So 60 Minutes, the TV news magazine and Vanity Fair, the naked-pregnant-Demi Moore-on-the-cover magazine, have teamed up to conduct a survey about one of the most pressing issues of the day.
They didn’t care what Americans thought about the presidential candidates, or health care, or the widening gap between rich people and everyone else. No, they wanted to know what we thought about something really important.
It makes some sense. I mean, pollsters have already asked Americans if they think the Bible is literally true (28% do, even my personal favorite passage, 4 Kings 2:23-24, wherein Elijah conjures up a pair of bears to maul 42 children who had been making fun of him for being bald.)* They’ve also found that half of America believes in extraterrestrial life (although it’s unclear which half), and that only slightly more Americans (58%) believe in evolution.
So once you’ve discovered a population of people who don’t necessarily believe in reality, the logical next step is to ask about time travel.
You might ask, for example, if someone thinks time travel is possible if Stephen Hawking says it is. The survey responses on this were fairly evenly divided between those who did, those who didn’t, and those who had no idea who Stephen Hawking is, despite the recent motion picture about him and his multiple appearances on The Big Bang Theory.
Pollsters also queried Americans about the future. They asked which behavior is likely to disappear in 1,000 years. In this case, the choice of answers reveals more about the designers of the poll than the subjects. The options were: a) using shopping baskets in grocery stores; b) sending thank you notes; c) shaking hands; d) double cheek air kisses; e) making the sign of the cross; and f) people saying “let’s have lunch” (and not meaning it). The selection indicates the pollsters’ lack of scientific discipline, being, as it is, a mix of social customs (which, by definition, will all change in a generation or two); technology (soon, there’s not likely to be grocery stores, much less shopping baskets); and religion. The sign of the cross is the only one of these that might still be around in 1,000 years, although survey respondents thought it was more likely that people will still be saying “Let’s have lunch.” But who knows what will happen in 1,000 years? We may be more likely to be lunch than to have it.
When it comes to actually traveling through time, a whopping 41% said the one item they’d take with them was a Bible. This is interesting because it means lots of people assume Bibles will not be available whenever it is they are headed. Think about that. It means you’re either going back before Gutenberg (Johannes, not Steve, who has two t’s) or forward to a time of utter Godlessness, which would have to be more than 1,001 years from now, since many of those same people just said they’d still be making the sign of the cross in 3015. Meanwhile, 31% would bring antibiotics on their journeys and 21% would bring a gun, which means 52% are kind of pessimistic about the time they’re going to, at least compared to the 3% who would bring condoms.
Participants were also asked which tragedy they would prevent if they could travel back in time: the 9/11 attacks, Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination or the sinking of the Titanic. I don’t believe difficulty factors were taken into account; it would, after all, be easier to kill Lee Harvey Oswald in 1957 than to infiltrate Al Qaeda or undermine Japanese high command. But, gee, how about offering folks the chance to do something about Hitler? That might be helpful, don’t you think? Or maybe just prevent cell phones from being invented.
And, if you could witness one historical event first hand, what would it be? The moon landing? Columbus reaching the new world? Finding the Dead Sea Scrolls? Opening King Tut’s tomb? Eating the first oyster? None of those? Well, too bad; those are your choices. Here’s my question: What do they mean by “first hand?” Do you have to actually be there, or can you watch on television? (In the case of the moon landing, I’ve already done that.) And do you have to participate? I mean, it’s one thing if I can sit around reading the latest Lee Child book on my Kindle while waiting for Columbus to show up; it’s another if I have to be on the Santa Maria worrying about scurvy for the whole voyage. I’d also like to know if you can do something just for yuks, like sneak up behind Howard Carter just as he’s opening Tut’s tomb and yell “BOO!”
I’m going to mention one other question from this survey: Who was most likely to have been a time traveler from the future? Jesus, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali or Liberace? Of course, Jesus got more votes than Einstein and da Vinci combined, but that may have only been because he was the only one most Americans had heard of besides Liberace, who was obviously not a time traveler, although he was certainly a trip.
But I do have a question of my own for everyone who chose Jesus as the one most likely to be traveling back in time.
See you soon. Let’s have lunch.
*In case you doubt me: “And he went up from thence to Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, little boys came out of the city and mocked him, saying: Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And looking back, he saw them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord: and there came forth two bears out of the forest, and tore of them two and forty boys.”
**Maybe people don’t even begin making the sign of the cross until the year 3500, and Jesus brought the whole cross thing back in time with him. Just a theory.