Last lecture delivered from the podium of the Department of Philosophy of the Free University of San Francisco.
– July the 4th, 2184
Friends, academics, and fellow mutants, I address you today in my capacity of new Chairman of the Socratic Society, on the first, and probably the last day of my tenure.
Thank you for electing me. Thank you for placing your trust in me. Thank you for trusting my intellectual credentials in spite of my outer deformities.
As you can see, I am one of the last of the old humans. Those of you who resemble me have become so rare that we are seen as “mutants”; though, of course, we are not a new variation of species, but the last representatives on Earth of a human life form that has been dominant for more than thirty-thousand years.
From my point of view, and from the point of view of those of you who resemble me, we are, of course, not mutants at all.
Permit me to explain the world as seen through my eyes. At the risk of being controversial, I want to enlighten you, I want to open your eyes to a perspective on our history which is fast becoming obsolete. In fact, this perspective has become so utterly unfashionable that this may very well be the last lecture of this sort ever to be delivered from this podium, or any university podium, ever.
In the presumed words of Thomas Beckett, and with due apology to T.S. Eliot, who so eloquently dramatized the demise of that great man: “Death comes to us all, my lords.”
I shall begin my lecture from a position of inaccuracy. I am thus making a declaration of ignorance – however painful for me, especially as newly elected Chairman of this prestigious Society, to admit to such a fallacy. Fortunately I am by no means alone in my uncertainty.
I don’t know, and I am not sure if anyone knows, exactly when and where the change began. Some say it is a recent development; others believe that the evolution of Man had already reached its pinnacle with the development of the large-brained, gentle-natured Neanderthals, who were shoved into extinction by the first competitive, patriarchal Cro-Magnons. Be that as it may. We can only begin to see the bigger picture now, in retrospect, the few of us who escaped the results of the latest massive reversion.
To describe the change as a “reversion” or, even better, a “regression”, is an utterly discredited statement, I know. But bear with me for the moment, while I lead up to my central argument.
* * *
No one expected such a thing to happen, least of all the so-called intelligentsia — not even the famous San Francisco coffee shop philosophers like us! — during those brave days when trade was strong and every quirk of nature could be rectified, more or less, by new technology.
When we ran out of fossil fuels, we created electrical cars. When antiquated methods of generating electricity failed, we switched to solar power, wind power, whatever we could lay our paws on. Global warming and climate change? It wasn’t as dangerous as it was cracked up to be, mostly false predictions, like the Y2K scare of the turn of the previous century. There had been solar flares, hurricanes, earthquakes — there were earthquakes everywhere, in fact, except San Francisco! — since the beginning of time, and, sure, the first half of the twenty-first century was a seriously turbulent era in terms of the unexpected moods of Mother Nature, but, alas! The worst doomsday scenarios never came true, life went on, 2012 came and went, and nothing really terrible happened to the world. The Mayans and Nostradamus had been wrong after all.
Or so we thought.
And who could blame us for being at least cautiously optimistic about the future?
Even the one thing that had been our biggest collective headache — the radical Islam threat, the constant skirmishes and guerilla warfare, and the fear of the Bomb — sort of began balancing itself out by the 2050s. After the fall of China and the successful counter-revolution in Iran, the fundamentalists lost steam, exactly as P.J. O’Rourke had predicted! That was more or less the time when Islamic youth discovered Internet pornography, tight-fitting jeans, and hip-hop music. Their conservative elders had no effective weapon against the successful imperialism of Narcissism coming from the West.
By the year 2084, a new World Order had more or less established itself. The Universal Rule of the Individual had arrived, supposedly for the first time in the history of the race called Man. Countries were run like private companies, politics had been abolished. Consensus by e-mail and virtual clicks had taken the place of voting. All corporate decisions were based on supply and demand.
True enough, literacy had suffered a heavy blow, and an alarming number of young people could hardly read or write properly — they only understood SMS language and had never heard of Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, or even Nabokov — but hunger had been abolished, many broken cities had been rebuilt, and, as for the many species of animals which had been destroyed by large-scale entrepreneurship and engineering projects, who cared? Generic foods took the place of the original products, and, after a while, nobody could remember what real steaks were supposed to taste like.
By the turn of the next century, the beeps and buzzes of electronics had very much replaced the sound of birdsong in the morning, but hardly anyone noticed.
The first time we felt cause for collective alarm was in the year 2112, when the first wave of human babies were born inexplicably covered with full-body fur and sporting short, ape-like tails. This was the first generation of children who were unable to speak in full sentences, who merely grunted and rummaged for free food in the countless malls of the New World. They could handle remote controls, and most of them had a savant-like grasp of everything relating to IT software, but as for “normal” human interaction, that seemed to be strangely absent. They completely lacked social skills or logical coherence, lived only for the moment’s instant gratification, and had the psychological profiles of low-level psychopaths.
The media, oddly enough, downplayed the phenomenon. After all, the diagnosis of “psychopath” had been abandoned decades before as being discriminatory and patronizing. Since the 2050s, when psychiatry had become almost exclusively a field for chemical research and commerce, the concepts of “morality’ and “personal responsibility” had been eroded for so long that such ideas were, academically speaking, extinct, and therefore meaningless. There was no concept such as “free will”. The only real choices left to the individual had mostly to do with what to wear, what channel to watch, or which holographic personality to adopt in the various new 3-D “sim games”.
Which meant that, when the proverbial battery chickens finally came home to roost — pardon my sarcasm — and Mankind lost its collective conscience, the intellectuals of the day had no way of aptly labeling the phenomenon. And, because no word existed to describe the disease, it was not recognized as a disease.
But more problems were to come. If only we realized, way back then, during the early twenty-second century, how incredibly fast the process of reverse evolution would occur! For those of us who believed, perhaps mistakenly, that twenty-first century urban homo sapiens represented the highest rung of the ladder ever reached, the sudden fall from grace was simply too much to comprehend. To think that it had taken mankind millennia to scale the heights of civilization, only to glide down back into the jungle within the scope of a generation or two!
Perhaps it had something to do with inertia, the attraction of chaos, genes taking the easy way out during the shortest time possible. Whatever the real cause, it was possible that we were we guilty of setting off this process ourselves. Then again, it might not have been our own fault at all; it might simply have been an inevitable decline after evolution had reached its peak. What if evolution had never been supposed to go in one direction only, but to swing back and forth like a giant pendulum?
Oh, we’d always assumed we’d go on forever, getting cleverer and cleverer, smarter and smarter, brainier and brainier… of course, we’d always been afraid of many things along the way, we were afraid of war and economic meltdown and losing our grip on ecology and all the normal stuff, but never this… not even Darwin had seen this coming, though he had predicted the first cycle of the process quite nicely, thank you. Now, we are no longer certain of anything, and, in the face of new evidence, Darwinism has become as obsolete as the laws of Newton when faced with the discoveries of Einstein and the paradoxes of quantum physics.
* * *
It is now the year 2184, and very few of us are left. With “us”, I mean human beings, normal human beings, as the idea was understood in, say, 2000. And, needlessly to say, we had become the outcasts of our race, the vanishing eccentrics, the last true thinkers, the last of the book readers, the last talkers and philosophers, the marginalized few, the ones reduced to standing on the sidelines and watching the rest devour themselves… and us.
Our cities have been turned into jungles; not jungles in the old sense of the word, with abundantly growing creepers and interesting-looking carnivores and bug-infested swamps and greenery — ha! There’s hardly any greenery left! — but oh, look closely, and you will see that these cities are jungles nevertheless. Though the restaurants might serve edible meals, the underground trains all run on time, the hovercraft are all in working order, the hospitals may be clean and efficient in the care of well-trained robotic medical staff, though automation may take care of all the day-to-day running of the cogs of this mighty machine called Modernity, the beneficiaries of this vast array of mechanical-service delivery are nothing but a bunch of unappreciative, selfish, dumb apes, who, if left to their own devices, would be even more helpless than their prehistoric ancestors. At least prehistoric man knew how to make fires and design wheels! These modern hairy specimens, with their heavy brows and low skulls, are only adept at pushing buttons and experiencing cheap thrills.
It has come to this. The beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born has at last been born, and is standing in front of us, fully grown, in all its vulgarity and loathsomeness. No longer is mankind being haunted by the monsters inside his own psyche. The monsters are plain for all to see. With their prominent noses and flared nostrils, their vacant eyes, their swaggering gait, and wagging tails, these new hairy mammals, these descendants of Adam and Eve and Charlie Chaplin and Hitler and Picasso and Mother Theresa and Mugabe and Jesus and Stalin, are the physical embodiment of everything we had already become spiritually. If one can call it “everything”. I prefer the word “nothing”, for we have indeed become nothing. We strode into the abyss and the abyss became us. We had reached for the voids of outer space, and fallen into a Greater Void. We are the Last Generation. The center cannot hold for much longer.
Once the machines run down, chaos will ensue, and the world will become a dark and random place once again, with shadows skulking in corners and man devouring man for flesh, gratification, and brute survival. As they are already doing.
This is the Final Genocide. This is the Collective Suicide of our species.
I know that many of the statements I have made here this afternoon will be seen as some kind of intellectual blasphemy by most, even by many of my fellow philosophers and scientists. Already, some of you have started reporting me, talking in low whispers into your phones. I know that, as this lecture is being streamed live, it is being analyzed and scrutinized by the last corrupt judges in charge of our decadent and crumbling legal system.
During this lecture I have been guilty of hate speech, of inflammatory inter-specie sentiments – the modern equivalent of racism – and I have belittled and insulted the apes. This is probably the most politically incorrect lecture ever to be delivered from this podium, and in this or any University. But, God help me, the things I said here today simply had to be said.
No, it’s no use barricading the windows and doors. They are coming. Outside this staid old building, the sea lies glistening as always in the bright midday sun, the grand old defunct bridges may stand proud and rusty on their ancient foundations… but they are coming. Families of mutant holidaymakers may visit the countless ice cream stalls along the old beach front to buy soft drinks for their ape-like offspring… but they are coming. Nothing will prevent them from coming. They have no shame, no respect, no dignity, they are not even aware of the importance of this date to the American people. They are coming, in all their simplicity and one-dimensionality, to destroy me. I am the new enemy. By my statements I have undermined their freedom. And their freedom is incompatible with my freedom of speech.
I can already hear their grunts and monosyllabic squeals. We are outnumbered. The enemy is stronger than us. I can hear their paws scraping across the tiles of the foyer; I can see the bloodthirsty hunger in their eyes. We are done for, I myself, and all those of you, my so-called fellow “mutants”, who have listened to these arguments without interrupting me.
Here I stand, a lone rebel against the inexplicable follies of evolution, representative of the last of a dying race, personal ambassador of the most ingenious, brave, and resourceful breed in the known universe.
Thank you for listening. I shall take my last drink now, for I am thirsty. (Short pause as the speaker takes a sip of Starbucks coffee from a plastic cup and remains standing, gazing upward through the skylight at the clear blue sky.) And now I shall surrender myself to the inevitable.
Into the hands of Socrates I commend my spirit. *
About the Author: Koos Kombuis is an Afrikaans columnist, bilingual author, and retired rock musician. Despite numerous attempts to settle down and conform, his career has been dogged by controversy ever since he was banned from performing his anti-apartheid songs on several university campuses in 1989. Born André le Roux du Toit, he rejected his French roots to change his name in 1990. His first English novel, the feminist allegory “Paradise Redecorated” (now mercifully out of print), was published shortly afterwards. During the last years of the reign of George W. Bush, Koos almost scored an international hit with a controversial satire “The Secret Diary of God”, but fundamentalist Christians started an Internet petition against it, and numerous bookstore owners in the US refused to stock the book. His latest publication, the autobiographical work “Short Drive to Freedom”, has sparked fierce criticism and even legal threats from disgruntled music-industry people. Since 2008, the Channel 24 MP3 Hit Parade has been dominated by various remakes of his famous “Fokkol Song”, which contains at least sixty-nine swear words (excluding “Eskom”), a possible candidate for the Guinness Book of Records. According to Koos, the happiest and most expressive time of his life was the five minutes he spent illegally in France somewhere around 1993, when he leopard-crawled from the Belgian side past a French border-post to have a crap in a corn field in the country of his forefathers before crawling back to Belgium to find toilet paper.
Story copyright 2010 by Koos Kombuis
About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago is still evolving (as an artist).
Illustration copyright 2010 by Romeo Esparrago