Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who thought of leaving the trees in the first place?

Riding the train in to Copenhagen this morning, something, I'm not exactly sure what, made me think of hobbits, and I got to wondering, if it took baker's dozen of dwarves and a powerful wizard to conscript a single hobbit into traveling more than 5 miles from his comfy hobbit hole, what it would take to get an entire culture of unadventurous conformist sheep to wake up to the sheer mindlessness of their existence and start making changes in their lives?

Let's stop for a moment and think back, way back, a whole blink of an eye in geological terms, to when our remote ancestors were, let's say for the sake of illustration, living in trees and eating nuts and berries. Just imagine for yourself what that society, such as it was, must have been like. One day, one specific ur-ancestor, one of the real malcontents who was always complaining about looking at leaves and having nothing to eat but nuts and berries, decided that he or she had simply had enough and was going to do something about it. Now back in those simple days, decision was the same thing as action, so our brave ancestor promptly hopped down to the ground and started to forage around, finding roots and vegetables that not only tasted good but also helped to offset some of the less advertised effects of a strict diet of nuts and berries. That evening, our brave protagonist returned to the shelter of the branches and called the others together to tell them about the wonderful new benefits of foraging on the ground. Although some of the younger generation listened attentively and showed some interest in giving this new lifestyle a try, the elders in the residents' association were less receptive. "All you've ever done is complain," they said, "but you don't appreciate how good you've got it here. The tree shelters us from the sun and the rain, our predators can't reach us, and just look at all the nuts and berries. What more could anyone ever hope for? Besides, who gave you the authority to say what's good or bad for others, or for yourself? We have a way of doing things in this happy society of ours, and that's the old way, and it's the best way. We don't like complainers, and we don't like elitist snobs with all their foreign education coming around pretending to know better. You had better learn to be happy with what you have, and stop complaining and trying to get more than you deserve!"

Just imagine what would have happened if that remote ancestor of ours had given in to all that peer pressure instead of persevering in the face of ridicule and disbelief to try and build a better life. Isn't it amazing? Thanks to that one primitive, pea-brained, proto-ancestral creature, we finally did come down out of the trees, developed bigger brains, began to use tools and to walk on two legs. And over the course of time, when someone new recognized something worth improving, the genes of that scrappy ancestor would kick in again and force them to go against the crowd, to be discontented with their situation and to take that extra step, to innovate, to create, and most important, to convince the contemporary descendents of all those other apathetic, complacent, acquiescent excuses for primitive, pea-brained, proto-ancestral creatures to get off their branches and change their lives for the better.

So – which branch of the family are you from?


Anonymous said...

Trust you to get me thinking as soon as I get out of bed. Great post Erich, and I think you know that I need not answer which branch I'm on :)

Anonymous said...

This truly sums up the way I see this culture presenting itself, which is really interesting given the Danes push for "innovation". I guess they are forcing themselves to do it.

"All you've ever done is complain," they said, "but you don't appreciate how good you've got it here... You had better learn to be happy with what you have, and stop complaining and trying to get more than you deserve!"

I am going to read the passage in its entirety over and over. I have never been able to get a straight answer from any Dane I have met about coping with high prices, taxes, health care and all the other issues you address in your blog. I lived in the south of France and never really gave any of this consideration, but that was years ago and now I am in Denmark for the third time and I am staying inside just so I don't go outside and spend money! I went to Big Lots before I left and bought the best Barilla pasta to bring over here along with boxed Borden milk, and I am so glad I did. Trader Joe's got a good bit of business from me, too and I am sure that whatever I don't use while I am staying in this apartment will be appreciated by its owner.

Just how dissatisfied or frustrated do you really think the Danes honestly feel?

Erich Hegenberger said...

Well, I wasn't thinking specifically of Denmark, ;) but since you ask, I'd say the suppressed frustration level could be quite high. On the surface, people are satisfied because of low expectations and a high degree of acquiesence, but the artificially imposed suppression must grate somewhere on something very old and deep without which we would not be human. I've wondered if this could in part explain the perplexing and spectacularly high level of male infertility in DK.