It’s cold, and the grass is wet with dew. I keep the drifting mist at eye-level. Tall wet grasses stick to me, painting me with dew-slime and wet seeds. The sun may be peeking above some horizon somewhere, cooking off the mists and fogs, but it isn’t here. The sky is still rubbing the sleep from its eyes, not sure what colors it’s going to wear today. When it finally decides, it won’t be dressing for me. I don’t look up.

I’m shivering so hard it hurts all over. My teeth chatter. I try keeping myself off the ground on just my hands and feet, and that’s much colder than crouching down with my knees and elbows crushing the grass. I get low and clench up like a stone beneath the mist. I feel dew rolling down my back. I am naked except for dew and grass seeds. I feel the shivering eventually start to abate, unsure whether my core is warming up or if it’s hypothermia setting in. My hands and feet are like stone, like metal. I can’t feel them.

Away ahead there is a rustle. A hare in the grass, or maybe something smaller. I envy the thought of moisture-repellent fur. Also I am hungry. The idea of trying to run down a hare amuses a bit more than the conceit of trying to breakfast on grass or grass seeds, and even abject failure would warm me up. But so would waiting for the touch of the sun, should it ever get here.

Every morning I wake up naked in a different place. In a dead-man’s float on a sluggish river. On a rocky beach in a salt-water mangrove, complete with crocodiles. Stretched on cold stone cut by forgotten ancestors. Covered in ants on the edge of a desert. Belowdecks on a deserted boat in an unknown ocean. On a cinder-covered slope below a smoking volcano. Curled among the enormous roots of trees that rise through two tiers of rainforest canopy. On the guano-tiled floor of a cave halfway up a cliff I could neither ascend or descend. On the salted shore of a dead lake. Fifty yards away from the edge of a huge flaming portal to an unknown hell, a literal lake of fire. Underground in a tomb of stone and earth. On a broken rain-washed sidewalk in a busy city where everyone speaks in a strange language. On a rough bed in a jail cell. On a broad girder of an unconstructed skyscraper among unfamiliar skylines.

Some days I eat. Some days I don’t. I am always hungry. It doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Most of the time I draw my name wherever I can, or rearrange stones, or do my best to cut a mark I might recognize if I were to ever happen across it again. Sometimes I find marks left by others. Some I almost recognize. Some I wonder if they are marks I will leave in the future — have left in the future? — but I rarely find anything that counts toward being an answer I can make sense of. Sometimes all I have to go on is a familiar set of smells. An arrangement of trees. Sounds from birds or distant rumbles of industrial equipment. Footprints of predators or prey. An occasional tuft of down or a pin-feather. Striations in layered rocks carved by a swift-moving river.

I’ve gone days, weeks, not making any marks, not drawing my name, not making a sound of any kind in case that’s the spell that’s trapping me in this … this … whatever this is. Nothing changes, except everything, every time I go to sleep in exhaustion and wake up elsewhere. My eyes start to close, and I look up, and the trees or building or clouds or stars overhead wheel drunkenly.

And then I wake up. Cold. Hungry. Chasing the hare.


March 31, 2012 · Posted in fiction  

Every word is the title of the story of its meaning. Any story can be unwound like DNA to expose its memetic elements, elements inherited from prior stories, elements gleaned from the experiences of the storytellers, elements mixed in from other stories in the minds of the listeners.

The DNA/genetics model covers this seemingly complex self-replicating, self-modifying and externally influenced chemistry of words nearly perfectly, down to the interplay of sounds and written letters being modeled by the interplay of RNA and DNA.

I’m not going to get bogged down in the details of the metaphor — which I personally suspect is somewhat stronger than a metaphor, but that’s the best word I can bring to bear at the moment without sounding needlessly prophetic — because I’d like what I’m about to say to be accessible to people who 1) haven’t stuffed as much science in their heads as I’ve tried to or 2) prefer to look things up for themselves anyway, and 3) the further I stretch things the more likely I am to include some kind of error that won’t actually impact my message here much but will lead into some kind of pointless argument.

Stories that are told and retold reproduce biologically. Not necessarily sexually, deliberately combining elements from different stories to see what sort of children are viable. Think of it more like a plant that sends out runners, or something quite a bit more primitive that reproduces by splitting off a bud that grows into a nearly identical copy to the original.

I say nearly because there are always environmental factors, viral factors that take genetic material from one source and insert it in another cell, epigenetic interference, and sometimes simple bad luck that can cause transcription errors that get passed down. Those errors are mutations — and if they make the story inconsistent, confusing, irrelevant, or incomprehensible, then they aren’t viable in their hosts. We stop passing them along in favor of different, more relevant, more useful stories. Stories we can understand.

Evolution is a touchy subject in the educational and cultural backwaters of the USA, but some of the pieces of evidence for it seem to be more easily accepted piecemeal. The fossil record (which, if one ignores the time scale of dating methods, provides little to disturb the literal interpretation of the events of Genesis — a particular sticking point) and adaptation due to environmental or ecological pressures (which we can see happen over the course of a single lifetime in species with an annual reproduction cycle) are entirely sufficient for the purposes of analogy, given that I’m thinking of only the last ten thousand years or so anyway.

Written literature is a fossil record. Without a living sample of the culture it was produced and living in, an enormous amount of the story is subject to conjecture — whether people took it seriously, how certain sections were interpreted, the meanings of individual words that have since fallen into disuse or changed meaning entirely, missing pieces we have no idea are missing because nothing refers to them — and since stories are open-ended, you can’t exactly look at a piece, declare it’s a jawbone, and reconstruct what the rest of the animal looked like.

Prior to writing, stories were soft-bodied pre-Cambrian things, transmitted only via oral traditions, preserved by rote memorization, subject to easy embellishment and on-the-fly editing. They weren’t completely without structure, being supported by mnemonic devices like repetition, rhyme, rhythm, and musical and dance accompaniment, but they were much, much softer. Even so, a story, sometimes even the introduction of a single new word, was the magic that would change a listener’s mind, and the most powerful and useful ones were preserved.

Anyway, I had a point when I started laying down this foundation, and the point was to address a lie I’ve been seeing circulating. I’ll get to that in a minute.

But stories drift, either oral or written. Written stories undergo massive changes any time they are translated, every time the language is updated to make it accessible to a new generation due to drift in grammar and the meanings of the words of which the stories are comprised. Stories change in impact and undertone when events happen that cast the depictions of events in the stories in a new light. Stories change when people name their children after people in the stories, and those children act in ways inconsistent with the recorded participants.

If you keep careful records, and also keep careful records of as many cultural and contextual details as possible, you can preserve very old versions of the stories. If you analyze a number of old stories and old fragments in the literary fossil records in terms of the elements those stories have in common, you can reach even further back and reconstruct even older versions of the stories, though you run the risk of including errors and the taint of modern thinking — or, more frequently, just not understanding what you’ve recovered because you have insufficient context even for the popular meaning of the words you’ve translated.

Even taking all of that into consideration, people with a mind to do so, and the proper resources, can track the elements of a story back thousands and thousands of years. And the particular story I have in mind is the story of El Elyon of the priest Melchizadek (Malki Tzadek) of Jewish and Christian faiths, Illiyyah of the Samaritans, and Allah of the Muslims, and so on into more modern denominations. All of these faiths pin their beliefs to their written materials, and all of these stories go back to characters of the same names, performing the same actions. Abram (renamed Abraham) and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses (Musa) and Aaron (Harun), Noah and the flood.

Elements of the stories above appear in the fossil record predating the earliest work viewed as a core to a modern religion as well. Noah’s flood and ark belonged to Utnapishtim of Akkadian/Sumerian/Babylonian stories. And there are other memetic markers that show common ancestry elsewhere, almost certainly hinting at familial relations among the religions of the area: The Bull of Heaven of Gilgamesh seems remarkably similar to the rampage of Egypt’s Hathor. Al-Khidr of the Muslim faith bears elements of the Sumerian Apkallu/Apgal fish-men sages that gave the old kings the me, the tokens and concepts that are the foundations of law and civilization. Roman Jove/Jupiter has been linked by name and taste for animal sacrifice to the god of the Jews as well, and arguments have been made that Abraham mentioned above is preserved in Hindu tradition as Brahma. I could list these markers for hours and hours, some sketchier than others, and not get to the end of them.

Fun though that might be, I need to address the lie I mentioned previously, and that lie is that Allah of the Muslim faith is not the same as the god of Jewish- and Christian-derived faiths. The strife of Judeo-Christian faiths against Islam is a fight between brothers according to both traditions, between Ishmael and Isaac, extended through three thousand years, over land and birthright. It is not a fight over whose god is the true god, because they are the same god. That has never been in question.

The people who spread that lie only do so to keep the conflict hot and fervent so as to keep up the price of oil, preying on the gullibility of the ignorant and convincing them there’s not just a threat to supply of critical resources, but to their very way of life. That’s bullshit. The threat is not even to the stored wealth of these people, but to the stream that brings them even more money, to the repeat of the $40 billion they made in record profits last year, not counting the $4 billion they received in tax breaks. I don’t know what your personal definition of evil is, but I’d hope it includes people that would throw gasoline on someone else’s fire to keep up the price of gasoline.

These people know they are all children of Abraham. If they all worship God differently, to the extent that they squabble among themselves to the point of killing each other over which way is the right way and which prophets are the most revered, I reserve the right to lose respect for the whole bunch who thinks Cain’s murder of Abel needs endless replication. Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob…. The stories they all share are rife with the struggle of brother against brother for God’s favor, and the results of that struggle, and yet some learn nothing from that. It’s sickening — but nowhere near as sickening as those godless outsiders who would exploit those scuffles for their own profit and drag the rest of the world into a living hell to get it, insulated, so they think, by a cocoon of flammable money.

This will not end well. But you can at least know who the real enemy is.


March 4, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else