G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy:
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. . . . Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.
Malcolm Muggeridge, derivatively but more succinctly, said, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”
Yes indeed. Let me tell you a little story.
Monday night, my sister called me. She said, “Hey Michael. There’s supposed to be a snow storm tomorrow. Why don’t you guys come up to mom and dad’s and we’ll all be snowed in together. It will be fun.”
I also thought it would be fun. My wife and four kids agreed. We live in Marietta. My parents’ log cabin is in Sugar Hill. It usually takes about one hour to drive there. But my wife wasn’t able to finish all the things she needed to do on Monday night, so we had to wait until Tuesday to leave. Big mistake.
Yesterday, my wife and four kids and I were in a vehicle for nine and a half hours. We could have driven to Miami or halfway to Mexico City in that same time. I calculated that, on average, we traveled a little less than five miles per hour. To put that in perspective, the average human walking speed is a little more than three miles an hour.
If it hadn’t been for my wife’s navigational skills and my childrens’ extraordinary patience, there would have been blood. As it was, I was struck by the overwhelming reality of human depravity and folly.
Let me tell all of you who may not live in the South that people here have no clue how to drive on snow and ice. By that, I mean that they are the most horrendous and ridiculous combination of ignorance and panic. Hundreds of people put our lives in danger yesterday through nothing short of sheer stupid selfishness and irrational fear.
Isn’t it obvious to anyone that acceleration (by braking or speeding up) is not good on the ice? If you are sliding, jamming on your brakes or your accelerator is not going to work out well for you. Duh. But in a fear-induced panic, that is exactly what pretty much everyone here did. And then they would be blocking traffic in a disabled vehicle. So what did they do? Exactly what you’d expect. They abandoned their vehicles. Sometimes in the middle of the road. They just quit. “Who cares about anyone else. I’m done.”
I also expected that the snow might bring out more courtesy in people. I mean we were all in the middle of this mess. So maybe it would draw out camaraderie and human empathy. No. Maybe in about one percent of cases. But most people were far worse than usual. And, just in case you were wondering, they are usually really bad. But yesterday, they were even more vicious, selfish, unhelpful, and lame than usual.
The onramp onto Highway 400 from 285 was a classic example.1 A whole line of people in the slow lane, moving about one foot every five minutes. And, at the head of the long queue, another queue had formed—one of people who were not going to wait in line. These people were cutting everyone off. And they were literally forcing their way in, as if their usual consideration for the paint jobs of their Mercedes and Priuses had vanished.
I know that the fastest way to move, usually, is to let people in and try to keep traffic moving. But in this case, that wouldn’t have worked. The waiting line was not moving at all. There was hardly any interweaving of queues going on. It was just the selfish oppressing the mannerly.
Once I had gotten up to the end of the line, after waiting for hours, I wasn’t going to let people cut in. A man beside me, trying to cut in, made a motion with his hand that I should let him in. I shook my head and rolled my window down. I said, as politely as I could muster, “What you are doing is wrong. What you are doing here… It’s wrong.” He was angry with me, but my point remains. He was making things much worse for others, but he didn’t care. None of them did.
Then there’s the story of our lovely civil government. They failed to cancel schools and close government offices yesterday. When they realized around noon that they had made a monumental mistake, they decided to cancel everything. All at once. Fail. Apparently, there were hundreds of kids stranded overnight in schools. There were hundreds of abandoned cars everywhere. It was mayhem and madness, in other words. A circus, but not the fun kind, as a few others have said.
We couldn’t even make it all the way to my parents’ house in our minivan. In the last ten minutes of our trip, the rural roads got entirely clogged. Lanes ceased to mean anything. Cars spun out, drifted helplessly, and careened like pins being relocated in slow motion by an invisible bowling ball. We tried making it up a hill out of a Kroger parking lot. Three quarters of the way up, we lost all traction. We started rolling and sliding backward, spun about, bumper-tired off the curb, and finally slid down into the flat of the parking lot again.2 We saw dozens of cars doing the same thing, some to much worse effect (one guy broke his wheel off on the curb). I parked the car and called a friend nearby who has four-wheel-drive. After being picked up, we finally got to my parents’ house at 9:30 pm—exhausted, hungry, and flabbergasted.
Never have I been so convinced of original sin and the reality of total depravity. Left to their own devices, few people are anything other than selfish, terrible people. My wife and children were exceptions here. Their patience astounded me. But I know firsthand the work (on my wife’s part and mine) that has gone into that. That isn’t human nature, and I didn’t just get lucky. That’s extra-human nurture and super-human labor. There were some extraordinary acts of assistance and heroism yesterday, but in each case the exception proves the rule.
I think we can put the human nature question to rest. Chesterton, Muggeridge, the Bible—they’re right. You can disagree all you want. But if you think people are inherently good, you’re fighting a losing battle against objective verification and reality. And you’ve obviously never been in the South during a snow storm.