The Weight of the World

There is a funny scene in Annie Hall in which the young Alvy and his mother visit the doctor. Alvy is depressed because he’s learned that the universe is expanding. Eventually, it will all come apart. So what’s the point of doing homework?

We rational adults understand that it’s silly to worry about what’s going to happen to the universe billions of years from now. Nevertheless, like Alvy, I’m troubled by a situation that is way too big to worry about.

The good news is that I’m nowhere near as troubled as Woody Allen’s alter ego (or Woody Allen himself). If I had homework, I’d do it all, pointless or not. But I figured I’d share my concern here, since confession can be good for the psyche.

It seems to me that the world is too big and complex to function. By “the world”, I don’t mean the natural world. Remove human beings from the world and it would chug along just fine. I mean the human world, the world that we’ve created, the world of fiber optic cables, water treatment plants, international air travel, electrical grids, server farms, Amazon fulfillment centers, health insurance for dogs and the global market in fruits and vegetables.

I walk into my local supermarket and am confronted by an array of apples, oranges, broccoli, lettuce, some of which was transported to our town from thousands of miles away. Consider the number of grocery stores in America and the rest of the world, all of them selling fruits and vegetables. Where does all this stuff come from? How can this gigantic cornucopia be produced and distributed so that it can make its way to our shopping carts in an edible condition? Can this system really work? I don’t think so.

The whole enterprise, i.e. human civilization, seems like a giant house of cards.

I mean, have you ever considered the number of pipes running under Manhattan? The amount of fresh water that’s consumed every day by a billion Chinese? The number of ingredients that go into a package of frozen Swedish meatballs?

I have – and it’s a lot.