What does the sum total of human suffering through the ages amount to? All the wars, brutality, deaths, technological advancements and human learning: what do they mean? In other words, if you think of the history of Man as a gigantic spreadsheet, what is the bottom line, where do we tally up all the pluses and minuses, gains and losses, debits and credits? It’s this - we can amuse ourselves better, longer, and in more interesting ways than we used to be able to.
That’s just about it, as far as I can see. Thanks to all the wars and other hideous things humans have been doing to each other for tens of thousands of years, we have lots of neat books (with cool pictures) where we can read about humans inflicting pain on other humans—in just about any way you could think of. Disemboweling. Guillotining. Scalping. Garroting. You name a part of the human body, and somebody somewhere has either enjoyed cutting it off or pulling it out of some other hapless person. Just watch Braveheart sometime, if you want to see a love offering to death and mutilation.
Then there are all the different schools of thought—all the different religions and philosophies that have been “discovered” or whatever. Very amusing. Look at all the fun religion has given us. See my above paragraph concerning brutality. Religion’s main boon to society has been its ability to make us feel better about killing and raping “godless heathens." If the people you harm don’t believe the same things you do, then who cares if you get some enjoyment from slicing them up? And as long as you go to church afterward, you can get into heaven.
And, then, of course, there is Technology—the newest religion. The only net gain from technology is that our days can be spent doing a multitude of things that keep us amused. It hasn’t made us any more productive, and it certainly hasn’t improved the state of the planet. In fact, technology is making the planet unlivable, and wiping out any pesky species who happen to get in the way of our need to “civilize” the world.
And thanks to advances in Medicine, we can amuse ourselves longer—into our 70s, 80s and even 90s. Your average caveman could look forward to maybe 20 or 30 years of sitting around the cave watching his fire, and fucking whoever happened to come within knocking-over-the-head distance. Now, average 20th-Century Americans can look forward to 75 years or so of television, movies, porno tapes and magazines, computer games, amusement parks, and many other mindless ways to spend the time before going to the nursing home and eating their strained peas and having nurses change their diapers.
So for all of you out there on the cutting edges of science, or philosophy, or any other discovery, let me just ask you: What’s the fucking point? What are you getting out of it other than a paycheck and maybe a footnote in some academic journal somewhere? Some journal that will sit on the shelf of the college library and gather dust. Future generations will be too busy surfing the net and having phone sex to pay any attention to your piddling attempt to advance the human condition.
Back to April/May 1997 issue