Thursday, February 23, 2012

The big three-oh

Every year I get myself the same thing for my birthday--I take the time to write a blog post recapping my last year. Whereas almost all of my blog posts end up not getting finished for one reason or another, I always at least post once a year on my birthday.

I suppose this birthday should be even more special. I'm 30 this year. Blah, blah, blah. . . new decade. . . end of my 20's. . . time to reflect. . . whatever. I'm one year older than I was last year and a day older than I was yesterday. Maybe I'll feel sentimental about it later, but for now the line seems pretty arbitrary.

I'm rather surprised to say that this last year hasn't seemed as busy as it's probably been. I finally put the finishing touches on my master's degree (Neurobiology and Physiology from Northwestern) and graduated from that program, I kept up in my classes at med school, and I worked for the Princeton Review teaching undergrads how to prepare for MCAT biology. Even with all of that, the highlights of this year for me have been social activities, rather than work or educational ones. Even with work and school going on I managed to have a game night almost every week in the last year; some of my best friends in Chicago moved up to my neighborhood so it's been pretty easy to convince them to stop by for an impromptu dinner party or a few board games. Amanda and I bought an Xbox 360 last summer and played through some pretty great games (Portal 2, Fallout 3, Lego Harry Potter, among others). I cooked a dozen different flavors of gelato and have been thoroughly pleased with the results (although I still haven't put on any weight, despite years of hearing that my metabolism would slow down after I got married, after I hit 25, or when I started eating gelato every day).

Perhaps the single most important thing I've done differently as I've gotten older is grow less patient with stupidity. Although I still engaged in a handful of spirited debates in the past 12 months, It's been becoming increasingly clear to me that most people, even many people I love dearly, simply don't want to understand the world better. Rather than get stressed out when people claim, for example, that the morning after pill is equivalent to an abortion (it actually delays ovulation, preventing fertilization but allowing implantation if fertilization has already taken place), I try and assess whether they want to understand the issue (some do) and, if not, simply dust off my feet on them and move on. I'll sometimes post their idiocy on my facebook wall for my like-minded friends to mock, but for the most part I'm no longer bothered by even the most brazen of self-imposed ignorance. People who think that the jury is still out about whether climate change is real, whether vaccines cause autism, or whether the Earth is more than 6000 years old are worthy of mockery, but not worth getting angry about. I find I'm much, much happier laughing at fools than worrying that their foolishness will destroy the world (or that it's somehow my job to correct them).

This is not to say that I think scientific illiteracy is harmless. The world of factual-relativism that conservatives in particular are building for themselves will inevitably have real-world consequences should these lunatics gain power. I am enheartened, however, with the fact that the Democratic Party has not yet engaged in the same anti-science drivel, alternate-reality, and systematic historical-revisionism that has made up the Republican primaries. Sure, many left-wingers don't vaccinate their children, engage in historical revisionism, and accept laughable theories like the 9/11 "truther" movement, but the malignancy has not spread into official Democratic platforms (as it has in recent years with the Republicans); perhaps there's still hope that moderate Republicans will kick the young-earth-creationists out of the party and become a pragmatic, technocratic party in the future? I"m keeping my fingers crossed.

I've probably already gone too far and offended some of you. I had no intention of turning my birthday post into a partisan snipe, I just needed to explain why I have so belligerent and curt with some of you (mostly with your facebook friends, actually) this year (my friends Andy and John both pointed it out and asked me why this was the case). The short answer is that it's a litmus test for deciding when a discussion is worth my time. If someone doesn't believe that Australia exists, for example, why should I believe that that person has anything worthwhile to tell me about tax policy? Surely these are different topics, and I may be missing out on a valuable viewpoint by using a litmus test, but I've found through trial and error that someone who stridently claims falsehoods in one area is intellectually lazy in many other areas as well. I simply have no interest in debunking endless lists of googleable facts (or "facts" that aren't intended as factual statements). The reason I'm as aggressive as I am about evolution is that I actually understand it and can relatively quickly spot someone who is making up their facts on the fly. It isn't that someone has to know about evolution before I'll listen to them, but when they assert a flagrant lie about evolution I can pick it out and know that they're willing to lie in order to win a debate (whereas in other areas I might not spot the lie as easily). Put better:

I'm realizing that I'm already bored of recapping my year's events. Since I've been better this year about using facebook, writing and responding to e-mails, and even calling to catch up with some of you, I think I can probably skip the thorough explanation of everything that's gone on. Although it's been far too long since I've talked with some of you, I don't think that any major changes have happened in my life since I've called or written, so I hereby put the burden back on you to call me if you've had a dozen children since we last spoke or if you've been elected to Congress without telling me.

Thanks in advance for the b-day wishes. I'll post again in a year, perhaps sooner.