by Mitch Hampton
I do not know if you will ever get this. In the language of your time you might consider this a sort of time travel message. I am desperate for answers. I am writing this from roughly a thousand years from where you are. And I am attempting contact with you, urged on by the Council here, because I have to ask two great questions. I am nervous as I write this, worrying that the Council will lecture me for more of my excessive directness. “Be more calm”, they always plead with me.
I am what you might call a teacher, and I teach of artifacts from the past. We prefer the word guide because we think the word teacher sounds too manipulative and lacks freedom..The major lesson in our school is how misguided or undeveloped your societies were. Your artifacts serve as a kind of negative example. Of course no society is all good or all bad, but we tend to think ours has matured and developed beyond yours. To this day, the issue of what is right or wrong is much debated by some in the Council. We are nothing if not democratic and some think that we might be missing some benficial philosphies that were present in your times.
There is nothing like free will and thus, your artifacts are examples of the errors, mistakes, habits and even the crimes of your times. Nevertheless, they fascinate some of the more undeveloped members of our youth, who never see their errors first. They instead look to some other quality, perhaps best illustrated by your incoherent and overused word, beauty. We reserve the word beauty only for that which is in perfect balance.
We study you through your artifacts. The Council likes to say that an artifact can never lie because it will stare you in the face. It contains something real from the past within it. If you have a some silly picture of one of your men with too much hair posing with that stringed object and looking prideful, or incomprehensible, moving pictures of people talking to one another about trivial things, you have artifacts. We really have too many of them.
First let me give you some history. We humans are still here. Shortly after your time period, billions of humans died from all the usual predictions: flood, drought, and mass homicide mostly. It is considered one of the worst periods in terms of quality of life in all of human history. Then again, we have so little to go on since the artifacts are from one short period – that of the later 20th century. Centuries before are lost to us.
What is it about that particular generation,those born in the 1950s and who led in the 1960s and 1970s, that made all of you so fascinated with them and their works? Never has one time or people so dominated all of subsequent history. They did not seem especially clever, wise or kind. They certainly were wasteful; they ruined future generations for a long time. Yet everybody copied them forever. Though their words are poetic, flowery and filled with promise, Perhaps the only segment of that generation with whom we might agree, who may have anticipated some ideas of our own, were your Feminists. However, we do not understand that word choice since it appears to be imprisoned in the very roles that your more enlightened people were trying to escape. This group was perhaps the first to tentatively attempt to free humanity from the hateful two categories of sex and all of the obsession with it, from all of the possessiveness of two people together and alone, as if picking one single person and spending most of your time with her could be the greatest feeling and accomplishment. Aside from your simple-minded sex habit, going back to the beginning of human and animal life, we criticize the domination by that huge and influential generation. Yet we cannot believe that they were the only genuine influence to the following generations. The artifacts, cultures and ways of life that followed that generation for hundreds of years could not be only slight variations on the same patterns created by that generation.
So why them and their artifacts? Did nobody else have anything to offer? It is almost as if your people are ashamed of or bored with all of the previous histories and generations, and the few times the previous histories are remarked upon, it is only in oddly emotional and frantic ways. Why did they reproduce so much? It is really extraordinary. We do not know if it is your sex madness that caused this state of affairs or if it is an inability to be alone without having what you would call a nervous breakdown or loneliness. Whatever the reason, there were so many of you, which may account for the imitative quality and the lack of innovation for so long. It is impossible to find anything from the 17th and 18th centuries, but we have so much from that brief thirty or forty year period of time in the 20th century. We have thousands of artifacts from 1964 alone! Why were you so attracted to that small period?
After the various collapses and massacres a few of us were left. And then we mutated into new races and forms and developed new technologies. There are no longer men and women. There are still people, but you might say we produce rather than reproduce. We decide how many people we need. We create people much like your city of Detroit did those odd automotive transportation machines – parts assembled piece by piece. We wonder if your people made anything that was not some automotive traveling machine. Why were you so restless with wherever you were? Why all the moving around?
And after lengthy struggle and debate we decided to eliminate once and for all the root of all troubles: sexual reproduction and the rigid categorization of humans into men and women. In the late and final days of your civilization, some tried to mix and match the two through science or lifestyle in order to be freer. It had the effect of calling attention to this physical part of you all the more and created all manner of wars and divisions lasting for about a century. Our belief is that such attempts were the expression of a dawning realization of the horror and failure of the man/woman system. Your descendants thought that putting men or women together or swapping those anatomical parts would liberate them. But it only created more wars, your future I am sorry to say. Indeed, so extreme is this categorization that practically all of your artifacts’ central theme is the classification of man and woman and their love or attachment to each other. It is as if nothing else in life were important.
Even when you extolled such love or sexual relations as the greatest virtue, when your men and women finally made the most fit match and lived together, the males among you got bored easily. They would spend hours looking at moving or still pictures of specimens of other women whom they had not met, apparently pleased and amused by the mere appearance of complete strangers, and thus made their partners feel inadequate. Oddly enough, your people used the expression “it’s what inside that counts” and yet your males were evidently fascinated by the static surfaces – just the skin – of people they had never even met.
Skin, as it were, in shape and color was more a source of contention for you than your saying could mask. For us, gone are the great extremes in skin pigmentation that caused great suffering. After much debate, we settled on the color of your coffee beans, this earthly crop being another of your crazy attachments.
We have done what your people called a cost-benefit analysis of your male/female partnership system and proved that the total amount of pain in this system was triple the amount of pleasure. Indeed, the amount of pleasure lasted only about the length of time of what you called your honeymoon. This honeymoon of yours is such a mystery and secret.
In short, we are all she. We try to name our people after names that do not have masculine or feminine histories. We do not all come grown up and ready; we still start small and have to grow a bit. That is where I come in. You might say I am both a teacher and a parent. Our favorite word, as was written, is the word guide.
You had so much science fiction; though we are rarely sure what is science and what is fiction. We wonder why you read and watch so many of such artifacts. Indeed, it appears that there is little else but science fiction, once you get past the extraordinary glut of whining or screaming sound artifacts, always with the ubiquitous stringed object and uncomfortable pulse or hum accompanied by, of course, all of the moving and still pictures of the woman.. What is the appeal of them? You called these things songs or tunes and there were so many of them. The part of you that was woman or man seems such a needless,trivial part of your humanity – a gross container you came in.
Here is my second and final matter concerning one of our students whom I shall call Hailey. Hailey is our brightest student but we are frustrated with her. She does not subscribe to our way of life. We think she might have something evil in her from the past. Speaking for myself, more so than the Council, I just do not trust her. This is where the artifacts come into play. .
Once we brought in a sound artifact with the name Mozart on it. It was not only one of the most relentless and dull pieces of sound we had ever heard, but there was not even any human voice or expression anywhere on it, just minutes of various pitches in repetitive combinations. What was the point? The sound gave all of us had headaches except for Hailey.
Hailey’s troubling behavior has not improved. Recently, I brought in a rare object,a flat picture of a person, a woman I am pretty sure, and what you called a record. In the sounds it emits, its leader moans and whines telling little stories about your love and sex and so on. This was a person named Aretha something; I have forgotten her last name. She was one of your darker skinned people. I explained that because this person was evidently a darker skinned woman that she was at the bottom of your society and that her kind was hurt, tortured and ill-treated for thousands of years. The title was “You make me feel Like a Natural Woman.” I reminded them that this was your people’s propaganda for the man/woman system. In this sound artifact this woman said that she was once uninspired and bored. Then, she met a man who made her life better and made her feel natural and like a woman.
Hailey started crying. At first, I thought she cried because she felt bad for the woman’s way of life and the suffering she endured. But Hailey cried for a completely incredible reason. She said this artifact was one of the most beautiful sounds she had ever heard. She said what she always says, “It’s so beautiful.” I reminded Hailey that Aretha had suffered so much in her life. Aretha had been mistreated and that there was nothing beautiful in that. Nobody should seek salvation through one other person. It is bondage; it is slavery. Yet Hailey is stubborn. She insists it is beautiful though, she cannot explain why.
Hailey has no analytic mode in her whole system. She does not understand that beauty means balance and truth. There can be nothing beautiful about a person expressing the greatness of one other person while ignoring and even demeaning everybody else. It is exhibitionistic and excessive and ugly. We struggle understanding how Aretha could ever hope cooperate with others and work to help everybody survive. Yet, Hailey now wants us to learn how to recreate sounds like this Aretha.
We had great debates with the Council about the benefits of tear ducts. Most of the time we build them but we might stop completely. Would you accept Hailey? We think she would more at home with your people.