Saturday, May 02, 2009

Why aren't humans square?

Don't read this post unless you've read the last one, please, because it'll make more sense that way—if 'sense' is what you're looking for, that is.

In that last blog I was basically saying that the only real benefit I can see as having arisen from 'modern civilization' is vastly improved health for those who live in 'civilized' realms, and even many of those who don't. As for the rest of it, I asserted, I'd happily do without most, if not all, of the amenities and 'benefits' provided by science, technology and whatever constitutes 'civilized' ambiance.

Let me straighten out anyone straight who thinks that means I'm thinking 'utopia' here. Definitely not. But I'm also not thinking of medievalism. Humans are what they are, and we should not forget that the greatest advances in technology, as well as other areas of human endeavor, were almost universally prompted by two opposing motivations:
  • To make us live as well as we can for as long as we can.
  • To win conflicts with others.
Both of these topics should be taken in very broad meanings, which extend to a vast range of secondary activities associated with the primary ones. All I'm interested in here is that these two areas provide the essential focus of motivation; always have and probably will for a very, very long time.

If you follow the threads of such thoughts into detail—as I am wont to do, being a story-teller, and thus interested in the particular and often unexpected consequences of the 'general'—you'll find stray notions that may surprise you.

Here's one example:

Consider this. On a medieval battlefield it was pretty much unnecessary to actually pause to kill an adversary; meaning it wasn't necessary, excepting maybe as a point of honor, to finish him off. Indeed, it would have been counterproductive to do so. Any effort wasted on doing more than making him unable to fight was effort wasted. The time would have been much better spent dealing with others, who were in turn busy trying to kill you while you were engaged in being unnecessarily thorough or noble or whatever.

Thing is, with the 'medicine' available then most of the injured would have died anyway. And if it so happened that a noble warrior king rode at the front and led the battle—rather than hunkering in a bunker and watching and directing it from afar—and he was injured, he, too, had a very high likelihood of dying. Medicine sucked majorly.

As a result of this we have the development of certain weaponry. Basically—and let's stick to battlefield and ignore, e.g. siege situations—you only needed those weapons that would produce the required maiming and disabling. Anything else would have been overkill.

But suppose we had a situation like you found in the battle for castle Keaen at the end of the first Tethys novel; where 'Sareens', who can heal horrific wounds with something that approaches the miraculous, do their job on the wounded, and thus seriously impact on the 'slaughter'-factor. Suppose also that this kind of healing were widespread, and existed on both sides of the warring divides. In other words, the situation would be symmetrical. Not like today in, say, Afghanistan, where an injured allied soldier has a much higher chance of survival than an injured Taliban. He might end up not being able to join in the fight anymore, or even end up with missing limbs and possibly more significant bits and pieces, but there is a profound psychological difference between a soldier injured and a soldier killed.

In a world of battlefield-healing by Sareens, swords would not be quite as effective as they are otherwise. Unless injuries are un-healable or unless people are actually killed on the spot, the same soldiers might wll return to fight another day. Not a good thing for the enemy.

Meaning, of course, that weapons design would be different, slanted toward ensuring that people actually can't be healed. I leave it to your imagination to pursue this further.

So, no, just because we'd have a world without the need to develop medical technology, that doesn't mean that it would be a nicer world than the one we live in. It wouldn't mean that it would be a worse one either. Just different. And it's quite possible that, driven by the desire to develop better means of killing people, as well as the need to accommodate the existence of large urbanized populations, physical science might well go pretty much the way it's gone now. It's possible, even feasible, that we'd end up in a world not unlike this one, with all the less edifying aspects attending to it.

But I dare to think that it would probably be a world without religious motivation to conduct wars, and quite possibly without the bane of monotheisms. That is mainly because with miraculous healing being commonplace they'd cease to be 'miraculous', and one of the main reasons for people believing in a deity would become nuncupatory. Of course, then there would be other philosophical issues, and we'd need to ask whether the 'healers' were actually able to avert death from old age and all that. For if they were, then the world would be nothing like it is today. But if we'd suppose that they could not, but still add 'quality of life' even to the aged, that would be different again. There are fascinating vistas here.

One other thing occurred to me. It had to do with those I alluded to, who wouldn't today, even if they could, be able to become throwbacks and live in 'throwback' conditions of an essentially non-urban environment. (And I'm ignoring the simple fact that it wouldn't be possible anyway, because it would be practical only with fairly low population numbers. Urbanization is the inevitable consequence of population growth.) I have some friends who'd find it impossible. This is a phenomenon I've been trying to understand, because I'm totally differently inclined. Next week, we're moving out to the best approximation to 'country' you can get within the not-too-difficult reach of 'city' and the attendant needs of 'employment' requirements. Doing this involves serious decisions about what one considers worthwhile and what one might be willing to sacrifice for what. I am acutely aware that many just wouldn't be able to do this; and I mean from a life-style choice point of view. They could afford it, more than we can, but they wouldn't seriously consider it.

The reasons have to do with conditioning. I think that conditioning is not only about what one 'gets' out of a life-style, but also about environment. Some people, I suspect, need the visual environment of 'city'. Straight lines, rectangles and diagonals, precise lining of roads...all those things that are almost necessary visual attributes of urbanization. Every now and then I get a glimpse of the odd notion—by something someone says, or implies by what is being said—that the sight of roofs and houses, sometimes in near-claustrophobia-inducing (at least for me) proximity, is comforting; visually, esthetically and by what it implies socially, despite the gulf that tends to exist between most urbanized 'neighbors'. I think of it as the urge to 'huddle'; which extends into areas far beyond the 'residential'.

Fascinating...

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