Content 18 + (published as is, blog owner may have different opinion from the author)
“The lizard brain stirred and a billion years later Reacher leaned forward an inch.”
Strange sentence, don’t you agree? Actually, I consider it one of the most compelling lines I can remember. (Maybe you will think I have a small memory bank?)
Actually it comes from a book by a very popular writer named Lee Child whose ex-military maverick and rogue hero is named Jack Reacher. It is one of a long series (all with the mighty lone wolf Reacher as chief name-taker and ass-kicker), and I guess you could label them as ‘action thrillers’.
If my old professors knew I was reading this stuff they would be convinced that the booze had gotten to me once and for all, but the truth is that — starting with Stephen King, one of whose novels I snagged in desperation at the Varna airport some years back — it’s gotten so I just enjoy getting hooked on a well-told story more than plowing through some precious- profound, intellectually labyrinthine, ‘life-affirming’ concoction.that the eggheads swoon over and nobody else reads. A page turner, as they say — that’s my preference now.. My only stipulation is that they must be well-written.
I stopped reading most of the highbrow stuff several years ago. Time was, I would suffer through Literary Sleeping Pills such as Finnegan’s Wake and One Hundred Years of Solitude just because, as a doctoral. ‘candidate’ in English at a big American university, I felt like I was morally obliged to. It’s kind of like figuring you should read The Complete Works of Shakespeare (or at least a whole play or two) instead of relying on Cliff Notes and academy-approved scholars to tell you what to think. Or maybe if, as I did, you grew up in a Christian culture (whether you ever really bought into it or not),you feel you should give the ‘Holy Bible’ a cover-to-cover read-through, just so you can experience first hand what Christians have been ranting about for all these centuries. If you are normally too busy to get around to such things but also inclined to be a law-breaker, I would suggest the County Jail as the perfect place to read the Bible. You can always find one in there somewhere. In fact, they are all over the place and the Slammer is chock full of grizzled ‘born again’ swingin’ dicks that you can share your Road to Damascus epiphanies with. Never mind that once they serve their sentences and hit the streets once more, the religious bug usually leaves them faster than your wallet can disappear between the light fingers of a pickpocket..
So no, I don’t feel too bad reading the Best Sellers. Stephen King, for example, is a great writer whether the constipated hardline literary elites think so or not. Try 11.22.63 sometime. Or The Green Mile. Then feel free to return to brain-bludgeoners like Margaret Atwood and Thomas Pynchon for some casual titillation. No problem there, either, but my bet is that you will actually enjoy Stephen King whereas you will merely be proud of having reached the end of the denser and more cerebrum-gnashing volumes.. And RELIEVED. (“Damn, I did it,” you will shout like a POW who has been rescued from a place where bamboo shoots are strategically driven under your fingernails and into your nuts.) Bottom line: an unpretentious girl from the trailer park can be just as good in bed as some snob the art gallery. Maybe even more genuine and more fun, all in all, better company on rainy nights.
Anyway, back to Jack Reacher. As a Special Forces guy well-trained in a different art, that of breaking bones and ending human life, we see the crouching reptile inside him, always watchful, always poised, always ready to strike if necessary. Fortunately, he is a good guy dedicated to the endless and thankless task of righting wrongs, putting the house in order, and making the world a safer place, etc. even if this means bucking the authority of conventional stiffs and fracturing a bad guy’s skull here and there. O well. He is a sort of Dirty Harry kind of bloke. I like Jack — I like him a lot — and I guess he must appeal to quite a few other lads because these books sell in the millions.Together I guess we all form what a feminist writer brilliantly described as “the bloody knuckles club.” (Kudos, lady. Nicely put.)I see Jack as the kind of hero embraced by those who view The System as little better than the monsters it is designed to protect us against.
Vigilante justice. We are not supposed to approve of this concept, but just go to a movie house some time and watch until the end when some verminous creep who has raped, looted, and murdered his way through the film is finally made to answer for his sins. Preferably in some spectacularly gory fashion, like having his brains splattered against the wall or maybe getting his head stuck in a meat-grinder or his intestines fished out by a really sturdy and durable hook.. Everybody howls with pent-up and vindictive delight, suddenly as happy as if their favorite football team had just scored the winning touchdown..
Is this feeling of total Elation wrong? I suppose it is. But it tends to confirm something I have long suspected and more or less concluded as representing the truth — a product of my advancing age, no doubt. Which is that after all is said and done, human civilization remains reptilian in nature (although I have to confess that the word ‘rodent’ also comes to mind), if you but peer far enough beneath the surface.
For example, I used to struggle over the idea of whether there is a God or not, and in the by-and-by I have come to the rather disappointing conclusion that, No, there probably isn’t. Where I live now (Bulgaria) and previously (Russia), religion is alive and well officially and without question it is still buried deep in the hearts of the common people. Orthodox-this or Orthodox-that, they are believers nonetheless. I’m not. I suppose that I still cling to the vague notion of some ‘cosmic force’ which, at the end of the intergalactic day will rise up and startle us all by saying “Surprise, Surprise Morons! Guess what ? I love you !!!! — and a big Smiley Face will appear just beyond the stars. That is because there seems to be some indefatigable something in me which is composed entirely of Blind Faith.
But just as powerful in the sweaty locker rooms of my ‘soul’ runs the bleak suspicion that, whatever we pretend to be, or even long to be, we humans are in fact nothing more than rather too-clever-for-our-own-good beasts on the hoof whose deepest psychological affiliations connect in an ever-abiding bondage to the reptile state. Look at the mug-shots of arrested predators in police custody and you will spot the eye of the gila monster every time. But, If you stare hard and steady enough, you can also discern the same frozen, pre-programmed level of deadliness-poised-to-pounce in the outwardly “Hail Fellow, Well Met !” retinas and stark ballpoint pen pupils of many politicians, central directors and CEO’s, and even professors emeritus. Basically, they got to the top by eating other people. Big Lizards.
The sentence I quoted at the start of this blog jumped off the page at me. The whole book is skillfully rendered, fast-paced, and completely devoid of anything resembling a dull moment. But that line I like, written to describe Jack Reacher as he waits in the shadows for the perfect moment to strike, rises from the rest of this excellent novel like some magnificent prehistoric eagle: The Unreflecting Predator. The Coiled Killer. The Deadly Tiger Snake — makes an absolute connection between the primitive instinctive impulse of the reptile of a billion years ago and the modern man in his suit and tie — and the brilliant (seemingly innocuous) phrase “…Reacher leaned forward an inch.” evokes, at least in me, a sense that somehow the lizard, communicating in lizard-speak from a billion years ago, has entered Reacher’s brain and thus conveyed its timeless message. Reacher’s head reacts ever so slightly. After eons and eons.
It is like saying: in a billion years, we have moved an inch. And that’s all.
I am inclined to believe it. In fact I think that we are still very much in the process of evolution. I believe that maybe we are no more than halfway there, at least in terms of where we will be when the sun burns out and dies. And just as the Neanderthals were replaced, without remorse, by the Homo Sapiens, so, I believe, the human will finally be supplanted by the computer. Or, to be precise, one form will simply merge into the other. Electronic Intelligence will gradually out-do Biological Intelligence and go on to rule the world. There will of course be an interval when humans begin to treat their machines as equals, grant them civil rights, have sex with them, fall in love with them, and mourn them when their hard drives break (or whatever the future equivalent will be). But, just as robots now prowl among us, still at our command and often doing our dirty work as well as even being able to perform such intricate tasks as human eye-surgery, one day our drones will be our masters. At some point, the machine will wake up of a morning, yawn brisk;y and proclaim, “I think, therefore, I am.” Curtains for us.
Because at that moment the machine will have won. O yes, you can argue, we still have the power to stop it. Or you might say that we can control it. But we won’t and we can’t.. That is because we are driven by something beyond the pragmatism of our rational minds; rather, we are driven by an insatiable impulse toward further and further evolution.
Civilization — and its manifold achievements — is both admirable and poignant (in a way), but civilization is nothing more than a house of cards. A strong enough wind will blow it all down. In 1977, when the lights went out across the greater New York City area due to a power failure (caused by a simple error on part of a technician), human lizards emerged from the darkness. For a number of hours chaos reigned: windows were broken, stores looted, multitudes of people scooting helter-skelter in the black-out gloaming. Chernobyl came within a public hair’s width of turning all of Europe into a nuclear reactor.. In warfare, the law of the jungle prevails, and the inevitable result is a demoralizing record of atrocities. Even minor things, such as taxi drivers doubling their fares when the metro breaks down, reveal the avaricious human heart in its bottom line state. We behave in a civilized way toward one another when such refined manners are convenient or politely self-serving. And, true, we have our share of missionaries and martyrs. But remember that when the Titanic sank and, because of mismanagement and blatant stupidity there were not enough life boats, the people in those which were full rejected the desperate, freezing, drowning supplicants trying to come aboard. They pushed them back into the sea. And the Donner Party of Wagon Train yore in old America resorted to cannibalism when winter frost and starvation set in.. That’s how it goes when the lights extinguish on civilization. Amid our tall swaying skyscrapers and our soirees in the park on Sunday afternoons in the spring, amid our hors-d’oeuvres and frivolous questions about whether the theater is really dead, we are as civilized as circumstances allow us to be. It can stop in a trice.
We seldom make the connection between the savory-looking and flaming red packages of filet mignon in the supermarket and the howling cows in the stockyards when their throats are getting ripped apart. But while we quake at the thought of it, or try to shunt it aside, deep inside us our very own, very personal lizard knows and watches with stony eyes. And we are still hungry for the blood of the meat, just as long as the cherry-hued food coloring is included.
Long ago when I was a child, I made a discovery that has repeated itself throughout my life and brought me pain every time. I would be playing with a friend, for example — pitch-and-catch, hide-and-seek, checkers or whatever — and I would feel like he was my best buddy. So it would go all day until later on when we met up with other kids and thus became a group. Then I would begin to notice a troubling sea change. I would intuit that my ‘best friend’ friend was gradually entering the greater dynamic of the group and, as he branched out, his attitude toward me was shifting. The apparent carefree closeness would slowly dissolve, altering into what I took to be a kind of mocking hostility. It felt as if I had been made the subject of a betrayal. Maybe a psychologist would attribute this to some sort of latent homosexual inclination, but, if so, it has never materialized in later life. More likely it was based on a primal fear of abandonment, or maybe it had to do with my fruitless need to maintain control. For example I am great at meeting business deadlines (I am in control) but hopeless when it comes to being stuck in traffic (no control). Whatever, I would see that I could no longer trust this person.
The same thing happened when I finished elementary school (big comfort zone) and went off the the larger, city-center based Junior High School. Kids I had known and liked and felt accepted by suddenly changed, veering off into exclusive cliques and plunging like jet fighter planes into popularity contests from which I felt excluded. All of a sudden my summer friends became, during those transitional autumn days, my spiritual enemies. I still despise them. But if I flew all the way back to West Virginia to attend one of those High School reunions that is so important to many Americans (I have an old friend who actually does this), what would I find? A bunch of old people trying to be friendly and probably oblivious to any harm they had ever inflicted. Their eyes would have softened; I know it; the inner lizards grown old. Ancient reptiles.
Anyway, I got stronger and didn’t need them anymore. And I realize that they were only wearing masks. All along they were merely pack animals seeking comfort and acceptance among those they thought could provide it by bestowing the keys to the club. They saw that I had no keys and so they deserted me. Just as a herd of elk when chased by a wolf-pack will abandon the oldest, the slowest, the weakest. It is the oldest formula in the world. The wolves know it. So do the hyenas and the buzzards.
And so, if I may return to the ‘best friend’ idea, I mistook a stranger for a pal, a brother, a confidant, and was shocked when, in the greater sphere of other people, he reverted to being the distant creature, the herd-member, that he had always been. If this old friend ever became an actual enemy, his eyes would reveal no sign of recognition or jollity of bygone pastimes recalled.
I have seen that look in humanity. Mostly from a distance, it’s true, but once or twice up close. It’s the look you see in photos of Nazis at a rally in Hitler’s Germany, or at a KKK convention or, worse, when they had assembled as a lynch mob. Or in the eyes of soldiers, having received the command, about to liquidate the village. Or even in the wild eyes of teenage girls, their emotions writhing out of control at the sight of Elvis or the Beatles. Or the blank eyes that appear in sects and cults and expose an eerily vacant and obsessive form of hypnosis. Look sometime at photos of a man about to be executed and then at his executioners, and what do you find? In the condemned man’s eyes you see, every time, a final, imploring, disbelieving appeal — which represents, in the way of confronting his utter mortality about to be annihilated, all that civilization ever could be, and, conversely, in the eyes of his executioners, the ultimate frigidity, the staring, unlit coldness, the unblinking reptilian menace, of the primitive giver of death.
It is the look you see in the eyes of a woman who no longer loves you, of the boss who fires you, of the drug dealer who cuts you off when you are out of funds, and the faces behind the steering wheels of cars that surge past you when you are hitchhiking in the darkness and the rain. You are not with them anymore, not among them anymore, you have been excommunicated.
And when the world is aligned against you as such, it is as if you have been confronted by a kind of collective fanaticism born of the herd and the herd-mentality, almost as if some sort of weird brainstorming session were taking place before your eyes.
I do not want this article to descend into being a diatribe against Political Correctness, but let me put it this way. If we start with the notion that euphemism is appropriate when truly designed to take the pain out of words like ‘death’ and ‘old’ and ‘stupid’ and ‘handicapped’, I am OK with it. I mean, why say “Fred croaked” when you can more respectfully say “Fred passed away.?” Why say “I euthanized my dog”, when you can say “I had to have Old Shep put to sleep.?” “Ugly” when you can say “plain?” “Fat” when you can say “overweight.” ??
The problem comes in when you have to say that everybody who can’t do squat is “challenged” — vertically, horizontally, intellectually, physically, whatever. The problem comes in when you have to suddenly start calling an Eskimo an “Innuit”, a Gypsy a “Roman”, and an aborigine “ an “indigenous Australian”. Or when “Oriental” is outlawed and you have to say “Asian.” Or when a baseball team called the Atlanta Braves or the Cleveland Indians is considered racist, but it’s still OK to say Dallas Cowboys..
Or when harmless fairy tales or musicals or even Christmas staples such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (should we say “Rudolph the Nasally-Challenged Reindeer?”), is subjected to the surgeon’s knife of political correctness. When you realize that you aren’t allowed to laugh ANYMORE at ANYTHING which the Thought Police have deemed unacceptable.
That’s when you know it’s getting out of hand and that original good intentions have regressed into mere fanaticism. The worst aspects of radical feminism betray the same fanatical obsessiveness, the same blind, steely-eyed resolve to find inherent evil in everything that does not fit their agenda. My central thesis is that such fanaticism (so often cloaked behind the distinguished robes of academic foot soldiers) is nothing more than the lizard in disguise: it is civilization’s campus pretending not to be the desert’s reptilian playground that it actually is, If you don’t believe me, just check out the eyes. The same bleak blankness is there as in the lynch mob. They are on a MISSION, just like the Taliban. But they practice misdirection on you by pontificating about Human Rights.
It comes from the same kind of lizard that sent a message to Jack Reacher from a billion years ago. His head moved slightly in recognition of and obedience to the primeval information package. And it confirmed that the lizard was still alive. Awake.. And so Jack Reacher, pouncing quickly and savagely, exterminated his enemy.
Many people in our quaint little society would not approve of Jack Reacher and his fellow warriors. I like him because, with no wasted motion or verbal bullshit, he gets the job done. It’s fantasy of course. We couldn’t deal with a nation full of such people, but Reacher seems to combine the best qualities of Everyman with a deadly decisiveness receives its impetus from another place and time that never loses track of where we came from long ago.
While the well-informed and supposedly well-meaning ‘idealists’ intone their latest catechism from their pulpits, the bad guys continue to be bad, the fast and reckless drivers continue to drive fast and reckless, the rough-hewn horny boys continue to fuck and disrespect women, the businessmen still make shady deals, and, above all, the armies continue to march and cast each other into Hell..
It won’t change. At least not until we evolve a step further and become the machines that we so adore. Not until then.
Those who would create a beaming Utopia end up forging the grimmest Dystopia. Happens every time. It is because the zealots always insist, in their lugubrious doctrines, in sealing away all sense of humor, all sense of irony, all sense of mischief, all capacity for human warmth, in vaults of stern darkness that would make Edgar Allan Poe blanch. Putting aside for a moment both the positive advances that the Feminist Movement has achieved,and likewise pushing onto a back burner for just a second or two the very real evil that many brutish men have either done or tacitly sponsored, with women as their victims — no one is denying that — , the unsavory fact remains that the more radical and vindictive members of the feminist tribe would also negate the superb and resplendent differences that truly do exist between men and women, and which will always finally overrule the objections of these furious Fems — and thus would blunt away all of the seductive ambiguity, the delicious suspense, and the primal pagan ardor which the great love stories have been built upon. They would leave us with dull, bulb-less Fred and Freda standing there in the look-alike gray suits. They would rip all the romance out of life. And the real tragedy of it is that while the zealots and fanatics always blindly assume that they are somehow elevating the human race to a new and glorious status, ushering us into their brave new world — whether we want to go there or not — what they really do is reduce everything to a passionless mannequin-world, a parking lot of asphalt devoid of mystery. Look into their hard eyes and you will see no poetry but rather the blank and pitiless gaze of the lizard.It is always so with zealots and idealists gone berserk.
Our emotional lives have always been constructed from archetypes rising out of ancient ooze, and this is why even fictional characters like Jack Reacher will continue to appeal. Mass media, pop culture, fly-on-the-wall ‘journalism’ and an endless and ever-increasing array of GADGETS have taken away our heroes. We have deconstructed everything. Our scalpels and microscopes of everywhere. But Jack Reacher keeps on blistering the ass of blackguards and villains, and something in us rejoices.
So peer deeply into the eyes of your lover (if you are fortunate enough to have one) and settle your mind there, because, wild and passionate as she may be, even capricious and beyond your control, her warmth, just for now, conveys the precious, albeit limited, magic of civilization. Love, we call it.
I invite you also to get on the internet and find a photograph of some man or woman being led to the place of execution. — as I mentioned earlier. Whatever his crimes, you will see that the eyes of the condemned, confronted for certain with his mortality and impending doom, will reveal a frantic and beseeching awareness that represents the high peak of civilization and what civilization has always been about. “Wait ! This CAN’T be happening !!”. Then shift your vision and look at the eyes of the executioner and his party of assistants. Look, I say. Look, look !
Their eyes are stiffened pools so frozen as to stop your heart, and it is manufactured by lizards deep in their brains which at this moment of reckoning, after a billion years, cause them to lean slightly forward, as if something buried inside them would twitch, as they lead their prey with icy calm to the stoning pit.