Reasons to Live

Well, we launched into Gulliver's Travels today and all is sunny and bright. Then again we've only discussed the first voyage. Gulliver doesn't begin to darken until he's reached the end of voyage two. There he will attempt to defend his world to the Brobdingnag King with little effect other than to reinforce the King's opinion that humanity is vile and loathsome.

So I asked my seminar students a hypothetical question at the close of class today. I said, "Say an alien space ship landed in front of the UN and announced that we had 24-hours to come up with a reason why the universe in general (and planet earth specifically) wouldn't be better off if humanity were destroyed. Lacking a compelling reason, extermination will begin."

Their answer was guilty silence (or questioning the premise of my hypothetical). In the past some classes have offered up representative humans in our defense. Gandhi and Mother Teresa are popular candidates for some reason. I usually respond, "That's all you got? One small-boned man in a diaper and an Albanian nun? Besides, the rarity of such people is hardly an argument in our favor.

Some students cite our technological prowess, but they also admit that technology has made things worse. Others argue that human beings are capable of great acts of compassion, but they acknowledge that our pettiness, selfishness, and cruelty are more representative of us as a whole. All in all, today's class couldn't put up much of an argument. So they asked me what I would put forward on our behalf. The following is my response. I have no idea whether the aliens would buy it.

  • Willie May's basket catch.
  • Bud Powell's recording of It Never Entered My Mind.

  • Shakespeare's The Tempest.

  • Louis Armstrong's cornet solo in Mahogany Hall Stomp.

  • Jacqueline Bisset's face in Truffaut's Day for Night.

  • John Keats' To Autumn.
  • Michelangelo's Pieta.

  • Django Reinhardt's recording of Love's Melody.

  • Cezanne's apples and pears.

  • Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major for Piano and Orchestra.

  • W.C. Fields' 1933 pool table scene from the film Six of a Kind (cracks me up every time).

I'd say this to the aliens: "Go ahead and kill us, but you'll get no more of these wonderful things."


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