Is It Safe?

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Zombie boobs are all right.

Is it over? The apocalypse, I mean. The mass media zombie apocalypse apocalypse. For a while there, it seemed those slow, stupid fuckers were everywhere. I’m not talking about the zombies themselves but, rather, those shitty ass zombie apocalypse renditions in the mass media. It’s like the general public one day just up and declaimed — and rightfully so — that zombies were awesome, and then the next, every unimaginative hack came out of his own patch of the woodwork with his own particular brand of zombie drivel. For a while, there, you couldn’t turn on the television, go to the movies or pick up a book (especially of the comic variety) without seeing it. The zombie apocalypse apocalypse has wormed its way into art (both performing and visual), music and games (both video and board). Some smartass came up with zombie parodies of those trite family stickers people adhere to the back windows of their trite minivans (the vehicle of choice during any zombie apocalypse). There are even zombie apocalypse social movements and activist groups, and don’t get me started on that fucking Jane Austen mashup.

Now, zombies symbolize the mindless banality of a conformist pop culture

If you glean from this diatribe that I hate zombies — well, I didn’t used to. George Romero has always ranked among my favorite directors and still does. The utilitarian killing of a mindless and implacable enemy in “Night of the Living Dead” was metaphorical of cultural outrage over the Vietnam War and of a general Cold War unease. Now, zombies symbolize the mindless banality of a conformist pop culture. I used to love zombie movies. At one point, I even had recurring dreams of the zombie apocalypse. Now, they are so played out that I can stand neither sight nor sound of them. Thanks, general public for even hinting that you liked zombies, thereby fucking up zombies for everyone. And thank you, you talentless, banal hacks who capitalized on zombie consumerism with your mass media zombie apocalypse apocalypse.

“The Walking Dead” is all right, though. That is, unless AMC pulls the same shit they did last season and runs damned near seven episodes before anything even happens. For about six weeks there, I thought I was watching British television.

Women and Children Last

Quote

“To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,

Is nothing so bad when you’ve cover to ’and, an’ leave an’ likin’ to shout;

But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,

An’ they done it, the Jollies—’Er Majesty’s Jollies—soldier an’ sailor too!

Their work was done when it ’adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an’ you;

Their choice it was plain between drownin’ in ’eaps an’ bein’ mopped by the screw,

So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill, soldier an’ sailor too!”

Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), “Soldier an’ Sailor too”

Wreck of the Birkenhead

So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill, soldier an’ sailor too!

The “Birken’ead drill” Kipling mentioned is a metonym of the protocol for saving women and children first in life-threatening situations, and what it alludes to is the wreck of HM Troopship Birkenhead in 1852. Even as the ship’s three serviceable lifeboats scudded away with the women and children, Lt. Col. Alexander Seton of the 74th Regiment of Foot ordered the men still aboard to “stand fast” so as not to risk swamping the boats. The gallantry of the soldiers who “stood an’ was still” went on to be immortalized–and romanticized–in paintings and, of course, poems. On a historical note, Kipling may have been exercising a bit of poetic license when he wrote “Soldier an’ Sailor too,” as a good many more British Army soldiers (355) lost their lives in the wreck than did Royal Marines (14), the so-named “‘Er Majesty’s Jollies” about whom the poem was penned.

So, what exactly is “women and children first”? Well, first, let’s go over what it isn’t.  “Women and Children First” isn’t just a Van Halen album. Nor is it simply a Monty Python skit. It’s not a maritime law, nor is it even a hard and fast rule–definitely more of a guideline. And it’s certainly not, as some (ridiculous) feminists claim, “a logic of paternalistic treatment of women and children that purports to protect them but almost always also disempowers them and sometimes harms them.”

No. What it is is simply the logical extension of an evolutionary imperative, that of survival of the species. It is the mechanism by which the human superorganism ensures the survival of its gene pool in the event of catastrophe. Put simply, say the population of your village comprises 10 men and 10 women. Let’s go on to say that nine men are killed in a volcanic eruption. The surviving male could serially procreate with every woman in the village and, potentially, restore the population within a year. Now, if nine women are killed and eaten by hungry tigers, it will take nine times as long for a single female survivor to reproduce the village’s population back to pre-tiger levels. Conversely, men, very much like the sperm we like to spread around, are numerous, and every one of us–minus one–is expendable in the grand scheme of racial survival. Women, on the other hand, are absolutely critical to the propagation of the species. It isn’t some patriarchal conspiracy perpetrated by male-dominated society, but basic biology. Of all the different variables that shape human culture, none have been more influential than this, and, across all the societies that have formed since we learned how to walk upright, the expendability of men has been the only true constant.

We can afford to lose a few baby makers, at least until we’re presented with an extinction-level event

As someone who believes almost all of the world’s evils are a direct corollary of its human populating nearing or having already reached a kind of saturation point relative to its resources, it’s glaringly obvious to me that population recovery protocols like women and children first are no longer in our global interests. The aforementioned feminists got one thing right: women and children first is obsolete. Consider, as of today, the United States Census Bureau estimates the world’s population at 7.02 billion people. What this means is, even if some dire catastrophe were to kill 70 million people (that’s more than the populations of the world’s six largest cities proper combined), overall world population would only tick down a single percentage point. Against those kinds of numbers, I think it’s safe to say we’re at a point where we can afford to lose a few baby makers, and the babies they make, at least until such time that we’re presented with an actual extinction-level event. It is for this reason I propose we institute a more context-appropriate protocol, that of “Women and Children Last.”

Aside from the obvious Malthusian benefits, adoption of such a protocol would impart another not so obvious benefit: a general, global improvement in conversation. You see, one thing women and children share is that they both interact socially under the (false) assumption that other people are as interested in what they have to say as they are. Now, this isn’t to say that men don’t do this too, nor is it to say that women never have anything interesting to say at all. What I am saying is the psychologies of the women and children demographic just aren’t wired to even consider the possibility that where they find a subject interesting, any given interlocutor may not. This is largely a function of psychology and socialization.

If you know any women and children, then you’re already aware that they can, and often do, prattle on at length about things that not only are uninteresting, but very rarely make sense. In the case of children, the psychological basis is fairly clear-cut. Children between the ages of 2 and 7 undergo what is called the preoperational phase of the developmental stage, as posited by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget in his theory of cognitive development. According to Piaget, the preoperational phase precedes the development of concrete logic in humans and is characterized by egocentrism. Specifically, preoperational children are not yet able to distinguish that the perceptions of others differ from their own. The game of peekaboo exemplifies the egocentrism of children as follows. When little Bobby covers his eyes, he can no longer see the world. Since he cannot imagine the world’s perspective as being separate from his, he concludes  the world cannot see either. The endgame of peekaboo amounts to “I can’t see you, so then you, obviously, can’t see me.” Similarly, if Bobby believes his macaroni art to be the most fascinating thing in the world, surely, everyone else must, too. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Egocentrism is further reinforced when Bobby’s doting parents engage in humoring him: “Wow, Bobby, your macaroni art sure is interesting. Now, wash up, it’s time for dinner.”

Something Piaget left out is that there is no actual evidence that everyone eventually grows out of this stage. One could argue that the lack of empathy–among other dysfunctions–in some adults indicates an arresting of cognitive development in the preoperative phase. But that is a rant for another day.

“Wow, Suzy, your work as a forensic accountant sure is interesting. Can we have sex, now?”

To continue, among women, regardless of whether they have progressed past the preoperational phase or not, this belief or illusion of universal interest (IUI) continues to receive reinforcement on into their adult lives. In examining a conversation between two women, it becomes evident that the participation of each is divided into two distinct stages. In the first stage, the receiver gives certain cues that convey they are as interested in the speaker’s words as the speaker herself. In actuality, she is simply waiting for the other to stop spewing her boring shit so she may initiate stage two, in which she begins spewing her own boring shit. This back and forth feigning of interest amounts to a verbal quid pro quo (“I’ll listen to your boring shit so that you’ll have to listen to me.”), but it also serves as a tacit reinforcement of universal interest. Interestingly enough, while a woman can fully recognize that not everything another says is interesting, she is completely incapable of recognizing the same in herself. Reinforcement of the illusion of universal interest continues even beyond a woman’s transition into adulthood, only instead of her parents providing it, it is men. You see, every guide to picking up girls that’s ever been published echoes, essentially, the same pointer: pretend you are interested in what she is saying. “Wow, Suzy, your work as a forensic accountant sure is interesting. Can we have sex, now?”

The socialization process for men, on the other hand, is a bit more jaded one. Men learn–either from trial and error or from dating manuals–that we can get sex as long as we consciously refrain from disabusing women of the delusion that everything they say is interesting. Numerous aspects of the socialization of men allow us to grasp that, while we find some things interesting, others may not. For example, conversations among men are not driven by the quid pro quo dynamic but, rather, by who can speak the loudest. Our role as pursuers of sex impresses upon even the thickest of us that we must be circumspect about what we say, and we do eventually learn that our interests may and oftentimes will not be shared. And that is one key difference between the sexes. Women simply do not receive the same cues, and, by virtue of their own gender role, no one will ever tell them how boring they are. The other key distinction is that foreknowledge alone is not enough to preclude men from being boring. It’s the same lingering adult egocentrism dynamic, except that it manifests in a more deliberate fashion. A man can know full well that what he says will bore the shit out of others, yet he will go on saying it anyway.

In conclusion, whatever the romantic ideals poets, painters and historians have ascribed to the brave men of HM Troopship Birkenhead, what really motivated those who “stood an’ was still” was not gallantry or chivalry, nor even survival of the species, but, simply, knowing that the prospect of drowning or succumbing to hypothermia and/or sharks was still preferable to the boring ass conversations to be had on a lifeboat full of women and children.

 

Why Einstein?

Quote

I don’t want to set the world on fire

“I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth — rocks!”

—Albert Einstein

It is one of Einstein’s more widely recognized quotes or, to be entirely accurate, one quote that’s more widely recognizable as Einstein’s. For this, we have — in some small part — Dave Mustaine to thank. In Megadeth’s “Set the World Afire,” Dave paraphrased it as, “Einstein said we’d use rocks on the other side.” With one speed metal swoop, Dave introduced a generation-and-a-half of disaffected metal heads in all the far-flung, pot-smoke-wreathed basements and Camaro SSs across the United States to two things:  Einstein’s dire portent of the perils of nuclear warfare and, to a lesser extent, the Inkspots’ 1941 single “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” (the Megadeth song opens with a sample of the latter). As an aside, if it weren’t for the debilitating effect marijuana use has on short term memory, more of those aforementioned metal heads would have recognized the Inkspots’ song from Ridley Scott’s mildly iconographic 1979 Chanel No.5 commercial.

Back to the quote. I did say it is widely recognizable as Einstein’s, and he did, in fact, say those words, and they are attributed to him. But it is unlikely that he actually came up with them on his own; he really was just echoing a sentiment voiced by several others in the late ‘40s: that the weapons of mass destruction in the next world war would be so destructive as to send us back to the stone age.

His own role as catalyst to the Manhattan Project would continue to haunt Einstein up to the end, as evidenced by longtime friend Linus Pauling’s diary entry in which he recorded Albert’s regrets on paper thusly, “I made one great mistake in my life — when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification — the danger that the Germans would make them!”

Heartfelt, surely, if lacking the drama and eloquence of Oppenheimer’s Trinity quote where he mistranslated “The Bhagavad-Gita” as, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Socialism isn’t the only thing Einstein was wrong about …

Einstein more or less immortalized the rocks statement in May of 1949. That same month, the Monthly Review published its inaugural issue, in which Einstein’s article “Why Socialism?” featured prominently.  In this treatise, Albert attributed misanthropy to the “economic anarchy of capitalist society,” which is, itself, part and parcel of Veblen’s predatory phase of human development. According to Einstein, the “exaggerated competitive attitude” prized and nurtured by capitalism cripples the social consciousness of the individual. In “Why Socialism?” he related the following anecdote of an unnamed misanthrope in his opening argument: “I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: ‘Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?’”

In Einstein’s estimation, this was “the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days.”

As suggested by the article’s title, Albert’s solution to misanthropy is the establishment of a socialist economy (minus that whole bureaucratic Sargasso that mired the former Soviet Union) and an educational system that emphasizes social goals over acquisitive success. Far be it from me to argue with, arguably, the largest forehead of the 20th century but, then again, Al’s position may not be all that unassailable. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time he got something wrong (like black holes, dark energy and quantum theory). I will — for the moment — forego debating Einstein’s politics. Where I find fault with his argument lies in his naïve perception of the social fabric. Human nature is far too complex to boil down to a causality as simplistic as misanthropy stemming from politics and economy. Certainly, both the predatory phase of human development and economic anarchy factor into the making of a misanthrope, but those are only two variables in an equation that borders upon chaos theory in terms of complexity.

Misanthropes plodded the Earth long before anyone coined the term, capitalism, and I hardly think they’d just disappear like the dinosaurs if we all of a sudden embraced socialism. Clearly, this is a case of Einstein overthinking what should have been obvious: that bombing ourselves back to the Stone Age would go an awful long way toward curing misanthropy. Orders of magnitude more effectively than socialism, at any rate. After all, misanthropy — I mean true, conscious misanthropy — is simply the natural reaction reasonably intelligent human beings have to floating adrift in a sea of gibbering imbeciles on an everyday basis, something old Al would — or at the very least should — have been well acquainted with.