“I’m back to magical thinking,” the woman emailed. She was expecting a devastating medical report after a series of tests. The reply I sent back came after a moment of pondering.
“I’m imagining the doctors have misread the original data. It happened to me.”
To give false hope is wicked, but medical mistakes do happen and are more plausible than magical thinking. As Alexander Pope wrote, “To err is human.” The aphorism, too mundane to serve as poetry, is a truism. Experts can’t think of everything. The toddler who penetrated the impenetrable fence around the White House is proof.
Error is why we age. The process is a distillation of repeated biological mistakes. Meant to keep us in good repair, our RNA sometimes blunders when it mends our DNA. One or two mistakes are tolerable, but when they accumulate, our bones become fragile and our eyesight fades. Diet and exercise may slow the decay, but death is inevitable. Dissolution may be part of Nature’s evolutionary plan yet I marvel that blunder is at the heart of it.
Because we are fallible creatures, we create fallible societies. The mightiest empires crumble. Sometimes, the fault lies in our stars. Prolonged droughts or floods trigger mass migrations. But war, political corruption, and the destruction of the environment are human accomplishments.
China and Russia have stubbed their toes on their way to empire because ill-considered decisions have left their countries with younger generations too small to support older ones. China’s One Child Policy, though no longer enforced, will see its population halved by the end of the century. Vladamir Putin’s Ukraine war hastens a decline that was already in place. After years of dictatorships, its demoralized men don’t live long enough to become fathers. They die early from alcoholism and despair.
Elsewhere, populations are also in decline. Contrary to the belief that humans will one day overrun the planet, our growth will peak at 8.5 billion in 2040. After that, an implosion will follow, posing a danger similar to the one China and Russia face. Americans opposed to immigration take note. Our population is also on a downward trajectory.
Anti-abortion laws that force women to give birth won’t help. Nor will denying affordable childcare to working mothers to keep them at home. They work because they must. Harsh policies place an undue burden on them and increase the risk of developmental and health problems in their children.
Equally regressive are proposals to end no-fault divorce, forcing women to remain in unhappy marriages. Men would be equally affected, but historically, women suffer more. After no-fault divorce became law, women endured lower incidents of domestic violence, spousal homicide, and female suicide.
Efforts to control a woman’s womb overlook the obvious. These efforts do not affect climate change, a pending disaster that threatens the species. Technology may save us, but being a human invention, it has its flaws. Many fear Artificial Intelligence will one day make avatars our masters.
Even so, an error has its virtue. We learn from it. Knowing we are flawed should make us humble. Knowing we are flawed should make us forgiving. When we forgive, we exercise compassion. Everyone knows what compassion is–the recognition that we belong to one another.