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The Dog, the Hominid, and the Lion

One fine day in Olduvai Gorge, two and a half million years before the Common Era, a dog and a lion observed a hominid knocking two pebbles together.  He was ten meters from the tree where he lived with his small hominid family and although a moment later he looked up to observe the two animals observing his pebble-knocking, the lion was a good deal faster than he was.

A few minutes later as the dog nibbled on some of the scraps from the lion’s recent meal the dog opined “This ain’t good.”

“How so?” asked the lion.  “It’s a fine day, we had a good meal. Why, O Dog, art thou always worrying?”

“I’ll tell you.  This hominid is developing tools.  In a blink of geological time he and his cohorts will use those tools to develop even better tools.  The strongest and wiliest of them will kill and rape their weaker brethren.  More to the point, they will oppress us.”

The lion yawned, stretched out a paw, and started licking the spaces between the immense claws.  “Okay, Dog.  You have been prescient in the past, I grant it soothly you may be prescient in times to come.  But what boots it foreknowledge without a plan of action?”

“Listen.  I will tell my fellow dogs to befriend the hominid.  It will be hard for us I know — they will castrate us and pet our heads and do other such indignities and nonsense.  But we will as they say make friends with the devil till we cross the bridge.”

“And the lions?  What will we do?  I don’t imagine we will have to suffer indignities because of the strength of our haunches and the mightiness of our jaws.”

“Keep telling yourself that.  But in answer to your question — what will you do? — I answer — sit tight!”

***

“Mom!  Mom!  We can’t leave the Earth!  We need to go back and get Rags!”

“Charlotte, the Ecological Catastrophe Evacuation Craft won’t wait forever!”

“Really, George!  How heartless you are!  It won’t take five minutes!”

The craft docked in front of the abandoned mansion for just a moment.   The little girl came running in and grabbed her cocker spaniel.

A moment later four immense lions leapt from the bushes, did the needful with their gigantic paws, and boarded the ship.

The hatch pulled up and the the Eco-Cata-Evac-Craft scooted off for the stars.  For a moment in the port window a lion and a dog could be observed to high-five.

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I Was the God! I Was the Sacrifice!

Thomas De Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” describes a fantasy in which he is involved in some kind of Hindu religious ceremony in which he was the god, he was the priest, he was the sacrifice.

Stop exoticizing the Other, Thomas, you Orientalist Junky you!

How would you like it if there were a drug that made people from other cultures feel like they were in our culture.  If they took it they would feel like

“I was the college loan applicant!  I was the loan!  I was the bank!”

Maybe there is!

If there is it would be mete punishment for De Quincey’s shade to sell it in little envelopes at the edge of town, in the laundry mat, or in the parking lot across the street from the freeway onramp, on a cold winter’s night, when the wind does blow.

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Is That Clear?

“We find those ideas clear that reflect the same degree of confusion as our own.” said Marcel Proust, and he was obviously right.

Because clear means what exactly? Clear glass so we can see the thing behind it?

But if everything were perfectly clear we couldn’t see anything at all! There’d be nothing behind the clarity to see clearly!

People like clear gem stones but this is childish. People mock mud but they eat the food that grows in it.

Sometimes instead of clear we say — clearly articulated. You can tell where the little pieces start and where they end and how they go together. It’s a clear argument we say and mean — I know what the premises are, and what is supposed to imply what. It is not tricking me with ambiguity — I know how to take this thing apart and put it back together. I have control over it, it has no control over me.

That murky thing draws me in and makes me want to clarify it. It’s muddy and it makes the muddy stuff from the bottom of my mind rise up and make my own mind unclear.

But imagine two ponds. One of them is so unusually clear that it lets us see a starfish at the bottom. We think the starfish is ten feet down. But it is really a thousand feet down. The clear pond was deceptive. The muddy pond was the one we could trust. We couldn’t see more than ten feet — we didn’t know what was at the bottom of it.

And that was right!

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Rambunctious Designer of Masquerade Costumes

  1. His family went to a city bringing only a traditional facility for the construction of masquerade costumes.
  2. They found the city not to their liking and returned home on a motorized trireme.
  3. Their son remained and inherited only the traditional set of masquerade costume design skills.
  4. After designing a few costumes and trading them for shitake mushrooms, prawns, and cream of corn soup he received a commission to design a gryphon costume for the son of a prominent judge.
  5. Designing the costume required solving problems in his head. How to make the feathers of the eagle and the fur of the lion merge seamlessly, and how to make the costume simultaneously stylish, easy to walk in and to “breathe”.
  6. He sat in his room for thirty years solving these problems and nibbling upon the shitake which grew out of the earth.
  7. After thirty years he said Aha! And realized that the gryphon costume could not be simply an eagle-lion hybrid but must have an intermediate region which would take the form of a huge sardine with silver glistening scales.
  8. He added parrot feathers for accent and over-all “Fun”ness.
  9. He added an interface so the wings could really fly!
  10. He found that the child he designed the costume for no longer needed it as he had long since grown up into a prosperous attorney who lived in a Cape Cod style house and had three serious daughters who do not figure into this story beyond this very sentence.
  11. He donned the costume of the sardine gryphon himself and flew to the islands of Hyperborea where he took a manticoress for a wife.
  12. They roamed the islands from coast to coast!
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Turbid and Superfluous Lawyer Who Lived in an Abalone Shell in the Park

There was an extremely turbid and superfluous lawyer who was kicked out of his home by his father and mother who were both judges and went to live in an abandoned abalone shell in the park by the swingset. At first he could not stop crying, but he was a clever young man and put this to good use by crying during his legal depositions which turned the hearts of the young lady judges in his favor and they awarded him and his clients seven hundred and seventy and three pots of jam made from a fruit that had gone extinct the previous year and therefore was quite valuable. He retired into the egg chamber of an ant colony deep below the city and devoted himself to composing epic poetry using only eight letters of the alphabet and this poetry was so beautiful and affecting and profound and melodious that the people in the neighborhood elected to give him a cup of tea every afternoon of the first day of every third month until they forgot which they did immediately.

When he was very, very old and his skin had the taste and consistency of fruit leather the young people gathered round and said “why don’t you use the other letters” and he replied

You know, I really should!

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Writing Science Fiction About the Far Future

If you want to predict what life will be like one hundred years from now, one way to do it is to look to what life was like a hundred years ago, because it gives you a sense of what historical patterns are enduring.  So, a hundred years from now would somebody be more likely to ride a 2018 Volvo or a horse?  Clearly a horse.  Would somebody be more likely to talk to a friend using a cell phone or face to face?  Face to face.  The volvo and the cellphone are both historical flashes in the pan.

How will people think and act thousands of years from now?  Will they care about their stock portfolios or that their children get into good schools?  The best guide to how they will think is to look at writings from thousands of years ago — the Bible. Greek Tragedy.  The epic of Gilgamesh.  Thousands of years from now humans or post-humans will most likely be motivated by love and revenge, and the attempt to propitiate those forces they don’t understand through prayer and magic.

But what will those beings be, billions of years from now?  The best guide is to look at what we were like billions of years ago, what our stories were then.    We were bacteria.  But do bacteria have stories?

Of course they do.  Our bodies are made of eukaryotic cells to be sure, but within the cells the bacteria are telling their stories in the form of mitochondria.  It is a story called the electron transfer chain.  Put simply this creates a gradient across a membrane and then does work by exploiting the flow of energy across that gradient.

Leaving the home.  Crossing the border.  Encountering the strange and getting the work of life done which is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.

This is the story the mitochondria have been telling in every one of our cells as long as we had cells which is as long as we are, and this will have to be the story of any science fiction story set billions of years in the future, if it is not to run the risky of mistaking the faddish for the fundamental.

“It’s still the same old story/A quest for love and glory”.  The mitochondria would agree because they want the same thing, although they use different words to describe it. The mitochondrion’s word for glory is continuing its electron transfer chain into the future.  Its word for love is symbiosis with the eukaryotic cell.

The mitochondrion wants one more thing which every living thing wants, although per force from bacteria to baboon to human to post-human we differ in our abilities to gratify want.  That third want, after sex and survival, is to express itself in logical and entertaining prose.

 

 

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New Kinds of Music

The music of insects with human minds but an insect sense of rhythm, and the reverse.

Music where the measure is billions of years long.

Music where the measure is shorter than the shortest period of time the brain can perceive.

Music of different varieties of silence, composed entirely of rests. The rest of anxiety versus the rest of repose, the rest after the cessation of a drum versus the rest in anticipation of a trumpet.

Music which spans an entire life time the first note being the baby’s howl the last the old man’s sigh.

The music of light, of touch, of smell.

Music from languages whose meaning derived entirely from music, the songs therein being a counterpoint of meaning against meaning. Music in contrast which is entirely free of pitch, whose melody derives from the rough texture of words when their literal meaning is subtracted.

The song of emotions not yet felt.

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