Thoughts Unthunk, Mostly

An Essay On Rejuvenation

December 13, 2005

I am persuaded that the gravest catastrophes to afflict this misguided planet were the inventions of agriculture, clean water, and antibiotics. Without these pernicious conceptions our squalid race might consist of a few millions of savages picking bananas and slaughtering the occasional bison. I do not say this in criticism of savages. Theirs was a reasonable existence. I like bananas, which contain potassium. Bison is succulent. A savage could sleep late.

We should have let well enough alone.

But no. We had to wage chemical war against the various races of bacteria, and boil them alive, and the result was Los Angeles. Three hours a day of commuting, eight more of unnatural staring at witless documents in which no one should have the slightest interest, and then several more of induced corpulence mediated by the lobotomy box. We have come down in the world. Bushmen may have poor table manners, but they don’t commute.

Savagery is unjustly contemned. It is true that savages plundered, tortured, and made war mindlessly and without cease in a state of profound mental benightedness. So do we. As I write, the American president bombs some country or other, it doesn’t matter which either to him or me. The Secretary of State, Kind Of Leezer Rice, runs about advocating torture. Her performance as First Iroquois puts the United States exactly on the moral level of any other Neanderthals. But then, that is the usual state of man.

The distinction is only that we butcher in volume, wholesale as it were. Ours is a brutishness made impersonal, stripped of the fun and human touch. Misbehavior that savages effortlessly wreaked with materials and implements ready to hand, we achieve with sprawling industries that make unnecessarily complicated means of destruction. Why an elaborate bomber? Why not an obsidian knife?

Don’t misunderstand me, lest I be thought unpatriotic or subject to a balmy idealism. I believe that people should kill each other, in the greatest numbers possible, with abundance and overflow. But I say this as a matter of principle. In practice, as amusement, a bow and arrow allows a more leisurely extinction and lets all participate. It is more democratic. Sometimes it is well to sacrifice efficiency to entertainment.

Further, savages did not build shopping malls. When a primitive came out of his yurt or hogan or beaver lodge, he found nature lying about him as insouciantly appealing as a floozy in her boudoir. He presumably liked such vistas as much as we do. He did not respond to his appreciation by building a subdivision to bury what he appreciated.

Perhaps we are out of touch. Hunter-gatherism constitutes a superior form of being. Indolence beats hell out of work. It is much more pleasant to loll around the tipi, enjoying the breeze soughing over the plains and telling off-color stories than to go to some air-conditioned dismalalium and rot for thirty years as a compelled cubicle wart in an office painted federal-wall green. To any sensible being, the very idea of work is repugnant. It wastes time better spent in lazing, swimming, or the company of girls. Work usually requires effort. Effort is not a good thing. It should be essayed only in times of desperation.

I believe that modernly it was the Protestants who came up with the curious notion of the redemptive value of work. Of course, in the higher social classes the enthusiasm was usually reserved for work done by others. Like self-flagellation, enthusiasm for labor results from a perverse in-turning of the religious impulse. It gave us such horrors as Puritanism, Massachusetts, and sweatshops full of children. I see little good about it.

But it was agriculture that doomed us. Before this irreparable mistake, the females of the species spent an hour or two a day picking things to eat from trees, or finding roots and berries. The men sallied forth from time to time and killed something—food, each other, or the neighbors. It was a relaxed approach to things, and left time for admiring sunsets and raiding other tribes for women. But then….ah, but then.

Then came farming. It required foresight, husbandry, and ploughing. None of these had much to recommend it. The practitioner had to plan, to save seed corn, to remember things; here were the awful seeds of bureaucracy. Soon he was getting up at ungodly hours of the morning to dig holes and carry great lumpish things and remonstrate with mules. By contrast the savage, replete with bananas and bison, enjoyed a gentleman’s leisure.

The worst defect of agriculture was that it allowed the population to grow like over-sexed kudzu. A few people when spread over a large world are picturesque, or at least avoidable. When they can grow food, a profligate fecundity takes over and soon you have roads, malls, stoplights, and disordered people who want to ban drunk driving.

What good has come of it? Some might argue that the Cherokee in his natural habitat could not read and could not manage the rudiments of arithmetic. In this he closely resembled a high-school graduate. It is true that to some extent the gurgling adolescent of today can use a calculator. The Cherokee had nothing to calculate, a far better thing. Instead of spending twelve years unhappily learning nothing in a regimented ignorance factory, he learned nothing while running through the woods and climbing trees. The choice is, as we say, a no-brainer.

The vices of the savage were precisely those of today. His virtue was that he could apply them only locally and spottily. Because he had no refrigeration, he saw no profit in killing more bison than he could immediately eat. Because he did not practice agriculture, he could not reproduce excessively, and so there were always enough bison. Incapacity has always been more a check on mankind than judgement.

The only hope may be avian influenza if the virus would only abandon its shiftless ways and mutate, although an asteroid strike would serve if I knew how to foment one. Perhaps the Black Death might return. I do not put much faith in radiation poisoning. It has not been adequately proven, though it might serve as a backup.

Those few of us remaining could live torpidly on Pacific Islands, eating mangos and crabs and only occasionally dismembering each other, intimately and with machetes. We have lost the sense of community. Bladed weapons would restore it. Between hecatombs they might lounge on white beaches and watch gorgeous red sunsets over a dark and threatening ocean. We are here for but a short time anyway. Better that we eat coconuts and rut than unduly document things.