Thanks for sticking with me to the fourth Letter Zero. If you’ve found that it isn’t for you, just hop off by clicking unsubscribe. I’m in debt for your attention.
Dear <<First Name>>,
My first few letters have been rather soft, so this week I want to hit you with some fire and fury. There will be no fluffy snowflakes today, my friend.
Did you know that in the 1920s, sixty percent of automobile deaths were kids under age nine? That’s the kind of crazy fact you stumble across when researching a book.
No, the 1920s kids weren't driving the cars. It wasn’t because cars lacked seatbelts. The kids were mowed down in front of their homes. Insert an automobile into a world without roads, rules, or limits and you get death.
Notice the order in which car safety evolved. Cars came first, then dead children, then moral outrage, then the road systems, laws, and safety standards.
Having two boys under the age nine, and due to the fact that I work on my book before going to bed, naturally this story gave me a horrible nightmare.
I woke up in a panic, having just watched my son get stuck in the wheelwell of a car.
I couldn’t sleep.
So I wrote.
When I woke up the next morning, this scathing essay was waiting for me on my iPad:
Our perception of evolution is wrong. Survival of the fittest conjures an image of a strong alpha that withstands the pressures better than his weaker counterparts. In reality evolution is just math, a stupid calculation that depends on raw numbers. Given a large enough population, the stupidity of a culture can be nearly limitless and survival is practically guaranteed.
To praise the idiocy of a species that invented the automobile is blindness. We idolize Henry Ford, forgetting the children wrapped around axles, the mangled men in the streets, the carnage blessed by machine-obsessed consumers.
We can criticize our primitive ancestors, claim moral superiority, but if we think we won’t make the same mistakes again then we have learned nothing from evolution. Evolution depends on blindness. It requires fools to fall face first into folly, oblivious to the gears that will crush them out of existence.
The path to progress marches straight through incompetence. The person walking the street with their eyes glued to their phone is begging natural selection to make a calculation. Do people who text and drive deserve to be in the gene pool? And do the rest of us have the will to systematize our tools to protect ourselves from these fools?
Ouch. How is it that in the middle of the night, barely conscious I can write an essay that screams from the page, but when I am completely awake and sober, my words tend to come out timid and toothless? It’s rare that I need to defang my words, usually it is the other way around. When my words land flat, I try to pump them up with energy so that I don’t bore my readers. Sometimes it works, other times people can smell the inflation.
One of your underrated super powers is your ability to detect when someone actually cares about the words falling out of their mouth. Sure, lots of people sound angry, but it’s mostly theater. Compared to the outrage of a parent in the 1920s whose child has been obliterated on the front lawn, the shallowness of today’s outrage is little more than personality apparel. Somehow, outrage has become an accessory item, something we insert into conversations to signal which tribes we belong to.
Whether it’s autonomous cars, coronavirus, or cryptocurrency, everyone has an opinion and they can’t wait to infect you with it. They think it makes them smell interesting, but instead all we smell is insincerity. Fake outrage is not persuasive, it’s not interesting, and it changes nothing. Outrage without action is a combover, a compensation for genuine ideas, a cheap costume.
The difference is that in 1920, the outrage was genuine and it moved people. Humans took action. It didn’t happen overnight, but they built better roads. They invented safety systems. They agreed to a set of rules that made everyone safer. Outrage doesn’t have to be the end product, it can lead to creativity.
Stay creative. I will write again next Sunday.
P.S. As I experiment with the tone and length of Letter Zero, I have really appreciated the feedback you’ve sent me, so don’t hesitate to let me know what you like and what you don’t.