But What Will the Children Think?

Sorry, no photo to prove it, but I thoroughly enjoy my Christmas Day swim. This annual ritual would be unremarkable in Australia but here in Ireland it's quite something. I've heard of places such as Scandinavia where they crack the ice to go swimming, but Ireland has the benefit of the Gulf Stream which brings a steady flow of warmer water and so it's not that extreme. Still, winter sea temperatures get down under 10°C, so you don't plunge in without a shiver or two. The worst part is actually the anticipation. When I awoke in my nice warm bed this morning I could not help thinking about it with dread. Why did I agree to this madness? Why am I doing this? Who will notice if I simply wimp out! The weather when I get up does not help: it's grey and damp, though not actually raining and the wind is less than 20kn for a change.

Duffs Christmas Day swim was originally started as a way to raise money to purchase a freezer for local social services. There's an Irish joke in there somewhere. At midday Christmas Day several hundred people, many of them wearing silly hats as an extra signal of their mental instability, go for a swim in the sea. But Juliette has invited me to lunch on her boat today. She and her family live on a big comfortable steel ketch, the biggest boat here, and they have invited me and the other two live-aboards in the marina to join them for Christmas Day.

My plan is to swim early so I can be back in time for lunch. So I cycle over to the beach at Cuas Crom about 11am and am early enough to have the beach to myself when I arrive. I strip off and walk slowly in. Cuas Crom is normally quite protected — the perfect smugglers' bay in anything except a strong blow from the North West. It's calm today. I was here a few days back and we got drenched by waves just standing on the jetty. Today the wind is from the South West and waves are small to non-existent. There is an official sign here with a phone number to call if you see any 'suspicious activity'. Smuggling has been a thing here for hundreds of years.

I swim out about half way to the marker bouy. Fortunately, the sauna guys are also early and have the wood stove fired up by the time I get out. The sauna is free, as in no cost, and also free as in empty!  Twenty minutes later, after a wonderful defrost, the car park is now chock-a-block solid and 200 people are milling about. So I take my second plunge — with 200 people staring at me! Still nobody else gets in! On the cycle back home the heavens open. It buckets down and blows like the bejesus, nearly knocking me off the bike. Back on the boat I have a hot shower, wash the remaining seaweed off and head over to Juliette's boat for a most memorable Christmas afternoon with the other marina reprobates. Matthias, Juliette and the kids have prepared a beautiful umpteen course meal that takes us 5 hours to consume. It's a feast!

The French wine flows, the Irish whisky evaporates, and the stories, tears and laughter keep coming. We discover amazing things about each other (quite unrepeatable, so don't ask!) and I learn to love them all the more! It's the best Christmas I've had since I was a child. But I really wonder how much of our stories the children take in and, if they understand any of it, what they must think of us.

The world they grow up in will be AI from end to end. Cars, planes and ships will be autonomous. Factories will run on automatic. Work will be optional. Wars will be largely fought by machines. There will probably be LOTS of wars. Mars will acquire a permanent colony of humans and their machines. The rich will become mega-rich beyond anything so far and will be so powerful that they will control governments. They might even be able to prevent governments from going to war, if they want.

Maybe it's inevitable that Matthias and Juliette's children will grow up to view us as incredibly old-fashioned and out of touch, way more so than I thought of my parents' generation. Here in the West of Ireland they still burn coal, peat and turf in open fireplaces, while I get emails every day about global warming, polution, ways to live longer, plans for offworld colonies, and I listen to interviews with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk describing amazing machines and future societies that don't yet exist. Generational change is greater every year but it isn't spread evenly. Some people, especially younger people, will go with it but for me and others of my generation it'll be too much. If I were them I'd find us slow, fixed, and sooooo old fashioned.

But it's Christmas so let's find a happy note, a chord that resonates and leaves us with a ringing sense of optimism. My idea is this: ask an American or almost any westerner what evolution is and they will say something like 'competition, survival of the fittest'. This is wrong. Evolution instead is clearly about the opposite — cooperation. Just look at the complexity of the human body with its myriad systems, cells, organelles, and organs. If one part of a human body starts competing with the rest we call it cancer. So I reject the idea of evolution as competition and would encourage you to look for ways to 'evolve' though cooperation instead. You will make much more progress and enjoy the side-effects and fringe-benefits a lot more!

Merry Christmas and All the Best for 2024,

Dave.


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