“Every generation wants to be the last. Every generation hates the next trend in music they can’t understand. We hate to give up those reins of our culture. To find our own music playing in elevators. The ballad for our revolution, turned into background music for a television commercial. To find our generation’s clothes and hair suddenly retro.”
Ghost of Kilgore Trout to the ghost of his son Leon Trout on the nature of people:
“Need I tell you that these same wonderful animals, of which you apparently still want to learn more and more, are at this very moment proud as Punch to have weapons in place, all set to go at a moment’s notice, guaranteed to kill everything?
“Need I tell you that this once beautiful and nourishing planet when viewed from the air now resembles the diseased organs of poor Roy Hepburn when exposed at his autopsy, and that the apparent cancers, growing for the sake of growth alone, and consuming all and poisoning all, are the cities of your beloved human beings?”
I’m feeling much more positive about the apocalypse lately.
Let’s face it, it’s going to come, and probably sooner rather than later (I’ll pick this theme up elsewhere). To be honest, all the dreary, depressing imagery was really beginning to get me down.
However, after watching episodes of hit TV shows like Falling Skies, The Walking Dead and now Revolution, I’m feeling much more positive about the whole thing.
The reason why?
Well, whether the end of civilisation is brought about by aliens, zombies or a loss of electricity, it would seem personal hygiene and fashion sense is increased exponentially.
That’s right! I always assumed that, following the apocalypse, the dregs of humanity that remained would be a foul smelling, dirty mass wearing rags ofbattered clothing and matted hair.
But no. According to TV’s finest writers, the end of civilisation promises better grooming than any preceding epoch.
Yes, most men will have beards or stubble, but it will always be finely trimmed. Hair will be slightly longer than average, and slightly tussled, but neither matting nor involuntary dreadlock will mar the otherwise immaculate appearance of the average post apocalypse good guy.
As for the women, malnourishment will leave them with perfect figures and well trimmed eyebrows. There will not be a single unshaved leg or armpit (they obviously hide the last few razors from the stubbly menfolk) and, although no TV series has yet been generous enough to prove my theory, I suspect they all sport Brazilians, rather than some kind of spider graveyard.
Actually, the more I think about it the more I think the post-apocalypse wouldn’t really suit me. I struggle with facial hair and would, at best, be able to produce a tufty, scraggy effort on the stubble front.
The doomed future isn’t for the likes of me after all.
I was visited by an alien last night.
I wasn’t expecting it, to be honest. I’d just settled down with a book and brew.
“Hello” said the alien.
“Hello” I responded. “Can I make you a brew? The kettles just boiled.”
“No, thanks. I don’t, with being a non-corporeal being and all” I should probably explain; this alien wasn’t one of those little grey fellas you see on the TV. He was more of a shimmering light floating about eighteen inches off the top of my sofa.
With hindsight, asking him if he fancied a brew was probably a stupid question.
“So, why are you here?” I enquired (recovering from my shock, my questions were becoming a little more relevant)
“Oh, you know, just bobbing by”
“Are you going to give me an anal probe?”
“Well, I could if you wanted, but I’d prefer not to. Is this something you often ask of house guests?”
“No” I responded, relieved. “Not usually”.
We chatted for a while. I asked him his name. He said it didn’t really translate well into our language, but would sound something like “oooooooooooooo”. He said he liked to add an “x” at the start and the end so it was spelt “Xooox”, to break up the vowels and sound a little funky. I suggested he could have put the x’s in the middle, but he had some kind of beef about that.
Conversation with an alien isn’t as easy as you might imagine. They’re generally not interested in local weather, or the football. So I asked:
“How old are you?”
“I was just interested”
“Oh. Well, I’m not sure how to answer to be honest. Do you measure time based on your planets circulatory pattern of the local star?”
“OK. Well, in that case, I guess I’d be about 37 million circuits by your reckoning”
“37 million years old!? Wow. That’s really old. And I was worried about approaching 40.”
“37 million of your years isn’t that old you know! Your planet is 4.5 BILLION years old. Do you have any idea how big a number a billion is?”
“Well, it’s fairly big I suppose” was the best response I could muster.
“If you sat there and counted to 4.5 billion, it would take you about 140 of your years.”
“Does that include toilet breaks?”
“No” replied Xooox.
“It’s pretty amazing though isn’t it?” I asked
“This! Here I am sat here, a sentient life form, talking to another sentient life form from a completely different planet! I mean, there really is other life out there. Of all the flukes and quirks and chances involved in creating life, and then evolving to sentient life, that two sentient beings from different planets should ever meet like this is just amazing. The odds must be minute!”
“Not at all! Life is common. Almost inevitable really, in the right conditions, and given enough time.”
“Oh yes. Most definitely. Listen: your planet is 4.5 billion years old. Yet within 500 million years, by about 4 billion years ago, life has already formed as single-celled organisms. It took another 2 billion years before they started to develop into the first complex cells, and it was 1.2 billion years ago by the time multi cellular life forms appeared. Half a billion years ago you started to see the first back-boned fish and by 400 million years ago, you started to see life on the land too. By 250 million years ago, your dinosaurs were in charge and remained so for almost 200 million years. Your species has only been about 2 million years in comparison.
“But my point is” Xooox continued “that life appeared very quickly in the history of your world, as it does in many others. In fact, life has been present for 4 billion of the 4.5 billion years your world has been in existence. It didn’t take that long, in relative terms, to get started, and then marched consistently on from that point”
“And now it’s culminated in our existence. Humans! Sentient species.” It was starting to make sense to me now. We were the end result of 4 billion years of life and evolution!
“Hardly!” responded Xooox with a chuckle
“What do you mean?” I asked, sharper than I’d intended.
“Well, look at you. I mean all of you. As a species. You’re hardly the culmination of anything. Sure, you’re sentient, to an extent, but you’re not the end result. Just another dead-end I’m afraid”
“What do you mean, dead-end?”
“Listen: over 99% of the organisms that have ever existed on your planet no longer exist. Why should you be any different? And what makes you think you are the culmination? The end game?”
“You’re not the end game. You’re just another dead-end, I’m afraid”
“So what’s the end game?”
“I can’t tell you that. You wouldn’t understand it. You’re still tied to your corporeal world”
“So should we evolve into something like you?”
“Possibly. Eventually. But not your line. Your line isn’t a keeper. More a throw-away draft.”
“Well if not humans, then who? Chimps?”
“Listen, I need to get going. I’ve hung around too long, but thanks for the chat.” Xooox started to fade.
“No, wait…you’ve got to tell me…is it the chimps?”
“….no……you’re thinking too laterally….” Xooox responded faintly
“No? Erm….the birds?”
“………..no………..” came the almost inaudible response
“Not the ants?!”
I bloody hate ants.
It was a rare occurrence, but every so often the earth would grind to a halt on it’s orbit about the sun and suddenly swing into reverse.
And then spring would once again be awash with winter snow.
Next the dead leaves would jump back into the trees like bungee jumping lemmings and before you knew it full grown sheep would be casting nervous glances at their ever shrinking lambs.
It is actually possible to walk down a street, which isn’t very busy, without acknowledging anybody that you pass!
Think about that for a moment!
I live in a small village in the North West of the UK. There are about 3 or 4 housing estates, 3 pubs, 2 churches, 3 social clubs and a number of small shops. Population around about 5,000, surrounded by fields in every direction.
That’s why I like it. It’s not a sprawling metropolis. I don’t think I could cope with city life.
But despite all that, the surrounding fields and the small village setting, I’ve just walked to the local shop (about half a mile away) and passed about a dozen people, without receiving acknowledgement from a single one of them! We just walked straight past each other. Imagine that!
OK – maybe you’re thinking that isn’t so strange, and perhaps you’re right. But think about this: we have evolved as social creatures. We have evolved to work together in social units. We have dispersed across the world from small tribes in Africa until we talking monkeys now occupy almost every crook and cranny of the world. And yet we can pass each other in the street without so much as a nod of recognition.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being all superior here. They didn’t acknowledge me and I didn’t acknowledge them. It’s a two way thing, I agree. And normally, I do make a point of saying hello to anybody I pass. But because I was slightly distracted I didn’t today. Even when I noticed, and started paying attention, I noticed people really weren’t even looking for acknowledgement. They were happy to just pass on by.
All these people, with their lives, their loves, their stresses, their joys. Each with their own history of battles won or lost, their memories and histories. All, just ignored and passed by.
As a species, it’s more natural for us to know all about the people in our social group, or tribe. We’d know their histories and who they were. We could never walk past them in the street without acknowledgement.
But today there are over 7 billion of us world wide! 7,000,000,000!!! That’s a lot of zeros.
7 billion histories. 7 billion faces to recognise. 7 billions loves, losses and joys. How can you even scrape the surface in attempting to understand all that?
Even in my small village of over 5,000, how can I possibly really know and understand more than a small percentage of the people I might bump into?
So for me, that’s People Problem #1; there’s too bloody many of us.
But next time I go out for a walk, I will be sure to say “hello”.
I’m not a big believer in absolutes.
Too many people only see things in black and white. It either is or it isn’t; it’s right or it’s wrong. I think such simple terms can rarely be applied in practice.
I studied law after leaving school, so maybe my perspective is down to that; looking at everything from multiple angles, arguing every case for and against. Not that I took up law for a living. I always felt it was an interesting subject, but a dull lifestyle choice. But, hey, what do I know?
Anyway, black and white always seemed far too simple for me. Not that I’m a fan of grey. Grey is also dull. I like to see things in shades of purple. Prince knows what I’m talking about.
Life isn’t simple. It isn’t split into well delineated categories. It’s complex, without some infinite book of rules to tell us how to respond to a situation. Our decisions are the result of a lifetime of experience, or lack thereof. What makes them right or wrong? Perception? Group assessment? Peer review? A holy book?
In my view, we’re all just talking monkeys. We’re apes that have grown too big for our trees. There’s no purpose, no right or wrong, somehow written into our existence.
We’re just here. Evolutionary quirks and freaks, everyone.
We’ve no manifest destiny. We’re not subject to the whims of stars or gods. We just are.
So do I believe we can just do what we want?
Well, technically, yes. But that road is bleak and leads to chaos, so it’s not one I advocate.
If we’re here, why not enjoy it? Everyone likes to be happy, don’t they? So do what makes you happy!
But, in a purple world, there needs to be conditions on that. To be happy, you need to live in a condition that enables you to be happy, where people are not preventing you from being happy. Also, for other people to be happy, they need to live in a condition that enables them to be happy, where other people (including you) are not preventing them from being happy, Therefore, if people focussed on making themselves happy, but not to the exclusion of others being happy, we’d all be happy. Wouldn’t we?
Is it really that simple? Probably not. It’s more purple than that in practice. But it’s a start.
This is obviously nothing new. It’s been said before: “do onto others as you’d have them do onto you”. It is a simple concept. Not that I’m a religious man (you’ve probably gathered that from the above) but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognise that some religions have had good ideas from time to time! (Purple thinking in action).
So if this idea is so simple, why aren’t we all happy?
Probably two main reasons:
- we’re all only focused on the first part, making ourselves happy, to the exclusion of the latter part, making others happy
- we’re probably chasing the wrong things to make us happy in the first place, focussing on quick fix happiness, rather than long term happiness.
There I go using that “wrong” word again. That’s not very purple of me. But you get my point, don’t you?
Maybe if we focussed on the people around us and how we can influence their happiness, rather than just focussing on how they could (or even should) make us happy, we’d find that just making them happy made us happy in the long term.
Afterall, we talking monkeys are such simple purple creatures.