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If we were something recognizably human and free for three million years, from noon till five minutes before midnight, so to speak, was there a decisive break with that utopian temporal mode?
The Golden Age: good times, so few memories. Agriculture is suggested most commonly as that decisive break. Crops on an annual rotation in a single location seem to be the kind of tether that’d lasso that footloose temporality, put a hitch in the giddy-up of its wanderlust. Between ten and forty thousand years back, if graffiti in old caves and newish books is any indication (Paul Shepard comes to mind), we seem to have dug in.
Despite the word, the sedentary life wouldn’t have meant people got lazy. Bodies might have morphed a bit from wolf lean to ploughshare strong. That’d be a lateral move, wouldn’t it? Admittedly I hear from my anthropologist friends that skeleton deposits indicate people tended to shrink as they took to agriculture and lost diversity in their food sources. Well, it still seems like it might not have been too bad a life. You’d still be in touch with a lot of natural rhythms. For my part, by contrast, I can feel my skeleton shrinking as I sit here with this damn computer.
So: staying in place. With nowhere to run you might want to accrue—shore up against the ruin. Going to need some containers to hold that extra. Get enough of you scratching away at the ground, knocking over trees, you might even get your micro-climate doing something unpredictable, even as your crop yields increase. Not hard to imagine seven fat years duking it out with seven lean. If that happens, you’re going to need more than a couple of extra pots. You’ll want not just storage, but a storage system, as Ikea says.
Stick with me. You’ll get the whole history of the world in a thousand words, and there’s a woman at the end of the tale or, if you read between the lines, more than one.
We’re up to storage systems already. Systems, ugh. We know where this is leading, as Jesus said to himself sitting on his ass on Palm Sunday. Seems like a good idea at the time and all. Invoke systems and you’ve invoked the triad that’s going to fuck us fifty ways to Sunday: counting guy, guarding guy, blessing guy. Am I right or am I right? In the logic of the tale, if not literally in every proto-sedentary culture, the bureaucrat is sitting there at the end of the row with his stylus quick-draw-McGraw’d, his pen not quite yet a sword—still friendly. Now doesn’t that rectilinear row of corn already look a bit like a line in a papyrus? And doesn’t the glint in the eye of the bureaucrat anticipate the musket flash of Cortés or of [name that imperial tune]?
Weed and reap leads to read and weep.
For a thousand years you might’ve had a few marks on your pots, beauty marks tending to counting marks. So far so good. But when your lines of corn go off to the bureaucrat, and these are bundled and aggregated, Bureau Man’s going to give you a compensatory line: writing. Oh-oh. What if our real break with the long ages of human life lived sustainably with the planet came less with agriculture per se than with writing?
Here’s the essential fact about writing: writing is death. Writing by definition works only if you’re not there. If you, the writer, and your own writing are in the same place, for example, the writing cedes to you, to your presence. To be writing, it has to work in the absence of the writer. And the most absent you can be—the most writerly—is dead. Every signature is a death warrant, every line of writing a danse macabre. Even our grocery lists can outlive us. In that sense the soldier enlisted to protect the central storage container or to protect the leader or to protect the walls of Maize City merely confirms the prophecy inherent in the conversion of the line of corn into a line of type. And as urban systems become more subtle, potentates (Bureau Man plus Soldier) come to understand that there is no sense forcing people to do subservient things when you can get them to want to do subservient things for themselves. Enter the priestly class.
We misunderstand the power of the priest if we think that, in our era, his primary function is in quasi-defunct religious ritual. Far from being an old fogy, the priest can always be found on the cutting edge of power, inciting people to imagine that they are doing what they want when they beg for more subjugation. Political public relations women and men are today the most obvious purveyors of such “freedom,” but schools, magazines that offer mild critiques of the government, and parents who urge their children to beg for more democracy are all examples of successful priestly function.
Food, shelter, and curiosity have been the only components of a life worth living for millions of years, and there is not a single thing worth doing that a leader can do better than we can do for ourselves in small communities, hori-hori knives in hand, tightly connected to watersheds. Yet our society offers the astonishing spectacle of internalized priestly function: people begging for more leaders, more democracy. Beggars.
Democracies always arise in slave nations and their allies because democracy is writing, a note sent elsewhere by someone determined to be a slave or to enslave others. It’s constitutional. Democratists enslave others because they are themselves slaves who lavish the slavish upon themselves and the world. Progressives who have seen the evidence against Murder, Inc., the “Canadian” leaderville, piled and compiled to infinity (how many more mining adventures or collusions with “Americans” or filthy lakes or bodies of children in Afghanistan or cancer victims would increase infinity?) and who know with one part of their brain that Murder, Inc. is not something they should ever, ever have anything to do with, that they should fight it rather than collude with it, will nevertheless go bah bah-ing into the fold next Monday. This isn’t a thought process. It’s an instinct, something that you do from the back of your head. And though I’ve never been in a voting booth, I’ve seen how it works. It’s writing, which is to say, killing at a distance. Fortunately voter turnout in the West has been dropping for decades as people come to see through the priestly PR bullshit. The future is with us. More than three billion of us don’t vote, and most of those who do hold their nose doing it. The apologists for democracy are powerful but rearguard in stance. Good people everywhere will be more and more likely to shove unpleasant truths up their guarded rears as the century advances.
Here in the nation of Nada, where we live amidst the glacial till, or perhaps are the glacial till, ground under that Ca-Nada, our faces shoved into the dirt by the occupying power, our lake filthed up by the Don, the Gift River, a gift of Ca-Nada, leftists harp, harp, harp about the monster at the controls of the machine, and assure us that we should work to get someone better at the controls of the murder process. This reminds me of my leftist academic friends here in various Latin American studies departments who’ve had a soft spot and a hard-on for all these leftists at the controls of the machine in South America. That wonderful Lula, for example, with his distended, tumescent member, tip dripping, yearning, yearning on behalf of his south-central corporate buddies for the last bits of rain forest and free rivers, his Growth Acceleration Program vying with Nippon-GE nuclear nutter pacts for most insane dart game on the planet. [Longtime readers will recognize my strategy of burying the good bits, like re-membering Lula, near the end of my articles, to keep the just-browsing folks from knowing what’s going on.]
At seawalk-the-ungoogleable, the environmental disorganization, we try to spell c-wok erratically. It’s still writing, still that sad dirge, but at least it makes sense best as speech, face to face. CP sympathizer Jeff was over here the other night with a bottle of Dan Jackals, for example, and my, didn’t we talk. Wasn’t it Jeff who offered the stylized Ojibway spelling, seehwahk, by the way, now destined to become the name of my canoe? Jhehf. At cwaulk and similar nodes in the three-billion-strong nonvote cosmos we have other direct strategies as well, even for the Lulas of the world, but they’re not fit to print. The fact is, if you can print your leftist strategies, they’re probably not very leftist.
Remember the old parable about writing, where a writer says to a non-reader, take this note to that other writer in that far country? And the note says, “kill the bearer.” Well, at c-waulk, we want people to live, and love.
This much and more I said, in any case, to a woman, a friend of mine, as we strolled through Chinatown yesterday. I bent my head close to hers to catch her responses. Her accent, the lift and spread of her cheekbones, her dark hair, well, these were what they were, and I am what I am. She spoke to me of the people of her “tribe” (her word) as if, dead these thousands of years, they still strode the sidewalks of Toronto. And indeed they did, and do. One had only to look around to feel and know this life and its inheritances.
She has told me that my face and my hair are at odds, that one is young and one is old, and she cannot tell my age. If she cannot, I will not. She’s off to Nanjing today, skywriting, and promises me local color, word sketches of the wall and trees of the city famous for both. Lines and swoops of electrons in the Latin alphabet will measure the distance of her not being here. Chinese men, she says, look old when young, and young when old. I look in the mirror and wonder if it is my face or my hair that bears the silver or seam of ancestral dignity, and in which lingers the vitality of youth. She will write. Even here, though, was she really here? Wasn’t I already writing her, even as I inclined myself towards her in the largest Chinatown in the world?
DAVID Ker THOMSON emancipated all world leaders on May 9, 2008. He lives in the city of T’onto, in the province of ’rio, in the country of Nada, in the hourglass continent, halfway between the planet’s equator and its northern pole. Murder, Inc., comes from, at the least, the Green Party’s desire to maintain Canada’s killing machine, underwritten by a massive military budget at what Matthew Behrens refers to as “historically high 2005 levels.” dave dot thomson at utoronto dot ca