‘Only one thing astonishes me more than the stupidity with which most people live their lives, and that’s the intelligence of this stupidity.”
It’s the second day of the tenth month of the second millennium (and thirteenth year) since Time Zero (AD) and this pudding of a calendar year is rapidly going off. For humans a year is like “oh my god, it’s been like a year!!!” and our bodies age, our careers careen and our graves siren ever louder and grimmer. But let’s face it, the concept of time is a meaningless construct. It feels like ‘only yesterday’ I celebrated last christmas (in cold Chicago) and New Year a week later (in warm California) but I’m hard pressed to name all the exciting things that have happened to me since (a new MacBook, does that count?).
To spend a year on Earth is to spend one month on Jupiter and two days on Neptune and while in my imagination I see galaxies where a ‘lifetime’ is forever and where the dazzling luminary that colours the sky never dims; yet this dreamland is odious to me for I am married ’til death do us part to an evolutionary body that can’t deal with the concept of not sleeping. A place where eyes remain wide open? Oh no. It is good to sleep – in fact I am quite looking forward to a few days hence when I can (and shall) poop for twelve hours in one swoop. Yes, I know Solomon in his famous proverbs was quite severe on sluggards but what did he know of resting tired bones, he being a king and all? If I had three hundred concubines on top of seven hundred wives I think I could also find the energy to stay awake for some extra jiggy jiggy.
The obverse of sleep is not wakefulness but death: when the lights go out and life can go fuck itself. If I’m honest my life is pretty banal most days and so are the lives of the legions that I see boldly rushing to jobs that pay just enough (except for those in the top 2% who are granted the luxury of working from home or from the golf course when they feel like it). Our whole existence is aimed at just that: existing. We don’t get to ride a sunbeam at lightspeed. We don’t get to camp a night on Mars or the dark side of the moon. We don’t get to traverse black holes and live to retell the tale. The closest we get to magic is when babies are born or we come up close to animals we’ve only seen on TV or in books. Or when we dream.
Banality is the one certain bane of mankind. And each year we are weighed down more and more by the banality of life trying well-tested tricks for fun: from class A drugs to X-rated sex; from reality TV to absent-mindedly surfing the net. [Actually reading good books is pretty cool; and so is good music; and high quality theatre; and of course intelligent conversation and long rambunctious dinners with good friends settled with excellent wine – gosh there’s a growing list of things that make living worthwhile].
I feel somewhat like those poor souls sent to training courses only to return to the office to continue doing what they always did (and expecting different results) and I shall wake up tomorrow morning with a rotten sense of how much of my time, tomorrow, will be spent doing things that are … trifles, all in the name of a job that looked like a truffle when I started. Unlike Fernando Pessoa whose words I quoted above, it’s not stupidity that I marvel at; what astonishes me more than the banality with which most people live their lives is the intelligence of this banality.
Oh, what a frightful embarrassment that moment you realise that the “Hello” you just hello-ed back wasn’t meant for you but for the person behind you. And there you were thinking Gosh such a good-looking person is accosting me on the street, Lord what a lucky so-and-so I am. Obviously you couldn’t see behind you the good-looking friend of the good-looking accoster since evolution hadn’t thought it necessary to put eyes in the backs of our heads. Two eyes in front are good but, at least, one more at the back could save us a lot of bright florid blushes.
I like to think of evolution as beyond God. You see, according to the Holy Books, God made us in His own image so I presume naturally that God has two eyes, both facing forward. I’m not exactly sure why God would need eyes at all since He knows everything everywhere at every instant and eyes are for those who need to see what’s going on in front and perhaps a bit to the sides. Perhaps a modern St Aquinas can help us here. But for humans, having only front facing eyes leaves us with a number of problems that we don’t need and that evolution could have helped with.
For instance without eyes at the back of our heads we can’t see if someone is approaching our head from behind with a machete in hand. It is a well known phenomenon that a head meeting a machete disadvantages only one of the combatants and it’s always the same one.
Another difficulty, though one less fatal, is that we can’t tell who’s sniggering behind our backs. We all know how it is with our fellow humans, some of us do it too, who hail Welcome to ‘friends’ and ‘comrades’ and can’t wait to plunge into an animated debate over the price of bread or oil or the cost of sending children to school or about the new war in the Middle East. But as soon as you turn your back the flock of previously rounded noses behind you assume the shapes of wrinkly mushrooms, eyes are rolling around like balls on lottery night and mouths start salivating with gossip. How many of our young people have been driven to suicide by not being able to see the sniggering rascals and at least have the opportunity to tell friends from frenemies?
The other vexing issue is that if you know that a really good looking woman (or man) is walking right behind you and they previously caught your eye (and not necessarily the other way round) you won’t know if they are admiring your ass or simply casting around for a good price in the sale windows or enjoying the flowers in someone’s front porch. You could spend a lot of wasted time and energy swaying your hips in the most embarrassing and suggestive fashion.