Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land

    That’s the title of a 1961 sci-fi classic by Robert A. Heinlein. The protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith, loses his parents as a baby on Mars, and is raised by the all-wise Martians. As an adult, he comes to Earth and encounters human society for the first time. Concepts like jealousy, greed, and war are incomprehensible to him. I’ve felt that way for most of my life; different, alienated, not like other people. As my sunset years near, well, sunset, I’ve decided that I can no longer identify as a human being. I am a living spirit imprisoned in a human body. I’m not like the others. Allow me to explain how I reached this conclusion.
    When humans find a bee or spider in their home, their automatic reaction is to kill the creature, which has done them no harm. My first instinct is to catch it and put it outside, which is the best thing for both of us. I don’t want it here, and from the way it tries to escape through the window, it doesn’t want to be here either.
    People today seem so pre-occupied with themselves they’ve become unaware that their actions effect others. They just do whatever they want and who gives a shit. A boyfriend of one of the tenants here came over with a bunch of power tools and did a major trim on the yard; weeds, branches, limbs, and just chucked the whole mess — and there was enough mess to make a big tree — right into the neighbor’s back yard. He didn’t bother to even ask! Granted, the back yard was overgrown with weeds, but still, don’t even ask? Who does that? To be fair, he did mention he was going to bring a truck to take everything away. A month later I helped another guy, who did most of the work, take care of it by borrowing several other neighbors’ yard waste cans. What the hell is wrong with people anymore? I’m hoping this epidemic of selfishness is confined mainly to idiot Americans, but who knows? Perhaps the Earth has been invaded by sociopathic aliens. In the old movies like “Invaders From Mars” and “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers” those who had been compromised appeared just like the people we knew, but somehow different. They were without emotions of any kind, but otherwise passed as humans. The fact that they never, ever smiled should have been a dead giveaway, but nobody picked up on it.
    I will never understand how seemingly everyone can spend all their waking hours peering into their hand-held devices, texting, or streaming videos. How do they get any work done? Why would any sane person spend their life looking around at an immense pile of garbage? That’s what I consider the internet — a vast wasteland. About half the web searches are for porn, and the other half are cat videos. I recognize that computers can be useful for research, but I use the same philosophy as when I go shopping. I have a list, I go in and get what I need, then get the hell out. I have better things to do.
    Humans seem to have a boundless capacity for messing with one another. It’s impossible for them to leave each other alone. Leaving others alone is my prime directive, and I not only expect the same courtesy from others, I demand it. They don’t though; I guess they just can’t help themselves. Maybe that’s why Sartre said that hell is other people. Years ago I read Mark Twain’s piece, “The Damned Human Race,” and from what I’ve observed over my lifetime, I have to agree with him. If he could see what’s become of it in the hundred years since his death, I suspect he’d think he went much too lightly.
    I heard a report recently from the WHO, the World Health Organization. It said that due to all the wars and conflicts occurring around the globe, approximately 59 million people have been displaced from their homes, if not their native countries. We’ve never seen numbers like this before, but then we have more psychopathic humans than ever, too. The narrative we were all taught from our history books is that mankind continues to evolve, along with societies and civilization. This basically white European ethnocentric view preaches that primitive cultures were all ignorant and violent savages. We saw it from Hollywood too, where the great white hunter teaches the poor indigenous tribe — who has lived in and interacted with their environment for thousands of years — how things work in the jungle. Then we saw it again in “Dances With Wolves.” Thank goodness that white guy found the buffalo. The Indians could never have done it.
    Experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker wrote a book called The Better Angels of Our Nature, confirming this ethnocentric view. He claims humanity is less cruel and violent, and more peaceful than we used to be. He says that since 1945 we have entered “the long peace” and that since the end of the cold war, an even better “new peace.” I can think of at least 59 million people who might be inclined to disagree. I shouldn’t judge his book without reading it, but I saw a two hour interview with him on CSPAN, wherein he admitted he had accepted much of the statistics and histories of pre-industrial societies pretty much unquestioningly, so I’m a little suspicious of his scholarship.
    The human race, as a whole, has little but contempt for the natural world, thinking itself above and apart from it. That’s called hubris or just plain arrogance, and it’s bad enough. But the fossil fuel industry is determined to get the last lump of coal, the last drop of oil, and the last bubble of natural gas from the Earth, no matter if it ends up destroying us all in the process. Oh, but those are greedy capitalists, how can we blame all humanity? They are humans, aren’t they? Perhaps a metaphor will serve best. You’ve got a plate of food in front of you. Climb up on the table, drop trou, bend over, and dump a steaming load onto that plate (if you haven’t been following, the plate of food represents the Earth and all its bounty). Then hitch your pants back up, sit down, and dig right in. Even the beasts of the field know that you don’t shit where you eat. But that’s what humans are doing.
    It’s what they do, because they are a nihilistic species, a 7 billion member death cult. They are a race of psychopaths with a death wish. The only other animals that readily make war on other groups are the chimps, and that’s probably because they’re the closest ape to man. I’m not forgetting Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or the many others who have done such wonderful things for so many. I have friends who are good, decent people. I think they must be freaks or genetic mutants; relics and throwbacks of a time before humans degenerated into their present savagery. Perhaps they’re like me, though; non-humans trapped in human bodies. There’s a reason Charles Darwin titled one of his greatest works The Descent of Man (not ascent).  We haven’t evolved from the lower animals, we have devolved from the higher ones, as Twain suggested.
    Liberals, and I proudly count myself among them, generally believe in the basic goodness of people.  The idea that they’re inherently evil is a conservative notion, and the idea that in any way I would think like a conservative is deeply troubling. It’s possible that the biblical account of The Fall is metaphorical, and an admission that instinctively, the ancients knew the true nature of humanity. Unless . . . unless I and my friends, and the great humanitarians, are the real humans, and all the psychopaths are non-human spirits in human bodies. Now that’s something I wish I could believe in. Let me think about it some more.

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