Every dogma has its day and every generation sets another flawless category among the pigeonholes. A flat earth, an earth supported by elephants, an earth around which the entire universe revolves, even. Geocentrism was the name of that one; a trusty old dog only recently put down. We smile now, the way we always do, when we’ve buried another essential truth. Sun around the earth? How impossibly naïve!
Yet Centrism’s pedigree perseveres. Six hundred years on, Homocentrism insists that regardless of the comings and goings of the universe, everything still revolves around us. Human beings that is, nature’s supreme achievement; a wonderful Biblical/Darwinian conceit that relegates every other life form on Earth to mere backdrop – something to pose next to for scale as it were. Then there’s Ethnocentrism, the finer distinction that proposes one category of Homos is more important than the rest. Chosen that is. Or Blessed. Or Exalted. A piggy in the middle conviction based on which group has the best imaginary friend.
This pivotal pigginess is not a static condition. It’s subject to another remarkable conceit called progress – the idea that we are going somewhere. The question of course is where? After all, where are elephants going? Where is the weather going? Where are the trees outside the window going? Tree-ness is a constant, weather-ness is a constant, so why not human-ness? We’re no smarter now than we ever were. We don’t love more, hate more, nor strive to improve our lot more. All that changes is the means by which we do it: the tools.
That tools are going somewhere can possibly be argued. Unlike us they do appear to be improving. In our folly, however, we appropriate that improvement as our own. Tools, we say, are the clearest evidence that it’s us alone that are doing the going. Ultimately we will use them to leave the planet.
But these tools and machines and the computer brains that control them, are constructed from rock. Rock that we ‘same’ humans have been compelled to configure and reconfigure over millions of years. It’s rock, not us, that’s going somewhere. If anything is figuring out how to leave the planet, it’s the planet. In which scheme of things, we are merely the fuel.
Being the means to an end doesn’t sit well with Homos. It flies in the face of their most cherished conceit of all: Freewill – the conviction that they are in control of their actions.
A bizarre idea.
A man born with one leg must necessarily hop. The one follows inevitably upon the other, as in all behavior, each man forced to act according to the restraints specific to his own condition. What he does, being the result of what he came in with, reacting to what he came in to. He has no control over any of it – including the need to convince himself he does. This is not a complex metaphysical issue. It’s simple math. Ask any third grader.
When multiplying numbers, no matter how big they are, or how many, if just one zero is included in the equation, the answer is always zero. If there is just one aspect of man’s behavior therefore over which he has zero control, then no matter what follows, the result is zero.
Man has no control over the moment he’s conceived, the moment he’s born, the environment he’s born into, the family he’s born into, the racial type, religious type, geographical location, and historical context. He has no control over the fact that he’s even a human being.
So why is he compelled to think otherwise? Why does he insist on the further restraints of a self-imposed fiction?
Because he has no choice.
Because without freewill, there can be no accountability, without accountability there can be no punishment, and without punishment there can be no deterrent to mayhem.
Every dogma will have its day and those who don’t conform to it must be brought to heel – burned, hanged, tortured, raped, bombed, whatever.
If they weren’t, it would be a complete fucking madhouse down here.
Malcolm Mc Neill’s first project out of art school was a seven-year collaboration with writer William S. Burroughs. His two books about the experience were published at the end of last year.
His most recent exhibition of paintings was in August 2013 in New York.