Early summer Sunday morning is quiet here until the swish of cars begins around 8 AM when some go to early church and others tow their boats to lakes. I’ve lived in places where the early morning is a bird riot of sound and other places where everything is hushed in mist, the Doug firs stilled but dripping, with the sound of ocean surf booming far away.
At my country aunt’s farm, where we slept on an upstairs screened porch, it was sheep making incessant pleading for attention. The families there always keep two dogs, one smooth small terrier with patches and one shaggy black-and-white MacNabb shepherd. Maybe the small dog was originally meant for vermin control, but especially as the uncle aged, the series of dogs became companions who went everywhere with the uncle, leaning high on his left arm lying along the open window of the pickup.
The herding dogs always had the same one-syllable name which I can’t remember at the moment. It was good for shouting at them when they were managing the sheep. One terrier, Tubby, had a distinct personality, aggressive like the uncle, and inclined to take on porcupines. A few quills always escaped the pliers and failed to fester out, so that the cleverly rough surfaces kept the spines hitching through the flesh of the dog, afflicting him but never quite killing him. If they got into his lungs, he coughed. In old age he gained a lot of weight and shuffled over the cool wet emerald lawns coughing until the sun was warm enough to bake him to sleep. If you petted him, which we city kids always did (we tried to pet everything), you’d feel a little nubble sticking through the skin and if you pulled on it, you’d pull out an old spine.
This morning an idea has been pestering and itching, much like an old thought-quill working its way back out through the skin of my consciousness. It was a twitter link that I meant to go back and copy, but all these streaming feeds are different from one moment to another so you have to haul them out like fish in that first moment. To try to reconstruct it, the quote was about the vision of the future in the face of global warming. The writer suggested that the dystopia of collapsed cities, industrial debris, and eternal winter is wrong.
Instead he figured that the rich would simply move inland and create new self-protecting infrastructures, able to use culture to maintain what they already know and value. They could drill for water, cover atria for gardens, develop new foods and types of clothing, but keep their lives consistent enough for the luxuries they are already accustomed to enjoying.
A great many, possibly most, poor people will simply die. But there will always be a sort of “bedouin” with a drive to survive and they will. Keeping the physical characteristics of various races — the elegant gauntness of Somalis, the sturdy avordupois of the Inuit, the mystic dishevelment of Australian aboriginals — they will become various, responding to their new edge-lives. Children may be as assorted as cats. Maybe they will become able to hibernate, go dormant when conditions are too rough. Maybe they will be able to adjust their oxygen use more than we can now or find new sources of oxygen besides air — learn to breathe water again. Storms might mean opportunities to fly on high winds instead of the necessity of taking shelter. Maybe their bodies will learn to absorb lightning and store it to use later, the way we once learned about fire.
The biggest problem will be for one generation to stay alive long enough to gestate viable babies and teach those little ones the principles of survival. That’s the biggest problem for poor people right now. It means an evolution of culture as much as organic change over time. The gift of hominins has always been the memes of culture: if there isn’t enough time to evolve bodies, then evolve culture until the bodies catch up. Develop practices that use what is there, like the prairie people making sculptures of horses out of wrecked cars so that the stallions have shimmering hides of blue-green and their manes of plastic robe hang down to the ground like the manes of steppe wild horses in Eurasia. These people will be the visionaries. The rich will not be able to escape themselves.
I only partly accept the Jared Diamond reasons for one culture becoming powerful because of response to circumstances — like the development of grain and gunpowder, for instance — because it’s baffling why three institutionalized religions that grew out of one Middle East source could be so locked into obsessive hatred and self-aggrandizement that they drag the whole planet into war. They are like the rotating counselling triad for dysfunctional families, esp. alcoholics: a culprit/victim — a persecutor — and a redeemer. So someone like Bannon, who is locked into persecuting Muslims, claims Christian iconoclasm, and must be tempered by the wealth of Judaism. But then he turns against the wealthy ruling class and becomes the savage “Arab”, himself a terrorist of the Christian middle-class status quo. But one gets the sense that deep down he feels victimized, persecuted, unappreciated. (At this point Trump is too mentally ill to be put into categories, since his inability to process thought means he is only stumbling through the yard, psychologically coughing in an attempt to dislodge the slings and arrows he’s accumulated.)
When the first explorers hit the more northern East Coast of the Americas, they themselves were from the culture that devised the Inquisition, savagely judgmental and inclined to torture. What they met was a set of people who had torture down to a fine art. Maybe it was that collision that became a merger and so planted the lust for torture that we use any justification to employ. We say we want to know secrets, but also what we want is control.
What is the secret of the stigmatized, the demonized, the incarcerated, the infected, that they persist? Why does every effort to eliminate them, to create dystopias and then force them to live there, just come to nothing? While those who live in luxurious towers — where they can buy admiration — have narrow lives and weak children? It is the nomadic poor who will survive. They know where the wells of sweet water are.