(Originally posted December 29, 2004. This will probably be the last of the re-runs. I'll try to come up with something new in between meetings.)
Certain little common events make me have certain big weird thoughts.
As I have moved ever further north of forty and begun to approach the old California speed-limit of fifty-five, I have thought increasingly about Saber-toothed tigers (Similodon Fatalis), and what they tell us about nature's plan for us, and how most of us Westerners have frustrated it. I had an epiphany in three steps (nine fewer than AA) at the end of which I saw clearly the (drumroll, please) Saber-toothed Tiger Law of Life which I, in turn, reveal to you, dear readers, free of charge and of strings.
First: Heed The Kneed
I started my journey toward grasping the Saber-toothed Tiger Law of Life while serving in Central America. It began on a helicopter ride to a remote area to view a drug crop eradication and see the processing of some detainees captured in a raid. It was a largely uneventful flight -- except for some idiot who lost his enormous ski jacket out the open side door, provoking a brief moment of concern that the damn thing would wrap itself around the rear rotor. The site of this crop eradication was hot, humid, full of bugs, cops, smoke, and unhappy campesinos watching a year's earnings burn. Some minor traffickers had been captured and were being interrogated before being turned over to the local cops. Pretty routine stuff. The flight back was fine, i.e., nobody took a shot at us.
When we landed back at the base, I was busy yaking away with somebody, trying to make my undoubtedly brilliant comments heard above the engine noise. In sum, I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing. As I exited the Huey, talking away, I stepped on the skid, stumbled and fell, twisting my knee and -- much worse -- making a dusty fool of myself in front of grinning DEA agents, Special Forces, and local drug cops and military. Despite their words of concern and helping hands, I could see the mirth in their eyes, the barely suppressed smiles, and I swear I could hear them thinking, "Yep, State Department. No doubt about it." At that moment I caught a glimpse, just a fleeting one of the Saber-toothed Tiger Law of Life.
Second: Slippery Slope
Well, that knee has bothered me for years and led to the second, ahem, step on my journey of discovery. This time I was on a hunting/fishing trip in South America. A group of us spent the morning shooting at ducks on a mountain lake and surrounding rivers. Given the altitude, the cold, and the terrain, it was a tough, exhausting hunt. Just as a freezing drizzle began, I put my shotgun into my 4x4 truck, and started to walk down a gentle tundra-like slope towards the lake to see how the kids were coming along in their fishing. And . . . you guessed it, the knee gave out. I went down like a felled tree, rolled through a pile of manure, provoked gales of laughter from some very evil Embassy children, and broke my leg in three places. The result? A harrowing trip back to the capital; emergency surgery; almost two weeks in a local "hospital;" many more weeks of crutches; and, finally, a leg that never healed properly leaving me with a slight limp to this day. The Saber-toothed Tiger Law of Life had begun to get codified.
Third: An Aye For An Eye
Years later, I'm back in Central America. We had an energetic political officer who negotiated a discount with a local eye clinic if five or more of us from the Embassy would get Lasik eye surgery done there. Having worn thick glasses since I was thirteen, I agreed to the offer. Being chicken, however, when it comes to knives and lasers touching my eyes, I sent the political officer first. If she returned with two smoking holes in her head, melted eyeball goo dripping down her face, I'd back out of the deal. (This is, after all, why subordinates exist, right?) Well, she survived, professing great joy in the results, and minimizing the terror. I had to go.
It was a Stephen King nightmare! Foreign people in white robes with funny accents putting drops in my eyes! Giving me Valium, and holding me down on a gurney while my eyes were clamped open! Tiny knives, pulsating laser, the smell of, of . . . my burning CORNEA! I confess, Dr. Mengele! Yes! It was I on the grassy knoll! Oh the humanity! (OK, OK, so I'm taking a little Diplomadic license here . . .)
Anyhow, afterwards I was sent home wearing some very dark glasses to recover. Lying on the bed, recalling the horror I had been through and plotting revenge against the political officer and all her descendants for sixty generations, I lifted the glasses and looked at the small TV screen across the room. No glasses on and I could read the crawl on CNN! This Lasik stuff works! The prior day the screen would have been a total blur. I rushed to the window, and although the light still bothered me, I could see a cat walking on the sidewalk some ten floors below! A cat, I could clearly make out that it was a cat -- and not a blob which could have been a rat, a dog, a shoe, or who knows what. I remember the thought flashing into my mind, "G-d, what would a near-sighted caveman do?" The Saber-toothed Tiger Law of Life was fully revealed.
The Saber-toothed Tiger Law of Life
It dawned on me in that overly air conditioned room, my eyes tearing and blinking as I stared out at the bright tropical light that I had violated my design specifications. Clearly nature did not intend for the average non-Moses, non-Methuselah, non-Mentuhotep II peon to live past forty. Looking at that cat it became clear that everything a man needs to avoid being eaten by a Saber-toothed tiger starts to go around the age of forty. Suddenly you can't throw that spear like you used to. You can't run after or away from the Saber-toothed tiger like you used to. Your aching knees won't let you crouch down so you can sneak up on the sleeping Saber-toothed tiger or on that Woolly Mammoth you want to kill and eat. And your eyes, yes, your eyes start to fail you; you can't see well enough to throw a spear with accuracy, or you can't tell if that blurry blob approaching you is a Saber-toothed tiger or a goat, and by the time you find out . . . well, you might be lunch. I am living on borrowed time, and depend on scientists and engineers to keep extending me further loans.
The entire history of Western man boils down to the fight to avoid or put off as long as possible that lunch date. Our civilization and inventions are in the end about defeating our fellow man in occasional war and defying nature every day. The natural state of man is to be in rebellion against the natural state. By denying this, "ecologists" and "Greens" are criminally wrong and inflict great damage on human life. Not so much on folks like you and me -- ain't nobody going to take away my SUV or deny me a Big Mac -- but on the poor of the world. As I wrote before when I criticized "activists" working for "indigenous" people's rights, "Western man no longer lives in caves or trees, terrorized by solar eclipses and at the mercy of an unforgiving environment. < . . .> Why should humans live little better than animals in disease-infested jungles, or exposed on wind-swept plains?"
As a Westerner I can get my eyes fixed, my leg reknitted, my appendix removed; if I have a heart attack or get injured trained paramedics will come to my house and ferry me to a modern hospital. I do not have to scratch out a living on the land because a handful of sophisticated American farmers using ultra-modern equipment and techniques can feed all of us. We in the West do not die by the thousands in tsunamis or earthquakes or from malaria or typhoid: it's the poor people who still have to live fearing the Saber-tooth tiger. They "live" within nature's design specifications and exit the planet after some forty years. They are heroes of the "Greens" and the "ecologists" and the "indigenous rights activists." They are the model that those "Greens," "ecologists," and "activists" would have us all emulate.
We should all be grateful that Greenpeace and Sierra Club did not exist 11,000 years ago; I am sure they'd have spent every effort imaginable to prevent the Saber-toothed cats from going extinct. I for one can live without Saber-toothed tigers . . . although I wouldn't have minded bagging one instead of all those stupid ducks . . .