Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Short Term Memory

     I just moved to a new house this past weekend. It's a lot closer to work, which was the major attraction for my wife and me. In fact, commute time was one of the prime impetuses for moving in the first place.
     So in order to take advantage of this (and because I am now house-rich and cash-poor), I went home for lunch yesterday. And as I was sitting in my recliner eating leftovers and watching TV, I heard a report on CNN that said the gas prices had dropped 6 whole cents over the past week. They then added the commentary that we shouldn't expect to enjoy these "great low prices" for too long, since oil is poised to go up.
     Yesterday, according to atlantagasprices.com, the average gas price in Atlanta was $2.08 and the average gas price in the US was $2.22. Now, granted, this is a whole lot lower than in the aftermath of Katrina, when gas prices soared to $3.10. But that was only 5 months ago. Until April of 2005, US gas prices were nowhere near $2.22 a gallon. Three years ago, they were in the $1.50's.
     I understand the newscasters are adjusting to the new reality, and their greater point is that gas prices will only go up, an opinion I wholeheartedly agree with. However, to even suggest that we're experiencing low prices means that:
A) The newscasters really can't remember anything earlier than last September
B) The newscasters don't want you to think about the fact that you're now paying almost double for gas what you paid only a few years ago and throughout the 90's
C) Someone from the White House hypnotized the production staff of CNN to help get Americans to fell good about paying over $2 per gallon for gasoline*
D) All of the above

     Incidentally, it's this same short-term memory that causes Americans to forget that Iraq had no part in the 9/11 attacks, that Palestinians are not innocent bystanders in some Israeli tyranny, that oil shortages can cause real pain ala 1979 (although we're starting to remember that one). I know the media doesn't want to be seen as negative, especially since the Republican mouthpiece Fox accuses all other media as being anti-Bush. But Americans do quite well remembering good things and even deluding themselves into remembering bad things as good (1950's - otherwise know as Republican "good old days"). If the news is going to be complicit in asking us to forget, we're closer to 1984 than many people realize.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Human Animal

     Every so often, mostly when I'm feeling very comfortable with myself and my supposed role on the planet, I notice something that disturbs me a little. I work in a large office building, and people here are paid a lot of money to scurry around, moving paper from one stack to another, surfing the web trying to look busy, and generally enabling global commerce in the way that corporations do. It's all very important, and it's easy to lose yourself in the idea that you are a cog in a very large machine, single-mindedly focused on a task. Or the idea that you are a very important, modern cog, doing things that your ancestors 50, 100, 1000 years ago couldn't possibly be capable of. And then you leave your cubicle with its tchotchkes and its photos of your wife/husband/dog and you go to the bathroom.
     The bathroom. A room dedicated to fulfilling your biological needs (without making too much of a mess). There's no higher purpose to a bathroom. Sure, some women might use it to touch up their makeup at a restaurant or club, and some men might like to use it as a respite from everyday life, bringing with them the sports page or crossword puzzle. But it's hard to argue that if humans didn't need to expel biological waste from their bodies every few hours, these rooms would exist at all.
     How much of our other rooms are dedicated to our subservience to our bodies and not to our minds? Certainly our kitchens and dining rooms. If we weren't required to eat, if we didn't get hungry, we wouldn't devote that much of our homes (much less our time) to eating. And of course our bedrooms. We spend more time there dead to the world than anywhere else in the house. So what would be left? Living rooms, family rooms, dens, playrooms... A very small portion of most of our homes.
     So how different are we really from our cave-dwelling ancestors? We have more comfortable caves, but to assume we're physically superior is probably delusional. If we still have to sleep and eat and defecate, if we still get sick and old, could our minds be that much improved? For that matter, how much are we different from other animals that sleep and eat and defecate, get sick and get old? Chimpanzees, dogs, elephants, water buffalo... It's a disturbing concept, at least to me. We're just a few creature comforts removed from cavemen. And it's not like most of us have any clue how to procure these things beyond running to Ikea in our Lexus SUV's. If the electricity we out tomorrow and stayed out for good, if gasoline and natural gas went away (which they would without electricity to produce and distribute), how long would it be before our civilization reverted 150 years or more? I say more, because with our current population of 6.5 billion people, a 4-fold increase over the population in 1900, we couldn't possibly feed everyone with 19th century technology.
     That's beyond the point, of course. Doomsday scenarios are fun to read about or watch, in a scary sort of way. There's a whole genre of apocalyptic fiction, from The Matrix to Planet of the Apes to Waterworld. But I prefer to focus on the future. If we want to believe we're better than humans past, what have we done to be better? To remove our need to use the bathroom, to sleep, to die? Some people argue that these are things that make us human. But the Truth is, these are things that make us animal. Humanity, as most of us understand it, is in our brains. Any cockroach can defecate. Only humans are smart enough to do it in the bathroom and flush afterwards.
     Although personally, I find it incredible that we still do so.