Monday, March 25, 2013

The hummingbird and the rat

  What’s the point, you ask, sether, what’s the point of all this?  You think you might become a Mormon.  Or a Baha’í.  They’ve got some traction.  They know how the world should be.  You, Brother Jero, you just rabbit on interminably about demons.  And they’re not even proper demons, red hot with anger, butting you up the bum with their pointy horns, lacerating you with their tridents.  They’re loci of irreducible difference.
  There aren’t many laughs in that, Brother Jero.  What’s the point?
  The point is, sethren, we are possessed.  The question we have to ask is, look, we are the most intelligent beings on Earth, possibly in the universe, or at least this universe; how come we are so fucking stupid?  Look at any area of the globe, big or small, land or ocean, and you realise that something about our behaviour stands out, above all other species.  Sheer blind stupidity.  It’s not our only quality I grant you.  We are also amazingly creative and constructive, we have built cities and spaceships, art, music, and society, all miraculous achievements.  It’s not that I’m on about.  It’s the other stuff.
  Take fish.  The oceans are a gift from eternity, powered by the sun, filled with evolved life over three and half billion years, an almost inexhaustible reservoir of protein and beauty.  And we are methodically, self-consciously, turning those oceans into squalid sumps.  Collectively, not very bright.  Collectively, the seven billion of us, we have less perspicuity than a whelk.  Why?  Particularly why if, as is the case, we are so fucking brainy?
  And that is the point, sethren.  We are like that because we are possessed.  Not by evil spirits.  But what we are is not quite what we think we are.  What is in our heads, the “thoughts” and “beliefs” and “philosophies” and “principles” are not wholly us at all.  Nor are they all that interested in our welfare as a species.  If at all.  In fact they are not interested in anything, because they are insentient, mindless, subject to blind evolution, just like the humming bird and the rat.  And us.  But they are not alive, though they evolve like life.  They survive because they are at an instant better suited to a particular niche than their competitors.  Instantaneous survival, that is the sole bridge they have to cross.  Opportunism in the shortest possible term; if successful, reiterated indefinitely, from second to second for minutes, centuries, millennia.  Like a bag, or a knife.  Or what you said at 3.27pm the Tuesday before last, if you were talking at that precise time.
  And when I say they, sethren, what am I referring to?  You’ve got it.  Those demons again.
I’m not saying, sethren, that we as a species have no foresight.  Clearly inestimable foresight is what distinguishes us  from all else.  Capitalism, town planning, space travel.  But these are all evolved too, quasi-infinite alliances and alliances of alliances of demons.  And they evolved through instantaneous opportunism, instantaneous selection, instantaneous survival.  Our huge success in catching fish, from the sprat to the whale, is equally evolved.  And if you read St Richard’s Climbing Mount Improbable, a point he makes most cogently is that evolution, if it takes a wrong turn, can never turn round and go back to the branch where this track was taken in error, and take the more promising way.  No more can a stone roll up a hill.  Evolution can only go on the way it’s going, instantaneous success by instantaneous success or, if success fails for an instant, death.  Death is okay when there are thousands or millions more of the same thing, like whatever it was you said at 3.27pm the Tuesday before last, if you were talking at that precise time..  But if too many die, we’re still talking about demons here and alliances of demons, that means extinction.  And demons rely on things in the world to survive.  Fishing cannot go on without fish.  So, it seems, our fishing will go on blindly, you cannot deny that it looks blind, blind and stupid, until there are no more fish.  Then it will become, instantaneously, extinct.
  Hold on a minute, you might say.  That’s not going to happen.  Other alliances of demons are evolving, as it might be marine conservation areas.
  That is the point too, sethren.  Evolution works for good as well as ill.  But it is hugely complex, and it might help if we understood it a bit more.  What does not work, or very seldom, and often only by very lucky chance, is supposedly superordinate plans.  Look at our present government.  Okay, sether Albert, it is more gracious to refer to “the intellectual deficit issue” rather than the biggest bunch of idiot fuckwits ever gathered together in the Mother of Parliaments, but I grant you the point remains the same.  They think they have a plan.  And I am not one who has time for essences, for Platonic Forms.  But yes, their plan looks like the essence of human stupidity.  A steady progression of instantaneous selection, survival, reiteration of alliances of demons which, when we look at their shape in the world, we might think were better extinct.  But that’s not the way the evolution of culture works.  We may love the whale and Nelson Mandela, but Hitler and the herpes virus were, still are, in evolutionary terms much more successful than lovingkindness for the whole human species.
  That is why it might be a better course for governments to look at what is good in political economy, and encourage it, and look at what is bad, and try to minimise it, rather than to have plans.  But such a course is a long way from where we are at the moment.  To get there it might help us if we understood what we are are and why.  How it is that we can be so intelligent, and so stupid?
  And to understand that, sethren, we have work to do.  Tomorrow, for one day only, we’ll tie up demons.    Then onward.  But for now… Can anyone smell bacon?

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