Ship of Fools
As I watch the impeachment hearings and navigate the complex cancel culture of an east coast art school, one of the top songs in my rotation lately has been “Ship of Fools.” It’s a Grateful Dead song about a crew member on a ship who realizes that he’s made a mistake in working on a ship run by idiots. He realizes that he never should have trusted the captain, and that all of the promises that were made to him have come up empty. But really, it’s a satire on the way humans seem to lose intelligence whenever they work in a group. It’s an illustration of the old saying “a person is smart, but people are dumb.”
I’m certainly not against collaboration, but I’ll never support the way individual thought seems to die when people form tribes. Tribalism is a natural (but bad) human instinct, and the internet has just made it so much worse. Whether it’s political parties or online woke mobs, people seem to unite around an idea, then just decide to stop using their brains forever. At that point, Robert Hunter’s ship metaphor becomes quite useful. A ship of fools isn’t being steered by anyone. It’s just randomly floating, and the chaos on the inside keeps its crew from ever realizing it’s about to crash.
Oftentimes, my favorite music serves as a source of inspiration to me, reminding me how great life can be. As much as I love this song, this isn’t one of those times. It’s a brilliant satire on some of humanity’s most egregious traits, and only becomes more poignant as I get older. I just hope that I can learn something from its brutal final line: “Though I cannot caution all, I yet may warn a few. Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools.” As I look for the best way to spend my minutes on this planet, I just want to avoid helping to raise a flag for a ship of fools. Whether I go into entertainment, politics, business, or something yet-to-be-discovered, my principles remain the same. I want to avoid getting sucked into groupthink, avoid teaming up with one group to hurt a different group. Avoid spending my life pushing a stupid idea just because everyone else is. More than anything, I just want to make sure I’m raising the right flag, and thinking for myself while I do so.
Trying to Figure Out Which Flag to Raise