What are we doing here? We may never know. If a solar storm should burn off the peculiar damp that clings to this planet, this would be a very small change—no change at all in cosmic terms, which apparently are based on averages. The universe is lifeless now and will be lifeless then, so negligible is our presence in it. What about us was of interest, if we imagine looking at ourselves in retrospect? That we made civilizations, or that we drove them to the ground, reduced them to rubble? I won’t pretend that this is a real question. We make wealth, and we destroy it. Our wealth is finally neither more nor less than human well-being. There is no necessary hypothesis; there is no value but what we value. The great temptation of money is that it seems to give us tokens, markers, by which things and people can be truly said to succeed or fail. The illusion that value inheres in it has vigorously survived a recent proof of its evanescence, in fact its utter dependency on our faith in its value. It has a placebo effect more predictably than it ought to, seeming to satisfy a need to know how value is discovered, or created, or conveyed, or preserved. It is human nature to want to know this. But, whatever else we might say about human nature, we can say it aligns most inexactly with the universe. In this moment the habit of aggressive fear and the zeal for austerity have become a binary system, each intensifying the force of the other as they become a single phenomenon. In the way of the cosmically accidental, this near-fusion has occurred at a point in time when the merely possible took on the character of the inevitable. To put it another way, we have entered a period of rationalist purgation. Rationalism and reason are antonyms: the first is fixed and incurious; the second, open and inductive. Rationalism is forever settling on one model of reality; reason tends toward an appraising interest in things as they come. Rationalism projects, and its projections typically fill it with alarm because of the inadequacy of its model, which, to the rationalist mind, appears as the perversity of the world. To this mind every problem is systemic, therefore vast and urgent. Rationalism is the omnium-gatherum of resentment and foreboding, the omnium-scatterum of everything of any kind that appears to stand in the way of a correction of reality back toward rational standards. Like paranoia, it all makes perfect sense, once its assumptions are granted. Again, like paranoia, it gathers evidence opportunistically, and is utterly persuaded by it, fueling its confidence to the point of sometimes messianic certainty. Ideology is rational, a pure product of the human mind. It is sometimes proposed that we are the creators of the universe—that we create it in the fact of perceiving it. I suppose it would be naïve to ask how this is to be reconciled with all the science that tells us we came to the universe very recently, after a great deal of important business had been transacted here—the emergence of light and matter, for example. It would be interesting to know how so much that exceeds or eludes our understanding and perception can be dependent on them. If time is only an artifact of human consciousness, then we can hardly quarrel on principle with that venerable calculation that put the age of creation at about 6,000 years. By either reckoning, the creation or emergence of humankind is the real beginning of things. Still, the universe of the mathematicians, however important its departures may, over time, prove to be from an objectively existing universe, is unspeakably beautiful. The universe that they manage to capture, however tentatively, out of the totality of phenomena is magnificent for the aura of implication that surrounds it, the tantalizing not-yet-knowable and the haunting never-to-be-known. And there is a much larger, more general sense in which we are creators of the universe. We would not be the first humans to base a universe on fear, and to make sacrifices to allay it that seem unaccountable from the perspective of another culture or generation. We can channel and exploit minds and energies, bending them to use against imagined adversaries. These things have been done any number of times. The alternative is to let ourselves be—that is, to let ourselves be the reflective, productive creatures we are, unconstrained and uncoerced. Eliminate the overwhelming cost of phantom wars and fool’s errands, and humankind might begin to balance its books.