Sorry this is so late. I got up this morning ready to give the last coat to what will be the household accounts office, so we can move furniture in on Wednesday, So I can do what will be my office over the weekend. And then I remembered the stairs to the basement needed to be Zinzered (Totally a word. Like Killzing only more so) because grandcat did a number on them when older son was at work or school and not spending the requisite time with him. (Which in D’Artagnan’s mind means, of course ALL the time. 24/7)
By the time I looked up it was 12:30. And now I shall try and go work, though not absolutely sure I have enough energy. In the past I’ve found a nap helps reset the mind after hours of physical labor, but one also doesn’t like to employ it. It is admitting the body is getting old, I guess. We’ll see.
Because I was working on the stairs, my mind was ranging over a bunch of things, including the old tale of the garden, and of the entity that offers that you shall be “like gods, knowing good from evil.”
For some reason this seems to be an unavoidable temptation of mankind, the sort of thing we can’t resist, just like we can’t resist the feeling that whatever one has should be divided equally.
I suppose it makes perfect sense from the point of view of a clever ape. In the ape band, if things aren’t divided equally — say the hunt or the produce of foraging — then someone will grow fat, and someone will starve. We are, after all, as a species, scavenger apes. Which means that most of our ancestors, since well before we became human and throughout our past since that time lived at the edge of starvation.
At the same time, being clever apes, we want to know. we need to know. And we want to know what the rules and are and what we can impunely poke at, and what will turn and sting us into next Wednesday or the next turn of the wheel for that matter.
We also, being clever apes, and scavengers, distrust the good times. We hate it when things are going too well, people have fat babies and there’s peace on the land. We hate it, because as every scavenger knows too many fat babies mean a time of famine around the bend. It’s unavoidable. There are only so many resources. You have too many scavengers, and the food supply is stripped bare, and then what?
All of this probably explain the 20th century. Well, as much as anything can besides “Dear Lord, that lousy century!”
Because through the wars, the horrors, the killing by the numbers by government fiat (which we show ourselves quite ready to continue this century, by the way) life was pretty good, for most humans. You know, in raw terms of food and fat babies, humanity was doing pretty well.
Except the Cassandras were out full force, and often spurring on the government killing by the numbers — and still trying to do it — alarmed at the number of fat babies. We won’t go into the various theories of Paul Ehrlich. Honest, the man is impressive. How can you be wrong so consistently? It’s like ALWAYS guessing the wrong number in a set of two. By pure luck, sometime, he should be right. By accident even.
And we won’t go into the climate doom and gloom, because honestly, I’m forever astonished at anyone my age who takes it seriously. Because in my lifetime we were going to freeze to death. I bought it then. How could I now? All the smart people and scientists said so. And the prescription was socialism.
Oh, they didn’t call it that. They call it being sensible and careful and sustainable. What it amounted to, to the kid who read science fiction, was belt tightening on a global scale. We all needed to live small lives. Ask permission to have kids, earn permission to live in a little cubicle and eat our ration, and be happy for it, because without that we’d all freeze to death by the early two thousands. Oh, well. It was just my luck, the time I’d been born into.
At the same time we were running our of oil, out of gas, out of coal, out of minerals. Out of everything.
And then a funny thing happened. Not only didn’t we run out of any of those things, but learned to use them better, found new deposits, but the weather didn’t grow markedly colder.
In the middle eighties, the consensus pivoted in the space of a year to “We’re all going to boil to death.” Perhaps by then I was more cynical.
I’d realized a few things. Like, we weren’t running out of anything, and Paul Ehrlich had rolled snake eyes again. Another was that the prescription to avoid boiling was the same as to avoid freezing. More socialism. And the other was that these prophets of despair didn’t want us to go to space. No we had to “learn to take care of the Earth first.”
That seemed weirdly moralistic. More a religious position than a scientific one. Because, really, who judges when we “learn to take care of the Earth?” The Earth seems to be doing okay, honestly, humans or not. How many trees do we need to plant, before we can have a colony on Mars? What sense does THAT make? Or as I used to put it — to much sputtering — “I don’t think we’d ever have learned to take care of Europe, if we’d not struck out to other continents. Or if you go back far enough, to take care of Africa, before homo sap migrated. That’s not how any of that works. You don’t learn your language properly before you learn another. And knowing other planets is what will allow us to take care of the Earth. It’s just the way it works.”
Anyway, I think that’s the other, third flaw of the human brain, born of our biological heritage. We’re jumped up scavenging apes. We can’t help worrying about how bad things will get now that they’re good. If there’s enough food today, there won’t be tomorrow.
Unfortunately add intelligence and shake, and what you get is people convince that they ARE like gods, knowing good from evil, and that they get to tell everyone else what they can do and what they can’t. That of course, being the other curse of apes. You want to be the band leader. Fraught as it is it’s the safest position.
Well, except those of us who are broken apes, and feel safer by ourselves, in our own branch. I don’t think any of us would have survived too long out in the wilderness, though. A solitary ape is known as “lunch” to too many things.
I have friends who run terminally ill computers. I’ve done it myself in the past. Now that writing pays, even if irregularly (Dear Lord, I need to stop flooring rooms and start writing more, because indie does pay, and so does PJM…. indie more, but PJM faster) I usually don’t fool with computers past the point the they fail me twice. But in the bad old days when I was just starting out, I normally inherited my husband’s computers, once they started sputtering (or we bought them from his job when they upgraded. That’s how the boys got their own computers when Marshall was 3. Which prevented my losing half the workday because the toddler wanted to play the Winnie the Pooh game.)
Because husband is a genius with computers (he just is) he found ways around the damage of computers that weren’t working very well.
Sometimes he wrote programs, that made the computer not get trapped in dead sectors. Or at one time he (at least tried to) made me use Linux, because the computer was too slow for Windows.
I’m glad we don’t have to resort to that now. The computer fails twice and I point out we need a new computer. (Though I’m a little nervous at replacing three computers with one. I hate single points of failure. Well, I still have the travel laptop, at least. That will do for writing, if not for rendering or publishing work.)
But there is no such workaround for humanity. Maybe in the distant future we can get rid of the persistent illusions that are part of being human. This idea of “fairness” and omniscience and, oh, yeah, that doom is just around the corner.
Perhaps. I wouldn’t trust anyone capable of doing that, mind, capable of tampering with the very essence of what being human means.
Those of us who are religious believe that eventually there will a New Heaven and a New Earth. Which ultimately means new humans. We believe something will happen, and the good old hardware will be fixed or fix itself automagically. And, well, if there is an engineer who put us together, then it’s okay if He fixes it, I guess.
But I’d be really leery, as my fiction probably shows, of any humans trying to fix the old hardware. Why, even with computers which are orders of magnitude simpler than you or I, and even with as good as husband is with computers, I always tense when he says “oh, it’s just the motherboard. I’ll get a new one and–” Okay, it’s been years since he’s made the problem worse. But it can happen. I know that. And then the computer catches fire. (No, seriously. Two of mine so far. Yes, it’s my fault for all the heretical stuff I write, like this post, I guess.)
So, what is to be done?
I don’t know. So far, we know that the flaws of mankind can be compensated for with software. And the best software, so far, seems to be called “Western Civilization.” At least in terms of leading to fat babies and lots of food. Sure, it also led to government by the numbers, and killing by the numbers, or as we call it around here “20th century.”
But the thing is, it’s hard to tell how much of it is the software “Western Civilization” and how much is the flaws in the hardware. The Zulus, who were virgin of the software, left enough corpses strewn around Africa that some of them form the basis of hills. And the things the Chinese got up to in their history are best read about thy those with a strong stomach, and not after lunch.
And then there’s the virus of socialism, which takes advantage of the hardware’s flaws of “fairness” and “knowing good from evil” and “oh, no, too many fat babies, famine around the corner.”
In fact, the Marxism/Communism/socialism virus is almost too perfect, slots too much with the human hardware flaws to be accidental; just like Western civ and bourgeois values might be too perfect, leading too assuredly to enough food and fat babies to be accidental.
Or maybe cultures, like species are subject to evolutionary law and the best adapted one emerges the victor.
Which would mean we win, they lose. In the long run. The very, very long run. But neither of us will see it.
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I’m not the engineer, and I’m not the software designer. In fact, I’m not sure any of us is qualified to design software at that level. All attempts at doing it seem to result in a lot of dead hardware.
I do know that if the program is not running on “Respect individuals, don’t hurt them and don’t take their stuff” it ends up in a lot of broken hardware. A lot of it.
I do know that I cannot be like gods knowing good from evil.
And I will fight against anyone in the grip of the illusion that everything can be made fair, who thinks they can hurt people and take their stuff and somehow bring about paradise.
I’m not the Engineer. I’m not the software designer. But I can read print when its engraved in all the sorry history of mankind, and elsewhere too.
And in the garden there was a serpent….
Do you guys ever wonder if time is circular, and if those writings, metaphorical, of course, are the result of many-times-experience of mankind?
Man, if that is true, we must be the worst students ever.
Of course A Canticle of Leibowitz posited something like that, but the idea was that it was all designed to warn about nuclear war and how to avoid it.
Bah. No nukes needed. To destroy civilization, the inherent flaws of mankind suffice, and are plenty.
“You shall be like gods, knowing good from evil.”
It always leads to destruction and death, and the dark of night, and sweating while laboring to extract our livelihood out of dirt.
Perhaps this time we can avoid it, yes? Perhaps we can take the old snake and make a pair of shoes out of its skin?
Probably too much to hope for, but at the end of the Pandora Box that’s 2020 maybe some hope remains.
Route around the damage. Write a new program. Not the same old stupidity again. Let’s try new and exciting stupidity. Let’s go elsewhere and try our all too human flaws.
Enough is enough. They shall not pass.