By Robert A. Vella
In the popular animated sitcom Family Guy, a recurring gag features the character of Cleveland Brown. He’s sitting in his upstairs bathtub when some improbable catastrophe destroys his home (typically caused by his mentally juvenile neighbor Peter Griffin) sending the naked man and his soap-water filled tub sliding down onto his front lawn while yelling “No, no, no, no, no!”
Poor Cleveland is exclaiming shock-induced denial when confronted with a painful reality he was ill-prepared for. While other popularized phrases are more expressive, such as “I DON’T believe it!” (actor Michael Forest, Star Trek episode Who Mourns For Adonais?, 1967) and “This CAN’T be happening, man!” (actor Bill Paxton, Aliens, 1986), the shouting of “NO!” basically says it all. But, exactly what is it that we’re trying to say?
All of us – every man, woman, and child who has ever lived – sees the world from the imagined safety of a perceptual bubble which we subconsciously build for ourselves. It is a subjective sanctuary permeable to external stimuli which reinforces our preconceptions while being more or less impermeable to that which is contradictory. We all do this to one degree or another simply as an act of self-preservation because our emotional states can be damaged by certain realities. The famous movie line “You can’t handle the truth!” (actor Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men, 1992) reveals this psychological predisposition of ours.
So, our exclamations of “NO!” in this context are intended to warn others that they are pushing us beyond our emotional tolerance and that the actual substance of disagreement isn’t as important. It is often accompanied by finger-wagging.
Unfortunately, our aversion to and denial of painful realities does not bode well for the continued survival of our species. We have reached the crisis point where our technological capabilities have greatly surpassed our collective organizational abilities to manage them wisely. Not only could a brief moment of irrationality bring nuclear devastation down upon us, but our persistent avarice and self-interest are now destroying the very ecosystems necessary to sustain us. Both time and nature are not on our side. We may have already outlived our practical longevity. To prolong humanity’s existence, it will be necessary for us to find a way to overcome ourselves; and, that means confronting life as it is, not how we wish it to be.
As an exercise, see how many of the following statements triggers this emotional reaction in you.
- It is much more likely that Man created God.
- Belief in the supernatural results from ignorance of the natural.
- The concepts of good and evil are nothing but human abstractions.
- Human nature is neither innately positive nor negative, and manifests itself differently from specific circumstances.
- Beliefs asserting the inherent superiority or inferiority of particular races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, etc. have discriminatory intent.
- The greater the human population, the greater the need for social organization and government.
- Secularism and science should have priority over religion and opinion.
- Functional democracy is the only political construct which gives the populace a say in government.
- What people actually know pales in comparison to what they assume to know.
- What Homo sapiens understand about the cosmos pales in comparison to what it does not understand.