Readers of this blog will be familiar with 24 year old Gregory, leader of the activist group, "Army of the Young," who believes that technological changes impacting us will lead either to total submersion of humanity or to the creative blossoming our kind has longed for. I hadn't talked to Gregory since we met a few weeks ago at the Bakersfield Woolworth's, and I wanted to know what he thought about the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. I called him and suggested we meet again at the same Woolworth's, but Gregory has been doing his organizing on zoom, and he wanted to meet that way. I have an old Mac, and luckily it and I were able to handle the technology.
I was ready to scorn the zoom experience, but I was surprised and a little unsettled by how quickly I got used to the two-dimensional, fleshless image of Gregory. The only dimension we shared was time. Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Me: Hi Gregory! How are you doing?
I could see busy young people walking back and forth behind him, tending to fax machines and computers. Gregory wore an "Army of the Young" t-shirt. His hair was long, but he was shaven. He smiled disarmingly.
Gregory: Hello, Harry! I enjoy reading about your adventures with your spirit guides, Betty and Robert.
Me: You should make a trip out here and meet them. They could add some dimensions to your movement.
G: How so?
From a look that passed over Gregory's face I realized that he believed that Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess and Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster are fictional creations of mine.
Me: Gregory, you do know, I hope, that Betty and Robert are real?
Me: Betty is an incarnation of the Native American "Trickster Goddess," and Robert is a telepathic gila monster who, unlike most of his tribe, thinks I'm good conversation.
G: How about your treatment of Jesus then, and Gandalf, a fictional character?
Me: Well, they're real...in various senses.
Gregory looked at me through the non-judgemental zoom platform, but it was clear he was reassessing me as a nut. He has no problem accepting my telepathy, so it surprised me that he would doubt the reality of my desert companions. I was about to resign myself to losing an important friend, when Betty decided to pull a deus ex machina (literally). Her face appeared on the screen and howled mournfully.
G: Very funny, Harry!
And then Betty was standing on her hind paws next to Gregory, her front paws on his desk between the keyboard and mouse. She looked at him and smiled a coyote smile.
Gregory leaped out of his chair shouting, What the fuck!
Betty: Hello, Gregory!
And then she was gone. Gregory sat slowly back down in his chair. He seemed to be panting.
Me: Gregory, I'm sorry! She does things without warning me. You should take her revelation to you as an endorsement. She understands your movement and wants to support and influence it.
I let Gregory breathe for a while. Finally he spoke.
G: Harry, what does this mean? I am secular, as you know. I'm not an atheist, but I do like evidence for what I believe. Should I kill myself?
Me: No! Gregory, Jesus no! That would mean I should kill myself. But I feel lucky to have stumbled into these devine and exotic relationships. Forces like these don't mean that science is false...just that it's incomplete.
G: That's not the problem, Harry. My unease is not caused by the possibility of deities and intelligent non-humans.
Me: What is it then?
G: Have you heard of Epicurus?
Me: Is he the one who recommended eating and drinking all day?
G: No. That's the fake Epicurus created by Judeo/Christian authorities to weaken the huge following Epicurus had in the Greek and Roman worlds. The real Epicurus was a 4th Century BC Greek philosopher whose doctrines became anti-matter to the newly forming establishment religions.
Me: What were his doctrines?
G: Every book by him was destroyed, so we rely on the Roman writer Lucretius, who two centuries later recorded Epicurius' ideas in his work, "On the Nature of Things." Copies of this book too were destroyed and it was lost for centuries, until one copy was discovered in a German monastery in 1417. Just to get through this quickly, I'll put Epicurius' religious ideas in bullet points:
- Everything is made of tiny things called atoms (Greek for "thing that can't be cut"). Humans are made of atoms that are all tangled up in crap and nonsense.
- Gods exist. They inhabit peaceful, contemplative realms. Gods are made of atoms too, but their atoms are "fine," unencumbered with crap and nonsense, and they want to keep it that way.
- The gods don't care about us. If they perceive us at all we're an irritating static.
- We have souls, made of atoms. There is no afterlife. When a soul dies, it's gone.
By the way, Gregory continued, most adherents of Epicurus were aristocrats, which makes sense because they had enough comfort in life that they didn't need to believe it would come after they died.
More to the point, the gods, according to Epicurus, would just as soon flush us down the toilet if we get in their face. Unfortunately humans often end up on a collision course with a god's face, sometimes because of actions by philosophers, sometimes by scientists (once by a woman named Eve) and the toilet of history becomes a real possibility. There's a major collision brewing now because human physicists have found clever ways to peek into the divine sphere. Their data is refracted back in distorted, ambiguous form, with the net effect of forcing the scientists into embarrassing admissions of non-comprehension while still pissing off the gods.
Me: Uh-oh, why are the gods pissed off?
G: If Epicurus was right that gods want to be left alone, we should be getting a lot of attention from gods now because of our intrusions. Your encounters with Betty and Jesus could be aspects of this. I'm sure a lot of people are having such encounters. It's bad news, Harry.
Me: Why? Why couldn't it be good news?
G: Because the "gods" or "celestial clouds of blissful atoms" or whatever we decide to call them are irritated by us. And why not? They were blissful before we blundered in.
Me: Gregory, "blunder" comes from a Scandinavian word meaning, "blind." It's not our fault. We don't know what we're doing. We should be forgiven. Although I see your point. We need to take a breath and think about things. What do you recommend? Should I apologize to Betty and Jesus and stay out of their desert?
G: Not necessarily, Harry. Why don't we try to find out what they want?
Me: I thought we knew that: They want us gone.
G: But...we might be able to negotiate how we go, how we become gone. After all, we don't even know where we are, or that we are someplace we haven't been before and maybe shouldn't be. Let's wait for some feedback.
Me: That's one of the elements of your movement, isn't it? We should stop dictating to the universe and have a conversation with it instead.
G: That's right Harry. If I didn't know you aren't a joiner, I'd invite you to join us.
Me: I'm honored to be invited! My purpose today was actually to ask you about the response to the coronavirus. The last time I saw you in Bakersfield we didn't know the whole world was about to change. How does the pandemic response fit into your movement?
G: The pandemic response and its aftermath will be a test of human governance. Everybody is talking now about how inefficient everything is, how uncoordinated, how unplanned. The cure for that is strong government, the very thing everyone loves to hate. Governance is in a bind because it is not trusted. We need it to be strong, but we don't trust it to be strong.
Me: Very true. What does your movement suggest?
G: We suggest that geographic areas be established (possibly, in our case, on the West Coast) where government can start from scratch, offering the security of scientific response in a realistic fashion, without bombast or pontification or any of the self-canonizations of current U.S. presidential campaigns.
Me: How would you enforce your language requirements? Who would be in charge of monitoring political language?
G: We've identified a vast pool of qualified and willing candidates: retired English teachers.
G: They are already comfortable judging people's use of language. They tend to have sensitive ears for political nuances, since many are exiles from inhospitable political environments.
Me: I'll have to tell my buddy D.L.; he'll jump on it!
G: Send him to me. Harry, I need to get going now. To tell you the truth, I'm a bit shaken by Betty's visit. How do you handle it?
Me: With care. Good luck, Gregory!
G: Same to you, Harry!
I clicked a tab on the screen that said, "Leave meeting," then clicked another that said, "End meeting," and finally without clicking anything, I left the meeting.
When the protests and rioting resulting from George Floyd's killing started, I contacted Gregory again to see how the unrest was affecting his movement, since his followers tend to be in the same young demographic as the protestors. We set up another zoom meeting and had a short but revealing conversation:
Me: Have your young followers been swept up in the protests over police killings?
G: Many of them have, yes, but we have discussions in which we put current events into the perspective of the human transformation now underway. Part of that transformation entails a genetic refashioning of the traditional races. Whether our ancestors lost their skin pigmentation in the quest for vitamin D or not, our genetic codes will be mixed and matched.
Me: Are you predicting the disappearance of currently existing races?
G: Not the disappearance- the modification. There will be an element of self-determination as parents choose their children's physical, intellectual and emotional characteristics from the palette offered by science. After a few generations, the result will be artificial "races" that are physically soothing to each other across racial lines, avoiding the intense rivalry and historical baggage typical in racial encounters today. Bioengineering will bring us harmonious diversity at last, but in the process it will destroy today's version of diversity.
Me: A lot of people will not like that.
G: No one will be able to stop it, but there will be instances of isolated groups who seek to retain their original genetic makeup. It will be a matter of great pride for them, but rivalries between extended genetic families will not have the force of "race war" that we verge on now.
Me: Do you advise your followers how to protest George Floyd's killing?
G: No, I don't tell my "followers" what to do. It's enough for me that they understand the context of the unrest- its context in human evolution.
G: In a nutshell.
[For more on Gregory's Army of the Young, keep reading this blog or go to http://www.gregorysarmyoftheyoung.com/]