I spent some time with my parents yesterday, whom I see quite rarely (we live in different cities, several hours’ drive apart), so there was a lot of catching up to do, stories to exchange, that kind of thing. Among some of the things we talked about was an accident involving two young children. The boy, an 11-year-old, died, and his younger sister was flown to hospital.
‘How sad,’ I said, thinking — as I always do, in cases like this — of my own children, and my own childhood.
When I was nine years old, I was taught to drive — well, I was taught to put the ute into gear, let the clutch off slowly, and drive between paddocks or piles of mallee roots. By the time I was twelve, I was allowed to perhaps drive from the sheds to the house (around two hundred metres). It’s unlikely that I would personally have been driving far or fast enough at that age to have an accident, but one of my classmates might have. Most children my age could drive; some started driving the family tractor by the time they were in their early teens. For many young people it was a rite of passage, and for farmers who were always trying to fit ten days’ work into every week, it was helpful to have an extra pair of hands on board.
When I read or hear about accidents like this, I wonder how we go about doing what we’ve always done. I think about my children and how I never want to let them drive. Ever. Not even when they’re sixteen and legally allowed to get a learner’s permit. And speaking of accidents, I don’t want to ever let them travel in a train through Spain, or, for that matter, on a bus in Italy. I’d rather they didn’t fly anywhere, either.
Accidents happen, and we should try and learn from them. But there is so much news about so many accidents, I feel as if I’m having to constantly be on alert. What could possibly go wrong? How did I not see that coming? How can I make sure this doesn’t happen to me?
I remember talking to a friend, years ago now, about determinism in philosophy. In fact, we were discussing the problem of free will and determinism, but right now, I’m just interested in the idea that every event takes place because it is necessarily connected to those which went before it, and necessary for those which will follow after it. In this sense, an accident is never an accident. It was part of an ever-unfolding series of events which are going to necessarily happen. People sometimes refer to it as ‘fate’, suggesting that something was ‘meant to be’. And within religion, there is often the argument that the deity has a plan, and that all which occurs in the world is part of it.
I’m neither religious nor determinist. Of course, I believe that some events are related to others — if I didn’t believe there were causal links here and there, I’d never know what to expect. But I’m convinced there is a whole lot of random out there, too. Accidents do happen. And I can’t help wondering if a believer of either determinism or religion is in a better position to deal with the fallout, than I am?
A determinist has determinism: it was always meant to be.
A believer of religion has God’s plan.
What do I have?
I wonder whether there is some comfort in a belief that there were never any way that things could have been different, that there is somebody or something — the universe, a divine being, Fate — controlling the events of the world, from whether you catch a cold next week, to whether you oversleep and arrive late at work, to whether you get a divorce or have a child or win the lotto. When bad things happen, thinking that it might all be part of something greater might be helpful. Perhaps it makes it easier to see individual events as part of a bigger picture?
Looking at it in this way, I see the appeal of determinism. I see the appeal of believing there’s a heaven, and that the person you’ve just lost will be waiting for you there. But the evidence still doesn’t pile up, for me. And I’m not convinced of the succour you gain from these beliefs. In the immediacy of the grief, the loss, the huge hole which has been left… nothing bridges that. Not heaven, not Fate. Perhaps in months afterwards, when time is sealing the wound a little, but not when everything is raw and so very painful.
That rawness and pain is what I want to avoid, and when I hear all these stories of suffering, I wonder, how is it we can find a way to just carry on? If determinism and religion are not going to do it, then what does? What is it that gives some kind of warmth in an otherwise apparently cold and accident-rich world?
Somewhat recently, I came to a realisation: that everything will probably work out. I’m sure I could be accused of being flippant or shallow, but this is honestly what gets me through. And I’m the first to admit, it’s not the quote of the century, and I’m not convinced I’d like it on my tombstone, but as a motto, it suits me pretty well.
I could worry about life and those I love and the rest of the problems of the world, but that won’t change anything, unless my worry prompts me to do something to change the world. And nobody can make me any guarantees. It might turn out terribly, but what’s the use in thinking that? I might as well look on the bright side.
Everything will probably be fine.
It doesn’t have the same certainty as a religious doctrine or causal determinism. But it has a ring to it. It’s saying that there could be some serious drama or disaster in the future, but even if they happen, we’re still likely to make it. People do, all the time: we have an immense capacity for survival, even in the deepest, darkest pits of lonely tragedy. And as we survive, we look for something which transforms simple existence into joie de vivre, and which help us get out of those chasms of sadness. For some of us, the promise of a plan will do the trick, but not for me, because I’m just not convinced that the promise is real, and I don’t deal well with causal absolutes. And what’s more, I don’t think either of these alternatives are the beacon they proclaim to be; they’re merely pinpricks of light in the darkness. At least my philosophy doesn’t pretend to take the pain away, it doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, or even any of them. It is what it is, and so is life.
Everything will probably be fine?
I can work with that.