Born in the non-USA by Allison Mc Donald
The Cry of the Butterfly by Volker Schmidt
Chicken Licken was right. The sky is falling.
not falling exactly. The sky is kind-of disappearing bit by bit. A
little has melted away here and another little bit floated away there and
now there are big gaping holes where there once was sky. The sun shines
through the holes. It melts the polar ice and burns the people who have all
taken out their scientific papers and meteorological equipment and have
looked up at the sky and have called on their god called Science to find an
answer. And Science has declared that it is the car exhaust fumes and the
emissions of a million factories and the felling of Amazon rain forest trees
that is doing it.
angels all lie flat on their bellies around the hole in the sky and peer
down, like little boys examining an ant nest. They watch the battles and the
loving and the competition and the frantic rush to get somewhere on time.
angels know people draw all their world maps upside-down. When the
angels are on the moon watching Earth rise, they see the southern tip of
Africa first. The angels watch the southern tip of Africa with cool and
southern tip of Africa, the top of the world if you're looking at it
from the moon, is a beautiful place ... from afar. But angels see the
microscopic truth. They see comfortable complacent people who read the
newspapers and watch the television and learn that hundreds of children die
each day on the southern tip of Africa of tuberculosis, dehydration and
malnutrition. The people watch the television and hear of the plight of the
wild creatures. Black rhino and elephant and leopards and chameleons and
tree frogs and cobras used to teem on the southern tip of Africa. No more.
All killed for their skins or for farming lands.
the people raise money to save the animals. Shoot a rhino in South Africa,
and game wardens are perfectly entitled to shoot you, even if you're
shooting the rhino to sell its horn to Chinese men with flaccid penises who
pay vast fortunes for this oriental viagra from Africa. You were going to
use the Chinese man's money to buy food for your child who is dying from
malnutrition and tuberculosis. Hard luck.
people harvest the guavas and pawpaws and bananas and mangoes which grow
in the gardens and make jam and chutney which they sell at morning craft
markets. They donate the proceeds to charities. The charities build kennels
for township dogs and buy fresh vegetables for township donkeys. The people
stare straight ahead of them on cold winter nights when barefoot township
children, their faces smeared with snot and the glue they sniff, tap on the
car window and ask for money to buy a blanket.
"People who breed like rats must die like rats," the people say.
this land on the southern tip of Africa, there lives a hero called Max
and a villain called Isaac. Max and Isaac are, to the people of the southern
tip of Africa, symbolic of the war between good and evil which permeates
their country. Max is universally adored and Isaac is universally hated.
Isaac is a man. He lives in a jail cell in high-security prison. Max is a
lowland gorilla who lives peacefully with his mate, Lisa, in a spacious and
grassy enclosure at the Johannesburg zoo. Isaac is currently on trial for
rape, robbery, housebreaking, kidnapping, carrying illegal firearms ... and
malicious damage to Max the gorilla.
has allegedly raped schoolgirls, kidnapped a naked couple and broken
into a number of houses to rob people. He did all this with a loaded gun.
Isaac was on the run one night and, in his attempt to escape arrest, jumped
into Max and Lisa's cage at the zoo. Max got a fright. Isaac got a fright.
Max bit Isaac in the buttock. Isaac shot Max in the chin and shoulder.
people were outraged. Max instantly became a symbol of pride to peace
loving people everywhere. Max was the southern tip of Africa's James Bond,
Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse and Stormin' Norman. His story appeared on
the front page of newspapers all over the world. CNN and the BBC sent camera
crews to Johannesburg to interview Lisa. Max was rushed to the most
exclusive private hospital in the city where the country's finest
neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons and cardiovascular surgeons saved his
life. Max was named "Newsmaker of the Year" by the Johannesburg Press Club.
The South African Police have given him an award for bravery. Max received
thousands of get well cards and bouquets of flowers from people who prayed
for his speedy recovery. He enjoyed eating the roses and carnations. The
daisies gave him bellyache.
nearly two years later, Max is being treated for post-traumatic stress
disorder and Isaac is on trial in the High Court. Today's newspaper reports
on Isaac's trial. The gorilla keeper at the Johannesburg Zoo testifies, the
newspaper says, that Max shows greater aggression towards humans, reacts
badly to loud noises and is very nervous. His sperm count has dropped. He is
off his food. He is listless, is in constant need of medical treatment and
is national concern for Max. Everyone feels responsible. Everyone
prays for Max. Everyone wants to buy Max a house and furnish it with love.
We want to sing Max a song in perfect harmony. We want to buy apple trees
and honey bees for Max, and snow white turtle doves.
the angels peer down through their hole in the sky and wonder about the
post traumatic stress disorder of the schoolgirls Isaac raped at gunpoint.
They watch with amused detachment. Because the angels know there really is
no other way to watch the people of the southern tip of Africa.
Written March 1999 by Allison Mac Donald
Of course, this is not how the cry of a butterfly would sound, could you hear it. It is wordless by definition, and even a word such as Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrgghhhhhh! is far too human, far to bipedal, far to opposed-thumby, far to concrete to capture that cry. Concrete is, indeed, one of the tings the butterfly is crying about. Concrete covering up the buds and the flowers, tarmac blocking the straining green, stone lying heavily on the tormented, increasingly asthmatic chest of Nature.
Oh dear, a green guy, I hear you sigh and move your mouse to the back button. OK, call me a tree-hugger (though I stood aside, last Summer, when the other participants of the annual Lithuanian ecological bycicle tour wrapped their arms around huge oaks or firs), call me a Neanderthaler (and yes, with all that hair on my head and in my face I admit I even look like one), but don't call me a trite Luddite: I have indeed noticed that this is the Twentieth Century - and it's high time, since it won't be for long! And I have also noticed that we can't go back to the stone age, no Siree, we can't, and far less can we go back before that. It may have been a mistake to climb down the trees at all, or even, for that matter, to leave the ancient warm salty ocean we bred in as amoebas and monocellular beings (not phones). But hey, now we're here, we've made that mistake, and we've got to get along with it - can't get back upon the trees because we have forgotten how to live there, can't go back into the ocean because we've forgotten the most basic things about that habitat (breathing under water, for starters).
Getting out of the water, climbing down the trees and walking upright have not been the only mistakes we've made - a far cry from it, and a cry louder by far than a butterfly's. As irreversable as those primordial mistakes - which was the first of them? Hopping out of the soup? Peeing into the ocean we swam in? Throwing a coconut down on the last dinosaur's dumb head? - are the others we've made - from the first use of a stick to pry open a juicy yummy seashell to the first use of the same stick to batter the head of that nextcave neighbour who wanted to take the open shell as his own lunch, from inventing the wheel to putting it under a carriage of war, from the first carpenter splitting wood via the first philosopher splitting hair to the first physicist splitting atoms. We can't throw away our sticks, wheels, and split atoms in a fit of retrogression - we'd starve. Now, that might not be the worst idea from the point of view of about all the other species on the planet, including the crying butterfly, but being a human, I vote against that (yes, you may call me anthropocentrist. I don't talk to inanimate objects, either, at least, I'm trying not to be caught doing so - that's the kind of snob I am).
Argh again, crys my butterfly, perching perilously on my desk-lamp, to where he (or is it a she?) has fluttered through the open window on this relatively warm spring evening. He - I'll stick with the male, for now, if you don't mind - has probably shed his cocoon only days ago, and his despair at the world he was (sort of) born into is still new. He beats his wings impatiently, just a bit faster than the normal almost-heartbeat frequency - butterflys don't get more impatient than that. In his red-winged semaphore, he is probably (I'm not so good at semaphore) telling me something like: "It might be allright for you to be anthropocentrist, but I happen to be a butterflocentrist (that's what he says - he's probably never heard the scientific word, and neither have I), and that fly over there is a muscocentrist, and your cat (I don't have one - maybe butterflies think that all humans have cats) is felinocentrist, and if we all just see or own species' good, we'll never get far!"
I stifle a laugh: What does the human race care if the butterflyoid race considers only its own good? Or the feline race or the muscoid race? The reverse, though, does make sense to me: if that world-wide egotists' club which calls itself the human race follows only its greed, than the butterflyoid and the feline and the muscoid and all the other races are definitely in trouble. They are as deep in trouble as a man in a feminist bookshop asking for a copy of "The Story of O.", as deep in the hoopla as those crusaders wading through Jerusalem with blood up to their knees - and they were sitting on horses (mixing cocktails and metaphors are two of my favourite occupations)!
Get to the point, I hear someone say in the imagined audience. Someone on a cheap seat. Probably a critic from the local newspaper - they are the worst, I should know, I'm one of them. I am trying to get to the point, but I won't promise I will. Sometimes, life is like a broken pencil: pointless, to vary a quote from Mr Black Adder. Anyway, I'm a human being, right now posing as an author, and not a sentence who is more or less guaranteed to end with a point, even if it's called a period (another quote, Tom Robbins this time: "This sentence might be pregnant: it missed its period" - not quite correct, someone help). And what is a point, anyway? The end result of redundancy, the mathematically singular entity which isn't an entity. That's hardly a model to follow, is it? But OK, I'll try.
The point is that here we are with all that technology and the ideology of progress and all that shit, and how do we deal with it? Seems to my dim-witted brain, 's all not too bad if it's used right. Now, that's hardly an original thought. You won't find a really original thought in these musings, I'm afraid - it's only my attempt to summarize the semaphore cry of a butterfly. But I'll elaborate: what is the right use of technology? What's it there for? Why not get a bit categorical after all that vague ranting:
a) The first and foremost use of technology is to make it easier for us humans to be happy. Self-evident, isn't it? Technology is ours, so it's the humans that it is there to keep happy, but in the ideal world I am creating here with a few keystrokes, humans are kept happy partly by their environment being happy. I just skip all the ecology and the good or bad vibrations created by making other beings happy or unhappy and take them as granted. Granted?
b) To achieve that goal, technology must avoid any impact on human or other beings, on Earth or atmosphere other than the one it is intended for. Example: to help make me happy, my car is supposed to carry me to my beloved. It does only make me happy in the long run, though, if it does not pollute the air, does not use up any energy or other resources and does not create noise. Impossible? The perpetuum mobile is impossible by definition? True, but if you put all the brainpower and money of the industry to improving the ratio of input energy and output result, who knows - they might turn out a 95% perpetuum mobile! It would be better used here than in inventing new names for new colours for new shapes of newly engined cars. Butterfly-red would be a nice colour, wouldn't it? But OK, let's say, it really doesn't work.
c) Failing b), the technology must be used in combination with other technology in a way that eliminates the impact. For every exhaust, there has to be an air cleaning device. For every piece of rubbish, there has to be a waste-free burning it up-device. For every tree felled, a new one has to be built. The biggish problem is: how to calculate that network of machinery and technology and nature? How to make sure the overall impact is zero? You go figure it out, I'm tired. The butterfly has flown away, he's probably not good at Maths and Cybernetics. But I'm sure it can be done. Just not by trusting science alone, but by trusting old knowledge, instinct, emotion, whatever. I'm really tired. 'Nuff said. Discuss.