Surviving the Worst

Hardiness is a much valued human characteristic. It often underpins bravery. We love hearing about how miners survive underground explosions, children are pulled from rubble, pensioners take on and defeat robbers or cats who travel a thousand miles back to their original homes, after their human families moved to another part of the country. On the one hand they are examples of role models. We identify with them. We like to think that in the same situation we would emulate them, even the cat. Therein lies a mistaken feature of our perceptions of the world. Most of us would never be the hero nor the obdurate survivor. We are social animals who prefer to keep our heads down and live quietly alongside our neighbours. Indeed there have been many studies that show that most of us will take orders, despite our role being to inflict apparent pain on others. Most of us defer to authority, no matter how unacceptable and inconsiderate that authority’s demands upon us. So, as far as following role models in the real world goes, it occurs mostly in our fantasies.

On the other hand, much is made of these incidents by God-fearing folk. “Miraculous!” they say. It was used many times about survivors of the Twin Towers attack.

What is the opposite of miraculous? Natural? Normal? Prosaic? In fact there probably is no antonym for the term, even among atheists. This may be because we prefer evidence of there being some supernatural order to existence that can bend forward and intervene, even when all seems doomed. One last chance, a gift from God. The randomly rare nature of these interventions undermines the existence of deities for unbelievers but, paradoxically, prove how difficult He is to please for believers, since, more often than not, the dead outnumber survivors in catastrophes. Isn’t that the definition of them?

It may be better to take on personal responsibility to do as well as we can and not speculate on, or ask for, God’s or Satan’s interventions. Try to be hardy. Try to be heroes within reason. Question more.

Scientists recently took some rock from Beer, a place on the south coast of England. They attached it for more than a year to the outside of the space station. When they got it back it was to discover that bacteria within it were still alive. Is this a miracle? Are these microbes heroes? They are certainly hardy.

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