I have my world builder hat on and my world builder gloves and boots. Of course, can’t forget my world builder safety goggles. I hastily contrive a fertile crescent from what’s lying around my mind. Rolling hills of green, a forest of cedar trees. A couple of rivers that will one day be called the Euphrates and the Tigres. I’m gonna say it’s about eight thousand years ago, before the marking up of a lot of clay tablets with stories. There’s not a great deal materially left from that time that could refute me. It was an oral culture, but before the advent of most of the oral traditions that were later recorded, and most likely adulterated, in more tangible fashion. So long ago, people had only in the previous four thousand years even come to sense themselves as distinct from all the other things in the world.
Most of what people created were stories and songs and rhythms. Those items were constructed of vibrations. Almost as soon as they were appreciated, they would blow away in the wind like a sake cup of pure oxygen served as an amuse-bouche at an irrationally expensive trendy restaurant. Or a burp. But much more important than a quarter cup of gas because these vibrations were early strokes sculpting the kind of species we were going to become.
I take it back, forget about the geographical location. This could happen anywhere. I’m going to tell you a story now, and this is just between you and me and the invisible power of wishing: there once was a time when the vast majority of people were intelligent, contemplative, and respectful of each other, even of those less intelligent, contemplative, and able-bodied.
Everything was so new no systemic ideas of disdain, prohibition, or guilt had yet taken hold. No one knew what laziness was. All the labor – the tending of the wild growth from which food was gathered, the grinding of seeds into pastes and powders, the weaving of plant fibers, the caring for what domestic animals there were – all that took at most a couple of hours each day. The rest of the day was for finding out what being a human was all about. Because, however long people had been in existence, there were always freshly-minted people coming into existence who barely knew what was going on around them. Or inside them, and had yet to explore the nature of the relationships woven around and through them.
They weren’t savages. Most migrated, rhythmically, from a region of withering resources to where they knew from experience food was more plentiful in a given season, and as that plenty waned in its own season, they migrated back again. Some lived in collectively organized permanent citadels designed around a communal routine.
From the midst of this idyllic, imaginary past, a gang of veiny, muscly, scarified brutes emerged. The rest of serious society kept them to a limited area where their games of competitive violence wouldn’t spatter their sportive spume all over the endeavors of those engaged with the real world. They used to run around smashing things, including each other. They were young and stupid. And they were intoxicated, as were most people at that time. They lived that way from puberty to early adulthood, when most of them tired of the lifestyle of the loud and obnoxious, at which point they would return from their Spring Break or Rumspringa, back to the greater world of cohabitation with nature, where the music and food were better and the life expectancy greater.
Over time – a lot of time – a movement started to take hold among the Rumspring Breakers. They started resenting the limits set by the collective, more egalitarian mass of people, all in harmony with the world. They started challenging their playground’s boundaries. They crossed their prescribed limits and made raids on the people. There arose from among them a group they would call the Leaders. They exerted powerful influence over the rest of the Breakers. The Leaders judged who the winners of imbecilic contests were. The entire ethos and epistemology of the Breakers became an imbecilic contest.
These Leaders took stock of their fellow Breakers and said, “The Breakers are the best! The Breakers are the winners at being people!” Then they took stock of themselves and said, “We’re the winners of the winners! We do the best! We deserve a larger share, not just of Breaker wealth, but of all wealth, as a prize for our winning!” And, much the way our artists in current times are told, “Artists are those who have kept the child alive in themselves,” these Leaders told the Breakers, in their Peterpandering style, “Why should we grow up and behave calmly and reasonably like those stodgy adults! Let us keep the grabby, selfish, competitive infant in ourselves alive forever! Long live childhood!”
Eventually the Breakers broke and entered the citadel enough times and carried off so much booty and spoils that a majority of resources, including the servitude of other humans and animals, became theirs to keep from everyone else, as once they themselves had been kept at a safe distance from the people. They imposed, over time, their grabbing, grandstanding, boasting, and hoarding values on everything and everyone they were able to dominate.
The tables had turned. The Leaders – industry leaders, “thought leaders,” statesmen (in the old, gendered parlance), and be-all-that-you-can-be-ers – were now the center of attention, leaving the rest of the world desperately trying to keep their inner and outer children alive.
And that was the beginning of civil division and accumulation. Not an auspicious beginning. And it didn’t happen all at once. The struggle between pastoral peasantry and the enclosing rulers was still going on in Shakespeare’s time and continues to this day.
There was a fable they used to tell. Long before it was tapped in cuneiform on clay tablets as a character arc inside the Epic of Gilgamesh. There’s little doubt among scholars that the Epic was a written codification of a much more ancient orally transmitted saga. In that epic, written to exalt the great king of a Great City, a character named Enkidu appears. Enkidu is the wild man.
Enkidu was a wild man from the cedar forest, the Epic tells us. He never had him no schoolin’, nor larnt him the high-falootin’ ways of the city folk. He was a savage, but a noble one, noble in his heart, not on paper, or papyrus or clay. He was mighty and brutish and closer to God and the natural world. But he was seduced by the conveniences, protection, and dandiness of civilized life. And it was his loyalty to the great king of the great city that turned Heaven against him and undid him.
The wild man needs the values of the city to understand his purpose, but in losing his innocence, he grows unable to survive.
Shakespeare had a couple versions of the wild man. At the beginning of his career, when he was still a relatively impoverished artist, he wrote “King John.” The wild man archetype in that play is called The Bastard. His inner nobility is drawn out by witnessing the barbarity of war. In Shakespeare’s later, more famous, version of the wild man, Caliban, the figure suffers a worse fate. He’s irredeemably outside civilization. He will not be tamed; he is accursed. But that was way at then of the Bard’s career. It was written after the destruction of much of the peasant lifestyle, the lives of The People, via the enclosures of the commons that cemented the wealth of Shakespeare and others of the rentier class.
The story is obviously malleable according to the needs of the propagandist. But we can invent our own version and call it a reconstruction of the original, oral wild man trope. We can say that the wild man was off with the Rumspring Breakers, but got tired of it and decided it was time to come back to the harmonious family of plants and creatures and people. And, though it was at first difficult to curb the selfish thug behavior he’d practiced for over a decade and a half, he came to understand the reciprocity and sustainability of communal life.
It was a simple maturation process, not an abdication of nature or a bargain of the soul. The wild man was wild by choice, and then he grew up. We need to propagate this story of the self-taming of the wild man. Passing through a maturation process is what our Rumspring Broken global civilization needs desperately. And in a big hurry.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!