Progress

A Fallacy

 

Much more than a word, progress is a theory, a philosophy, a religion and the sole justification for all of modern science as we know it. But, looking at our history and the current state of affairs, is the future we step by step are building a truly beautiful one considering the means by which this scientific, political and economic progress is being achieved? One might revise what is really meant by progress when individual sovereignty, individual thought and human inviolability itself have been eradicated from the language altogether and are unlikely to find any place in the vision for tomorrow's techno-utopia.

 

THE IDEA OF PROGRESS

AN INQUIRY INTO ITS ORIGIN AND GROWTH

 

 

By J. B. Bury

Bury, J.B. (1920). The Idea of Progress. London: Macmillan and Co., p. 1-2.

PREFACE

For the hope of an ultimate happy state on this planet to be enjoyed by future generations—or of some state, at least, that may relatively be considered happy—has replaced, as a social power, the hope of felicity in another world. Belief in personal immortality is still very widely entertained, but may we not fairly say that it has ceased to be a central and guiding idea of collective life, a criterion by which social values are measured? Many people do not believe in it; many more regard it as so uncertain that they could not reasonably permit it to affect their lives or opinions. Those who believe in it are doubtless the majority, but belief has many degrees; and one can hardly be wrong in saying that, as a general rule, this belief does not possess the imaginations of those who hold it, that their emotions react to it feebly, that it is felt to be remote and unreal, and has comparatively seldom a more direct influence on conduct than the abstract arguments to be found in treatises on morals.

Under the control of the idea of Progress the ethical code recognised in the Western world has been reformed in modern times by a new principle of far-reaching importance which has emanated from that idea. When Isocrates formulated the rule of life, "Do unto others," he probably did not mean to include among "others" slaves or savages. The Stoics and the Christians extended its application to the whole of living humanity. But in late years the rule has received a vastly greater extension by the inclusion of the unborn generations of the future. This principle of duty to posterity is a direct corollary of the idea of Progress. In the recent war that idea, involving the moral obligation of making sacrifices for the sake of future ages, was constantly appealed to; just as in the Crusades, the most characteristic wars of our medieval ancestors, the idea of human destinies then in the ascendant lured thousands to hardship and death.

INTRODUCTION

When we say that ideas rule the world, or exercise a decisive power in history, we are generally thinking of those ideas which express human aims and depend for their realisation on the human will, such as liberty, toleration, equality of opportunity, socialism. Some of these have been partly realised, and there is no reason why any of them should not be fully realised, in a society or in the world, if it were the united purpose of a society or of the world to realise it. They are approved or condemned because they are held to be good or bad, not because they are true or false. But there is another order of ideas that play a great part in determining and directing the course of man's conduct but do not depend on his will—ideas which bear upon the mystery of life, such as Fate, Providence, or personal immortality. Such ideas may operate in important ways on the forms of social action, but they involve a question of fact and they are accepted or rejected not because they are believed to be useful or injurious, but because they are believed to be true or false.

The idea of the progress of humanity is an idea of this kind, and it is important to be quite clear on the point. We now take it so much for granted, we are so conscious of constantly progressing in knowledge, arts, organising capacity, utilities of all sorts, that it is easy to look upon Progress as an aim, like liberty or a world-federation, which it only depends on our own efforts and good-will to achieve. But though all increases of power and knowledge depend on human effort, the idea of the Progress of humanity, from which all these particular progresses derive their value, raises a definite question of fact, which man's wishes or labours cannot affect any more than his wishes or labours can prolong life beyond the grave.

This idea means that civilisation has moved, is moving, and will move in a desirable direction. But in order to judge that we are moving in a desirable direction we should have to know precisely what the destination is. To the minds of most people the desirable outcome of human development would be a condition of society in which all the inhabitants of the planet would enjoy a perfectly happy existence. But it is impossible to be sure that civilisation is moving in the right direction to realise this aim. Certain features of our "progress" may be urged as presumptions in its favour, but there are always offsets, and it has always been easy to make out a case that, from the point of view of increasing happiness, the tendencies of our progressive civilisation are far from desirable. In short, it cannot be proved that the unknown destination towards which man is advancing is desirable. The movement may be Progress, or it may be in an undesirable direction and therefore not Progress. This is a question of fact, and one which is at present as insoluble as the question of personal immortality. It is a problem which bears on the mystery of life.

Moreover, even if it is admitted to be probable that the course of civilisation has so far been in a desirable direction, and such as would lead to general felicity if the direction were followed far enough, it cannot be proved that ultimate attainment depends entirely on the human will. For the advance might at some point be arrested by an insuperable wall. Take the particular case of knowledge, as to which it is generally taken for granted that the continuity of progress in the future depends altogether on the continuity of human effort (assuming that human brains do not degenerate). This assumption is based on a strictly limited experience. Science has been advancing without interruption during the last three or four hundred years; every new discovery has led to new problems and new methods of solution, and opened up new fields for exploration. Hitherto men of science have not been compelled to halt, they have always found means to advance further. But what assurance have we that they will not one day come up against impassable barriers? The experience of four hundred years, in which the surface of nature has been successfully tapped, can hardly be said to warrant conclusions as to the prospect of operations extending over four hundred or four thousand centuries. Take biology or astronomy. How can we be sure that some day progress may not come to a dead pause, not because knowledge is exhausted, but because our resources for investigation are exhausted—because, for instance, scientific instruments have reached the limit of perfection beyond which it is demonstrably impossible to improve them, or because (in the case of astronomy) we come into the presence of forces of which, unlike gravitation, we have no terrestrial experience? It is an assumption, which cannot be verified, that we shall not soon reach a point in our knowledge of nature beyond which the human intellect is unqualified to pass.

But it is just this assumption which is the light and inspiration of man's scientific research. For if the assumption is not true, it means that he can never come within sight of the goal which is, in the case of physical science, if not a complete knowledge of the cosmos and the processes of nature, at least an immeasurably larger and deeper knowledge than we at present possess.

Thus continuous progress in man's knowledge of his environment, which is one of the chief conditions of general Progress, is a hypothesis which may or may not be true. And if it is true, there remains the further hypothesis of man's moral and social "perfectibility," which rests on much less impressive evidence. There is nothing to show that he may not reach, in his psychical and social development, a stage at which the conditions of his life will be still far from satisfactory, and beyond which he will find it impossible to progress. This is a question of fact which no willing on man's part can alter. It is a question bearing on the mystery of life.

Enough has been said to show that the Progress of humanity belongs to the same order of ideas as Providence or personal immortality. It is true or it is false, and like them it cannot be proved either true or false. Belief in it is an act of faith.

The Death of Morality

Written by Benjamin D. Wiker
Crisis
July 8, 2004

It is difficult to gain attention in an era that uses superlatives to describe dishwashing liquid and mayonnaise. Perhaps speaking simply and directly might prove such an oddity that words may again have their proper power. And so, here it is: The greatest moral crisis is now upon us.

I don’t mean the continual, factory slaughter of thousands of babies a day; or the endless parade of carnal innovations mincing across the public square, howling for recognition; or even the redefinition of marriage to include the indefinite union of anything. These are effects, more or less, of the real moral crisis.

The real moral crisis is this: that we, among all human beings who have ever lived, face the end of morality as such. Abortion and infanticide have existed before. So have homosexuality and pedophilia. Exclusive, lifelong heterosexual monogamy was, largely, a Christian mandate, and therefore variations on the definition of marriage are not difficult to come by historically. If these ills were all that plagued us, we would only be facing an especially ugly relapse into the darkness of paganism. But underneath these ills lies a darkness against which even the darkness of paganism is light—the rejection of human nature itself, and hence the rejection of all morality.

The Real Darkness

It is difficult, when our eyes continually have to adjust to each new wave of moral darkness, to be asked to focus on the very heart of darkness. There is at least some form and feature still visible on the current moral landscape, and our eyes are naturally drawn to distinguish things by what light remains. For example, we judge homosexual marriage to be a distortion of heterosexual marriage. Yet if we are to have any hope at all of a new dawn, we must recognize that darkness “without form and void,” into which, like a voracious black hole, the light is so quickly receding. Difficult as it may be, then, we must focus on what it means to reject human nature, that is, to treat human beings as if, ultimately, they were a thing “without form and void.”

How to get at it? How to focus on what amounts to a negation? Perhaps by way of an illustration. Recently, scientists led by Tomohiro Kono, a biologist at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, have created baby mice without the introduction of sperm. They have done so by using two female eggs and genetically “tricking” one of them to function as if its genes came from sperm. It took 457 “reconstructed” eggs, 371 of which survived to be implanted in females, and ten of which made it through gestation. Only one, named Kayuga, made it to adulthood—and, oddly enough, after successfully mating with a male, she had a litter the old-fashioned way. The most common headline for the Kayuga story? “The End of Males.”

Think it’s a long way from mice to men? Then you don’t know the very short history of in vitro fertilization techniques, begun with mice and now commonplace among us. Indeed, in vitro fertilization makes a nice additional illustration of the same point. When I was a teenager, not so very long ago, we used to have a joke based on the propensity of social scientists to announce the obvious as if it were a statistical revelation. “Fifty percent of married people are women,” we’d proclaim with mock scientific grandeur. That was before men wanted to marry men or, even more important, before two women could avoid the matrimonial necessity of a male through in vitro fertilization.

The negation of maleness spells the end of all moral distinctions based on sexuality. For all of human history, the distinction between male and female has been the most natural and primal, and it’s the one on which any moral distinctions in regard to sexuality and marriage are grounded (however badly such distinctions have been drawn and upheld). If male and female are uprooted as natural and necessary distinctions, then all moral distinctions flowing from them shall likewise be destroyed. A ban on gay marriage won’t be necessary; marriage itself will soon disappear, gone the way of parchment, horse-drawn carriages, phonographs, and dial phones.

What we face, then, is the ever more speedy replacement of moral questions with technical questions, so that the moral question “Ought we to do this?” is giving way to the merely technical “Can we do this?” As the “cans” become ever more technically effective, the “oughts” will sputter out their respective swan songs, fade, and then dissipate.

The Beginning of the End

It would be tempting to blame the notorious philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche for ushering in the destruction of morality. It was he, after all, who famously declared that all moral distinctions were arbitrary, arising not from nature but from the will to power of a particular person or people. Hence his famous work, Beyond Good and Evil (1886).

Tempting as that may be, because of the power of his philosophical prose and its effect both on his fellow Germans and on liberal intellectuals, the blame would be misplaced. Nietzsche was not a philosophical prophet but an astute reader of the times, picking up and lionizing an already existing Promethean tendency in the West.

We would do better to travel to England, not Germany, and examine the arguments of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and then Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Bacon is rightly considered to be one of the great founders of modern science. It would be more accurate, since he himself had no laboratory and made no discoveries, to call him the founder of the Promethean aspect of the modern scientific spirit.

Bacon asserted that both philosophy and science had hitherto proved entirely ineffective and sterile because human beings had foolishly taken nature as it presents itself to be the standard of both thinking and acting. Against this, Bacon argued that “a new way must be opened for the human understanding entirely different from any hitherto known.” The new approach to nature? Replace passive acceptance of the natural order with active testing and remolding of nature wherein “by art and the hands of man she [nature personified] is forced out of her natural state, and squeezed and moulded.” Truth, then, does not arise from acceptance and contemplation of nature; rather, truth is what we make. Nature becomes the clay; the scientist, as a kind of semi-deity, becomes the potter, remolding nature according to his will.

Sweeping aside all previous philosophical and theological controversies, Bacon assured his disciples, “I am laboring to lay the foundation, not of any sect or doctrine, but of human utility and power.” Utility and power, as Nietzsche realized several centuries later, doesn’t ask, “What is good and evil?” but rather, “What do I want?” This focus on the will goes beyond good and evil and creates through technical power the ever-greater mastery over nature. The question becomes not what ought to be done but what can be done. While Bacon didn’t apply his arguments directly to the remolding of human nature—except insofar as he made some rather vague promises about the possibility that medicine might grant a real, this-worldly immortality—it takes little imagination to make that obvious step. If the rest of nature is clay, then why not human nature?

Darwin has nearly the status of a saint for modern secularism, and the cultural reverence paid to him has tended to scare off Christians—especially Catholics—from criticizing him. That might change if we understood the true import of his theory. While Bacon aroused the spirit of limitless technical manipulation of nature in general by a new army of Promethean potters, it was Darwin who focused on the ultimate formlessness of human nature in particular. He provided the argument that underneath the apparent permanence of human nature, we ultimately find formless clay, cast and recast a thousand times by the vagaries of natural selection.

Darwin himself realized the alarming nature of his theory and judiciously avoided any mention of human nature in his first and greatest work, The Origin of Species (1859). His silence ended with his Descent of Man, published twelve years after the first edition of the Origin. In his Descent, Darwin made it quite clear that all we think of as specifically human can be explained as the result of natural selection—reason, morality, conscience, religion, music, art, and even the distinction between male and female itself all came about by the same random processes that molded the variety of finch beaks on the Galapagos Islands.

But what nature molds by accident, man may mold to suit his ends. After all, Darwin reminded the reader, such remolding of the clay of nature already occurs among animal breeders through artificial selection. If we take such “scrupulous care” of our “horses, cattle, and dogs,” should we not apply the science of artificial selection to human beings as well? For the good of the race, Darwin maintained, we must take our evolution into our own hands. Thus, Darwin quite clearly advocated eugenics, although it was his cousin Francis Galton, enamored by the Origin, who coined the term. (Those who still doubt that Darwin’s arguments were essentially and consciously eugenic should read not only Darwin’s Descent, but my Moral Darwinism and Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany.)

If we unite Bacon with Darwin, we have the essential spirit of the contemporary attempt to re-create human nature according to an image as yet to be announced. If sexual dimorphism—male and female—is merely the result of the random shuffling and mutations on a string of DNA among our very distant biological ancestors, then there’s little reason to resist the technical urge to redraw sexual boundaries or simply erase them altogether.

So it is, in our society now, that a great division arises between those who recoil in horror at the latest macabre manipulation of human nature as unnatural and those who rejoice at the very same manipulations as signs of humanity’s liberation from nature, between those who happily submit to biology as destiny and those who believe that our destiny is to have complete mastery over biology. This is, to say the least, no small battle; indeed, it is difficult to see what battle would be greater.

Science Fiction?

Sound like science fiction? A mere literary scare tactic? Well, try this literary exercise. Read Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic Brave New World, the prophetic science-fiction satire written in 1932. Huxley attempted to paint a nightmarish world in which sexual pleasure has been utterly divorced from love through the use of the test-tube creation of human beings and contraception. The novel was set 600 years in the future, but alas, by the end of the 20th century, so much of the prophecy had become fact that it has almost no effect on readers, and what was meant to frighten now seems merely quaint. I know this as a college professor who has tried to use Brave New World in class. Huxley imagined that the loveless factory production of human beings would turn sex into a mere commonplace recreational activity—but his imagined sexual free-for-all is entirely heterosexual! As for the technical aspect of things, ever try to frighten a class of undergrads with the specter of babies being made in test tubes, only to find out that an increasing number of the students themselves are, in one way or another, test-tube babies?

In regard to the destruction of moral boundaries, then, science fact is outpacing science fiction. For this reason, all that is needed for the triumph of evil, and the subsequent negation of the distinction between good and evil itself, is a smug complacency, an “Oh, they’ll never do that!” Soon enough, even that, whatever that may happen to be, will be so well-established as to seem old-fashioned in comparison with what’s on the horizon. Once we eliminate the notion that human nature is a given and hence that our very nature sets a limit to what we can and should do, then the distinction between science fiction and science fact is merely temporal. Such should be clear, given the speed with which science fictions have become science facts in the last half-century.

That makes it rather easy to be a prophet. Allow me to assume a momentary mantle. The history professor in my fictional exercise above? Expect that within ten years, advanced surgical techniques and tissue cloning will result in “designer gender,” where consumers will choose not only what sexual parts they desire but how many and where to put them. Mark my words on your calendars.
The End of the End

I do not want to give readers the false impression that the only moral distinctions now being erased are between male and female. To take another, even more startling example, the lines are now being technically redrawn between human beings and animals. According to the Baconian-Darwinian project, human beings are just one more transient form that the clay of matter has taken. Thus, as Darwin made quite clear in his Descent, the species distinction “human being” has an ephemeral, not eternal, foundation. But this very distinction is the foundation of the command “Thou shalt not kill.” The prohibition against the murder of innocent human beings presupposes that (1) killing a gnat, a cow, and a human being are very different acts and (2) there is a real difference between living and nonliving beings. Absent these distinctions, the prohibition against killing human beings is merely a parochial and groundless taboo.

Obviously, the presence of abortion has helped immensely to establish the treatment of human beings as mere matter, mere stuff to be disposed of according to our convenience. But an offshoot of abortion is the entire industry bent on the use of such ill-gained “tissue” for medical purposes. As we slide back further into the void, into grayer and grayer realms, medical purposes will soon include health and beauty, so that such techno-cannibalism will spread to products throughout the local drugstore. As demand grows, especially for more advanced flesh, not only will women be paid to grow “fetal tissue” but pharmaceutical laboratories will include embryonic farms.

Killing and not killing, human and nonhuman, living and nonliving, light and dark—all such distinctions that emerge in the Genesis account will recede back into the void, a void beyond all good and evil. “Should we do this?” will then mean only “Is this economically feasible?”

The Last Battle

Such is the real moral crisis, the greatest one possible, since upon its outcome hinges the existence of morality itself. The good news is, oddly, that it is still a crisis; that is, human nature hasn’t been destroyed yet. It is still possible that human nature may be salvaged from the ruins of the project to reconstruct it according to our will.


We can expect, then, a great battle between those who regard human nature as the sacrosanct origin of all moral distinctions and those who regard human nature as clay under construction. It will be, for all of humanity, the last battle, for it is a battle over the existence of humanity itself.
 

An Allegory

Allegory of the Pigs

 

 

In the forest depths, at dusk the final rays of stubborn light push their way through the thick green, marking shadows on wild pigs coming to feed. Threaded into an endless continuum of breath and sweat spent in bestial search and continual motion, growing to know nature which forged them as it forever was knowing itself, the scattered herd dies down with nightfall, winding gradually in to a tighter fold of lean silhouettes panting beneath the presence of a silver moon. The slow return to their slumbering place was tonight, interrupted yet again by some curious offerings left in the clearing, which though strange to this forest, merged deliciously with, thus so easily confusing fungi and bark, with berry, hot musk and all else in a pigs nose. To begin with, out of that natural caution, the animals quite easily resisted the peculiar food. If nothing else, it posed a poor parody of the things always yielded by the old forest, with almost scornful derision they scoffed at such taunting deliberateness. But, whoever was behind it doggedly persisted and so the pigs, harmless as the offer seemed to be, trusted and ate. In the following weeks the smell, insidious as it was savoury, increases and spreads throughout the forest so that eventually no pig had gone without a taste of it. This night, half draped in darkness, were four men who seemed to have been present the entire time, though going undetected by the animals approaching the food it now became obvious they had left here for them. Making themselves well seen, the fellows don’t make a move, their eyes fixed and yet somewhat aloof, they breathe methodically and in all their demeanour refrain from startling the pigs. Only a stone’s throw away, they stood spread awkwardly beneath slender pines, watchfully observing the animals digging in their snouts with a near palpable satisfaction.  The next morning they return and feed them by hand. With time, the pigs cease hunting and foraging all together and are then led off to a farm, having come to know the men’s faces and hands and smell. Their new masters bring them into a wide, grassless pasture over the face of which stands some large, semi-complex wooden mechanism the likes of which such animals had never seen. Behind them all, the compound gate is shut while the pigs are led on into an enclosed pen and once each one had entered this new, though more confined living space, the entrance is sealed; just before, surging out of two overhead wooden shoots comes a free flow of strange feed, quite similar to the sort with which they were lured to this place but sweeter somehow than even that. This goes on for twenty-three days. Each morning, at a certain hour, the animals are woken and fed, again at noon and yet again at dusk and soon enough they’re moved from the confines of their wire pen, much to the animals delight, but are instead split within the great wooden mechanism, into units designed for one pig only, lined up in great rows of ten, side my side, fully encaged. Further care is taken, so that the females are kept in the western region while their piglets are grouped separately in the southern and the males left toward the easternmost part of the contraption. Whilst all this went on, the pigs did wonder, as was natural and of course, disliked that their new food lacked natures variety and that they now no longer walked and breathed and toiled in familial communion but here there was constant provision, no fear of winters scarcity or the chase of preying beasts. Soon enough, the pigs are given exercise. Each morning, at a certain hour the males and females of breeding age are released from their cages and ushered into the old forest, then once at its heart, are quickly taught to seek and unearth black truffles. The animals knew the forest floor well, and knew even better the mouth-watering taste of the forests best hidden fruit, but if ever the heavenly nostalgia of their old life’s freedoms grew too strong and a pig carelessly ate, a swift lash to the skull or back would be his, thus the sweet taste of truffles soon ran bitter in all their mouths. And further rules soon followed, as the pigs quickly found that the truffles were their sole ticket to sustenance, for whenever their noses failed or rain fall hindered the search, their bellies would assuredly go wanting. As this daily goes on, the animals, growing accustomed to these new laws, come under the impression that the whole arrangement had made their new masters quite rich. Their daily feeding is increased to six, but now they are no longer fed all together in the wire pen but individually in their units at appointed times during the day and while the older work, the young are trained to do the same. It was at first concerning how, oftentimes in the forest, while searching out the truffles a pig might fall ill, become injured or merely be dragged off by a crafty predator, as their lean bodies had grown plump and senses altogether dull. Nevertheless, the remainder would carry on industriously and any poor victim would be quickly and entirely forgotten. The animals grow slower and more rotund, very irritable and given to complaining if ever their feeding was delayed or decreased. As time goes on, the pigs might even make noise or refuse work and in such instances, their masters would unlock the gates and threaten to cast them out entirely but when the animals glimpsed back into the now terrifying expanse of the forest, with its curious inhabitants, lawlessness and inconstant nature, they would beg ‘shut your gates, we will behave’ and fall back into order. As generations of pigs pass on and on, nothing but the wooden structure is understood, only routine is comfortable, soon mating, foraging and the likes are all forgotten for only thoughts of truffle finding and its rewards remain. In due time, the pigs grow to love their masters, so accordingly their feed is increased to twelve and between child, male and female, enmity ensues. This goes on twelve years. Over this period, the men made work for themselves too and focussed much of their efforts on the fortification and expansion of the wooden framework they had initially built, much to their pig’s delight. Now, the structure was impressive and they had plenty of pigs to fill it with, for the original number had doubled twice over although their appearance had changed a great deal since that time. Their new masters, for the sake of hygiene and quality, had very efficiently designed a method of removing any sick, old, spirited or in any way irregular animals until even every wild stroke of colour was gone from them all. This too, the pigs had grown to appreciate. Their work of finding truffles had not changed at all, and due to the great increase in population, their findings had also multiplied tenfold since the beginning. It now seemed to the animals as if, they had always been so fat and slow for their daily feedings had been long maintained at twenty-four and because of this, each animal would wait expectantly upon his food shoot, only able to grunt or dribble at his neighbour. After eight months of bounteous findings, the pigs again venture out into the woods and as dictated began to dig, they dug their dripping snouts into the leafy earth until their pink bodies shook with vigour. They remained all morning and yet, found nothing. For a moment they cease their shoving, grunting and guttural sounds, and raising their heads, suddenly notice the deathly silence which had seized the old forest. As far as their beady eyes could tell, there was not a breath, not a heartbeat or presence besides theirs in the whole wood. It is as if there’d been a cull of life and so tired from searching and unable to bear the harsh air, the pigs return to the farm without spoils and itching with hunger. The fellows, waiting as usual by the gate, spot them returning and with a knowing look, take to their heels. They don’t return for months. Once they finally had, it seemed all things prior were discarded as their efforts were now focussed on the dismantlement of the old wooden system for in its place they were hurriedly building an entirely new construct, in no way similar to the old and in all ways more advanced. Industriously, the men laboured day and night hunched over blueprints, with possession-like fervour, increasing the mechanism with every passing day. All the while, the pigs have remained. In the absence of their masters, the prolonged lack of enforced order unleashes within the population confusion unlike that of any other time. With no work, the animals are left to gorge and struggle continually against one another, having utterly lost all natural means of communication. So engrossed in this madness, they do not notice their masters return, hatred and chaos ensue. Now too fat to be housed in units, the fellows quickly see to it that the animals are once again forced together in the wire pen within which their first fathers were held and are, for the moment, left to their own devices. The pig’s noise, filth and anger goes on, only ceasing briefly when, not long after, their macilent handlers begin showing stories with puppets through a white sheet, behind which a small fire illuminates and enlarges the crude toys. And so each evening, silence befell as the men would project images and tell tales of preying beasts, famine and all the things a pig would naturally and otherwise fear. Attentively they’d watch and listen, bound to every utterance, squealing and screeching in rapturous enjoyment of the terrifying panic that erupted whenever the shadow of a fiend crept across the screen. Day and night, they can soon think of nothing but these monsters.  Early one morning, the restless, rabbling populace happened to wander out, after chewing apart their wire fence and to their surprise stumble upon the great barn which housed the men’s new contraption. Stunned, the men think it wise to pacify the animals, explaining their machine to put the beasts at rest for now. “It will serve you also”, they smilingly agree, before turning the animals back to where they came. The days go by as ever and the pigs cheer on the busy men and the fantastic mechanism over which they toil, barely able to contain their excitement for the great wonders the future held for them all. One night, as all were gathered in the wire pen for the evening’s horror show, and the men readied their puppets, a bored pig unseen, at the very back of the mad rabble, is perturbed by the bite of a gadfly. The animal soon works himself into a fit, dodging and shooing the thing until he had unknowingly left the others, flinching and angrily trotting off for an unintentionally great length before noticing he’d ended up alone outside the men’s barn, with the only light being that escaping out from its open doorway. Cold, night air whips down the animals back, and the distant ruckus of the other’s cheerful shrieks remind him of the show and of the gadfly which pinches him one last before flying off. Relieved, the pig sees no harm in moving quietly toward the open door, or toward the light and the noises coming out of there. Peering slightly in, his eyes are transfixed by what he sees. A huge complex of rubber conveyor belts, gleaming steel frames, rows of polished cleavers and jagged-edge saws, automated hooks, and a chasm-like mincer waiting in the centre. The animal can make nothing of these things, but soon realises another pig peering in with him, having followed for the sake of following. Both marvel at the motionless mechanical monster, taking care not to be seen by the fellows hard at work readying their new construct. In gormless awe, the one who kindly followed turns briefly to the other “Isn’t it good what they’re doing?” the animal pleasantly asks, patient for a pigs agreement. But with his gaze unmoved, the other makes no reply, knowing they will be finished by morning.

19

Oaklahoma

Copyright Brett Oscarson (2005)