Love in the Time of…Cholerics?
Are human beings sheep? A case can be made. We even share a nice percentage of the DNA of sheep. Even more with hogs. When we sleep we talk of counting sheep, though. Not pigs. Why? It rhymes. Sheep/sleep. Advertisers mostly treat us like sheep, too. Except for some selling fat burgers, in which case we are seen as hogs. Others employ jingles or cow bells to herd us into the direction of their corral, where we can be better counted and resold products we don’t need or wouldn’t buy if we weren’t sheep. Yes, even the major network news use these tactics now. If a few carrots don’t work, they use other cute animals with whom we may relate. “Coming right up, a cat video gone viral you can’t miss!”
Flipping through channels today is like skating on a frozen lake around a thousand fishermen with poles over holes in the ice. This is a good analogy, by the way, because the words “skate” and “lake” and “poles” and “holes” rhyme. Also because it forces you to see the situation from the outside: you haven’t yet fallen into one of those holes, each being a slippery slope. If you now imagine being a sheared shivering sheep skating, you are getting close to visualizing a funny New Yorker cartoon. Or cover.
Speaking of covers, there’s an old saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But we do, anyway. Stats show that a great cover can increase sales by as much as 2000%. Used to be they published novels by Faulkner or Joyce or Hemingway in plain brown wrappers, so to speak. A title, a little flourished frame, and maybe just the suggestion of a design. Today there’s raised lettering, provocative imagery, wild unnaturally vivid reds and ultramarine, and upwards of a hundred blurbs recommending what could still be junk, just in case you happen to nibble at the lure but haven’t yet bitten. This is because the attention span of some sheep may be longer than a goldfish. Sadly, top writers must play along with these tricks or face decreased sales. So, on the one hoof, a snoutful of famous authors need to endlessly repeat their formulas while allowing co-authors to keep even more bestsellers (and their brand) forever visible, while in the other pen there’s the 99.9% reading help wanted ads.
Thanks to personalization filters, we sheep are fed back the same diet we always “preferred.” That word is in quotation marks because we only preferred it once, but then are force fed it forever instead of other tastes or ideas or viewpoints because filters are robots. Like the automatic gate that swings shut behind us, trapping us like a grain fed hog in a shallow pen. Which brings me to my final point: we, as sheep, are food on the hoof. Mutton. Or, in other cases, bacon. Because while we are consumers, we are also the consumed. Indeed, there’s some cannibalism going on here, too.
How so? Homo sapiens are animals too, at least according to scientists. Top of the food chain, perhaps, but as apex predators still animals fighting for survival. We are the only species on the planet that performs genocide on itself, as well. So we may not survive. “Flip a coin,” says Neil deGrasse Tyson, among others. Meanwhile, Stephen Hawking fears that a singularity of machine intelligence may make us obsolete, and extinct—if we don’t do it to ourselves first. True, cholera or other infectious diseases or superbugs may do it, but this is less likely than hotheaded leaders bickering or insulting one another, as that which started WWI. Ray Bradbury, many a writer’s mentor, including me, once repeated Einstein’s quote that WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones. Besides writing about burning books and the lost literacy and low attention spans associated with television, he also wrote a story called “A Piece of Wood” in which a soldier invents a device that turns metal weapons to dust, and after a demonstration—before the sergeant can end war forever—his commander busts a chair and runs after him with a wooden leg as a club, to kill him. Now, a choleric is a personality type which angers easily, is irascible, hot-headed. And, ironically, the word is derived from the medieval science and medicine word “choler,” associated with yellow bile, anger: the same word associated with the epidemic of cholera. See how it all fits together? Okay, maybe that’s illusion too. Supposedly the Dark Ages of ignorance, static culture, and viral memes of violence are over. But not if we just eat, sleep, repeat. —Jonathan Lowe
CHAOS MONKEYS by Antonio Garcia Martinez is an interesting (and surprising!) Silicon Valley biography from an insider to Facebook and Goldman Sachs. It is narrated by Dan John Miller.