The title of this post is one of my favorite quotations. It is accredited to Alexander Woolcott (1887 – 1943) a critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine.
If we may argue that social evolution is as self evident as its biological counterpart then this sarcastic quotation really raises a serious question. For a social activity, trend or custom to survive despite its being challenged by three formidable and ruthless foes it must provide the individual with an extraordinary payback. It must give him or her “great and immense pleasure”. This is the only way through which this “thing” can flourish in the social jungle where the survival of the fittest is literally true.
But why is that so? Actually the question should be rephrased: Why did the law, religion and nature conspire against our flirting with hedonism?
I wish to tackle this intriguing question in reverse order, that is I shall begin with the fattening bit, if I may. In the animal kingdom, herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores eat like there is no tomorrow. All animals will continue to gobble until full to the brim. As a matter of fact we count on cows and sheep munching every single minute of their waking hours to make them as fat as possible, as fast as possible, so that we may, in turn, eat them. Lions, tigers and hyenas will keep devouring their prey until they fall into a dazed slumber. They would not hunt again until they are hungry and the process is repeated with every killing rampage. Apes and chimpanzees, our closest relatives, don’t go on a limited diet. They eat till they drop if food is aplenty. Research has shown that the life expectancy of animals will dramatically increase if they consume less food, if they were kept on the verge of starvation. A recent experiment on mice illustrated that their lifespan increased by 30% when they were fed half of the amount of food regular mice eat (the control group). But animals don’t do that, they just follow nature. In light of the above, I concede that the increase in the life expectancy of humans from the olden days is not a natural process. It has been achieved through advancements in medicine and motivated by our insatiable pursuit of immortality. It is not necessarily more beneficial for the human race that people are living longer and healthier. May be, and I’m just arguing here, that we were meant, biologically, to live shorter and happier by eating tastier, more fulfilling food. I reckon that the longer we humans live the more wars we humans are going to suffer. It’s simply a matter of economics, mathematics and geography. Being on a finite piece of land (Earth) and until space colonization becomes a reality (if that is morally and legally acceptable) our planet is getting shorter on resources and increasingly overcrowded. I fall back to scientific research. Laboratory mice living in overcrowded quarters have shown an amplified tendency toward violence, homicide (in this case mousicide) and even cannibalism. And my final coup de grâce to rest my case as far as health and longevity are concerned is that most wars in the history of mankind were started by elderly statesmen or leaders. As a matter of fact, many people who seek or hold public office are too old to be rightly alive.
Morality comes from the word mores of course, which plainly means a set of customs that a people live by. Sometime in our early recorded history, religion took hold and control of people’s minds and souls. Just to remain on the abstract level and in order not to ram my head against the unyielding wall of any one religion, I will go head to head with abstract religion in my onslaught, monotheist, polytheist, pantheist and pagan. There is a fundamental difference between religion and faith. The former is an indoctrinated invention while the latter is part of human instinct. Religion, however, juxtaposed itself with faith to become almost synonymous. Early cavemen believed (had faith without proof) that there is one or more superior power in nature. They didn’t have any religion but they had faith. They led a harsh life, with dangers lurking behind every obstacle. They were hunters or food gatherers too busy with insuring their daily existence. Out of simplicity and the mere struggle to survive, someone, who didn’t want to work, turned shaman. Slowly, faith was being coerced to morph into religion. The shaman (sage, priest, …etc.) played a progressively more central role and it was not to his advantage that people should believe in one or more deity without rituals and sacrifices. “Beware the wrath of the Goddess of the Wind if you don’t give her a leg of deer or a basket of fruits” he would ejaculate in a state of frenzy while dancing around a huge bonfire. “But, Uh, how would we offer our presents, Oh Wise One?” the poor cavemen would ask submissively. Needless to say, the shaman would tell them that he would take care of this extremely complex spiritual task. He would intervene. Should I tell you what he would do with the leg of deer and the basket of fruits? I will return to this particular question in my final bout against the law. We’ve come a long way since our ancestors became subservient to the high priests but this is the actual historic evolution of religion. As the clergy became more powerful they affirmed suitable traditions, abolished inconvenient mores and introduced new ones. Sex, in particular, became their favorite and primary target. Religion is more concerned with sex and managing women than with any other aspect of human behavior. I reason that in the beginning those priests looked real ugly and frightening with the masks and paints. They couldn’t get laid without introducing some divine order. My other theory is that they suffered from some sort of impotency and vented their frustration by ordaining whatever makes people happy taboo. Subsequent religions picked up the pieces and the forbidden became more ubiquitous than the allowed. Sex, unless regimented, controlled, authorized and licensed became immoral. There are many other taboos in religion; my previous argument should have covered them all.
Now we come to my final round, against the law. I have earlier indicated that I shall return to the question of what would the priest do with the leg of deer and the basket of fruits. Of course it would be ideal if he could have them all to himself. But in reality that would have not been possible. Even as early as the cave, there were many normal folks and a few bullies. Most world leaders, before and now, carry bully genes in their cells. The early shaman needed a partner. There was always a big intimidator who would beat the other cavemen and steal their food and their women. This son of a bitch was the perfect partner for that asshole. Law and Religion shook hands, hugged, kissed and eventually fornicated to produce an Order. In its ultimate manifestation, the present New World Order is a result of such an adulterous act, or shall we say marriage since there was a priest involved. What was immoral thus became too often illegal as well. The interests of the law and religion diverged and converged over the millennia. In Utopia they will be on opposite ends if not totally absent. The crucial lesson of history is that the downfall of civilizations has always taken place when politics and religion were in bed together. Illegal pleasures are very subjective and they vary from the absurd to the imperative. For some, it could be the simple pleasure of smoking a joint, for others it could be the simpler pleasure of speaking their minds without being arrested. Anything, good or bad, can be termed illegal and thus against the law. People are denied the right and the pleasure to roam the face of the earth (our planet) by word of the law. Most humans cannot travel to a given piece of land (referred to as country) to have fun or to work, thus live a more pleasurable life, unless he or she obtains a visa. If this document is not issued due to legal and/or outright religious reasons it would be illegal for these humans to set foot on that soil, regulated by the law to belong to one specific group and sanctified by religion as proper.
Am I too harsh, too nihilistic perhaps, or is it possible that I might be saying the truth in an awfully perverse way? Neither, I was just trying to explain this eloquent quotation: “Everything I like is either illegal, immoral or fattening”.