started with hammers and we moved to spears
each step punctuated with fear
we went from gunpowder to wiping this whole planet clear
steady driving the herd towards the cliff
tomorrow’s starving hunter’s gift
haunted by the ghosts of our best mistakes
every outward thrust and every forward stride
progress and our survival collide
the truth's new face is the same old lie
haunted by the ghosts of our best mistakes
fire, water, air, and earth, I am the fool*
burned through the sky and its shield
and salted the roots in every field
like a mother feeding on her yet-to-be-young
is the smoke of convenience
that I’ve forced into tomorrow's lungs
haunted by the ghosts of our best mistakes
we have met the enemy and he is us**
each of us is at the mercy of a sunrise
regardless of portfolio size
or race or faith or tongue
for we are, every one, parts of a greater sum
and our kingdom has come
but for some problems nature finds solutions
perhaps the next step in our evolution
will find us with no more than eight fingers
lacking the digits to pull a trigger***
stripped of arrogance, filled with foresight
fully understanding there’s but one life
and there’s never going to be another one
*X-clan, Verbs of Power
**Walt Kelly, Pogo (earth day, 1971)
***too bad evolution doesn't really work like that Colin. nice try though.
The problem with writing an album about humankind's arrogance is that you run the risk of sounding misanthropic, and not just a little cynical. I don't really want to come off like that. I'm hardly a misanthrope - everyone I love is human. And while I may harbour some cynicism in these aging bones, it's not a part of me that I like. Cynicism, after all, is the brother of hopelessness. And me, I’m crawling with hope for the future. With this album, I'm not trying to suggest that humankind is inherently selfish or egotistical. We undoubtedly have the potential to be better. Evidence of this is everywhere. From the people that have spent the majority of their lives feeding and nurturing those less fortunate than themselves to the men and women who choose running into burning buildings as a career, compassion, intelligence and charity are as much a part of us as greed, ignorance and hatred. My point is just that we have done a great job of championing the latter three traits.
Now, I'm no zoologist, but I think it's pretty safe to say that human beings are the most successful species on the planet. We're at the top of the food chain, and we're masters of our environment, in that we have been able to manipulate it like no other animal. Our current status on the planet can be attributed to several unique characteristics, but primarily it is our ability to problem solve and our capacity for invention that has set us apart. We were hungry so we figured out how to hunt more proficiently. We were cold so we made clothes. We were comfortable and bored so we invented television. Along the way, however, we made some bad choices, ones that had painful ramifications. Early on, for the most part, we didn't realize what we were doing, and couldn't see how we were fucking ourselves. Any step forward seemed like a good one, even when we weren't looking ahead. But a lot of our most destructive mistakes have played out a multitude of times during the short period that we have been around. For all our advancement, and professed superiority, we are slow to alter our behaviour and abandon our more destructive pursuits. Progress is a word that, for most of us, brings with it positive connotations. When we consider social progress we think of the movement towards an egalitarian society in which race, sex and age do not limit a person. When we consider medical progress we think of the discoveries that will ease pain, cure disease, and extend life. Progress isn't always so pleasant though. The combustible engine seemed like such an awesome, practical and helpful invention last century. But now as we choke on the air it has spoiled and send our children to die in fuel wars, this scientific advance doesn't seem so great. The splitting of the atom was an enormous leap forward for science, a milestone on our road to understanding the universe. It unfortunately led to the advent of nuclear weapons and made it possible for humans to erase all life from Earth, save for a few cockroaches. A great deal of the important decisions our species has made regarding this planet and its resources have been made with only a concern for the present. With an alarming frequency, all we've cared about is how something will affect us here and now and how we will benefit from it as individuals. Forget the future. Forget our neighbors and the creatures we share this space with. Often what has been lofted as progress has done more to set us back. With only a concern for the immediate, we have made decisions that have destroyed our habitat, stunted our learning, and threatened all of our lives.
This selfishness and lack of foresight has seemingly been with us all along. The first 'modern' humans, Cro-Magnon man, drove entire herds of animals over the edges of cliffs, killing them all and providing the hunters and their families with an abundance of food. It seemed like a great hunting technique, the only problem was that after a few days all the corpses began to rot and became inedible. Without the knowledge required to cure the meat or store it, the hunters and their families were rendered hungry once again and left with little to hunt. A parallel between this behaviour and our current treatment of food resources is easy to draw. We've over-farmed, over-hunted and over-fished. It's that simple. In order to make a quick buck some of our fellow primates have polluted landscapes beyond recognition and wiped entire species from existence. Convenience spurred us to embrace an addiction to a fuel that has corrupted the very air we require to exist. What's worse is the fact that we know all of this - nothing I am discussing here is hidden knowledge. We've poured ourselves three fingers of poison and demanded a refill and a chaser.
Our concern with the present and our own well being is most apparent in the human being's lust for material wealth. Most of our fucking over of the planet has been done, and continues to happen in the name of greed. So many of us have caused irreparable harm to the planet and each other just to make a buck; to live in bigger houses; to drive faster cars; to eat more food. The joke of it all is that the effects of our greediness and disregard for the planet's well being will be felt by everyone. Pollution does not care how much money you have. Every person on this planet, from the richest to the poorest requires clean air and clean drinking water. Granted, wealth can help you avoid the affects of famine and drought, but it will not protect you from skin cancer when the last bit of the ozone layer vanishes, and it won't help you much if the polar ice caps melt.
This type of blundering was a part of us long before we worshipped any gods. Before we invented the idea of pleasing a man in the sky, we were consumed with pleasing ourselves solely. We had to be. Life for our oldest ancestors was no doubt littered with fear and confusion. Every morning ushered in new obstacles that needed to be overcome in order to survive. Imagine how frightening lightening must have seemed. How mysterious and awe-inspiring the sun must have been. How twigs breaking just beyond the glow of a campfire would have rippled the flesh with fear. The success of our evolution as a species is measured in our unraveling of these mysteries, and understanding of those fears. The most cynical of us like to think that humans are inherently savage and concerned only with their personal well being, but that isn't even what our ancestors were really about. They learned, through experience, that it was easier and safer to live in a group and share their daily spoils than it was to sleep unaccompanied in the wilderness and take on entire herds of game alone. Solidarity is part of our shared history and indicative of the type of animal we are. Our ability to work together made us efficient hunters, then farmers and builders. The amount and sheer variety of ways that we have learned to communicate with one and other is testament to our evolutionary need to be united as a species. Don't get me wrong, I don't see human history as some long, monotonous hippie drum circle with everyone hugging and sharing icy treats and fruit drinks. I'm well aware that we have a great capacity for brutality, hatred and violence. My point is that we're still working on it. We're still trying to figure out ways for us all to get along. Life now is infinitely less shitty and brutal than life in the dark ages*. It is our fear, and the misconceptions we have about each other and our place in the universe that encourages us to fuck everything up so drastically.
To digress for a moment - I'm not talking about immediate situations. I'm not suggesting that the guy who commits murder when he walks in on his spouse having sex with his best friend does it because he believes that he is god's favourite person. I'm talking about a much larger story. The one about us as a species. I'm talking about our big, big, big decisions. And our predilection for making the wrong ones.
A lot of our bad decisions can be chalked up to ignorance. The Cro-Mags (species, not band) didn't really have the capacity to look too far into the future. They didn't realize that their hunting technique would fuck them over so badly in the long run. The same can be said about us, in the present, and our overabundance of fuel consumption and fishing. Of course, we know better, now. But we keep on with the same destructive habits, too convinced of our own immortality to see that killing off all of our food resources and destroying the air will eventually erase us from the planet - that is, if we don't blow ourselves (oh yeah, and everything else) out of existence first. It's staggering to think that, in a time when prolonged exposure to the sun can riddle a person's skin with cancer, and millions go hungry daily, men are working day and night with no other purpose than to invent newer, faster ways to obliterate human beings. And it's horrifying to think that the demand for these inventions increases daily.
We've done pretty well as a species in terms of surviving. But we're such slow learners that our successes may prove to be failures.
Again, these recurring blunders can be traced to the common belief that life on Earth is just a stepping stone to a bigger, better and brighter eternity. It's easy to accept the fact that we are slowly poisoning ourselves, as well as our children's children, if you've accepted the notion that there is another life after this one, and that the dude who made all of this wants you to be there. It's easy to take your environment for granted, and subsequently destroy it, when you don't really think that you are a part of it. It's easy to kill off other species if you believe you have no connection to them other than being sculpted by an architect that placed you at the top of mount importance. It's easy to hate, not to mention kill or torture, your neighbor if she/he doesn't give sufficient thanks to your particular creator. I suppose the real joke is that it is our arrogance that does us the most harm. It is our belief that we are the centre of the universe that will, should we continue on the same destructive path, wipe us from existence (long before the sun does).
We owe a huge thanks to our buddy Neil for coming out and just killing it on the third verse of this song. Everyone should check out his band.
The alternate title to this song refers to this awesome book by Ronald Wright:
This amazing song:
And this classic cartoon strip:**
Hostage Life dances on the shoulders of giants.
*I realize that this is a culturally sensitive statement. It relates to my experience in the western world. I am well aware that there are a great deal of people on the planet suffering through conditions that are not that different from the aforementioned time period's squalor.
**The line “we have met the enemy and he is us” originally appeared in this song but the guys cut it out during mixing because they thought it didn’t fit. I wasn’t there so couldn’t bitch about the decision until after. The finalized lyric sheet had already been sent in to the artist so the line still appears even though you never hear it.