Postcard From Barad-dûr

If you’re a fan of JRR Tolkien (not Peter Jackson) you’ll know that elves were wary of men. They didn’t trust us. An educated English gentleman, Tolkien was always careful to couch it in polite terms, but if you read between the lines you knew the truth. Elrond, whose ancestry was partially human,*was also too well-mannered to mention it. If they were being brutally honest, however, both would tell you that humans are stupid. There were and are exceptions, they’d admit, but I’m speaking in general terms. Sixty-three years after the Lord of the Rings’ publication the United Nations’ World Population Clock says there are 7.3 billion, and counting,**people on the planet. Like Tolkien and Elrond the device is also too courteous to confirm that the vast majority are, as Sam Gamgee would have so eloquently put it, ninnyhammers.

Why are we so stupid? I don’t know. I’m tempted to say it’s because we’re made in the image of our creator but I’m either too dumb or too smart to believe in God. Still here’s the thing. If you have the intelligence to weed out the arbitrary rules put between their covers by men looking to consolidate their authority then the Torah, Bible, and Qu’uran offer some very good advice on how to build a happy, prosperous civilization. They all advocate compassion, tolerance, lawfulness, conservatism (in the natural rather than political context), courtesy, healthy living, moderacy, and environmentalism. These, of course, are the tenets of our religions that we most wilfully ignore.

Instead we allow the affluent and influential to invoke a higher power to represent their interests. We fight wars in which our sons (and now daughters) die in the name of Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah when the master our masters truly serve is Capitalism. The symbols of our achievements are billowing smokestacks and machines of war. In Middle Earth those were the devices of Mordor and Isengard, of Sauron and Saruman, of evil. Is it truly any different here? Tolkien saw where we were headed even if, having arrived, we proudly celebrate the destruction we wreak.

Our Saurons are faceless corporations who illegally fish international waters thereby depleting our oceans, who log our forests to the extent the planet struggles to produce sufficient breathable air, who strip-mine mountains and valleys for coal, who drill into our aquifers and sea-bottoms for oil, who oppose the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, and who after doing all this deny the existence of global warming.

Our Sarumans are the politicians who rationalize those actions in terms of jobs and technological advancement, and who justify cutbacks in education, healthcare, and the arts, and devalue space exploration despite the hourly chime of our impending doom as struck by the World Population Clock***Thanks to them it’s less likely we’ll be able to colonize other worlds and more probable we face a dystopian future in which the population is either brutally or arbitrarily culled.

In short, we’re so stupid we’ve been transformed into orcs without realizing it. The capitalist dark lords have developed an insidious new form of slavery. Rather than inflicting pain, they dull our instincts with pleasure. Preoccupied by the NFL and the Kardashians we allow them to disengage our minds through corporate controlled television and internet broadcasts. We consume everything in sight but make nothing. We fight amongst ourselves and fear authority. We’re slaves who brag of our glorious freedom.

So are there any Elronds and Aragorns left? Any Legolases, Gimlis, Frodos, Sams, Merrys and Pippins willing to drop their lives and go off to Eru knows where to save the rest of us? Happily there are a few. Some are sailing the seas in pursuit of illegal fishing boats, others are fighting to protect forests, and still others are trying to address poverty by guaranteeing access to fresh water for even the most poverty-stricken.

If you don’t want to be an orc anymore, you can effect change from home as well. Personally, I’ve been involved in fighting homelessness in my community. I’m also developing my craft as a writer in the hopes I can awaken sleeping minds in the same manner that Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Neal Stephenson, Stephen Lawhead, SM Stirling, and others awakened mine: through vibrant storytelling that imagines societies more in tune with nature. You don’t have to live the life they’ve planned for you. It’s your choice.

“The road goes ever on…”

[Next post Monday]

*Two of his eight great grandparents were human and one of his great-great grandparents Maiar, the Middle-earth equivalent of angels. In crude mathematical terms Elrond was actually 13/16ths or 81% Elvish. Half-Elven was Tolkien’s way of dumbing it down for humans while simultaneously revealing the underlying bigotry of Eldar society.

**Hoo-boy is it counting. How many new mouths to feed every second? It’s like watching a planetary-sized pan of Jiffy-Pop Popcorn threatening to burst open at the seams. If you think overpopulation is not a concern, try this easy exercise: quickly jot down the number of people on the clock right now, and the time, then read on.

***How high has it risen in the short time it took you to get to this footnote? Look at the corresponding birth and death tallies below the clock. You’ll see that a population the size of a small city is introduced to the world every day and that we’re on pace to see a net increase of a hundred million people globally in this calendar year.  We will need to make more space for them, which in turn means we’ll have less to grow food. We’re faced with two hard choices…

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