A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Every year, at about this time, I take a pen (remember those?) and a piece of paper and write: “New Year’s Resolutions” and whatever year is bursting on the horizon. I write #1 and then I write “Be more ruthless.” There’s always a bunch of other, currently important resolutions, that may or may not matter next year, but I’m convinced that, over the course of several years, I will actually become more ruthless, simply by writing it down once a year. That’s the power of New Year’s resolutions — it could happen. New Year’s Resolutions are that idea that we can somehow be better — if we just set our mind to it. And we can. Primitive man knew this and acted accordingly.
For example, in Europe, back in the caveman days, there were two groups of people: the Cro-Magnon and the Neanderthals. They were both basic knuckle-draggers, but there is one important difference. The Cro-Magnon people survived and the Neanderthals died out. Why? I’m convinced that the Cro-Magnon understood the concept of improvement. It’s pretty far-fetched to consider a bunch of Cro-Magnons sitting around the cave making plans to go to the gym or start an RRSP, but in caveman terms, I think that’s exactly what they did. Meanwhile, the Neanderthal hillbillies down the block were picking their noses and wondering why they never seemed to get ahead. If you multiply that situation by, let’s say, 30 thousand years, Darwin and his theory kick in, and suddenly the Neanderthals are wondering where all their friends went. On the other hand, the Cro-Magnons have all the cool stuff — like circles and pointy sticks and the missionary position. The layers of knowledge build up, and before you know it, your species is evolving. In essence, the reason the Cro-Magnon people are the roots of our family tree and the Neanderthals are bones in a museum is that the Cro-Magnons learned how to do things better. They also knew there was a thing called tomorrow.
Here’s the deal: it’s December 31st, no year (because they didn’t have them.) Grog is sitting around the cave. Mrs. Grog and the kids are huddled over in the corner, shivering and bitchin’ because it’s cold. Gender equality wasn’t an issue in those days, so it’s Grog’s job to go out in the snow to get wood for the fire. Grog grunts and groans and hollers and stomps around, but he does it; it’s a matter of survival. When everybody’s toasty warm again, Grog is still thinking about how much he hates going out in the cold to get wood. He’s just a little bit smarter than the average Cro-Magnon, so he understands that the snow is eventually going to go away and wood gathering is going to be a lot easier. But — and this is way more important — he also knows that the snow is cunning, and it always comes back. Ding dong! The light goes on! Grog says to himself, “Wait a minute! If I get those useless kids to gather wood all summer, when it’s easy, and pile it over in the corner of the cave, I won’t have to go out in the cold to get it when the snow comes back.” So Grog “resolves” to gather wood next year or make the kids do it. Grog has a pile more time in the winter to do things like sharpen his pointy sticks (which makes hunting a lot better.) The family eats better and more often. At some point, Grog’s neighbours, two caves down, are going to see this and either put two and two together or ask, “Hey, Grog! You lookin’ fat, dumb and happy. What’s your secret?” The family Grog and the whole tribe are on the road to evolution because Grog’s kids are going to grow up and make their kids gather wood, too — “just like I did when I was your age.” From there, it’s only a matter of time before somebody’s going to decide that it would be kinda cool if a guy from Ohio took a stroll on the moon.