“The Extreme Slowness of Things…”

Despite living in a world where communication occurs at light speed and information is available immediately at our fingertips, do you ever have the feeling things move breathtakingly slow — as if you’re watching the paint dry?

To whom or to what do we attribute this phenomenon, which, in the 19th Century, the English poet and writer Matthew Arnold labeled “the extreme slowness of things”? Do we pin it on inertia? Or perhaps the inexorable march of time? Or, dare I suggest, are certain individuals more culpable than others?

With respect to inertia, let us give thanks to the conservation of mass, otherwise the world would evaporate way too quickly. There is always some energy conserved in time’s flow, allowing things to persist, though of course, despite appearances, things are always changing.

In the human sphere, patience is widely considered a virtue. I wholeheartedly agree. But it makes me wonder, is that because virtue typically has to wait for at least 80% of the population that seems to lack the desire to act expeditiously?

Of course, no one likes waiting. But the waiting I’m talking about is not about standing in line at your favorite coffee-house while you’re running late for work. I’m talking about situations of greater import, like the persistence of certain diabolic beliefs (e.g. racism) and environmental conditions (e.g. our reliance on fossil fuels) that most intelligent people know need to change and haven’t.

I’m not here to stage a rant, mind you, but simply to illustrate a point: I think there’s a perfectly good reason for “the extreme slowness of thing.” It’s because many more people are wired to protect and support pre-existing conditions — no matter how outdated, how destructive, how false — than consider positive change.

Freedom is a scary thing. Exercising it even scarier. Most people who stick their neck out get it chopped off. Even Galileo recanted when he realized what happened to Bruno. Fortunately, every so often, a spark happens that ignites the world, and even those who are typically resistant can’t hide their fascination. “Wow, this really is a good idea. Let’s try it!”  And then, thank heavens, it feels like things are finally moving.


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