Forces Majeures

From the Editor

photograph by Zimmytws |

Last month I attended a talk by seed scientist (and former MBQ cover subject) Cary Fowler at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, and he shared his concerns about the seed bank in Aleppo, Syria, currently in the midst of a civil war; will one of the world’s most valuable agricultural resources be lost forever?

Last weekend I listened to a podcast of This American Life reporting how our elected officials in D.C. “have” to spend a considerable amount of their time daily fundraising and placating Super PACS; is the voice of the individual constituent a forgotten special interest?

I read a story yesterday in The New York Times about what a mess the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is, trying to handle technology patents and being dominated by aggressive and litigious corporate giants; is American computer entrepreneurship a thing of the past?

It’s less than a month away from the presidential election, and I’m thoroughly anxious about the outcome; can either side run the political gauntlet with principled integrity and can I survive the news cycle with my sanity intact?

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson warns we’ve abandoned what made our nation great (exploratory cosmological science) the last couple generations.

Memphians root for Nashville’s football team (the Titans) as if 1997 didn’t happen.

As I write this, my wife is watching Parenthood, and the family (the Bravermans, an appropriate name) is struggling to deal with a health scare.

In legal speak, a force majeure is a clause that lets parties out of their contractual obligations if an unavoidable, unforeseeable event occurs.

[And here’s the part where I reenact the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when Cameron hits the tipping point and screams to all the world.]

So much lately seems not only worrisome but also giant and out of my control to repair.

I can’t save Aleppo. I can’t reform Washington. I can’t fix the patent system. I can’t change how elections are run or who wins them. I can’t fund NASA.

I certainly can’t control whether or not you like the Tennessee Titans.

These problems and their hypothetical solutions are all “acts of God,” i.e., gargantuan enough that they’re beyond the influence of any one person.

I can live with that; I’ve long been inured to my own relative helplessness.

But, what drives my existential apprehension is that none of these problems (and many more to enumerate) are being tackled by anyone else, either. Everywhere, it seems, is gridlock, entrenchment, and cynicism.

In legal speak, a force majeure is a clause that lets parties out of their contractual obligations if an unavoidable, unforeseeable event occurs. (If a meteorite hits your house I don’t have to be your butler for the day.)

So, if I can’t do anything about the massive problems of our day, am I off the hook as an individual? Can I exercise the force majeure clause and free myself from personal liability? “Let go and let God,” as the saying goes?

Can I ease my mind by doing the right thing where and when I can, like being a good parent, friend, neighbor, and coworker? Is that what I should accept as the individual’s role, purpose, and fate in this society of juggernauts colliding?

Or do I still have an obligation? To do more and be more?

I honestly don’t know. You tell me.

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