Life flows like a wave, modulating, defined by peaks and valleys, progress, and atrophy. We are a race of people whose past is filled with the peace of solitude. We wandered, living off the kindness of the land. Drifting through an empty, silent expanse of openness. We had a shamanistic relationship with nature, we worshipped the trees that provided protection from the rain, the animals that gave us food and clothing. The sun and moon were all the proof we needed of the miraculous.
Over time our inventive impatience provided change, improvement, we could never be happy with what we have. It’s a curse of humanity. About 6,000 years ago man domesticated horses, drinking their milk, and climbing on top of them for transportation. Life got faster, more complicated. Time became a commodity. It stole the gentle nature of life. It bred impatience, intolerance. We just couldn’t wait any more.
For years we had to settle for the horse. It was the best we could do, we learned to use the strong, agile beasts as battle platforms. People tied wagons behind them to facilitate trade, bringing the far corners of the world closer together. Everything began to change. The world rotated a little faster.
Steam engines ushered in a new era. Mankind forgot about shamanism and found a new monotheistic secularism. Worship at the altar of machinery. It was all about progress and power, increased volume and speed was the answer, it didn’t matter what the question was. Sails gave way to boilers powered by coal. Horses gave way to iron rails. Nobody doubted it was the right thing. Everything became mechanical, unnatural, everything roared with fire and plodded forward with a rugged industrial age inefficiency.
Time was not enough, we needed profit. Mankind needed more. It was never enough. Gasoline, diesel, our gods were built in compression and spark. It drove the pistons up and down, turning wheels, pushing the limits, the future wasn’t coming fast enough. We had to chase it down.
Out of it all, we found our convenience but lost our soul. The faster we do things the more things we need to do. Everything is built on speed and power, torque (the measure of force that can cause an object to rotate around an axis) became our new idols, and we worshipped them.
In time we learned our habit was going to kill us. Our planet was getting warmer, the weather was becoming unstable. Storms crawled across stretches of the world, dropping inches of rain, unleashing floods, mudslides, devastation on a scale nobody had ever seen. It had been predicted, though. We had been warned. Just as we had been warned of the droughts, and heat waves, and the wildfires they cause. As early as fifty years ago, computer models were forecasting these results. We didn’t care, we were hooked. Don’t worry about the future, enjoy the present.
Gasoline powers our leisure time. Boats roar across the once placid surface of lakes, white waves of disruption trailing behind them. Sometimes towing skiers, or people gripping tightly to rubber tubes filled with air. Motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles scream up hills, over trails, smashing plants, leaving brown lifeless trails. All in the name of recreation. Noise and chaos, smiles, and thrills, stop for lunch and roar off into the afternoon.
Gas mowers are loud, they rattle, and shake, they produce greenhouse gases, and tear the lawn with an angry fury. In an oddly appropriate coincidence of language each turn of the blade is called a revolution. Engine vibrations travel up the handle and shake loose the underpinnings of character and rectitude. The fumes from the burning gasoline work their way into your lungs, permeate your blood stream, choking the flow of oxygen to your brain. It changes you, reduces your will to resist. Eventually you succumb to the madness. It doesn’t take long before we can find an excuse for almost anything. Now is all there is, the future and the past are figments of the imagination. Before long we’re stealing food from the neighbor’s refrigerator.
Mowing the lawn with a gas mower doesn’t really provide satisfaction. It tears the tops of the grass off with a criminal malevolence. It’s like drinking wine from a styrofoam cup. It’s still wine, but you can’t help thinking it should be better.
I use a push mower, so I can take the moral high ground. It has the pleasant sound of gentle precision, metal sliding over metal with exquisite tolerance. A gentle snip, like scissors. Every turn is called a rotation. But my weed trimmer is electric, and it’s a monster, and I just added a beast of a leaf blower, electric, and strong. I listen to music, or a book, on my iPhone while mowing, trimming, or blowing the clippings. I’m not without guilt. I’ve seen the photos of the destruction and havoc from the mining of rare earth minerals, and I’ve driven past the Cardinal Plant in Eastern Ohio, and seen the smoke billow from the tall chimney taking coal and producing electricity, and climate change. I can pat myself on the back all I want, but when we pay the old man for our last dance, I’ll have to pitch in.
Technology has replaced mechanics as our false idol. We carry it with us wherever we go, and it has caused our latest apostasy. Our pockets carry phones, our backpacks have laptops and tablets that connect us to the world, and we adore them. We talk about them, show them to our friends, wait breathlessly for the latest incarnation. Everywhere we go we can stay connected. An umbilical cord to everybody, everywhere. With the tap of a screen, and the press of a virtual button we can “go live” and share the smallest moments of our lives with everybody, everywhere. “Look at me. I’m doing something,” or more likely, “I’m watching somebody else doing something.”
A new trend has emerged, working remotely. It saves a person time, gasoline, and laundry, you can work in your pajamas. If you need to dress up you throw on a pair of gravy-stained sweats, fill your coffee cup with orange Hi-C and diluted vodka from the grocery store, and start your day. Reality is reduced to the area of your living room, expanding, occasionally into your kitchen. The ultimate expression of transportation success, going to work without going anywhere.
Nobody seems real, though. Everybody has been reduced to an ethereal being existing in another reality, a disembodied face, on a fictional background arriving over an internet connection. It’s a cut scene from Mad Max, if everybody in Mad Max spent all their time telling everybody they were “reaching out” to other distant survivors. Nothing is real, and nothing has any heft or meaning. their whole world has become an IP address. After a few weeks Judge Judy seems more substantial than your immediate supervisor.
Those of us who do “go to work” are faced with the despair of an empty building, our co-workers are represented by occasional emails. Ghosts from a pre-pandemic past, haunting our computer screens.
Last week, in the kitchen at work, there was a millipede crawling across a table. It was dying, I guess, it was hardly moving, so it was a safe bet that it was on its way out. I am the only one to use the kitchen and it wasn’t bothering me, so I left it alone. It wasn’t moving at all the next day, so I took a paper towel and pushed it off the table and under a chair. It was dead, I reasoned, and it made sense to let it Rest in Peace. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Nobody used the table or chair, so it could return to the dust from whence it had come. The next day, first thing in the morning, it was back on the table, still dead, I think. Maybe that’s where it belongs. I left it and looked away. I can just ignore it.
Things have become strange. Maybe they’ve always been strange, but it was too noisy to notice.
Life moves along, traffic through a snowstorm, it stops, lurches forward briefly, and slows to a crawl, before stopping again. We yearn for the next mile. If we could just get to the next off ramp, we would find a different way, we could make some time. But we don’t get off. We just assume things will work out. And maybe they will, maybe they always do, but we can never be sure, can we? There is something else coming, who knows what? We will love it; we won’t be able to live without it. I can’t wait.
This Post is republished on Medium.
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