Friday, January 18, 2013

Were Those Little Central American guys onto Something?

It’s been almost a month since the latest, overhyped incarnation of “The End of the World”, and I was jolted into reality by a few, seemingly unrelated, influences that got me thinking as to whether our diminutive proto-neighbors to the south may have been worth their carving tools. 

For those of you unaware of the Mayan calendar, I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version; beginning many, many centuries ago, some dudes in what is now Mexico and Guatemala carved some sort of, allegedly, future predicting calendars detailing the condition of man on huge blocks of stone.  These calendars, according to scientists, have been generally accurate, and have been attributed to predicting natural disasters, world wars, epoch shifts, and all of the rest.  Of course we, excepting academics, have pretty much ignored these calendars up until the entry for 12/22/2012 came up:  Because it didn’t. 

For some reason, it seems the Mayans just stopped carving on 12/21/2012. There was no big fanfare or explanation as to why they stopped, that was just it.  Is it supposed to be the end of the world, or, as some have joked, did they just “run out of rock?”  Well, what the coterie of scientists, Mayan, shamans, and translators have discerned is that this magical date just four days before the mythical (?) birth of Christ indicates, is that they simply could not envision what happened in 2013 and beyond, because of the dawn of some sort of new consciousness of man; an era so different that it would take humans closer to the era to be able to visualize it, and describe it using the symbols they used for the preceding years of the calendar. Now onto the dual influences that got me thinking about this.

Sylvester Stallone is still acting.  This is remarkable in and of itself, as I think that Cit Bolon Turn and his assistant Ahau Chamahez were still carving away when The Lords of Flatbush came out; you see, according to Wikipedia, Mr. Stallone is now 66 years old, and it is not just that he is acting, it is what he is acting and how.  Sylvester still sees himself as an action hero, and in the trailer for Bullet to the Head, he fights, runs, shoots, and competes in a duel-to-the-death, if you will, with axes, against a man who is obviously some sort of a martial artist and at least 30 years younger.  Mr. Stallone has also achieved the up-until-recently impossible task of having a better body in Bullet to the Head then he did in Rocky, which came out in 1976.  He is harder, and more muscular with less body fat and more prominent abs; and as a kid, I remember hearing stories about what a workout finatic “Rocky” was.

I would not exactly say that Stallone looks “better” now, as he has a swollen, cro-magnonesque skull that would look natural on a bobbing-head doll, and an almost ghastly non-human palor to his skin as though it is not really skin anymore, but some sort of chemically produced epidermis, from DuPont or Dow Chemicals, but he does look “fitter” and that much would be hard to deny. 

Take a look at films that featured an old John Wayne, Clark Gable or Cary Grant and you will see for yourself what handsome men look like when they age organically; and Stallone was never really what your average person would call “handsome.”

The second influence that led me to my pondering the Mayan calendar was a recent piece on 60 minutes in which neurologists took a woman who was rendered a quadraplegic by a rare disease called, spinocerebellar degeneration and hooked her up to an artificial limb which she could control, solely via the power of her mind.  That I used “hooked-up” here is not a throwaway; she littleraly had a hole drilled in her skull in the area that would control digital manipulation, and was connected to the robot arm through a wire.  Within a week of training, a woman who could not even shrug her own shoulders, could move the prosthesis in and out, left and right and up and down.  She eventually learned to flex her wrist back and forth, rotate it, and pick up and move objects. Certainly a wonderful step for medicine and one that will bring hope to millions of people who have lost the use of limbs everywhere; but I could not help but to think of the shadow side of this technology. 

Teams of neurologists in the case of Jan Scheuermann, as well as designer steroids, growth hormones and surgeries, in the case of Stallone cost money; a lot of money, and one thing these new technologies will conspire to produce is what is rapidly becoming a two tiered society.  As little as 10 years ago, we all, on some cosmic plane existed on a level playing field; the Hollywood starlet through diet, medicine and exercise may have lived a longer than the Dinka tribesman, but she may not have as well.  Until recently, we were all born, went though life stages, got old, if we were lucky enough, and died.  Most of us still do, and for the immediate future, most of us still will.  We are now on a precipice of very expensive genetic level medicine, which invalidates this level playing field, and will have a few people born in the end-zone, and a whole lot of us dragging a 100-lb. led ball, fifty miles to the stadium! Paradoxically, it’s only going to get “better”, or “worse” every year.

Are we now on the threshold of a Morlock and Eloi society in which the rich become a whole different race of quasi-humans that are richer, smarter, taller, more “attractive” healthier, and just generally “better” than the rest of us?  I would say that it looks inevitable, and I would not count on them going to great lengths to share their advances in medicine, technology, and genetic manipulation; as Gore Vidal, so intuitively once said, “It is not enough that I succeed, others must fail.”

Could it be that the Mayans, so many centuries ago, could not visualize the era we are now in, because it was the end of totally organic humanity.  Are we now doomed, or blessed depending upon who is giving the account of a humanity personally and permanently enhanced by machines, medicine, and drugs that we not only use, but that become part of our actual physicality, and is this a good thing.  I don’t know for sure, but 12/21/2012 seems right around the end of one epoch and the beginning of another, and the move to inorganic humanity seems just a matter of time.  So the world did not end at the end of December, but it does seem to be changing irreparably, and overnight.  At least there won’t be a matter of “running out of rock” next time; nonopixels take up a lot less space.