Monday, November 17, 2008

We the (Pod) People: Welcome Back Paranoia

Yahooooooooo! Paranoia is BACK!

I started to read a news story about the increase in international paranoia and immediately thought, well, it's been a donkey's age since I've heard that word thrust about, and on such a wide scale, too. In a world filled with things we can't believe in, not to mention rampant electronic surveillance of and by all of our neighbors, a renewed emphasis on paranoia is just what the doctor ordered -- literally! Hey, if more people are paranoid, that makes it normal and respectable by consensus.

Maybe the next time I put in a call to the U.S. Department of Crumbling Infrastructure to report a mummy attempting to dig its way up through the concrete on my basement floor, they won't hang up with rude comments. I told them and I told them, how many times, the very moment that thing sticks its head just one inch higher I'm going to swing the business end of my shovel at it until the cellar looks like a bandage factory. Yeah, maybe next time they'll listen to me. Call me a paranoid, will they, ha! We'll see who's paranoid.

Mainstream paranoia would be so wonderful right now. I've been scratching my head for two years, wondering what to do with a little essay sort of thingie I wrote and couldn't place -- I mean, not everybody likes to read stuff written by people like me, you know? Just as some people think that actors are the same as the roles they play on screen, others believe that those who write are the personification of what they write. True, I really do have a mummy problem in the basement, but I'm no down-home paranoid, just a writer. Actually, the best essay writing sometimes leaves the reader questioning how much involves thought -- and how much involves theatrics. And mummies.

Well, so, in 2006 I wrote this little essay entitled, "We the (Pod) People." Um, it wasn't hopeful about the future. Care to read it? No UFOs here. . .but lots and lots and lots of fabulous paranoia. Mummies? Probably not. Maybe.

by Robert Barrow

iPods didn't exist 50 years ago, but pods nevertheless lurked in our minds when the 1956 science fiction movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, introduced us to demon pods from outer space. Intended primarily as a statement about our hysterical fear of a stealth-like communist takeover in America, potentially converting children and adults to a life where everybody blindly thinks and acts alike, the surface storyline depicted people whose very souls and likenesses would be copied by nearby space pods as soon as they fell asleep, sacrificing their very lives.

I was thinking about those pods a few weeks ago when I read about Eric Pianka, the University of Texas biology/ecology professor who warned about a near-obliteration of some 90 percent of all humanity by a future disease epidemic. One suspects that, if virus colonies had leaders, the President of the United States of Ebola would be out there creating its own reality, whipping the crowds into a frenzy with taunts of "Bring it on!" The good professor, apparently disturbing enough in his public comments to warrant a visit from the FBI because of some misunderstanding that he wanted to destroy all humans on the planet (not true), laments the international loss of animal habitat, and the fact that we humans already claim a good 50 percent of livable land mass.

Of course, Pianka isn't the first to entertain grim thoughts about our numbers as humans. NASA scientists and astronauts occasionally comment on earth's frightful appearance from space, its environment scarred by rainforest destruction, pollution, and now the uncertainties of climate change. Some compare humanity's visual influence upon the planet as akin to mold on an orange, or cancer on a lung.

So I ponder the pods of 2006, for we have become the pod people. We don't need invaders from outer space to replicate something horrible and terrifying. We're doing quite well with our own creative and reproductive talents, thank you.

With world population poised to burst at the seams as immigrants strive, even at the risk of death, to flee various evils in hope of finding a questionable paradise, we must pause to wonder about this finite planet. Our children are the future? Nonsense. Every organism ever born or dead upon this ever-evolving planet might as well have believed the same poppycock. Our likely future is extinction, perhaps sooner, rather than later.

We are the pods. Has our species ascended a summit where every human pod-child born in today's world is, at best, a carnivorous, resource-sucking monster who puts very little of positive substance back into our poisoned ecosystem? Why congratulate parents on childbirth, when the new environmental greeting card may inescapably be destined to read, "Oh, how could you!?"
Forget boring college courses about human behavior. Maybe we need a new TV network, airing primarily the most obnoxious commercials and showing only pornography, slaughterhouse carnage, animal lab experimentation scenes and global deforestation. Let's called it the Pod People Network, with the screen's crawling slogan at the bottom reading, "Who we are and what we do." This televised reminder on PPN that we have more in common with the practices of rats and roaches than with mythological images of human perfection on our self-infected little planet might not hurt. We are the world? No, we are the viruses, we are the bird flu. We are the pods.
Professor Pianka's views exemplify our darkest thoughts, and as science discovers increasingly that a variety of creatures from dolphins to dogs to elephants have high intelligence levels we never suspected, maybe critters that are not us will evolve to master the universe -- if our pod-selves don't absorb and obliterate them all.

Meanwhile, human sperm counts continue to decline ever so slowly across the planet, even as climate change threatens the pods. Amniotic fluid, increasingly a cesspool of toxins as more and more products of human chemical ingenuity stake a claim in the nourishment of fetuses destined to exhibit "birth defects" of pending horror, is no longer a safe haven for the embryo, never mind the fetus. Retreating to the safety of TV programs, movies and sports events may no longer be enough to anesthetize and save us from ourselves. Nor, conceivably, will the sterling educations offered by institutions of higher learning as we, the pods, discover painfully that growing food and seeking shelter is the only masters thesis or doctorate we need to survive for the hopelessly short haul.

The new pods, history would note -- if, indeed, recorded history were to continue -- merely evidenced ourselves, for all our efforts and facades, as the intellectual drivel of the universe, galactic detritus hardly worth a flicker, destroyers of a beautiful piece of celestial real estate and its unique critters: A suicidal species incapable of the realization that war and religion forever walk hand in hand, each a conspiracy to destroy everything in its chosen path, one a pressure-cooking champion of human overpopulation on demand, and the other a population relief valve of least resistance.

One day during the 1960s, my late Aunt Dorothy, a caring woman who always found time to knit warm, comforting winter sweaters for family members, noticed I was upset about something unrealized and advised, "Don't you know that most of the things we worry about never happen?" A few weeks later, my Vietnam Era draft notice arrived.

Many years later -- after military service -- when I visited a new eye doctor for the first time, out of the blue he offered, "You're a worrier, aren't you?" A few weeks later, I consulted a new eye doctor because the former seemed way too creepy and unprofessional, and the new ophthalmologist warned me, "There's bad and good in this field, and he's bad."

Today, my answer to Aunt Dorothy's question would be, oh yes, they do and -- by the way -- the sweaters were incredible.
My proper response for the bad eye doctor would have to be, you betcha doc, I sure am a worrier. I worry about sleeping too near the rest of the pods.