"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 102
Last meeting, we focussed so much on the past that I think it's only fair to look more closely at the future. (Or should I call it the present?) Besides Snowman, the only other human beings (if we can still call them that) who still seem to be around are the so-called Children of Crake. And unlike him, they are thriving. After all, they were designed that way . . .
. . . [The Children of Crake] are not immune from wounds--the children fall down or bash their heads on trees, the women burn their fingers tending the fires, there are cuts and scrapes--but so far the injuries have been minor, and easily cured by purring.
Crake had worked for years on the purring. Once he'd discovered that the cat family purred at the same frequency as the ultrasound used on bone fractions and skin lesions and were thus equipped with their own self-healing mechanism, he'd turned himself inside out in the attempt to install that feature. The trick was to get the hyoid apparatus modified and the voluntary nerve pathways connected and the neocortex control systems adapted without hampering the speech abilities. There'd been quite a few botched experiments, as Snowman recalled. One of the trial batch of kids had manifested a tendency to sprout long whiskers and scramble up the curtains; a couple of the others had vocal expression impediments; one of them had been limited to nouns, verbs, and roaring.
Well, who could blame Crake for pursuing this line of research? We "Two or Three" Book Club members probably wouldn't blow our savings on NooSkins cosmetic treatments, but something like Wolverine's "healing factor" is something a bit more practical. Wouldn't you like the ability to heal your own broken bones or burns? The real question is whether you'd overlook the fact that several "trial batches" of "kids" had to go before you. During the last discussion, Sheila pointed out that sometimes we just have to accept that the past is the past. But how far in the past would, say, the measles and rubella vaccines have to be before we no longer mind too much that they were developed using aborted babies? When does the present stop being the present and finally become the past?
("Sveltana" to "Twister")
At the end of the last meeting, when I asked what everyone would be willing to trade in order to keep child prostitution from ever happening, I hadn't realised that Crake was already way ahead of me. Since he, too, is hindered by being outside the Blood and Roses bubble, he can't trade achievements for atrocities any more than we can . . . but he has found a different way to rewrite history, starting with its main characters. And perhaps he has, if only by his own standards, greatly improved on Adam and Eve.
No more No means yes, anyway, thinks Snowman. No more prostitution, no sexual abuse of children, no haggling over the price, no pimps, no sex slaves. No more rape . . . It no longer matters who the father of the inevitable child will be, since there's no more property to inherit, no father-son loyalty required for war. Sex is no longer a mysterious rite, viewed with ambivalence or downright loathing, conducted in the dark and inspiring suicides and murders. Now it's more like an athletic demonstration, a free-spirited romp.
Maybe Crake was right, thinks Snowman. Under the old dispensation, sexual competition had been relentless and cruel: for every pair of happy lovers there was a dejected onlooker, the one excluded . . .
That had been the milder form: the single man at the window, drinking himself into oblivion to the mournful strains of the tango. But such things could escalate into violence. Extreme emotions could be lethal . . .
And maybe John Lennon was right, too, Snowman. I'm sure that your education at the Martha Graham Academy means that you understand my reference. Imagine perfect alignment of hormones and pheromones. It's easy if you try.
But after you succeed, what happens? It's one thing to sell people on new internal organs or on new skin. It's another thing to sell them on new human beings. Even the saddest of the "dejected onlookers," who these days tend to invest in blowup dolls or cats, wouldn't want to trade their reason and imagination for a life of guaranteed sex and peace of mind. No one actually wants to be a "Child of Crake."
Nor does anyone want to have one. Our idea of perfect offspring usually involves own DNA. Even people who want their children to have an optimal set of genes wouldn't look twice at Crake's ideal creations. Unlike the nauseating (but probably delicious) ChickieNobs, the children of the Children of Crake have zero marketing potential. They're really no more than another game he was playing with himself . . . but unlike everything else concurrently getting developed at the Watson-Crick Institute, his toys are the only ones that would survive an apocalypse.
So maybe Crake had the right idea, after all. We like to think of our children as better versions of ourselves--and here are his "children," thriving in circumstances which have already done away with less developed humans, including himself. And remember that long before history took our species out, we ourselves took out our own achievements, trading them in some real-life Blood and Roses game that we hadn't even known we were playing. We sold the Martha Graham Academy in order to have the Watson-Crick Institute--and Crake understood it even if Jimmy didn't.
"When any civilisation is dust and ashes," [Jimmy] said, "art is all that's left over. Images, words, music. Imaginative structures. Meaning--human meaning, that is--is defined by them. You have to admit that."
"That's not quite all that's left over," said Crake. "The archeologists are just as interested in gnawed bones and old bricks and ossified shit these days. Sometimes more interested. They think human meaning is defined by those things too."
There's the Blood and Roses mentality right there: the winner of history is the one who has the most stuff left over at the end, for the next civilisation's archaeologists to sift through.
No, wait. That's not quite it. Let's try again. The winner of history is the one who provides the archaeologists for the sifting. As we saw in Chapter 1, the Children of Crake have that covered, too. But the art lovers tried; they really did. And at the Martha Graham Academy, they squirreled away every cultural artefact they could find, from Shakespeare and Rembrandt to Self-help books and music videos. And Jimmy himself got to play archaeologist, nose-cone mildew filter and all, among the library stacks.
Both the shiny SF Watson-Crick Institute and the dump that is the Martha Graham Academy hold up mirrors to our understanding of knowledge and valuing of culture, but because I'm the artsy-fartsy sort myself, I prefer the damning reflection that Martha Graham shows me. I'd be an A+ student there, knocking out essays covering the same topics as my blog posts. =P I'll leave the critique of Watson-Crick to the STEM types among us (O HAI BAT), and say only that it reminds me of what James Gleick said in his biography of the physicist Richard Feynman: that because MIT didn't bother distracting its students with the Arts and the Humanities and other cultural whatnot, it was both the best possible school for a scientist like Feynman . . . and the worst possible school.
Now, there were certainly hundreds of other universities in Jimmy and Glenn's world, but since the only ones we that hear about are their own, would it be okay to infer that Atwood's moral about higher learning is that it dies when it divides the heritage of civilisation into two separate fields? I'm thinking of the statue of Martha Graham as Judith, holding up Holofernes's decapitated head . . . But on the other hand, there's the spoat/gider at the Watson-Crick entrance: a splice rather than a separation.
Then again, is it even realistic to expect easy answers--one or two definitive causes for a civilisation's spectacular decline? I do love G.K. Chesterton's comment that everything that is wrong with the modern world can be summed up in three words: Darwin, Marx, and Freud. (Admit it: you LOL-ed.) But that's just because I like to think that things are really more simple than we've made them out to be. Problems may be complicated, but solutions--at least the ones that work--are something we could explain to a seven-year-old child.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 7 to 9?
1) If you could cross two animals to create a new species, which two would you pick and what would this new species do?
2) What was your teenage self's dream university? Would you still want to go there, knowing what you do of life now?
3) Do you think that every civilisation has a responsibility to create something that will endure even after the civilisation has passed away?
Image Source: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood