Ed Driscoll

Starting From Zero, The Eternal Return

Scientific America looks at “Ancient Diseases of Human Ancestors:”

I’ve written before about ancient diseases of the ice age, but this time I’m going even further back in time, to diseases that were present in the first human-like hominids. Although many human infections only developed after human settlements and animal domistication, early human ancestors would still have been fighting off bacteria and other nasty diseases. Some of these diseases are still around today.

Perhaps more than are necessary; am I the only one having flashbacks to the opening of Tom Wolfe’s “The Great Relearning” essay:

In 1968, in San Francisco, I came across a curious footnote to the hippie movement. At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic there were doctors who were treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroll, the rot. And how was it that they had now returned? It had to do with the fact that thousands of young men and women had migrated to San Francisco to live communally in what I think history will record as one of the most extraordinary religious fevers of all time.

The hippies sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start out from zero. At one point the novelist Ken Kesey, leader of a commune called the Merry Pranksters, organized a pilgrimage to Stonehenge with the idea of returning to Anglo-Saxon civilization’s point zero, which he figured was Stonehenge, and heading out all over again to do it better. Among the codes and restraints that in the communes swept aside—quite purposely—were those that said you shouldn’t use other people’s toothbrushes or sleep on other people’s mattresses without changing the sheets or, as was more likely, without using any sheets at all, or that you and five other people shouldn’t drink from the same bottle of Shasta or take tokes from the same cigarette. And now, in 1968, they were relearning . . . the laws of hygiene . . . by getting the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.

This process, namely the relearning—following a Promethean and unprecedented start from zero—seems to me to be the leitmotif of the twenty-first century in America.

Faster please, to coin a phrase.