Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whence? Whither?

But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting.
--From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

            Humankind made its first discovered lasting mark of genius thirty-five thousand years ago--a blink in the geological day; roughly seventeen Julius Caesars back as the time flies.  Its subsequent search for distraction is to thank for the good ideas of Western Civilization. 
God deserves some credit too--fear in a supernatural power behind the nomadic chieftan’s tent must have helped align primitive hierarchies.  However, even the earliest social stabilizing ‘Thou Shalt Not’-s could only be enforced by the nascent state (with the help of a material Spirit common in all places in all times to all men who are not psychopaths).  A jealous Yahweh might have persuaded a potential murderer here and a cautious adulterer there to restrain his property polluting impulses, but after a few hundred years of demonstrable unfairness and injustice, only a God who ‘works in mysterious ways’ could remain believable.  And yet, humankind’s tacit agreement to an imperfect social contract made God’s invention no less necessary.    
More compelling than the divine accountant of misdeeds is that pie in the sky distraction numbering every hair on Jimmy’s head, saving Sarah from climate change, filling Fyodor with some senseless wonder, honoring Herschel a homeland, accepting Ahmed’s five times daily chanting yoga, promising Padma that she can come back next time as a real lotus flower, and comforting Chan through the sixteen-hour shift in the EPZ distracting him from the nonexistence of the God that... Such delusions are among the most pleasant available options for getting through another day; however, the anti-empiricist insistence of Gods’ most distracted disciples too often alters His (or Her, or Its) various One True Church sufficiently to alienate differently-abled consciousnesses. These need a different distraction. 
No Godless man could endure to the end of his sentience without Wine.  Alcohol is so compelling an answer that poets and economists are left to argue over which came first, the fermentation or the grain, though whether the civilization-inducing domestication of agriculture preceded the first still or the seventh still demanded the organized production of ever more distilland, the only near certainty is that those thirty-five-thousand-year-old horse painters must have been smoking something--and the artists among them no less than the hunters who kept them in meat and the females who kept the cave clean.
Which brings us to the true seed of civilization: the species-perpetuating distraction: male sexuality--along with bellyfat storage and heritable melanin, an evolutionary vestige wholly incompatible with religion, reason, and the post-industrial human condition.  Exhibit A: As C.S. Lewis justified the ways of Yahweh to Twentieth Century Man, the birth of a child at every male’s desired orgasm would overpopulate his dominion in a matter of minutes; thus, the unceasing desire to orgasm must be a divine temptation installed only to be overcome en route to Heaven.  Exhibit B: As any naturalist would explain it, small, slow, infantly mortal homo erectus’ survival through a few million years of natural selection would not have been possible without meat protein over every fire and a sticky seed in every uterus.  Regardless of the ultimate truth and moving along the geological blink to within just a few Melchizedeks of Attilla the Hun: art, science, and industry would be unimaginable in a world where comparatively small, slow males possessed no desire to compete sexually.  
What? The material betterment of mankind is not reason enough?  Ask the overfed, overmedicated, underemployed North American male how he feels about a dollar-for-dollar standard of living unimaginable to anyone born even a Jules Verne before; he will gladly trade his air-conditioned home for the adobe room of the poorest quadrigymous medieval Mohammedan.     
But perhaps a few of the wealth-generating innovations introduced during the past George Washington really were dreamed up by Huxleyan intellectuals (i.e., people who really had discovered something more interesting than sex; not to be confused with people just sublimating the frustrations of too many wasted Saturday nights at the ale house).  Perhaps, sure, but this tiny minority goes less often by the title of “intellectual” than by the appellation of “Saint.”
Indeed.  What act of a man could engender more praise from his fellow men than the voluntary self-removal from that race to truck and barter the extra mile, a race that affords comparatively small, slow, certain-minded males the opportunity to obtain that little-bit-more than his neighbor, a surplus not to be enjoyed by him but by the neighbor’s wife’s ass that his neighbor ‘Shalt Not Covet’?  Every other available distraction--from football to philosophy--is only a means of furthering or forgetting the pursuit of that seven-to-ten minutes’ extremely expensive (and, too often, anticlimactic) gratification.  Externalities vary.
And all of this is probably for the best, even if the autobiographical prophet of psycho-sexual drive himself misapplied the Literature.  For as Oedipus unsurprisingly shows that a man will fuck a woman old enough to be his mother, a true kindred finds the proto-Hamlet hero's true complex in his undistracted pursuit of Truth.  His courage to spelunk the awaiting abyss and, finding no answers, to continue deeper step by step, is both his story and his pathology.  It is incurable and can be managed only with not-too-frequent dosages of cranberry chocolate-chip pancake.  But for most, fictions are preferable; the Thousand and One Nights had it right: when the stories are exhausted, it’s all over. 

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