Forget About Posterity

by Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains When we see old things in new ways

Last night I was watching a TV program about gorillas. Gorillas, it seems, have their plates pretty much full just staying alive. Back home in Africa, their feet have become all the rage as umbrella stands and their heads are seen as making nifty ashtrays. Here in the United States, one huge male has become a shopping center attraction. For the last 27 years, he's been locked up in a mall in Alabama. I don't know about you, but 27 minutes at a mall in Alabama would about do it for me. Anyway, you get the picture. Despite what you may have heard, 500-pound gorillas do not get to sleep wherever they want!

Then this TV program showed some scenes of a gorilla being born in a zoo. Mother Nature does her damnedest to make this an increasing rare event (for good and obvious reasons) but everyone around the cage went absolutely berserk with joy; what a gift for posterity! One bozo yelled "Praise be to God!" (obviously confusing artificial insemination with Immaculate Conception) before he added, "I just pray that my children's children will be able to see a gorilla." Whether this was to be at a mall in Alabama, or brisling with umbrellas in somebody's foyer, was never made clear. The overriding sentiment was what counted, and that was: Spare no cost or effort when it comes to leaving stuff, including big hairy animals of dubious value, to future generations. Now if you want to know what I say, I say Forget About Posterity.

One reason is that we haven't a clue as to how to leave anything to anybody - let alone leave an entire species to the world at large. My family left me a 23 room house complete with servant's quarters. The servants left their kids nothing but brothers and sisters. So many brothers and sisters, in fact, that a generation later property taxes passed property values, and there went the house along with the neighborhood. The point here is that you just never know.

My comic book collection was never seen as having any particular value, and was, alas, treated accordingly. I had stacks and stacks, all sequentially numbered, in pristine condition. I was a very neat kid. On today's market they would be worth maybe half a million dollars. I'm sure you have similar stories of best-laid plans going awry.

Believe it or not, the first automobiles were seen as a way of getting rid of all those messy horses so that cleaner, safer roadways could be passed on to posterity. Oh well, at least we don't have to worry about stepping in hydrocarbon. And remember that Smokey the Bear character who kept carrying on about forest fires until it became apparent (when most of Yellowstone Park burnt down) that frequent blazes were Mother Nature's way of clearing undergrowth? And then there was World War I. At the time, it was billed as the "War to End All Wars." The allies were convinced that despite the horror, the carnage, and the devastation, at least they could leave peace to posterity. Yea sure.

A second reason is that a stated concern for posterity is often nothing more than a deluded quest for power by the powerless. A generation ago there were people who said it was the fault of society that some kids grew up to be vicious criminals. Now why, I ask you, would anyone with both oars in the water want to believe anything like that?

Well, think about it.

If an individual makes believe that mass murderers are his fault, he can also make believe that it's in his power to handle them. This makes it a lot easier to sleep nights. Committees of similarly convinced individuals were formed, and dozens of different ways to throw money at the problem were developed. They believed they were taking charge and making a difference. But years passed and reporters on the 11:00 news continued to ask questions like "Why did you kill the entire family?", and continued to get answers like "Causn dey was home." Rats! Now what?

The obvious solution was to write off such past fiascos, and start looking ahead - way ahead - to posterity. After all, who's going to live long enough to witness your next fiasco? The fact is, you can keep this one going your whole life long, and never have to face up to failure. You can't keep a stereo in your car but so what? You can still worry about the problems of all those untold generations yet to be born! Killers stalk the streets of every major city in the country, but they're just a minor nuisance when you're working on the whole damn planet a hundred years from now! Now that's power!

A third reason is that posterity is going to manage regardless of what you do or don't do. Posterity has a way of working things out - it's been doing it for eons after all. In the world of tomorrow, when the last gorilla is gone, rest assured that shoppers in Alabama will still get a Yahoo out of their trips to the mall. Hell! I don't hear people today whining because Neiman Marcus doesn't have a dodo in the window. And on top of that, Modern Man is so far removed from Nature that he forgets it moves in circles rather than in straight lines.

Things go up, only to then come down, and maybe go around again. He looks at something like traffic congestion in 1999, compares it to 1950, and is convinced that things will come to a standstill in 2050. Nonsense! When it gets to the point that people sit in traffic for six hours a day, son-of-a-gun, they'll start thinking about carpooling, and cottage industries, and moving to Oregon.

Start building more highways now, and you'll only make thing worse later by encouraging the proliferation of population, pollution, and the myriad problems that overcrowding creates. There were those in the mid-60's who were convinced that catastrophic famine would wipe out Third World countries by the mid-70's. In fact, a book titled Famine '75 made the Best Seller List. They forgot that when people get hungry, they don't think much about sex, and if they get hungry enough, they assume room temperature. So here it is the 21st Century, and the Third World is still with us. Phew! I know I breathe a sigh of relief.

But if you insist on worrying about posterity, I'll give you something good about which to worry. Do you know what may be coming? Five-dollar apples! They're already a fact of life in Japan - along with eight-dollar oranges, and I don't even want to get into steaks and chops. If you look around at the things that actually effect your life (not stuff like gorillas), only the relative cost of food has remained constant. Even the poorest people can still afford to be fat, and clinical obesity has become the nation's most common health problem.

In almost every other time and place, our abundant supply of affordable food would have been considered a bonanza of the most incredible proportions. But do you know that only a very small group of individuals now controls almost all our food production and distribution?

Realistically speaking, you can't start growing things like wheat in a window box. You'll pay the going price for food, and it's as simple as that. So if you really want to worry about posterity, your children's children and all, understand that there is good reason to believe that future generations may come to consider food their dearest commodity.

Look At It This Way

The grandma who forgot about a case or two of pork'n'beans in the attic may be leaving behind something a whole lot more valuable than a signed Tiffany lamp. And remember that baby gorilla born at the zoo - seen as being received with so much relish by posterity? Well, along with some ketchup and mustard too... it just may be... it just may be...

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