Who will be “King” of a dead planet?
My childhood story wrote itself, directed by an impulse to challenge The Official Story, which never did make sense to me. First, there was the story my parents told about their marriage. I would listen to their private histories, both sad and tragic, and wonder why these obvious strangers insisted that finding each other and committing to an unworkable lifelong union was the best of all possible outcomes. Each parent had chosen to add to each other’s suffering by making a brief courtship legal, when apart, each could have pursued happiness. Why would any person do this?
It’s a simple question, but thousands of years of myth, religion, rules and laws, social convention, government institutions, and even reform and innovation in these areas, promote suffering, which has been elevated to the unshakeable position of human destiny. It wasn’t that I imagined a perfect world; I could not imagine why, when suffering exists as an inescapable consequence of being physical creatures, one would choose to voluntarily increase that suffering, and yet, it seemed to me that human beings put great effort into that outcome.
The consequences of choice preoccupied my mind. It took a long time for the reality to sink in: many people don’t recognize that they can make independent choices; their “choices” have been predestined by a belief system that is so powerful that everything they do is shadowed by the question, What am I supposed to do?” It was shocking to me that people suffered unnecessarily by sticking to roles that had been proven over and over again to result in physical and mental harm to both individuals and groups, and which brought humankind to a state of nearly universal and chronic suffering.
Technology and science appeared as bright spots in the dead gray fog of human behavior that plagued mankind. Radio, television, household appliances, bicycles, automobiles, photography, hot running water, antibiotics, aspirin, eyeglasses – all were advances in comfort, health and pleasure. But! On the new and mysterious TV in our living room, movies were shown that dramatized war and the “wonderful machines of war’ that man had created. Soldiers were happy to be able to help out, as if they were at a communal barn-raising. They looked forward to killing strangers, whether men, women, children or animals, known as The Bad Guys, using guns, knives, grenades and flamethrowers to mangle, maim, and roast people alive. They did this, and then smoked cigarettes. War was fun: a joyful guy thing. The actual horror was ignored, except for an occasional hospital scene where doctors and nurses fixed wounded men so that they could go back and kill more people, or inevitably for some, to be killed. The reward for death and suffering was a cigarette if you lived and a flag and a speech about patriotism if you died.
I couldn’t imagine participating in a war, inflicting pain and death in horrific ways, and also risk my own life – for what? My life was given to me and was sacred. It didn’t belong to anyone else, especially to Big Men who were so careless as to throw lives away so easily.
The usual answer given to children was that there are The Bad Guys, and you have to kill The Bad Guys.
This wasn’t an answer simplified for a child; this was The Answer. It still is.
Better not ask the question, “How can God be on our side and theirs, too? Everyone says God is always on our side, therefore we are The Good Guys, but The Bad Guys say the same thing. It’s this loopy thinking that keeps people stuck. Why can’t people exit the loop?”
If one pressed the question of war, supplementary answers appeared: the technology developed in war time benefits civilians later. Improved emergency medical techniques, antibiotics, more accurate clocks, fast computers, and many other gadgets were developed to better prosecute war. I found it absurd and shocking that we must have wars in which millions suffer and die so that Mom can cook in a microwave oven and I can take penicillin for a strep throat. Isn’t the suffering brought by disease or accident sufficient motivation to develop medical treatments? The Bull Shit kept getting deeper.
I lived with a distinct biting anxiety over my obvious lack of sympathy for traditional ideas, which were presented as demands by those who had secured a rung of authority on The Pyramid. Lies were everywhere: in school, at church, at home, on television and in newspapers. I devoured history books, and biographies of artists, scientists and adventurers – many of whom were people who defied The Official Story, not as bad guys or crusader or reformers, but because alternative explanations made more sense. They often had to hide their work and lived precarious lives, only to have their ideas rediscovered much later, when people discovered profit in their ideas. A happy few gained protection from a powerful patron, and saw their ideas exploited to perpetuate The Official Story that war is necessary, and isn’t it great to have bigger and better weapons, so that our side can kill more and more of The Bad Guys, and whole swathes of innocent bystanders who somehow get in the way.
I listened to educated people make abundant excuses as to why any improvement is impossible, or must be carried out in the way it has always been done, despite acknowledged failures, as if they were driving forward, but with the parking brake set. “Let’s just throw some platitudes and money at the problem. Maybe it will stick,” is proof that humans are not very smart. Social humans claim to possess all sorts of intelligence and problem-solving skills, and then fall flat on their faces in the same old ruts.