing so vis­ibly against prej­udice who so of­ten ap­pear to feel ob­li­gat­ed to de­nounce hu­man­ity it­self?
  4. I have seen uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents, par­tic­ular­ly those in the hu­man­ities, suf­fer gen­uine de­clines in their men­tal health from be­ing philo­soph­ical­ly be­rat­ed by such de­fend­ers of the plan­et for their ex­is­tence as mem­bers of the hu­man species. It’s worse, I think, for young men. As priv­ileged ben­efi­cia­ries of the pa­tri­archy, their ac­com­plish­ments are con­sid­ered un­earned. As pos­si­ble ad­her­ents of rape cul­ture, they’re sex­ual­ly sus­pect. Their am­bi­tions make them plun­der­ers of the plan­et. They’re not wel­come. At the ju­nior high, high school and uni­ver­si­ty lev­el, they’re falling be­hind ed­uca­tion­al­ly. When my son was four­teen, we dis­cussed his grades. He was do­ing very well, he said, mat­ter-​of-​fact­ly, for a boy. I in­quired fur­ther. Ev­ery­one knew, he said, that girls do bet­ter in school than boys. His in­to­na­tion in­di­cat­ed sur­prise at my ig­no­rance of some­thing so self-​ev­ident. While writ­ing this, I re­ceived the lat­est edi­tion of The Economist. The cov­er sto­ry? “The Weak­er Sex”—mean­ing males. In mod­ern uni­ver­si­ties wom­en now make up more than 50 per­cent of the stu­dents in more than two-​thirds of all dis­ci­plines.
  5. Boys are suf­fer­ing, in the mod­ern world. They are more dis­obe­di­ent—neg­ative­ly—or more in­de­pen­dent—pos­itive­ly—than girls, and they suf­fer for this, through­out their pre-​uni­ver­si­ty ed­uca­tion­al ca­reer. They are less agree­able (agree­able­ness be­ing a per­son­al­ity trait as­so­ci­at­ed with com­pas­sion, em­pa­thy and avoid­ance of con­flict) and less sus­cep­ti­ble to anx­iety and de­pres­sion,
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