Thursday, July 20, 2006

Gaia's Paradise

OTHERING. I've been fantasizing about paradise of late. Wouldn't it be great to go back to a simpler, more natural age, when men and women lived in harmony with the beauties of unspoiled nature, taking only what they needed without violence or war? Ancient Polynesia comes to mind... wreaths of flowers, gentle singing in time to the oarstrokes of an outrigger canoe, a life of peaceful ebbing and flowing with the tides of the Pacific and the cycles of the moon. Sadly, though, those days are likely gone forever.

Truth is, it's been a tough week or two for rapacious imperialist conservatives. There's been all that ugly warfare in Israel and Lebanon, with hundreds of civilian casualties. The violence is so shockingly extreme that even wise old Republicans like George Will, Pat Buchanan, and Lou Dobbs are finally wondering (here, here, and here) if the Bush administration hasn't gone too far in promoting democracy over good old-fashioned tyranny -- and in coddling the capitalistic Zionist entity against the much more popular aspirations of muslims. It makes you think that if we could stop being such partisan war mongers, we might find a way to negotiate with the new democratically elected Palestinian government, even if their rhetoric is occasionally excessive. You know what I mean. Doubt. Maybe we should just let them sort it all out for themselves, the natural way, and if there are more muslims than Jews, well, Israel was always a completely artificial western construct anyway.

On top of that, last week was also the debut of Tom Brokaw's definitive documentary about Global Warming. I watched quite a bit of it -- drawn in by the 150,000 promos the Discovery Channel ran, promising "just science, no politics" -- and I confess it was a sobering experience. In my prior ignorance, I had sort of believed the rumors that there were two sides to the issue, that while many scientists believed in Global Warming, a significant number of experts were still unpersuaded, and that even some of those who believed in Global Warming still doubted that human beings were the cause. But I was wrong. As a review in put it:

Brokaw relies largely on a handful of experts in the two- hour show, particularly NASA's James Hansen and Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer. Both support Brokaw's view of global warming and consider the scientific debate closed.

Brokaw scoffs at the notion that there are ``any remaining doubts humans are behind temperature rises,'' while Hansen says ``99.5 percent of scientists say we know what's going on.''

You'll find more dissent at a North Korean political rally than in this program...

In other words, there just isn't any more room for debate. Global Warming is coming, and it's going to get us if we don't start dismantling this vast technological capitalist machine we've created by raping poor Mother Earth with all our oil wells and such. I think what really drove the point home for me was the direct simplicity of the presentation. Brokaw didn't clutter up the screen with a lot of data. He showed us trees being cut down in the Amazon rainforest and told us all the trees would be gone soon. He showed us icebergs dissolving and told us they were all melting. He didn't waste time on specifics or qualifiers or even a lot of individual names. Time and again, he just said, "Scientists believe," "Scientists know," "Scientists predict." Thanks to Tom, it's all clear to me now.

All of it -- the mess we've made of the middle east, and of the whole planet -- is starting to make me ashamed to be a member of so-called advanced western civilization. I'm beginning to understand the emotions that are driving so many in the progressive camp. For the first time, I can empathize with the targets of pejorative quotes like this...

One of the big lessons of these last four years is that many, many beneficiaries of Western civilization loathe that civilization - and the media are generally inclined to blur the extent of that loathing... For example, two years ago, a young American lady, Rachel Corrie, was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza... "My Name Is Rachel Corrie," a play about her, was a huge hit in London... {T}he picture of Rachel on the cover of the Playbill shows her playing in the back yard, aged seven or so, wind in her hair, in a cute pink T-shirt...There's another photograph of Rachel Corrie - at a Palestinian protest, headscarved, her face contorted with hate and rage, torching the Stars and Stripes. Which is the real Rachel Corrie? The "schoolgirl idealist" caught up in the cycle of violence? Or the grown woman burning the flag of her own country? Well, that's your call. But, because that second photograph exists, we at least have a choice.

...and this...

Leftist extremists are feeling threatened.  Their campus strongholds are under attack by conservatives who refuse to concede culturally vital institutions to people who hate America, hate traditional religious values, and hate virtually all of Western civilization.

Well, why shouldn't Rachel Corrie burn the flag, and why shouldn't our most gifted intellectuals hate western civilization? Look at how much has been spoiled and destroyed and bombed and burned and shot and polluted. And almost all of it in the name of the Judeo-Christian God who, more than any other force in the history of mankind, separated men and women from nature and their humble harmony with the environment.

For all those who are feeling the way I am, there's a new book out called Before the Dawn. It's by scientists -- one from the University of Illinois and one from Harvard -- so you know it's right on the money. I have it on order, but the review I found has convinced me it's a keeper. For example, who can't identify with the accuracy of this characterization?

If a British officer meets a native -- African, Indian, whatever -- in any movie, play or novel of the last 30 years, the Englishman will be a sneering supercilious sadist and the native will be a dignified man of peace in perfect harmony with his environment in whose tribal language there is not even a word for "war" or "killing" or "weapons of mass destruction."

So true. And you can't help getting angry on their behalf for what's been done to them over the aeons. In fact, the only flaw in my little fantasy of paradise is that what I really feel like doing is killing all the bastards who ruined paradise in the first place. How about you? I thought so. That's why this book is such a must read. It turns out that there's actually room in paradise for both outrigger canoes and clobbering the bad guys:

Lawrence Keeley calculates that 87 per cent of primitive societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65 per cent of them were fighting continuously. "Had the same casualty rate been suffered by the population of the twentieth century," writes Wade, "its war deaths would have totaled two billion people." Two billion! In other words, we're the aberration: after 50,000 years of continuous human slaughter, you, me, Bush, Cheney, Blair, Harper, Rummy, Condi, we're the nancy-boy peacenik crowd. "The common impression that primitive peoples, by comparison, were peaceful and their occasional fighting of no serious consequence is incorrect. Warfare between pre-state societies was incessant, merciless, and conducted with the general purpose, often achieved, of annihilating the opponent."

Cool. So it's actually okay, and natural, to kick some western civilized ass. If you do a little googling, you can prove it to yourselves. Here's just a sample of what our noble forebears liked to do.

Indian (er, Native American) and Aztec warriors

Mongol and Zulu warriors

Pre-historic warriors

Pre-pre-historic warriors

If you're like me, you may be kicking yourself for not realizing that the warriors we've always seen depicted in ancient (and older) art really did know how to kill people with  great efficiency and in great numbers. It's probably just part of our western bias against the capabilities of simpler peoples, although the authors of Before the Dawn obviously have their own opinion:

Both Keeley and LeBlanc believe that for a variety of reasons anthropologists and their fellow archaeologists have seriously underreported the prevalence of warfare among primitive societies. . . . 'I realized that archaeologists of the postwar period had artificially "pacified the past" and shared a pervasive bias against the possibility of prehistoric warfare,' says Keeley.

I'm sure those archeologists didn't do it on purpose, though. It's probably more like the way the mass media doesn't like to show us images of 9/11 anymore -- because they think it would spoil the appetite of all those people who are having dinner in front of the evening news.

Dinner. That reminds me... The reviewer also offers us this tantalizing anecdote:

A couple of years back, I came across a column in The East African by Charles Onyango-Obbo musing on the return of cannibalism to the Dark Continent. Ugandan-backed rebels in the Congo (four million dead but, as they haven't found a way to pin it on Bush, nobody cares) had been making victims' relatives eat the body parts of their loved ones. You'll recall that, when Samuel Doe was toppled as Liberia's leader, he was served a last meal of his own ears. His killers kept his genitals for themselves, under the belief that if you eat a man's penis you acquire his powers. One swallow doesn't make a summer, of course, but I wonder sometimes if we're not heading toward a long night of re-primitivization.

Re-primitivization. Now there's an idea you can sink your teeth into. Is that maybe what all the Gaia worshippers and other neo-pagans are hoping for? The blessed state that will obtain when the nasty pollution of Christianity is finally cleaned up? No wonder they sympathize with the Islamic jihad. I'm starting to get it.

And speaking of sinking your teeth into something, the necklace shown in the graphic above not only comes from my beloved Polynesian paradise, but also consists of human teeth. With just a little more googling I was able to discover that in addition to all their breadfruit and coconuts and fruity drinks adorned with little umbrellas, the Polynesians universally enjoyed, like their African cousins, the taste of human flesh.

It was considered a great triumph among the Marquesans to eat the body of a dead man. They treated their captives with very great cruelty. They broke their legs to prevent them from attempting to escape before being eaten, but kept them alive so that they could brood over their impending fate.

Their arms were broken so that they could not retaliate in any way against their maltreatment. The Marquesans threw them on the ground and jumped on their chests, so that their ribs were broken and pierced their lungs, so that they could not even voice their protests against the cruelty to which they were submitted. Rough poles were thrust up through the natural orifices of their bodies and slowly turned in their intestines. Finally, when the hour had come for them to be prepared for the feast, they were spitted on long poles that entered between their legs and emerged from their mouths, and dragged thus at the stern of the war canoes to the place where the feast was to be held.

With this tribe, as with many others, the bodies of women were in great demand. Very often a man who was condemned to be killed and eaten could be visited by his relatives, always naked and painted black. There are records of cases where the relatives have volunteered to be killed and eaten in their stead, but it is probable that the bodies of these self-sacrificing individuals merely constituted an additional course when the time came.

You see, a culture where women really are valued as much or more highly than men, and not just as sex objects. Shows you how far we've fallen in the scheme of things.

Of course, it was the Christians, as usual, who spoiled everything and did their best to wipe out even the memory of the pre-existing culture. Thankfully, they didn't succeed completely. One of the surviving sources managed to preserve this, well, I guess you'd call it a recipe, by the same people who produced the lovely song you heard above:

The Hapai men returned with about fifteen prisoners. Some of the younger chiefs, who had contracted the Fiji habits, proposed to kill the prisoners and then roast and eat them. The proposal was readily agreed to: by some because they like this sort of diet, by others because they wanted to try it, thinking it manly and warlike to do so.

Some of the prisoners were soon dispatched. Their flesh was cut up into small portions, washed with sea-water, wrapped up in plantain-leaves, and roasted under hot stones. Two or three of them were also baked whole, the same as a pig.

The carcass was rubbed over with the juicy substance of the banana-tree, after which it was thrown for a few minutes on the fire. Then, when it was warm, it was scraped with mussel-shells or knives, and then washed. It was next laid on its back, when the cook cut open the throat and drew forth the windpipe and gullet, passed a skewer behind them, and tied a string tight round the latter, afterwards to be divided.

He then cut a circular portion from the belly, from four to six inches in diameter, and drew forth the entrails, separating the attachments either by force or by the use of bamboo. The diaphragm was then divided, and the gullet, windpipe, contents of the chest, stomach and liver, were all drawn away together, along with his bowels. From these, the liver was separated, to be baked with the carcass; the remainder was washed and cooked over hot embers, to be shared out and eaten in the meantime.

The whole inside of the carcass was next filled with hot stones, each wrapped in bread-fruit leaves, and all the apertures were closed up quickly, with plugs of leaves. The carcass was then laid, with the belly downwards, in a hole in the ground lined with hot stones, a fire having previously been made there for that purpose, but prevented from touching them by small branches of the bread-fruit tree. A few other branches were then laid across the back of the carcass, and plenty of banana-leaves strewn, or rather heaped, over the whole; upon which, again, a mound of earth was raised so that no steam could escape. The liver, as aforementioned, was first placed beside the carcass, and sometimes yams also. By these means, the carcass could very well be cooked in about half an hour...

Yum yum.

Now you may be wondering, how can we ever get back to our original blissful union with nature? One of the brighter spots of the week was a documentary I saw about the mysterious history of Easter Island, which enjoyed a long prosperity in isolation from the rest of Polynesia until they plunged into a state of constant warfare and cannibalism that reduced their population from a high of about 15,000 to a tenth of that. The producers presented it as an environmental parable, taking the position that too much statue-building (and more to the point, statue-moving) caused all the trees to be cut down, which led to famine, social collapse, and escalating violence. (They also blamed the Christians for finding them, which led to their little island showing up on maps that fell into the hands of Peruvian slavers, with the result that the 1,500 Easter Islanders ultimately dwindled to 150.) They wanted us to see Easter Island as a microcosm of earth, meaning that if we don't cut it out with the Global Warming and stuff, we could wind up just like them.

But for everyone who wants to get back to mankind's native state, it seems to me that there might be a different way to look at it. It's possible -- though this documentary assiduously omitted any hint of it -- that the Easter Islanders were practicing war and cannibalism throughout their history. But they didn't come into their own as true archetypal primitives until they -- forget how -- contrived to destroy their economic and social systems, which freed them up to be their natural, noble primitive selves.

So all we have to do to return to paradise is figure out how to collapse the entire world economy, and the good news is there are several promising ways to do that. We can stand aside and amuse ourselves talking about pacifism while the North Koreans and Iranians and Islamists  acquire nuclear weapons, because even the pacifists must suspect that they will use those nukes if they get them. Which will cause worldwide economic collapse and... Ta Dah. Or we can impose a bunch of international environmental regulations to slow down Global Warming that will finally cripple the runaway capitalist system, resulting in worldwide economic collapse, and... Ta Dah. Or we can take a wait-and-see attitude about Global Warming without crippling the capitalist system and hope that it eventually leads to massive environmental disaster, worldwide economic collapse, and... Ta Dah.

But the third alternative is really the weakest for our purposes. Two problems. Even if the scientists are right about Global Warming, we -- and maybe even our children and grandchildren -- could be in our graves before we reach Ta Dah unless we hurry the process along a bit. And if, by some incredibly remote chance, the scientists are actually wrong about Global Warming, we might never get to Ta Dah at all.

Wouldn't that be a bummer?

In the meantime, I guess we'd better keep hoping for nuclear war. Go Hezbollah.

We all really want the same thing, don't we?

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