Friday, December 5, 2014

The Unintentionally Kept Promises of Civilization

As a sort of analogue to the Christian's bedtime prayer, I have a ritual with my sons where at night I tell them something to imagine. I'll start a story, get to a pivotal moment, and then leave them with a cliffhanger, saying they have to imagine the rest. This was one of those:

Once upon a time, kids didn't have to go to school. Nobody had a mean boss. Nobody even had a boss. There were no churches, and there was no school, and there was no work. People killed a bird or killed an apple when they were hungry. Sometimes they had to make a shirt out of animal skin, or fix their huts when the wind messed up the roof. Altogether these kinds of things took up about two hours a day. 
During the rest of the day, they attended to the deeper rituals of their bones. They sang and played games. They climbed trees and kissed girls. They had sex. Sometimes they had sex for fun, and sometimes they had sex to end a fight. Sometimes they had sex to say "I'm sorry." They also told stories around the fire. 
Then, one day, some people got sick. People had gotten sick before, but this was the first time that anyone had known why. 
-"Of course you're getting sick," Jakk said, "the moon spirits are proper pissed." 
-"Moon spirits?" Yilla winced. 
-"Yes. They make people sick. And for some reason (I don't understand it any more than you do) they've been upset that you haven't been hunting my birds, and picking my apples for me. That's why you're sick. They told me." 
Yilla was happy that the answer was so simple. For the next two weeks, the people who were sick prepared Jakk's food and fixed his house. And just as he said, all of their sicknesses went away (at the end of flu season). 

In one fell swoop was born religion, state, taxation. Soon came monogamy. For a million years we were one thing and then we became another.

The above story is 10% imagination. We've caught stone-age cultures in the transition to civilization, and we've met Jakk. Usually he also gets to have sex with everyone's teenage daughter. Crazy ass moon spirits. Who can understand them?

Civilization, it seems, has been a meme, a Thing Good at Spreading, which costed humans a lot, and gave them a lot (slaves who don't kill themselves or die of tuberculosis are better), by getting people to endure hard things for the sake of some callously proffered lie or another.

Looking at Christianity (which is where I look first because I know it best), we've got promises of perfect bodies, no sickness, no sadness (arguably, depends on the interpretation of a verse), no hunger, plus peace, abundance, and immortality. Muslim heaven looks like a much better-described resort world, with pretty amazing furniture and food, and depending on how you die (and how you interpret), maybe 72 virgins.

Lies. Actual, slaving lies, with a really cheesy dead-simple unobfuscated links to getting people to give control to the Powers That Be. Coming at these promises, though, as an atheist with Utopian Star-Trek eyes who has read too much Ray Kurzweil, I'm struck by this idea, this possibility. What if:

(1) Jakk lies to us to subjugate us, turns us all into an organized slave camp.

(2) That slave camp, through its miseries and holocausts, makes penicillin and some other good things. And rockets. And the internet.

(3) Nobody believes Jakk anymore.

(4) That slave camp finds that somehow, accidentally, the trade-offs Jakk proposed were RIGHT, even though he didn't know it.

We were promised that if we got in line we'd all have nice furniture, no sadness, and immortality. All of these things are technologically at least possible. We all got in line.

And in the most poetically weird twist of history, I think that decision may take us where we were told we would go.

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