American Shithole #25 — Can the Dying Mule Become the Butterfly?
By Eric Wilson
Author's Note: This is an excerpt from a piece written a few weeks after the November 2016 election as a response to what we had just witnessed. Almost two years later, it serves as a reminder for when I stumble.
Every morning I wake up as if from a system crash. Does not compute. That’s the blinking message inside my forehead. Does not compute.
My sense of humor took a boot to the sack, and it’s still doubled over, hiding somewhere within the frothy mist of my shock and disbelief — an atmospheric condition, which hangs over me now like a dark cloud, fogging up my lenses, and making everything seem a bit more drab and London gray. Not unlike fear.
I apologize that there will be fewer clever witticisms for a spell, my dear reader, because right now the comedy bank is a lonely place, full of echoes. You could hear a faucet drip in here, or a pin drop.
A recent piece by Patton Oswalt really hit home for me, regarding comedy and the alt-right. Conservative authoritarians are very punitive in nature, and they neither understand, nor appreciate humor. In fact, they deeply envy and resent it. Want to get a laugh out of a republican? Tell a joke about people suffering — they’ll laugh so hard, they’ll cover your face with the spittle of their indifference.
So my sense of humor is going to take a bit of a nap now, but it’s not all grim and reaper up in my business, dear reader, and I am not here to discuss comedy, so on to my (mostly) humorless observations about the human condition.
We are still in the age of clutching things.
We humans like to clutch. Our belongings, our pearls. Our ideas. Our instincts to gather and protect were selected long ago — so the idea that resource collecting is at the heart of our concerns today, is a tough pickle to swallow, compounded by the behavior’s hidden influence on all other human doctrine.
What was once a necessary, primal survival skill, is now a stumbling block. It’s a fifth fucking wheel. Or a load of useless rocks we carry around. If the physical weight of all the meaningless crap we manufacture and collect were perceived existentially — as the dead weight that it actually is — we would put it down, and leave most of it behind. Probably a bit slack-jawed from revelation, and feeling a bit ashamed, I imagine.
Our social programming runs deeper. Not much perhaps, but our social wiring helped shape our survival behavior, and our tribal nature. Tribalism runs deep. Mariana Trench deep. Tribalism (read nationalism) is also at the heart of nearly every serious concern we currently have. Again, the way humanity is wired at this moment, is very nearly the same way we’ve been wired for millennium. We could handle our tribalism two thousand years ago, back when we were still killing each other with fucking spears.
If we could see our larger tribes for the prisons they have become, we would surely open them all, and leave the memories of most of them behind. There is nothingness in their meaning. They are the ripples of lines drawn in the dirt and sand long ago. Ghosts in the machine. Smaller tribes have their positives — but seriously, your elk lodge, your sports organization, your book club, your religion, your white nationalist hate group, all about as important in the grand scheme of things, as a fucking primitive Korawai sago ritual.
Running beneath tribalism and counter-productive societal architecture, is fear. As important once to our survival as it is now a cankerous detriment. I soapbox about fear more than anything else, because I am intimately familiar with it. We all are to some extent. But when you experience something so viscerally for so long, and are nearly destroyed by it, you become aware of its presence in others on an almost preternatural level. Once you get past it yourself.
Like many, I sense fear in people, even when they are no longer capable of recognizing it themselves; they’ve buried it too deep. That is what we humans typically do with fear. We hide it inside. Behind other things. Many things. And we have been hiding it this way for a very long time.
So, after looking around for 50 years, I see we have some serious problems, as any sane person would attest. Some of the same problems we’ve always had, with a few new additions. Eight hundred million humans want for sustenance every day. Seven hundred and fifty million humans lack adequate access to clean water, decent housing, education, and medical attention. Thousands of people are murdered every day. War, pestilence, famine. Slavery still exists. Skin color is relevant. Women are still subordinate. We are killing the planet. Sexuality is demonized. Anti-intellectualism continues to thrive, even in the wake of historical events like the Dark Ages for fuck’s sake.
And yet, here we still are, creating an awful lot of beauty somehow, amid all this mess.
We've done the best we could with what we had to work with, and now we need to change fundamental aspects of our flawed human nature. It all boils down to tribalism, greed, fear, and the stupid game of coin swap we play that facilitates all three. We are also hard-wired to make connections — any connections — and this coupled with these negative, primal influences has been a recipe for disastrous ideas. From flat-earthers to climate change deniers, it is a world of stupid out there. And that is what we have experienced mostly for several thousand years. A disastrous slog out of the Ice Age, all the way to our disastrous slog through the Information Age. We need to recognize that aspects of our nature, and the rules that we are playing by, no longer mesh. Scratch that, they never meshed.
Let me shift gears.
If we think of humanity as a series of directives and algorithms, an existence comprised of code, mathematics and data — not an unreasonable analogy these days — it’s remarkable the operating system boots at all. Much less, runs any useful applications. Yet here we are, and we are interesting! We are curious and creative, and we can be courageous and compassionate. We unfortunately have some serious core programming issues that also make us loud and terrifying. Always overheating and making noise like some dusty laptop trying to push graphics or crunch big data. We load gay marriage, and the heat sink melts.
We could just build a new laptop.
Anti-intellectualism continues to thrive, even in the wake of historical events like the Dark Ages for fuck’s sake.
In a way, our stories were already written. The major arcs anyway. Nothing would have prevented our warlike past. And if all the world is a stage, our suffering was always in the script. Let’s rewrite the script.
“What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”
If you are expecting, dear reader, that I would humbly offer no solutions for our dilemma, this will not be that day. I do have an answer.
Change the root programming.
We are always changing the programming, really. We tweak and adjust on a surface level, across all platforms in millions of ways. We change laws, we create treaties, we adjust individually, in groups, and as a whole. It hasn’t been enough. I think we need to actively hack our core attributes. Likely sooner than later. We need to game the system, because right now, we are all getting played. Even the ridiculous few who think they are profiting from all of this unnecessary sadness and misery. All of this madness.
“But, following this binary systems analogy, isn’t messing around in the root directories dangerous, Willis?”
Yeah, if you don’t know what you are doing. So, yes. And strop calling me Willis. I can’t see how radically changing the fundamental human neural network and behavioral processes would be anything but dangerous. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” or so some Greek hypocrite once said.
I am getting ahead of myself. First off, we are doing this already. A discussion for perhaps another time, but we already have our hands all over our collective functions. Even so, before we decide to radically game the system, we need to decide what we hope to achieve.
“What should we be aiming for?”
Because it would seem that we all want something different. Through any lens, with any focus, or considering any context, this is true. Bar indoctrinated self-destructive insanity though, or just ass-stubborn stupidity, we do want the same things, in general. We typically share the common interests of family, cross-culturally. We all want to be loved. We all want respect. We all come into this world helpless, like all mammals, and require nurturing, and we all come from communities that concern themselves with the care and safety of children.
I think given the right illumination, and persuasion rooted in empathy, we would collectively be agreeable to much more. For example, here are a few of my dreams for humanity:
I want to be a member of a species where everyone is a doctor.
What I mean is, I want to be a member of a species that has freed itself from the bondage of ignorance, loosely held in place by our legacy of greed and fear. We are capable as a species to become all manner of things. We are completely malleable. One of our greatest, and unfortunately most often abused attributes. The only thing that separates us is opportunity. Given the opportunity, bar mental handicap, any human can become a doctor — and so much more. Given the opportunity, every human could find their purpose and excel. Well, I want to live in a reality where we all share that opportunity.
I want to be a member of a species where everyone creates to the best of their ability.
What I mean is, I want to be a member of a species that has released itself from the servitude to the almighty currency. One where the emphasis is always on making it better, instead of making it cheaper. One that traffics in integrity and ingenuity, instead of the bottom lines and profit margin. I want to be a member of a species that has survived the shackles of free market-driven capitalism run amok, and voyeuristic consumerism that, in the grand scheme of social architecture, feels more like sloppy blow-job porn than an endeavor of cultural sophistication. It is as if we collectively turned humanity’s gluttony amp up to 11, and we can no longer hear anything else.
I want to be a member of a species that doesn’t fear the unknown.
What I mean is, I want to be a member of a species that has revealed fear for what it is — a dark, obscuring cloud that settles on our minds, often introduced with malicious intent. Fear provides the darkness where evil is allowed to fester and loom. I want to be a member of a species that has shed light into every dark corner, where there is no longer providence lurking in the shadows, and nothing is left to behold but the truth.
Which is probably going to get pretty boring, but I still think we should give it a shot, you know, after the religious zealots grow tired of killing everybody wearing different hats. Scratch that. We have a whole universe to explore, and there is nothing boring about that. Given the right presentation, with kindness, I think most would be agreeable to such things.
I want to be a member of a species that has freed itself from the bondage of ignorance.
So you needn’t accept a reality where you are dumber than you should be. (Every damn one of us is far dumber than we should be.) One where you’re probably stuck selling some cheap crap to other people that sell you cheap crap. (Just about everyone has to sell cheap crap, or make their great crap cheaper, or make their crap appear like it isn’t cheap crap, or lube up some cheap crap every day, or…) Or one where you are probably afraid of others — whether others be people or ideas. (Fear is the mind-killer, so sayeth the Bene Gesserit.)
One where you are living a life best forgotten.
This is, however, what we have, and it was determined for us throughout our brief history, in large part, by forces that were beyond our control. Our nature is very predictable however, given the scant number of dominating factors influencing our behavior, and we were until very recently, powerless to change and manipulate these forces in a fundamental, meaningful way. Instead, we have done the best we could, changing the things we could, challenging injustices on a surface level, traveling the only avenues for what seemed to be substantive reform that we had.
I believe we face dangers today that cannot be mitigated via the ways in which we have course corrected in the past. Not with war, or budget restructuring, or big name gala benefits. Not with new laws, or social movements, or any other programming that runs on the surface. These are necessary endeavors, even war, and they have carried us this far — buckling under the weight of our outdated operating system each step of the way.
No amount of surface level damage handling is going to fix how we fundamentally treat each other and our world. No amount of surface code restructuring will make enough of a difference in the time we have left before one of us makes a mistake that none of us can fix. It’s unlikely to be the actions of one individual that ends humanity, but it behooves all of us to understand, that we live in an age where that is possible. It is more likely our collective mishandling of our ecology will be our downfall, and we all had a hand in that.
We need to change our core programming.
I am not talking about actually hacking the human BIOS equivalent medically — not yet. Although we already do that to some extent. I am suggesting we shift our attention to the root of our problems. We cannot focus all our efforts applying bandages to every open wound, if we are just going to keep doing this to ourselves. Although some manner of triage is necessary, both as a continuous gesture of human empathy, and a foundation against societal collapse. We must address the cause of our woe at the source.
“Well how the hell do we do that, smartypants?”
Here is where I humbly confess that I have no idea, other than to focus our attention toward identifying the core aspects of humanity that are problematic, that are creating systemic suffering, and channeling our energy and resources to rectify the problem. Just because we are this way, does not mean we have to stay this way. That used to be the case, but it is no longer so. Humans have always had some say in their evolutionary path, and now we are at the beginning of an age where we will soon have every say in the matter. If we have the courage to take the leap. It is exciting, and these are exciting, dangerous times.
And if you are one of the people, not-so-dear reader, that has had a look around this life, and has decided to accept these feeble conditions and stand divided, if you’ve decided to cower behind national barriers, or racial barriers, or religious barriers, and blanket yourself with comforting beliefs that encourage the stagnation of the human mind — then I say to you, one way or another, your time has come. Either your fear, stupidity and greed will destroy us all, or you will be forgotten. A relic of who we once were. Either way, you are on the wrong side of things, you have always been on the wrong side of things, and I am going to keep banging my drums about that until you feel the rhythm, baby.
I imagine that only after we have gone too far in our hurting of each other, will we entertain actually hacking the system. And by then, it may be too late. It is a bold move for a species to reinvent itself. I hope we have the stones. Perhaps, if our survival is on the line, this is already in motion. We can’t take anything for granted. Species survival is not a given, and everything we have experienced to date, has come with a steaming horse load full of suffering every fucking step of the way. Our fate has hung in the balance too many times already. All the while, fearful, ignorant people have written a litany of human misery that stretches back beyond imagination.
We need to weigh these matters, weigh our failure, and entertain ideas born of philosophical mettle, critical thought, and the crucible of scientific method.
As to where I stand on the current state of affairs in America, and what I believe to be the inevitable assault on the inalienable rights of every human, I have considered the option of an impassioned plea to the majority of conservative Americans that are not horrible people, that they voice their concerns when they come to the understanding that this upcoming American administration is not what they stand for, and I have considered these pleas to be a complete waste of my time — but for decency’s sake, it’s still the right thing to do, so for my friends who think otherwise, I will try.
And as for those ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic assholes that laughably jumped for joy — probably barefoot on top of their lousy dirt piles — jumped for fucking joy, when this traveling carnival barker, slash nightmare weaver, slash golden toilet salesman, along with his soul-hungry band of crypt ghouls, swamp hags and other foul demons of the netherworld, fucking grifted the motherfucking American presidency!?
Well, they can expect nothing but my eternal, foul-mouthed, disdain, and I will voice my defiance to their petty cruelties, their fearful whispers, their hateful rhetoric and tiny minds with a motherfucking hurricane force Viking battle cry, every, single, fucking, day, that con man and his company of charlatans are in office — which I hope grates like screeching harpy nails on their unused history class chalkboards.
Like the wail o’ the banshee... my song brings death!
Or an upset stomach. I can give staunch conservatives the belly aches from time to time. Maybe a rash. Minor rectal chaffing. A person could die from these things if left unattended. You do what you can. Speaking of rectal chaffing, I am assuming if you made it this far, that you did not read this in the bathroom. If I am incorrect, you know, get that checked out while we still have semi-affordable healthcare.
In closing, since I have clearly digressed, I really miss the days when my enemies were still respectable. I miss those guys, by the way. The reasonable conservatives. They would vote for a Bush or a Reagan, but never this. I thought there were more of you out there. I liked you, by the way. I respected your opinions, even though they differed from mine. This though. There is no forgiveness for something like this. Even if you were duped, you own this shit show forever, and I will never let you forget it.
A final note on species change, dear reader, if you haven’t yet subdued to another siren’s song. Perhaps this is the ultimate challenge that all intelligent species face in the universe. I feel we’re a bit like a dying mule, lost in the desert. Humanity needs to soar, and yet we can't even drag ourselves to water. Can the dying mule become the butterfly? If survival depends on species transformation beyond recognition, the sands of evolutionary time and the silent universe, suggests not.