My mother – may she rest with champagne wishes and caviar dreams – seriously adored the rich and famous, and a lot of them loved her right back. I ”abhorred and detested” them, she announced one day, because Dr. Lamebrane’s latest best seller pointed out – right there in black and white – that I had a very serious case of penny envy. Momma say what?!?

Do you know what a crock of crap looks like? Seek and you shall find in the self-help section at Barnes and Noble. Or the library. Or the New York Times bestseller list. Seriously, have you ever known anyone who benefitted from one besides the author? Have you ever seen anybody Think and Grow Thin? How about If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs? You Are Worthless…? What’s Your Poo Telling You?*

Us humans like to think we can change, and theoretically our brains might be capable, but very rarely do we actually do it, because it terrifies us – deep down into the depths of our psyche. Our genetic code is hard-wired to be distrustful. We had to begin to apply critical thinking skills to ensure survival of the species.

“Mongo no touch fire. Mongo get burned!”

Think about how long we as a species have been fearful. Imagine a string that stretches from the top of your head all the way up to the moon. This line represents the length of time mankind has been on the Earth. The space between that string and your head hair it rests upon is the space of time in which mankind has had a working knowledge of science. A nanosecond of our lineage.

May 19, 1780. Four years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and as the brutal war with England raged on, colonial citizens from Maine to New Jersey woke to a “withering sun”, reported one observer. The sky turned a dark angry red. Many thought a terrible storm was brewing and it did rain briefly but by ten a.m. the animals began preparing for night. Cows went into the barns, chickens to roost; frogs began their night time song as bats began to fly about. By noon the sun had vanished. New England’s Dark Day, as it came to be called, was seen as a portend of the biblical end times. Our forefathers and country’s founders went to sleep that night certain the apocalypse was upon them and that they’d never see the sun again. Some declared it was a punishment from God for declaring war upon His divinely appointed King George.

What else could they think? Up until just a hundred years ago, information was primarily spread in one of two ways: by word of mouth or the printed page. And still it took us another two hundred years to solve the Dark Day mystery and gain our, relatively speaking, newfound intellectual savvy. Yet we still print textbooks teaching our school kids that Columbus discovered America. Why? Science now expands our knowledge at a rate that is almost incalculable. Confronted daily with challenges to old, accepted doctrine, our suspicious little brains must learn to grasp these new concepts and be willing to accept change. Otherwise we’ll have gained little and lost so much.

Thank goodness for fearless forward thinkers; those bright lights shining down the dark halls of history. Some have names we recognize: Galileo, Da Vinci, Franklin, Hawkins; most, though, were everyday men and women who simply swallowed their fear and embraced new ideas. They certainly didn’t rush out and buy a book to have some stranger tell them how to live.They applied critical thinking skills.

“Mongo turn off TV. Mongo use brain to think.”

Speaking of Benjamin Franklin, he was abroad in 1780, so he missed the Dark Day but around that time he wrote what is arguably both the very first self-help publication and probably the only one worth the paper it was printed on: Fart Proudly.

* I heard about that last one watching an episode of House. I actually ran across one other interesting title while researching the crock of shit section, though I am not devoting one scintilla of brainpower to figure out why: Games You Can Play With Your Pussy: And Lots of Other Stuff Cat Owners Should Know. Swear to God.

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