Op-Ed from Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp

Sometimes I feel like an animal, some kind of clever monkey maybe, scurrying up out of the forest and slipping into an abandoned manor house. There are dishes and furniture and clothes and tools and beds and all kinds of domestic accoutrement lying around. I slip into a bedroom and play in the dressers and closets until I find stuff I like to wear, then I slide down the banister, swing along a series of chandeliers and wall sconces, grab armloads of whatever looks fun from the pantry and fridge, grab a plate to put it all on, and head for the formal dining room. I sit crosslegged on the table and chow down. Afterward I grab a brandy bottle from the liquor cabinet and a cigar, both too complex for my palate, snatch an incomprehensible book from the shelves in the library, and drape myself across an overstuffed chair, drinking and smoking and pretending I can understand the book in my hands, where I am, what I’m doing.

I’m not alone in the house for all that it’s abandoned. There are bunches of other monkeys in here, screeching and flinging things around and sitting calmly and doing whatever else they think will make them look human. Monkeys come and go, scampering out into the woods and coming back, bringing friends, making messes, tracking in dirt, grabbing mops to swab ineffectually at the carpets…. It’s chaos, but charming and goofy, like those apes in the TV shows from the early 70s, dressing up like people and trying to do people things.

This is what it’s like, having no history, no culture, no race, no story of which I am an undeniable continuation.

Thanks to literature, history is all around me. Thoughts and impressions and experiences and stories and fables and myths. Bunches of everything, all in a jumble. But none of them are mine. I can dress up in any of them and pretend that they fit. All I’m doing, however, is offending the actual owners, who are all, like, what’s that ape doing in my tuxedo? and wishing they had better locks on their doors and windows.

Sometimes I don’t particularly feel like a jumped-up chimp in a stolen tuxedo, but I sure as hell get looks from other people, particularly those who own some history and culture, that tell me that’s how they picture me.

It wears on me a bit.

Everywhere I go, I get the “you don’t belong here” look. Or people try to sell me drugs. Or people watch me like a hawk in case I decide to shit in my hand and fling it at them. And I’m not the only one they’re watching. But the other baboons in my troop, we’re hardly a family, a culture. We’re marauders. From the French word for tomcat. More competitors than comrades.

Is there any compensation for being rootless, you think? For having no history, no culture, no tradition, no people among which you’d instantly fit in on sight and be welcomed?

Maybe if you plan to milk it. If you want to buy in fully to being an invader, a foreigner, an alien, a virus. A clever monkey.

I’m reading a book that reinforces these feelings. This book, published post-Gulf War I but pre-Gulf War II, discusses the collapse of the intellectual movement in Arab civilization in favor of the fundamentalist revolution. I’m reading the events and forming my own conclusions, and those conclusions don’t give me the warm fuzzies.

Without spending too much space on it here, I can see it as possible that a similar fundamentalist revolution can happen here in the US and in the Western World for the same reasons it happened in the Arab world.

There are a bunch of links in the chain of reasoning. The summary is, though, that as resources dwindle and fear increases, people turn more and more to thoughts of comfort and defense. The unknown is not comforting. Outsiders are not comforting. Belief in a God that will take care of you is comforting. Ritual is comforting. Warfare is comforting, because you know that there are brave souls out there defending your resources and guarding the borders from raiders and marauders. Revolution is comforting, because under the old batch of rulers there was fear and uncertainty….

I’m afraid, too, but I have no wagons to circle. I’m on foot. I’m not a member of any culture that has behavior modes to force on me so I’ll be recognizable as friend instead of foe. Are three militant southern writers that will burst into my house periodically and make sure there are empty bourbon bottles stacking up?

I wish.

The “what if?” people, the speculators, the ones who are more aware of what they don’t know than sure of what they couldn’t possibly know, these are the ones that get locked up as dangerous, the ones that get exiled or killed.

It’s not that I predict that an anti-intellectual revolution is going to happen. It’s not that I predict that if it does I’ll be one of those up against the wall. I just see that conditions are ripening and I’d hate to see it happen here. And how can you make me believe it couldn’t happen here when everywhere it’s happened there were people who believed that no one could bring an army through town that would break into museums and smash statues and break into schools to burn textbooks?

Just ask yourself, not whether, but where that kind of thing could happen. Ask yourself who would have to be in charge so that that kind of thing would get nothing more than a slap on the wrist or not even that, because “community standards” are what dictate what’s obscene and what isn’t. And then ask yourself, what happens if it happens once and people get away with it? What laws would uphold sanity? What courts? What judges? Where would it happen next? And where would it happen after that?

All this makes me wonder how to found a tribe of militant intellectuals that’ll sweep through backwards rural hellholes and erect museums and universities and drag veiled women out of their houses and put them into schools, that’ll survey a neighborhood to see what religions aren’t represented and build the missing churches and temples and mosques and bus in their believers, that’ll have an armed party member in every Sunday School and elementary school making sure the curriculum includes exercises in logic and debate and critical thinking and a reading from at least one science journal every session.

Would this tribe accept me, even? Or would I just be another ape in a beret wielding a machine gun I happened to find lying around, smoking stolen cigars and secretly wearing my Chimp Guayabera shirt whenever I thought I could get away with it?


April 4, 2007 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  


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